Friday, July 06, 2007

Zoning in to Sonos

We've finally bitten the bullet and shelled out for a 2 zone Sonos music system. I see we're not alone; Rob Levy, BEA's CTO, says it is his favourite gadget - and Joel Spolsky has also endorsed it.

We started around Christmas buying 2 Squeezeboxes - because I'm cheap, and because the Sonos system needs at least one box on wired Ethernet - which we didn't have handy in the right rooms. Although the Squeezebox looks good, it didn't really deliver as I had hoped.

The worst things about the Squeezebox:

  • it's not very good at coping with poor wireless reception - which probably accounts for most of the other problems

  • although you can synchronise two boxes (say one in the kitchen, and one in the living room) they tend to drift apart; not a good sound!

  • The slimserver software is incredibly slow at (re)indexing

  • the whole solution relies on slimserver software installed (by an importer) on a linux NAS fileserver - that makes getting updates much harder.

  • Internet radio was listed, but I could never get it to work

  • Documentation and help was rather flaky

  • The boxes look great but the UI is crummy - I never managed to explain it to my wife (or even to myself...)

So we cut our losses and invested in two Sonos ZP80s - they're quite small boxes, which feed into your existing amplifiers (you can use ZP100 if you want a built in amp). Rather than recable our house, we got a couple of powernet adapters. Music sits on a (simple) NAS disc - no intelligence required there.

We had some difficulty getting the powernet working - in the end after three hours trying every feasible combination of sockets in our (1st floor) office and (ground floor) living room, the very helpful installer swapped the original Netgear products for Microlink and found a pair of sockets that worked. Fantastic! after that everything was very straightforward. There's a (pricey) i-Pod like controller - or you can use a desktop interface. Once you've sussed the Zones and Music buttons, it's a piece of cake to navigate.

It's using the same music library as Windows Media Player - so I can load music once, and use it either on my headphones from the laptop, or on the Sonos system. Having the same music in two zones is easy - and very reliable. Adding new zones is also very simple (I just know we'll need a third zone in the office...). And internet radio works a treat - though with a slightly robotic quality, from the selection of sites supported (plenty of UK ones - helpful for us as we get almost nothing on DAB or FM).

The Squeezeboxes won't be entirely wasted; they'll go out to Italy this summer, where they should benefit - eventually - from being wired in (assuming the builders have remembered the CAT-5...).

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