I’m always buying gadgets of some kind or other. Sometimes they are things I will use for work, sometimes it is software. Sometimes it’s just something fun – or that I “always wanted”. But rather than keeping it to myself, I thought I’d share it with you – as part of my Gadget Weekend posts.
This week I look at the Sonos S5 and Sonos Bridge wireless music system.
I have always loved live music. Rock. Punk. Opera. Strings. Acoustic. As long as it was live (and played well), you could count me in. I think there is something about the way that vibrations affect your body that thrills me. That and the tightrope of performance – wondering how the performer will thrill or disappoint – soar or die.
But you can’t have live performers on call – so I have the next best thing. A bunch of recordings of my favourite live performers. I have CDs, DVDs, MP3s and even vinyl. But to get a good sense of these live performances, you need a pretty good sound system. Good amp. Good speakers. And a good distance between you and your neighbours.
But with these sound systems comes a lot of wires. It gets messy. And it is inflexible.
So I was excited to hear about the Sonos S5 – a wireless digital amplifier and speaker system that taps into your digital music collection.
I did my usual research – read the forums, website reviews and so on. I asked people on Twitter what their thoughts were (Tony Hollingsworth claimed that Sonos had changed his life – so it seemed like a no-brainer).
You need a way of connecting your digital music library (eg iTunes or a network file server) to the network, so you need not just the Sonos S5 speaker and amplifier combo, but also the Sonos Bridge that connects to your router. This gives access to digital radio stations from around the world – and a number of music subscription services (anubus.fm, iTunes and last.fm – but not Spotify as yet).
The research looked solid – and with the iPhone controller app available for free – I checked out the Store Locator and headed over to JB Hi Fi to pick up the system that would revolutionise the way I listened to music.
Forget Retail, Buy Online
When I arrived at JB Hi Fi, I found the small in-store promo space. It repeated the same information from the website. It gave you the chance to hear the S5 up close (even though you were standing in a wide open shop space which is not ideal). Biting the bullet I accosted a young sales assistant. He seemed to know enough about the device – he read the main points off the box and offered to press the buttons so I could hear the sound. But was there any stock?
He checked via his handheld device. None to be found in the local neighbourhood. In fact, none to be found for miles around. And by miles, I mean about 50.
No wonder retail sales are down – retailers keep little to no stock on hand and then expect customers to return when it suits the retailer. What did I do? Went home and found Scott from Platinum AV on the web. I shot him off an email and got a response back in hours. And a day or so later the Sonos S5 and Sonos Bridge arrived at my front door ready to go. It couldn’t have been easier (Scott also offered to help configure the online music services for free!).
The Sonos Setup
Setting up was a snap. Plug the Bridge into your router and it creates a wireless mesh network that runs independently of your wifi (meaning that your high bandwidth music files won’t interrupt the throughput on your wifi network). You install the controller software on your PC, sync the Bridge with the S5 by pressing a couple of buttons and voila!
If you have ethernet running through your house, you can also use that. In fact, with two ethernet ports, you can very easily connect your network storage device, game console or setup box to the Sonos S5. It’s a very well thought out piece of gadgetry!
Multizone Wireless Music
You setup the S5 according to zones within your house. You can then use the controller to simultaneously play the same music everywhere or different tracks or playlists in different “zones”. So while you are rocking out to Radiohead in the study, the kids can listen to a Roald Dahl audiobook in the family room.
All of this is managed directly from your PC via the controller software, or ingeniously through a free iPhone or iPad app. These apps are genius. You don’t need to have your computer on (unless it is powering your library) – you just plug the S5 into a power socket and fire up your iPhone.
And because the Sonos S5 is lightweight, you can easily move it around the house (or garden). It’s like a high quality boombox connected to every song in your collection. Awesome!
And the Sound?
The Sonos S5 has a five driver speaker system powered by dedicated amplifiers. It includes two tweeters, two midrange drivers and a subwoofer – all in one stylish, easy-to-carry box. The clean white (or black) design lines remind me of Apple’s popular products.
And the sound is perhaps, the most surprising of all.
A single device can easily fill a room with sound. The speaker combinations spread the music in such a way that you cannot immediately tell the source of the sound – which means you can feel surrounded by music (one of my favourite feelings). And because the sound is pushed out in this way, you don’t have to find the “sweet spot” in quite the same way as you do with a dedicated, fix speaker setup.
Playing classical music delivers outstanding performance. The subwoofer delivers real depth and the tweeters ensure that you get a full sense of the dynamics of the music. Rock music is best played loud, and the S5 can get surprisingly loud without distortion.
Do I Love It?
To be honest, the Sonos S5 is better than I had even hoped for.
Many of my CDs have been stored in boxes for years, and they were literally out of sight and out of mind. Until now, I hadn’t realised that I have been living without many of the songs that I have loved. The Sonos S5 has changed all that.
It’s so easy to use – from the PC or from the app – and gives me immediate access to my complete song library. And the joy that I get from listening easily outweighs the slight difference in sound quality delivered from my dedicated sound system.
I now just need to save up for the Zoneplayer 90 so that I can connect up my existing sound system and I will be in audio heaven.
Will You Love It?
If you have wanted to get rid of the wires all over your house – but still experience quality audio – then this is the answer for you. And if you want an easy way to access your music collection without the needing a degree in device management, then the iPhone app controller will make everyone happy. It’s not cheap – but with the release of the new Play:3 speakers, it may just be a little more affordable than you’d expect.
Drop Scott at Platinum AV an email and sit back and wait for your new toy to arrive. Hollingsworth was right – the Sonos S5 will change your life – or at least reacquaint you with the music that you loved.