The original Sonos Digital Music System impressed us with its solid build and near-transparent operation. There was one caveat, though: you were compelled to use the integrated amplifier in the ZP100 rather than your own. True audiophiles always had the option of running a cable from the ZP100 to their own amplifier, but this left a great chunk of the original system unused.
With the introduction of the £269 ZP80, Sonos has stripped the integrated amplifier out of the unit, instead providing a range of output options including stereo phono and optical. Using standard interconnects, you can route the ZP80 directly into your existing amplifier and speakers.
Like its predecessor, the ZP80 is a delicious treat in a field dominated by over-complicated music-streaming hardware. The ZP80 wirelessly distributes music and Internet radio from your home computers to as many as 32 different amplifier and speaker setups. Configuration is almost non-existent and, as with the ZP100, audio quality is delectable. Only Apple comes close to matching the usability and build quality of these Sonos units.
The ZP80 is designed for use as part of the Sonos Digital Music System. The system is based around a series of wireless amplifers, known as ZonePlayers. Each ZonePlayer must be attached to a pair of speakers, and one of the ZonePlayers needs to be hardwired to a computer via an Ethernet cable.
If you already have a home network, you can hardwire the ZP80 to an existing Ethernet hub. Once you've done this, any computer attached to your network can share its music using the bundled software. For a basic setup you will need to buy at least two ZonePlayers and the Sonos remote control (£779 in a bundle). You can use any combination of ZP80 and ZP100 units.
There is, however, one flaw in the Sonos system, and that's the ZP80 and ZP100's inability to play DRM-protected tracks. If you have an existing collection of music bought from iTunes or Napster, you won't be able to play these tracks through the ZP80 without some serious jiggery-pokery, such as burning your purchased tracks to CD and then ripping them again to create an unprotected (but lower-quality) file. It's up to you whether you want to blame Sonos for this problem, or the record companies who insist on DRM.
The ZP80 is around a quarter of the size of the original ZP100. Though far from unattractive, the tiny ZP80 looks a little odd perched on top of standard 19-inch hi-fi components. Those with deep shelves may be able to hide the ZP80 behind their existing hi-fi separates system.
Output options on the new ZP80 differ significantly from the ZP100's. Gone are the hardy speaker bindings and subwoofer output, and in their place are analogue phono connectors (in/out), as well as optical and digital coaxial connectors. You'll have to rely on your existing amplifier for everything else. This is pretty much all an audiophile could ask for. The emphasis here is on simplicity in providing good-quality output to your current stereo system.
Gone too is the bulletproof single-moulding steel chassis. Since the ZP80 doesn't have a built-in amplification stage, there is little need to isolate it from resonance or interference, so Sonos has opted for a dense plastic chassis instead.
Every ZP80 has two standard Ethernet ports on the rear. One of your ZonePlayers must be hardwired to your home network, and this is a case of running an Ethernet cable from one of these ports to a hub, or straight to your computer using a cross-over. Those who feel restricted by the enforced hardwiring can connect the unit to a third-party wireless bridge to make the Sonos system completely wireless.