Sonos has long stood in obscurity thanks to its multiroom, multiparty system and hefty price tag. Now the company is looking to break down the complexity barrier with the Sonos S5, introduced just this past October for $399. In a nutshell the S5 is a speaker system that can stream your computer’s stored music, Internet radio and a multitude of music services (Pandora, Last.fm, Napster, etc).
Inside the all white box – it has a Bose like aesthetic – are five speakers: two tweeters, two mid range woofers and a dedicated sub, each powered by their own digital amplifier. On its rear is a 3.5mm line input, two Ethernet ports and a power plug. Wireless is built-in, but won’t work with your home’s WiFi router right out of the box. Instead you’ll need to purchase a Sonos ZoneBridge, a $99 tax if you want to unhinge your S5 from the wired proximity of your router (note: check their FAQ on router compatibility; some don’t work).
To control the Sonos S5 you’ll need either a computer, Sonos CR200 controller or an iPhone/iPod Touch. As mentioned, if you have intentions of placing your Sonos S5 wire free (with the exception of the power) you’ll need to purchase a Zonebridge. By Ethernet wire it connects to your router and using a proprietary version of 802.11n it streams music to the Sonos S5. I found this to be a disappointing requirement since it not only increases the price tag by 25% but partially negates the turn-keyness I expected from the S5, especially seeing as its intentions are to be an all-in-one music box.
Initial setup of the S5 isn’t a simple plug and play, but with a bit of tinkering I was able to get it to play nicely with my computer’s music and Pandora’s streaming music service. I suggest using your computer for initial setup, especially if you want to stream your computer’s music. Plus you’ll want to register your Sonos S5 if you want to access Pandora and the other compatible music services, otherwise they’re not available (you can register from your iPhone as well).
In order to stream your computer’s music, at least on a Mac you’ll need to turn on file sharing and enable “Share files and folders using SMB” under your system preferences. I performed this operation a few times, but after unplugging the S5 and moving it I had to ‘re-add my music library’, which is just a few simple button clicks, nonetheless an annoyance. Each time you add a music library the Sonos S5 indexes the information and provides the info to any controlling devices, such as the iPhone or CR200 controller.
The iPhone is very well suited to control the S5 and Sonos has gone to great lengths to emulate the look and feel of the iPhone’s iPod menus. There a wide array of music options to choose from including Internet radio, local Internet radio (you enter your zip code during registration) and more. You can also set an Alarm to ring daily, weekends or Monday – Friday. It can either play the Sonos chime, playlist from your computer or your music service of choosing.
It was a bit of a let down that you can’t stream your iPhone’s stored music to the Sonos S5, especially since this would make the whole system much more turnkey, but again, Sonos has chosen a proprietary version of 802.11n limiting its wireless compatibility. Of note, Sonos’ iPhone app’s menus are very speedy and I experienced no lag when trying to access my music library (once loaded) or music services.
What I didn’t do, but would suggest, is connecting the Sonos S5 to a NAS, otherwise known a network attached storage. Utilizing this setup will mean that the S5 will always be attached to your music library and won’t require you to wake your computer from sleep, especially if you depend on the built-in alarm system.
Now down to the meat and potatoes of the S5: the sound. Unlike some other previous speakers that I reviewed in the past, the S5 is L-O-U-D. Sound quality is pretty solid, though at times some tunes were a bit bright and lacking what I would deem a wide spectrum of sound. Fortunately, Sonos tossed in a manual EQ allowing you to adjust treble, bass, balance and even turn on ‘loudness’, which increases bass at low volumes.
I tested the S5 with a wide variety of music including rap (50 Cent), classical (Bach) and pop (Michael Jackson). The classical probably sounded the most balanced since the sounds are largely mids and highs, while the rap tended to sound a built hollow and lack solid mids and the deep lows. Michael Jackson’s Thriller album was very well suited for the S5, though it was a bit ‘bright’ at times. For the most part the S5 can handle any genre of music, but shines brighter with select genres.
As it often does, it comes down to price. The $498 price tag (includes $99 for the wireless ZoneBridge, $399 without) makes the Sonos S5 ZonePlayer an expensive, but convenient resolve for all your musical audio needs. And since it boasts it’s own Internet connection, it doesn’t require your computer or iPhone to be turned on to emit audio, unless of course you want to switch stations or songs.
You can buy the Sonos S5 ZonePlayer from Amazon for $399
- Nice minimalist design
- Good audio range for small footprint
- Compatible with wide array of music services
- Doesn’t play music from iPhone
- Not wireless out of the box
- Requires iPhone or computer to control