The Sonos BU150 is the Sonos Music System bundle, comprising a ZonePlayer 120 (ZP120), a ZonePlayer 90 (ZP90) and a Sonos Controller. This multi-room wireless music package is the main offering from Sonos, and puts your PC's entire music catalogue -- plus the entire Napster library of 6 million songs -- in any room of your house.
We've added a Sonos ZoneBridge 100 (BR100) to the setup, too. It costs £70 and adds even better wireless functionality to the system, which we'll cover later.
For almost two years the original Sonos Music System was the highest rated product on CNET UK. Safe to say we unboxed the new system praying little had changed.
We weren't disappointed to begin with. The beautifully packaged and presented Sonos system still excels in terms of design and build. Each weighty ZonePlayer has clearly been meticulously built and runs silently. It's one of those products that feels good to hold, and is even better to look at.
Input and output terminals around the back of the players are equally impressive; from chunky speaker wire terminals on the main ZP120 to the sturdy RCA and optical digital cables on the ZP90. The same goes for the Sonos controller. It's unchanged from the original, so it's still on the bulky side, but it's solid, stupidly fun to use and hasn't shed an inch from the 89mm (3.5-inch) 320x240-pixel full colour screen.
Taking centre stage is the ZP120 -- the main ZonePlayer, and the one that incorporates an integrated stereo amplifier with 55W of power per channel. All you need is speakers and speaker wire.
The smaller ZP90 offers the same basic functionality as the ZP120, but minus the amp. This is the ZonePlayer you'd attach to an existing hi-fi (in a living room during our home testing), whereas the ZP120 would be hooked up just to speakers elsewhere (the bedroom, in our case).
You can stream to up to 32 rooms, with any combination of ZP90s or ZP120s, depending on how many existing hi-fi setups you have in your mansion. You can also stream from up to 16 networked Macs, PCs or NAS devices using the superbly simple bundled software. You can also use this software to control any ZonePlayer in any room.
One drawback of the basic BU150 bundle is that you need at least one ZonePlayer hardwired by Ethernet to your home network's router, meaning your hi-fi or speakers must be within range of Ethernet. A new product for this year was the Sonos ZoneBridge, mentioned earlier. It simply hooks up to your router -- wherever it is -- and lets you put ZonePlayers anywhere you like. All the systems incorporate the SonosNet -- the secure, encrypted Sonos wireless network -- meaning you don't need any existing home wireless network to stream music. If it's not convenient to wire either bundled ZonePlayer by Ethernet, get yourself a ZoneBridge for £70.
Once you're set up, the wireless controller lets you play any song on your computer on any ZonePlayer, from anywhere in the house. You can play different songs on every ZonePlayer simultaneously if you like. The players support MP3, unprotected WMA, AAC, Apple Lossless, FLAC, AIFF, OGG, Audible Format 4 and WAV file formats. Some protected content from Napster and other services is supported, but protected iTunes Store content is not. Neither are Lossless WMA files.
Earlier this year Sonos teamed up with Napster to give streaming access to the entire Napster catalogue -- on demand -- as part of a monthly subscription. A 30-day free trial comes in the box, and although the low 128Kbps WMA bit rate makes it no audiophile choice, it's ideal as a taster service or as background radio. And yes, it works perfectly. We did notice that certain artists weren't available for streaming, however, including -- yup, you guessed it -- Metallica.
After one of the most simple setups in the history of otherwise complicated technology, we had multi-room music set up within about 60 seconds. The Sonos PC software can locate any music file on your computer and make it available to any ZonePlayer via the Controller. It integrates with iTunes, too, making all your iTunes playlists accessible. The same goes for Windows Media Player libraries, M3U playlists and some DRMed Windows Media Audio, although we couldn't get the latter to work during our testing.
Each ZonePlayer can be assigned names like 'Living Room', 'Kitchen' or 'Main Bedroom', and a dedicated 'Zones' button on the Controller lets you switch between players and individually assign music played back by each at any given time. You've also got access to loads of Internet radio stations, including all the major BBC stations, Classic FM, Magic and Virgin.
It really is beautifully simple to use. And it sounds absolutely fantastic. Audio decoding is handled by each ZonePlayer, including lossless formats such as FLAC and ALAC, so no PC processor time is required to transcode certain file types on the fly as with the Logitech Squeezeboxes.
That said, the Squeezeboxes do have a couple of notable advantages. Firstly, the Squeezeboxes give access to podcasts and RSS-based subscription Internet audio, which the Sonos system does not. And secondly, they offer support for services like Last.fm -- including scrobbling -- and Pandora in the US.
Still, we're blown away with how easy the Sonos system is to use, how comprehensive its file format support is, and how truly simplistic it is to set up streaming audio in dozens of rooms. And being able to use Napster's 6 million song catalogue as something of a radio service is nothing short of a dream for anyone who loves discovering music.
All we would like is an extension on the 65,000 song limit in the Sonos library, and perhaps a headphone socket on the ZonePlayers or even on the Controller.
With superb sound quality, ridiculously simple setup and a wealth of features to make almost every other streamer bow its head, Sonos has evolved its music system enough to blow us away even more than before.
The Sonos BU150 is definitely expensive and really only comes into its own in two rooms or more, so before you run out and spend several hundred quid, do consider other options if you only want single room streaming. For instance, try buying just the ZP120 and controller instead of the whole bundle.
Sonus bundles and ZonePlayers are available now from Advanced MP3 Players.
Edited by Marian Smith