Scoping Out the Sonos

The segment opens with Steve showing off a gadget that looks not unlike an overgrown IPod--white, navigation wheel in the middle, clearly audio-related. But it is, in fact, the controller for a unique music system called the Sonos ZonePlayer, designed to play all the music you've stored on your computer anywhere in the house--without wires.

The idea, says Angela, is that you'll have lots of the boxy ZonePlayers, each connected to speakers or to a home stereo. The boxes can communicate with each other, with the mother ship (the machine storing your music), and, most importantly, with that IPoddish controller, which lets you select which tracks will play in which rooms.

The Sonos, Steve found, was far easier to use than other products that purport to do this sort of thing, and installation was cake. You simply connect one ZonePlayer directly to your router. Then you install some software on your computer, point it to the folders where your music lives, and make sure you get some firewall settings right. After that, you push the muting and volume buttons on the player both at once--they're the only two you've got--and you wait a few seconds. And that's it. Configuring the remote is even easier, and to add more ZonePlayers, you simply connect them and do the two-button thing again. The controller, operating on its own (proprietary) wireless network, handles the rest.

These things aren't cheap, notes Angela. A package deal for two ZonePlayers and a controller goes for $1,200. Apple's AirPort Express, by way of comparison, retails for about $130 and also streams music from your computer, but that system lacks a stand-alone, portable controller. Other packages, says Steve, offer controllers, but fail because the software running behind the scenes (on the computer storing the music, generally) is frankly lousy. Sonos doesn't even require that you install software on your computer unless you plan to use it to control the tunes.

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