Hands On: Sonos PLAY:3 Multiroom Audio Player

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Stream music wirelessly to any room in your house.


Aug. 04, 2011 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

It’s amazing what a bugaboo multiroom audio can be, especially when products like Sonos have existed now for several years. If you don’t already know, Sonos sells a system which uses your home’s IP network (wired or wireless) to distribute music around to any room in your house. This system has proved itself reliable and easy to use, and now, Sonos has made it even easier.

A few weeks ago Sonos launched the PLAY:3, a single cabinet speaker that can function as a stand-alone stereo unit or as part of a left/right pair. At $299, it’s relatively cheap too, at least in terms of adding a multiroom option to your house.

The PLAY:3 itself looks and feels like a fairly robust bookshelf speaker. Inside are two midrange drivers, a tweeter and a bass radiator, all powered by three class D amplifiers. On the back you get a power cord and an Ethernet cable port (which most people won’t use).  To turn the speaker from a stereo unit to half of a two-speaker system, just stand it up vertically and an internal sensor makes the switch. Pretty simple huh?

While you can plug a PLAY:3 into your router, most people will want to use the Sonos Bridge as the center point of their system because it makes it all wireless. The Bridge ($49) plugs into your router via Ethernet, then transmits a proprietary wireless signal feeding the PLAY:3s scattered around the house.

Setup
I first plugged the Bridge into my router, which is centered in the house. Then I loaded the Sonos software to begin setting up the system. Here’s where I ran into a snag— the firewall from Norton Internet Security wasn’t letting the Sonos Bridge through. Luckily, the setup software tells you exactly how to fix that, and a minute or so later the Bridge was registered in the application.

After that I plugged the two PLAY:3 units into the walls of two separate rooms and pressed a couple of buttons to connect them wirelessly to the Bridge. Again, simple.

Once that was done, all that was left was to go into the software on my PC and configure it for the music services I wanted to use. Pandora, Spotify, last.fm, SiriusXM, Napster, Rhapsody … plus ten thousand or so internet radio stations were all at my fingertips.

You can also set it up to grab tunes from your iTunes account or computer’s music folder, but that requires leaving another computer on at all times unless you use a networked attached storage drive. Just to see how it worked, I set up the system to pull from my main music folder.

Finally, while you can control any aspect of the system from the Sonos desktop software, it’s a lot easier to use the free apps for iDevices or Android. I downloaded the iPhone app, let it connect to my system, and right away both PLAY:3 speakers (which I named Office and Living Room) showed up as zones.  After that it was just a matter of deciding what I wanted to listen to.

Performance
Like the Autonomic music server I reviewed recently, the ability to browse through a nearly unlimited music library is a thrill, and Sonos makes the process easy. With either the iPhone app or the desktop software, I could quickly move between various music services, individual channels and even create new ones on the fly. Browsing my personal music collection on the app wasn’t quite as friendly, due mostly to the fact that sorting through 10,000 tracks on a tiny screen is kind of a pain.

You can control the volume (or mute) with buttons on the top of each PLAY:3 or through the control app. I found there was a slight delay when using the volume control on the app, but most people will probably rely on that ninety percent of the time unless they’re sitting right next to the unit.

Each PLAY:3 speaker can play independently or you can group them to play the same music at the same time.

Playing streaming music was easy and very responsive. I did notice that music played from my computer was a little buggier—sometimes with delays or hiccups. Music streaming stations come straight from the router to the Bridge, while my local music had to come first off my computer, then to the router and then the Bridge.

The sound quality was surprisingly rich for such small speakers. Even when using just a single speaker, you can still easily fill a room with dynamic sound. When blasted the bass got a bit cloudy, but remember, this is a speaker the size of a loaf of bread.

That said, the PLAY:3 is a small speaker with built-in digital amplifiers. It’s on par with a quality iPod speaker dock (not quite as good as the B & W Zeppelin), but not a dedicated hi-fi system. On the other hand, if you want to incorporate Sonos into your existing audio gear, you can use a Zoneplayer 90 to stream all the music to your home theater setup, and then a couple of PLAY:3s to add music to additional rooms.

Sonos PLAY:3
$299
Bridge: $49
http://www.sonos.com

View the slideshow for more details and setup and use.



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