In times past, you'd come across some fairly major logistical issues if you wanted to be able to listen to your entire music collection anywhere in your home. You'd either need to move your sound system from room to room, or put up with wires and cables trailing under doors and rugs and up the stairs. Or spend a fortune on a home install system.
The rise of digital and computer-based music has made it easier by adding the element of portability to your audio collection. But there was still the question of having a system that didn't need constant moving or trailing of leads around the home. That's where the wireless revolution comes in...
You can now stream audio from a range of devices to speakers around the home using a wireless connection – without compromising on sound quality. There are different ways to do this, different products and technologies, but one of the companies to lead has been Sonos, carving out a niche as a mass market, mainstream solution.
Now there are many players in the home wireless sound system game, with a range of manufacturers like Pure, Bose and Cambridge Audio now offering ways to enjoy your music collection – wherever you are in your home. That's why we're here to help, providing you with the answers you need to set-up your own multi-room system.
What is Sonos? How does it work?
Sonos is the American company founded in 2002 with a simple aim – to transform your home sound system for the digital age. It has released products and software designed to "fill every room" of your home. Its real bonus is the flexibility and functionality.
The Sonos wireless sound system works by connecting one single device to your home network to play music – from either online or local sources – before adding more Sonos devices (up to a maximum of 32) that all connect using a secure wireless mesh network known as Sonosnet.
Back in 2004, Sonos launched the amplified ZonePlayer ZP100 and CR100 controller and hasn't looked back. It has continued to innovate with new products to expand and enhance your listening experience at home, all the while adding streaming services to its ever growing roster.
There are two main types of players in the Sonos system – all-in-one Zoneplayers such as the Bridge or Play:1 and CONNECT-branded products that can turn existing audio equipment into a Sonos Zone. A subwoofer and a Sonos-enabled soundbar have also come to the market for use with your TV.
In addition to your own digitally-stored music collection, which can be streamed from a NAS device (Network Attached Storage) Sonos comes with a multitude of services to let you customise your playlist and explore new or forgotten music. These include, but are by no means limited to, Spotify, Napster, Deezer and Last.fm. However, you may need subscriptions for these.
Further more, French company Qobuz has been added to bring a CD-quality streaming service to Sonos for the first time. While other services offer files at 320kbps, Qobuz on Sonos offers unlimited streaming access to CD-quality FLAC files at 16-bit/44.1kHz for a monthly subscription charge.
Sonos Alternatives: Other wireless music systems
"So if I want a wireless multiroom speaker system in my home, I should turn to Sonos?". While the short answer to that may well be, "Yes", there are other options to consider, some of which offer more or do certain things better.
There are plenty of alternative wireless speakers and a number of multiroom sound systems on the market that challenge Sonos' dominance.
Pure Jongo system
Last year saw the launch of the Pure Jongo S3 speaker – the first product in Pure's own multiroom music system.
The series has now blossomed into a five-unit family of music streamers that can be used solo or grouped together. And they offer an affordable entry into the realm of wireless and multiroom audio systems.
As well as streaming locally stored music from your phone or tablet over wi-fi, the Pure Connect app also offers over 20,000 streaming radio stations and around 200,000 on-demand programmes and podcasts through the system.
Crucially, the Pure Jongo speakers bring Bluetooth to the party, allowing you to stream music directly from your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, tablet or computer, whether that's your own music or from apps such as YouTube.
MORE: Pure Jongo S3 review
MORE: Pure Jongo T2 review
Bose wireless music system
Bose has also come to the party with three new wireless streaming music systems – the SoundTouch Portable, SoundTouch 20 and SoundTouch 30 – as part of its new SoundTouch line, which will be joined by a host of other wireless products.
The three launch products can stream music directly over WiFi from any connected computer, tablet or smartphone, and also support Apple AirPlay streaming. And you can link multiple speakers for a multiroom system.
Simple Audio had rather a stuttering start to its multiroom music life but the system is another alternative to Sonos.
Launching with the Simple Audio Roomplayer 1.
For those of you who aren't so bothered about the idea about listening to music around the home, but are considering wireless speakers for your audio set-up, you aren't going to be left short of choice.
From Sony to Cambridge Audio, there are speakers to match your needs and your budget.
The Cambridge Audio Minx Go (above), for example, was crowned Best Wireless Speaker Up To £150 in our Awards 2013.
Also worthy of note is the Arcam rCube, which has been around for a few years now but does offer the advantage of being able to daisy-chain together with rCube speakers to make a basic multiroom system.
More after the break
Sonos: Getting Started
A Sonos system is fairly straightforward to set up. If you want to play music in the same room as your wi-fi router, you can just hook up a Play:1, Play:3 or Play:5 speaker. It used to be the case that you'd have to do this directly using an ethernet cable or connect a Bridge (£39) to the router, the latter being particularly helpful if you wanted to play music elsewhere in the home.
However, that is no longer the case after Sonos's latest 5.1 software update made it possible to connect your Sonos speaker direct to your wi-fi network using the dedicated Sonos app - transforming the speakers into true, one-box wireless speakers and removing the need for a wired connection to your router.
That now means the Play:1 (£169) - arguably the most flexible of the speakers and able to be moved from room to room if you wish - is the entry-level price for a Sonos system, with the Play:3 (£259) and Play:5 (£349) moving up the size, bass and cost scale. The Connect (£279) will turn your stereo into a streaming system, while a Connect:Amp (£399) works with your wired speakers.
And Sonos has also launched the Boost, which is a more powerful version of the Bridge and is there to lend a helping hand in more challenging wireless environments. The company says it offers "complete 360-degree signals through walls and ceilings" and is twice the strength of the Bridge. It's now on sale for £79.
Sonos: Missing features and things to consider
Of course, while Sonos may bill itself as a "wireless hi-fi system", there's no denying that a dedicated separates system will deliver better sound for a little more cash than, say, the Play:5. Perhaps no surprise, they're different products.
And there are myriad streaming options should you value sound quality above the flexibility that Sonos offers: a NAS device allows you to stream music to, say, the Pioneer N-50 or the Cyrus Stream XP2-QX, and the more streamers you buy the more rooms of music you can have.
But you don't get the multi-room functionality, nor the simple, brilliant interface of the Sonos apps. And it's notably more expensive.
You would however get high-res audio support – something not offered by Sonos, which maxes out at CD-quality files.
There's also no AirPlay or Bluetooth functionality built in to Sonos products, meaning you can't direct stream from music apps, YouTube and others on a phone or tablet. It is possible to add an AirPort Express to Sonos models with a line input, however.
Sonos: Products and Reviews
Looking to invest in a Sonos wireless speaker? Fancy creating your own home sound system and don't want all those trailing wires? Take a look at our round-up of all Sonos products that we've had in our test rooms.
Tested at £170 – 14.10.13
The Play:1 won us over in the same way the Play:3 and Play:5 did. It’s ease of use is a huge draw, but it's backed up by fantastic sound quality and an affordable price.
Whether you’re looking to get started on your Sonos journey, or you’re adding bits to an existing set-up, you won’t regret finding a spot for the Play:1 in your home.
MORE: Sonos Play:1 review
Tested at £260 – 24.10.11
Like the Play:5, the Play:3 is an all-in-one that combines a network music client, amp and speakers, making it simple to add an extra zone to an existing Sonos system.
You can also link two Play:3s together to make a stereo pair, as well as being able to stream music directly from your Android device, iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.
MORE: Sonos Play:3 review
Tested at £349 – 31.12.09
If you sign up for the Playbar and Sub, you’ll need to take into account a couple of minor caveats – only a digital optical connection, some compatibility issues and no DTS support.
Essentially an over-qualified soundbar, it will however boost your TV's sound and deliver another room of music. The sub certainly helps fill the sound out, too.
MORE: Sonos System review
by Pete Hayman