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SONOS CONNECT:AMP (ZonePlayer120) First Impressions

2012/06/01
SONOS CONNECT:AMP ZP120 Music Player

I’m certain I might be the last to know about the SONOS music distribution system.  Most friends follow my philosophy of seeing how cheaply we can accomplish things and have a collection of Roku SoundBridge and similar MP3 media streamers.  Yeah, they take some work to keep multiple units consistent (maintaining presets) but when they work, they are just a great and cost-effective way to get digital music where you want it in your house.  But eventually, you get tired of the Soundbridge with a separate amplifier and wires all over and the space and look.  And then maybe if you are lucky you discover the SONOS.

After helping a friend (over the telephone) get their SONOS system working after they upgraded their home network, I did some research into the system.  Wow, it seems very expensive, especially when compared to the Roku Soundbridge and Roku Radio units that I’ve used for so long.  I kept watching for discounts (never) and package deals where they don’t cut the price but they give you something for free, like speakers or a bridge or something.  This time around, Crutchfield showed the package that tempted me beyond my power to resist, and I jumped at the chance to get a SONOS CONNECT:AMP (formerly ZonePlayer 120), the Wi-Fi BRIDGE and a pair of small wired outdoor speakers.  Not a bad deal if you just needed a push.

Two days later the box arrived and I unpacked the SONOS CONNECT:AMP.  It’s compact, although taller than the online specifications suggest.  That was a minor issue so me, and I was able to pretty quickly remove the Soundbridge and the stereo receiver that was pushing my audio throughout the house.  I downloaded the iPad app for SONOS and in short order I had the ZP120 playing Internet Radio.  So, this is about as close to the simplicity of Apple to get-going, and I was impressed.

I wasn’t that happy when the SONOS would not locate my streaming servers.  Neither the iTunes or open-source servers were seen.  That’s when I realized that SONOS goes directly at your “shared” disk storage.  This is good and bad, I think, since now you need to actually have shared drives, and I didn’t.  But it was easy enough to use the MACOSX Controller software to make the iTunes music folder a share the SONOS could locate.  Once SONOS located the share, it took a fair amount of time to “index” the files, since the SONOS doesn’t seem to leverage any playlists of library indexes that exist.  At least, that’s my first impression.  After some time, I realized that this was a huge advantage, since I didn’t need to leave anything but disk storage running, and my Network Storage RAID is about as energy-efficient as it can get.

The SONOS amp is not as strong at the receiver amplifier was, so I find my in-wall volume controls need to be set higher.  I don’t think this will drive things to quite the levels I do when no one is home, but they are more than adequate for what I should be doing – reasonable listening levels.  So, I’ve settled on the SONOS at 75% and the wall dials at 50% and we’ll see where that leads.

The SONOS offers many opetions of paid music sources, including Pandora, Rhapsody and other offerings.  Those who own SONOS and can afford the monthly fees say they haven’t bought a song in the years they’ve owned a SONOS.  They can hear any on-demand.

What no one seems to talk about is the SONOS use of 2.4GHz Wi-Fi (not 5Ghz) and their use of a MESH network.  They also leverage Spanning Tree Protocol to prevent loops from crippling your combined Wi-Fi and Wired networks.  You probably want to do some research in this space if you plan a sophisticated installation, and that might cause you to update some of your home routers to current specifications (including STP support).

So, I’d say I went from wondering how they get this kind of money for their equipment to a devoted fan in about 24 hours.  I am already plotting to add a second ZP120 to another floor and a PLAY:5 remote speaker to the rear patio.  Hey, a hardware controller would be nice too.  I’m keeping an eye out for another package deal.  I think I’ll suggest one to them. You can be sure I’ll have several Roku units headed for eBay shortly.

11-JUNE-2012 Update: I enjoyed the first SONOS so much that I added a second unit for the Basement.  Now, the Basement hosts a small Linux NSLU2 that plays clocktower chimes through its Line-In, and I can play those anywhere.  I also added the iPod Dock.  Although the Dock doesn’t work with my pre-Classic Classic, it works fine with my later-model Classic, which is large enough to hold my entire collection.  So, several Thumbs Up for both the CONNECT:AMP and the SONOS:DOCK.

A word of caution.  When I connected the second CONNECT:AMP, I was worried the Wi-Fi signal would not be strong enough to reach it, so I connected it to the wired network.  Immediately, a Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) packet storm erupted and pretty-much broke the entire home network.  My aged Linksys DD-WRT router fell over from the strain, but my current model Buffalo DD-WRT routers were fine.  Eventually, I regained control of the Linksys, but it had been reset to all the default settings, which was quite a pain to endure.  So, the word of caution is to not connect these to ethernet unless you need to, other than a SONOS Bridge itself, and I feel the 2.4GHz proprietary Wi-Fi works much better than I expected.

Stream the Internet, your home music files or commercial music services throughout your castle and live like The King.
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