Wayne Thorp will speak at the 2015 AAII Investor Conference this fall; go to www.aaii.com/conference for more details.
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Gone are the days when installing a multi-room stereo system required drilling holes in walls and running wires throughout your house. With the Sonos ZonePlayer S5, which retails for $399, you can wirelessly play music from a number of sources throughout your home and control it either from your Windows PC or Mac, or from your Apple iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad.
The Sonos ZonePlayer S5 is an all-in-one music system, meaning it is designed to function right out of the box without any additional hardware. When I received my review model from Sonos, I had it set up and playing music in less than 15 minutes. It was a matter of plugging in the S5 unit to a power outlet, attaching the optional ZoneBridge to my router, and installing the free software on my Windows 7 PC.
The S5 connects directly to the Internet to let you access online radio stations and podcasts as well as access your personal music library on your computer. You have two options for connecting the S5 to the Internet-either connect it directly to your router or buy a ZoneBridge for $99. If you plan on playing music in a room that doesn't have a router, you will need a ZoneBridge. However, there is no limit as to the number of Sonos products that can work with a single ZoneBridge.
Limitless Music Choices
Once I had my S5 up and running, the first thing I did was have the software I installed on my computer scan my system for all my music files. This was probably the most time-consuming endeavor I performed with the S5, given the large number of music files it had to find. Once that was finished, I was able to play all of this music over the S5, even though it wasn't physically plugged into my computer. [Note that if you have older copyright-protected music files from iTunes, the S5 will not be able to play them.] Beyond playing music files stored on your computer or external hard drive, the Sonos controller software allows you to choose from over 30,000 Internet radio stations and podcasts, including free music services such as iheartradio, Last.fm and Pandora, or fee-based services such as Napster, Rhapsody and SIRIUS.
Inevitably, you will probably find yourself wanting to add to your Sonos music system, given how easy it is to add additional ZonePlayers. For an additional $399 per unit, you can position S5s throughout your home and operate them independently or in unison.
Furthermore, as long as there is an outlet, you can play music almost anywhere in your house. I wasn't able to find any documentation outlining the range of ZoneBridge. However, if you find that your ZonePlayer is beyond the range of your ZoneBridge, you can extend the range of your Sonos system by placing an additional ZoneBridge in between the location where you want to play music and the rest of the system. Also, each ZoneBridge has a two-port Ethernet switch, which means you can use it to bring standard Internet connectivity to your set-top box, DVR, PC, game console, or NAS drive.
The quality of the sound the S5 puts out should satisfy all but the most discriminating audiophiles. While it looks like a single speaker, the S5 is actually five speakers in one, each with a dedicated digital amplifier. There are two tweeters, two mid-range drivers, and a subwoofer. The result is a sound that is solid and clear. For most people, I think you would be hard-pressed to find a situation where the S5 didn't provide room-filling sound.
With Sonos Net 2.0 wireless mesh network technology, you can play the same music throughout the house perfectly synchronized on multiple ZonePlayers or play different songs in different rooms, simultaneously.
"There's an App for That"
You have three options for controlling your Sonos ZonePlayers. The first is with the free desktop controller software you can install on either your Windows PC or Mac. For a greater level of freedom, you can also install the free iPhone app from the Apple iTunes App Store, which you can install on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. With this app you can control multiple S5 units, including adjusting the volume and what music is being played on each. You can also browse the available music services.
If you don't have an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, but want to control your Sonos music system without going through the computer, you can purchase the Sonos Controller 200 touch screen remote for $349. However, you can save money by buying an iPod touch for as low at $199 and the free Sonos Controller app mimics the functionality of the Sonos Controller 200.
At this time, Sonos has no plans to offer apps for competing devices or smartphones.
At $399 for a single ZonePlayer S5, it is not for everyone. However, keep in mind that this price buys you the speaker unit, which is actually five speakers in one, as well as the wireless receiver. Add to that its ease-of-installation and use, wide range of free music choices, easy expandability, and the ability to control multiple ZonePlayers all from your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, and the price is rather reasonable.
I had a very hard time finding any fault with the ZonePlayer S5. Since I was loaned a review model, I didn't have to pay the $399 for the S5 or $99 for the ZoneBridge. Having experienced the S5 for these last few months, however, I don't think it would be very difficult to spend that money, knowing how easily I could set up a wireless music system. The sound quality was great and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to control the volume and music with my iPod touch and iPad. What I found equally impressive was the sheer number of online music services from which I could choose. Perhaps that is the biggest drawback with the Sonos S5-having too many music choices.
Sonos ZonePlayer S5
$399 ($99 for optional ZoneBridge)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of "Gadget Corner." All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.