Maximum PC Staff Jan 20, 2009

Sonos Bundle 150

At A Glance

Rain Stick

Easy to set up and expand; free subs to Pandora and Last.fm; awesome controller.

Rain Slick

Bundle pushes you into buying an amplified ZonePlayer you might not want.

You know a product is uncommonly designed when each of its successors looks and functions pretty much like the original. Such is the case with the latest revamp of the Sonos multiroom audio system. All the latest changes are inside the product or the software or are related to third-party services linked to the product. But that doesn’t mean they’re insignificant.

The Sonos mesh network is independent of any other Wi-Fi network you might be operating, so you don’t need to worry about music clogging up the pipes of your data network. The new hardware is backward-compatible with older Sonos products: We merged the new ZP120 (the self-amplified model), the new ZP90 (the passive model), and a second controller into our existing Sonos network without a hitch.

We’ve always considered the amplified ZonePlayer to be the system’s weakest link, but the new ZonePlayer 120 does much to change our mind. It produces only 55 watts per channel (five more watts per channel than the original), but when paired with a set of high-quality speakers (we used TBI Audio Systems’s Diamond IRs), it more than adequately filled a small room with sound. There’s a subwoofer output if you crave more bottom end, and since the amp supports a 4-ohm load, you can connect two pairs of 8-ohm speakers. And we’re pleased to report that the spring-loaded binding posts now accommodate banana plugs.

The system still requires at least one module to be hard-wired to your network, but now that you can plop the ZoneBridge BR100 ($100) next to your router, you won’t feel as though you’re wasting a ZonePlayer just to achieve connectivity. The bridges are also handy in larger homes where the mesh network can’t quite reach every corner.

Support for FLAC and Apple Lossless has been added, but the system still can’t handle WMA Lossless. You can stream playlists from iTunes, WinAmp, Windows Media Player, and Rhapsody, but the system still can’t play DRM-protected iTunes tracks (is anyone still buying those?).

The system already makes it supremely easy to sample the riches of Internet radio, but Sonos is now in the midst of overhauling the software to incorporate elements of the RadioTime service, which helps you find Internet radio stations that suit your musical tastes (those changes weren’t finished in time for this review). And now Sonos owners get to enjoy free subscriptions to the music-discovery services Last.fm and Pandora (we’re not talking about free trials—the services are now free to Sonos customers).

At this point, the only way the Sonos controller could get any better is with a tricked-out multitouch interface reminiscent of Apple’s iPod and iPhone. Well, if you own one of those devices, you can now download a free utility from the App Store that renders it capable of controlling the Sonos system.

We consider the Sonos the gold standard in music streaming. But we do wish the company offered more bundle choices. Buying the ZP90, ZP120, and CR100 controller in this package provides a $250 discount over buying the pieces separately, but if you already have powered speakers and would prefer to have two ZP90s and a controller, you must buy the pieces a la carte—at a $100 premium over this bundle (money that would be better spent on a bridge—or music!).

Sonos Bundle 150

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