It’s getting a little easier, and maybe cheaper, to setup a Sonos wireless speaker system.
Sonos, in case you don’t know, is the company that launched, and mostly rules, the wireless multiroom speaker market, at least for DIY users. With Sonos, users can set up a multiroom wireless audio system in just a few minutes. The cheapest way into the Sonos ecosystem is to get a couple of Play 1 speakers ($199 each, reviewed here) and a Sonos Bridge ($49). The Bridge is/was, the main gateway device for Sonos. When a user connects that directly (wired) to their home router, the Bridge then sets up its own Wi-Fi network (the Sonos mesh network) which communicates to all the Sonos speakers or amps in the home.
Well, that’s all changed. Via a software update called 5.1 (not to be confused with 5.1 audio) a Sonos system no longer needs a Bridge wired directly to the homeowner’s router. Instead any Sonos product (the speakers, Connect or Connect Amps) can be connected to a home network via the home’s Wi-Fi network—yes, wirelessly.
So some of you are saying, well, so what? For existing Sonos owners, this news doesn’t matter. The company recommends that you keep everything the way it is and go back to what you were doing.
For new Sonos customers, the company suggests that the direct Wi-Fi method will work perfectly. This will save you the $50 cost of a Bridge and the hassle of having to hook another device onto your already overcrowded router or switch. For the past year or so, Sonos has been bundling a Bridge with other speakers, so this move may be more of a cost savings for Sonos, but in any event, it’s one less little white box to deal with (and one less thing to plug in).
Will the new setup be more taxing to your network? Sonos says no. The company ran extensive beta tests on the new system and seems pretty confident that in most homes the experience will be rock solid. The new update actually creates a kind of hybrid Wi-Fi network in your house in which some speakers may receive their signal directly from your router, while grouped speakers connect to each other via the Sonos mesh network. For example, if you have several speakers grouped (such as two Play3s and a subwoofer in one room) that group will connect to each other via the Sonos mesh. If you want to play the same music on all 31 speakes in your house, one will wirelessly receive the signal from your router, while the others all speak over SonosNet. If wireless speaker number 32 is playing a separate stream, then it will be pulling directly from the router’s Wi-Fi.
Aside from the slightly easier installation, another benefit of this new setup option is that for users in large homes, homes that may have multiple wireless access points, connecting may be better than with just the Sonos Brigde because any Sonos product would be able to connect to a Wi-Fi access point. So you with the sprawling ranch, you’re good to go.
Are there reasons you may want to use the Bridge anyway? Yes, says Sonos, especially if you use a Playbar (reviewed here) in a 3.1 (Playbar with subwoofer) or 5.1 (Playbar with suboofer and two other Sonos speakers) set up. In this case Sonos says you must connect the Playbar or Bridge directly to a router with a cable because it avoids the possibility of latency issues—so the dialog is synced with the onscreen action.
Another reason you may want to use the Bridge is if your home is large or prone to Wi-Fi issues. The Bridge, with its dedicated Sonos mesh network, will add a layer of reliability.
Is that it? Well, not exactly. Sonos hinted at another product, the Boost, which Sonos’ Eric Nieilson describes as “a Bridge on steroids,” for very large homes or more complicated Wi-Fi environments.
There will be some additional news from Sonos coming soon, but I have to keep that to myself for the time being. Check back here next week.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.