Sonos Digital Music System: ZP-80 Bundle

Michael Brown

UPDATE: If you're a Rhapsody subscriber, Version 2.0 of Sonos' software renders both the ZP-80 and the earlier ZP-100 even more attractive, because you no longer need to fire up your PC in order to stream music from Rhapsody--you can do it all right from the exquisite Sonos controller.

If Slim Devices’ Squeezebox is the Volkswagen of audio-streaming devices, Sonos’ Digital Music System is the category’s BMW. But when we consider a high-end product with a price tag more than 3x its competition, we have to ask: Is the luxury worth the price?

We bestowed Sonos’ $1,200 ZP-100 bundle with a 9 Kick Ass verdict in April 2005, so we beamed with anticipation when Sonos told us they designed the new ZP-80 to counter two of our earlier criticisms: They excised the integrated amp (we dismissed it as underpowered and unnecessary), and they added digital outputs (TOSLink and coax).

But we turned incredulous when we heard that a ZP-80 bundle would cost a cool grand—a relatively insignificant price drop. Those negative vibes evaporated, however, after we spent just 10 minutes installing the system. And we grinned the grin of the dyed-in-the-wool geek the instant we used that scrum-diddily-umptious controller: Its magical motion detector activated the moment we picked it up, the touch-sensitive scroll wheel positively jumps, the light sensor illuminated the buttons in the darkened room, and that gorgeous 3.5-inch color LCD sprang to life. Yes, this luxury is worth the price—especially when compared to multi-zone control panels from Crestron and AMX. Besides, the ZP-80 sounds absolutely divine.

Sonos’ systems utilize self-contained, wireless, AES-encrypted, mesh networks. As such, they not only leave no footprint on your wireless LAN, but they also deliver incredible range: If one Zone Player is too far from the one hardwired to your router, those within range will behave like a digital bucket brigade, playing the packets addressed to them and passing along the others until they reach their intended destination.

The drawback to this design is that the first Zone Player you install must be hardwired to your router. Unless you have Ethernet to a stereo, that unit is essentially wasted. (It’ll play your music, but that’s redundant because your PC can do the same thing.) But this shortcoming is mitigated by the fact that the network can expanded to a maximum of 32 zones, using either ZP-80 or ZP-100 players and multiple controllers. Salivate at will.

Month Reviewed: July 2006

Verdict: 9 / Kick Ass


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