The Sonos ZonePlayer S5 is a fabulous addition to the multi-room Sonos Digital Music System, even if the company’s engineers did make some sonic compromises in the name of delivering an all-in-one model at a friendlier price point.
The passive ZonePlayer 90 sells for $350, and the ZonePlayer 120—which features an excellent integrated 55-watt-per-channel amplifier—goes for $500. The ZonePlayer S5 packs both an amplifier and speakers, and is priced at just $400. This low price, coupled with the company declining our query about the amp’s power and total harmonic distortion specs and the material used in speaker fabrication, leads us to believe that Sonos is looking for a bridge to a more proletarian market.
The S5 doesn't have a battery-power option, so it's not entirely portable; but a handle cleverly integrated into the rear bass port renders the 9.l5-pound system luggable.
Be that as it may, when we integrated the S5 into our existing Sonos system (ZonePlayers form their own wireless network, but at least one of them must be hardwired to your router), we were bowled over by its ability to fill two adjoining rooms (680 square feet in aggregate) with jangling guitars and the plaintive wail of Gillian Welch’s voice singing “Burn My Stillhouse Down.” The box houses five speakers altogether: a pair of 0.75-inch tweeters, two 3.0-inch midrange drivers, and a 3.5-inch subwoofer that delivers a lot more bass than you’d expect from a driver of that size.
Changing things up to test the S5’s bass response, however, revealed a problem: When we cranked up the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush duet “Don’t Give Up,” the cabinet began to rattle in sympathy with Tony Levin’s prominent and sustained bass work. As it turns out, a screw inside the enclosure apparently worked its way out during our listening test. We finished our evaluation with a second unit and the issue didn’t repeat itself.
Several hours of critical listening left our ears feeling a bit fatigued—an issue we didn’t encounter with B&W’s Zeppelin (not entirely an apples-to-oranges comparison, since the Zeppelin is a non-networked iPod dock), but the S5 was a huge hit when we had weekend guests over to listen to tunes and play pool.