I’ve been talking to the Sonos folks for years. And everyone I know who owns their connected music system absolutely raves about it. Yet, I’ve never joined in given the steep price of entry (starting at ~$1000) and BYOS (bring your own speakers) requirement. Fortunately, Sonos has been listening and their new all-in-one S5 ($400) begins shipping next week.
In what’s become an annual tradition, I recently met up with Sonos CEO John MacFarlane to take a look at the new product. The S5 is a bit larger than the Bose SoundDock II ($300), weighing in at about 9lbs. But it packs in so much more, including the the components for the Sonos mesh network to stream DRM-free iTunes, Pandora, Rhapsody, etc with sound that John says “crushes” Bose. He went on to tell me that their primary focus with this all-in-one unit was nailing audio quality, going as far as consulting with Skywalker Ranch on performance. While I’m no audiophile, the full-bodied music emanating into a crowded Marriott lounge sounded quite good. And, in terms of volume, I have a feeling Sonos could have overtaken the room had we cranked it. (The S5 houses 5 speakers, including a sub woofer.)
The target audience for the S5 is music-loving iPhone or iPod Touch owners, who would use their handheld (and the free Sonos app) to control their entire Sonos infrastructure. (Although, one could optionally pick up a dedicated Sonos controller, starting at $250.) And John alluded to support for a pair of additional mobile platforms coming next year.
The S5 provides integrated WiFi functionality yet, to maintain high availability audio streaming, Sonos units will only talk to each and hardwired connections. So, for true wireless freedom, many potential S5 owners will need to pick up a Zone Bridge ($99) to take the whole thing airborne. Given current networking reliability and my own experiences streaming video wirelessly (high def, no less), I’m not sure this is necessary. So while Sonos will indeed control the horizontal and vertical to ensure the music never stops, I wonder if this additional hardware requirement does more harm than good in providing another barrier to entry.
Of course, there are many ways to crack the home audio streaming nut. Some have AppleTV connected to a home theater system which is controlled via Apple’s iPhone remote while others cling to their aging Squeezeboxes. Not to mention, there are scores of nice, affordable iPhone/Touch speaker docks and clock “radios” these days. However, for my current minimalist gypsy lifestyle, Internet radio habit, and desire to keep my phone available as a phone, the portable Sonos S5 may be the proper solution to stream audio around my place. I only wish it could speak directly to my wireless router.
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