Sonos S5 review

Multi-room, Spotify and iPhone app control
Photo of Sonos S5
£349

It plays nicely with an iPhone and iPad, and pumps quality audio around a house – but the biggest boon for the Sonos S5 multi-room music system may be a new app that brings Android users to the party too.

Sonos appears to have virtually abandoned the idea of controlling its system using a dedicated and expensive touchscreen controller – after all, at £279, the Sonos Controller CR200 is more expensive than many smartphones. But the announcement of a new Android app (though only compatible with Android 2.1 and above – could expand the Sonos customer base beyond Apple customers.

What’s more, unlike Apple users, owners of Android devices will be able to talk to the S5. Voice search is promised, as is native control of the system from an Android handset. The latter feature means that the volume on Sonos gear can be adjusted using the Android phone’s own volume slider. That makes two new features that are exclusive to Android phone owners – and which extend the already dizzying control options that include app control of music from a PC or Mac, web radio, last.fm and even Spotify.

Command and control
That Android app is due to be released for free on Android Market during April, but the quality of the Sonos package can already be seen using an iPhone app and an S5.

The S5 is an all-in-one wireless speaker and streaming device that can be daisy-chained with others to form a multi-room music system. Other options available: the ZonePlayer 120 (£399) is a digital amplifier that requires only speakers (a good idea for those armed with high-end speakers and lossless music files), while a ZonePlayer 90 (£279) is aimed at those who simply want to bring an existing hi-fi setup onto the Sonos platform.

Setup is identical for all Sonos products. Firstly, you download some free software to a networked PC or Mac, then go through some simple steps to pair the S5. A WiFi broadband connection is essential, though it’s necessary to briefly wire-up to the router – using in-the-box cables – to create the Sonos ecosystem.

The result of that setup is full control over as many S5 units as you’ve bought. You simply assign each S5 a name and start playing music from your PC or Mac (as long as it’s awake) in each zone’, either direct from your desktop, or though the Sonos Controller app for iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, which is free to download from Apple’s app store.

Selecting one track to play in the lounge and another in the bedroom, at differing volumes and direct from a phone, is easy and instantly impressive. There’s also the option to add songs to a queue for each zone, thereby creating a playlist on the go. Hours can go by …

Sources and sound quality
Playing music from your existing collection is just the start. The Sonos Controller app also gives you access to internet radio. Even better, tell it where you live and local stations – including all the major national BBC stations – are front-loaded to make it easier to find what you want.

There’s also integration with a host of online music libraries from Deezer and Wolfgang’s Vault to Last.fm and Napster, though it’s Spotify that’s most in demand right now. Added fairly recently, the Spotify features require a premium subscription (£9.99), but the integration is excellent; because Spotify already integrates playlists from iTunes, users of that software can seamlessly jump between sources.

Luckily, all this integration doesn’t go to waste. With no distortion – even at incredibly high volumes – the audio on offer from an S5 is adequate for even large domestic rooms. Bass response is impressive, with an even spread of low frequency sound that’s spot-on, though the overall detail and stereo imaging are also excellent.

If you’re in search of audio nirvana without the clutter of cables, try sitting between two S5 units – they can be set up as a stereo pair, with quite brilliant results.

Another useful extra is the S5′s dual Ethernet LAN ports, which means you can create a wired access point for, say, a games console to join the SonosNet 2.0 wireless mesh network.

Company: Sonos

Contact: 0808 234 6596

Positives
  • Excellent audio quality and superbly flexible control; soon available for Android.
Negative
  • A little bit pricey... but worth it.

Verdict

You could argue that a system as pricey as this - especially if you plan to buy more than one - ought to have Apple AirPlay to allow you to stream lossless music from your iPhone - though in reality, that's probably heading further into the very elitist niche that Sonos was threatening to get stuck in.

Instead, Sonos has decided to expand its multi-room experience to Android users - a great idea, we reckon, because the control you can exert over music with this system is so vast that it should be available to a wider audience. So many devices can make a slave of their users - but here's one that is so simple, intuitive and well designed that it will have you plotting playlists of forgotten MP3s in minutes. It's all about the music, and although relatively expensive, it seems good value - the S5 has as much wow factor as the similarly priced iPad 2.