Whole Home Audio Done Right: Sonos

I decided to bite the bullet and get a Sonos system. My kitchen and living room share a wide doorway at one end, but aren’t really connected together enough to call it an “open floor plan”. So using just the speakers hooked up to my TV to listen to music in the kitchen didn’t work out very well because you’d have to crank it louder than was comfortable. I hooked up some old computer speakers to Audio Engine’s A3 audio transmitter, which has a transmitter that you hook up to an audio output (such as the tape output on my receiver) and the receiver that you hook up to some other speakers or something. It’s a great product and super simple to use.

It worked well and I was happy for quite a while, but I was unhappy with the quality of the speakers and the amount of cabling that I had. So I was looking for a simpler solution and evaluated Apple’s Airplay and Sonos. Logitech has kind of screwed up their Squeezebox product line and no longer offers anything that’s right for my purposes.

I’ve come to like Apple products since getting my iPhone 3GS in 2009 and I’ve gotten a few more of their products over the years, including an Airport Express to extend my wireless network. Since Apple introduced and improved Airplay recently, it’s really become quite a contender for whole home audio that I was quite interested in.

For my kitchen, I wanted an all-in-one unit to minimize and simplify the wiring. Looking at the available Airplay enabled speakers, they were all in a similar price range to the Sonos Play3 & Play5 units with speakers.

I liked that while Sonos can read from your iTunes library but it’s not dependent on it. Sonos just pulls any local music directly from a shared directory on a computer or NAS that you specify. Additionally, you can listen to any combination of audio in any combination of rooms. I ended up getting four Sonos units and I can play the same music perfectly synced in all of my rooms, or I can have different audio playing in each of them, or any combination.

Airplay relies on a music source program, such as iTunes, an iOS device such as an iPhone, or third party software such as Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil. One music source can feed one audio stream. With iTunes or Airfoil you can send this audio stream to any or all of the Airplay devices in your house. I think that iOS devices are limited to sending just to one Airplay device. Using a combination of iTunes and more than one Airfoil running (even on the same computer), you can listen to different audio in each room, like you can with Sonos.

Sonos additionally has a number of streaming audio services hooked in, such as Spotify, Pandora, and RadioTime, which gives you access to tons of radio stations. For some stations and shows, there are even archives of the shows that you can listen to, similar to podcasts.

When the Sonos equipment arrived, it was super simple to setup. I did run into a small issue though; the Play5 wouldn’t stay reliably stay connected to the network. So I got in touch with Sonos support and they asked me to do some diagnosis and we figured out that the wifi antennas in it were not working. They sent me a new one and I sent the old one back. The new one configured instantly and has been trouble-free since.

My three other audio systems are connected to TVs, so an Apple TV initially seemed to be an option, but I haven’t upgraded to HDTV yet, so it turns out not to be. It would have been nice though, since the Apple TV also does video, including Netflix and YouTube. Or I could have gotten an Airport Express to connect to each of my stereos. That would have been a bit cheaper than going with the Sonos solution.

One of the other things that ultimately swayed me away from Apple and towards Sonos, in addition to the above, is that some people report that Apple Airplay loses sometimes loses audio sync. I can’t report that from experience though, so I guess it’s just hearsay.

Like Apple, Sonos has a remote control app that’s really well done. Sonos sells a hardware remote control, but I haven’t ever felt like I needed one.

One thing that I do miss from an Apple / iTunes based solution is smart playlists and genius mixes.

I’m extremely happy with Sonos, it is super simple and sounds great.