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Sonos wireless system: everything you need to know

11 Mar 2014
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 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 some serious cash on a home install system.
The rise of digital audio and computer-based music libraries has made things 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 your home wi-fi connection. There are different ways to do this, different products and technologies, but one of the companies to lead has been Sonos, successfully carving out a niche as a mainstream "Wireless Hi-Fi" solution.
There are other players in the home wireless sound system game, too, with manufacturers such as Bose, Cambridge Audio and Pure now offering ways to enjoy your music collection, wherever you are in your home. In this guide we'll be focusing on Sonos and its alternatives.

What is Sonos? How does it work?

Sonos is an 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 its system's 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. The ZP90, ZP120 and CR200 followed, later rebranded as the Connect and Connect:Amp at the same time that Sonos launched the Play speaker brand. 
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 product in the Sonos system – all-in-one Zoneplayers such as the 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 can access 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. Note, though, that you will need paid subscriptions for many of these services.
Furthermore, 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 Labs acts as a beta testing area for new music services so it's worth checking for new apps being added.

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 directly using an ethernet cable. If you don't want to do that – or want to play music elsewhere in the home – connect a Bridge (£40) to the router.
The Play:1 (£170) is arguably the most flexible of the speakers and can be moved from room to room easily. The Play:3 (£260) and Play:5 (£350) move up the size, bass and cost scale. The Connect (£280) will turn your stereo into a streaming system, while a Connect:Amp (£400) works with your wired speakers.
If you have opted for the Bridge, you can now link the Play:1, Play:3 or Play:5 over the wireless mesh network to stream music. After installing the software on your computer, you can control your system with Sonos's own controller, with your computer, or use the free Sonos iPhone/Android app.

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.
Christmas 2013 saw a number of retailers offering a free Bridge with certain purchases. Sonos products in the sale are a little harder to come by, however – a sign of their consistent popularity.
Sonos Play:1
5 stars
Tested at £170 – 14.10.13
The Play:1 won us over in the same way the Play:3 and Play:5 did. Its 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.

Sonos Play:3
5 stars
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.

Sonos Play:5
5 stars
Tested at £350 – 31.12.09
Sonos Play 5
When we reviewed the Sonos Play:5, it showed just how far the company had come. It is perfectly pitched, stylistically and technologically – a premium-feeling proposition we described as being '"as close to hi-fi as wi-fi gets".

Sonos Playbar
5 stars
Tested at £600 – 04.03.13

If you’re after a simple device that will massively improve the sound from your TV and give you immediate access to more music than you could ever hope to listen to, the Sonos Playbar will do the trick.

Sonos Playbar and Sub
4 stars
Tested at £1200 – 23.08.13

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