I’ve wanted to try out a Sonos system since its introduction early last year. Finally, the wait is over and I am even more thrilled with it than I could have imagined.  What a great gift idea for Dads ‘n Grads, for any occasion or non-occasion.

This is the new Sonos ZP80 bundle.  You’ve digitized (“ripped”) all your CDs and now they’re on your computer. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of your CDs, and maybe even those old vinyl records you’ve converted to digital on your computer. Have you thought that you and maybe the other family members under your roof would like to be able to hear all or any part of the collection, selected according to the room in which it will be heard?

Let’s try this another way.  You’ve got an iPod and you enjoy listening to all the music you’ve digitized into your computer, which is also on your iPod.  When home, you’re locked to your computer that’s in one room when you want to listen to the music.  For that matter, you might also have audiobooks from audible.com that you’ve purchased directly or through the iTunes Music Store. You would like to listen to the content that’s on the computer while in another room, any other room or rooms. Oh, and be sure it’s all as easy to use and to access the music as it is when using your iPod, with a functional, simple, wonderful remote control.  All the power you need is right there in your hand.  Now, have I got your attention?

That’s what I found in the Sonos ZP80 system we’ve been auditioning here at Gadget CentralThe two-room Sonos ZP80 bundle costs $999. Add more rooms for a cool $350 each (ZP80s). No, it’s not cheap. Yes, it’s so totally worth the price. I just had no idea how cool it is until I had it here to try it myself, so pay attention. I want to help you spend some money and for you to thank me for the suggestion so please keep reading.

Sonos Is Sure You Will Love It!

Now would also be a great time to tell you that Sonos is so sure you’re going to love what they do that they offer a full, 30-day money-back guarantee.  They know, as I have discovered, that once you set it up and use it, you’re not going to want to part with it.  You’ve got nothing to lose. I asked how often someone unwinds the deal. I was told a number that is under 10. Period. That’s remarkable customer satisfaction, I think.  As a privately held company, they can afford to just do things right, the way the founders intend and direct, and I admire this tremendously.

See a demonstration of the Sonos Digital Music System!

This ZP80 bundle consists of a pair of ZP80 players (ZonePlayers) that, coincidentally, resemble a Mac mini computer, and a stylish wireless remote control, the operation of which will remind you of the clean looking and easy-to-use iPod, though it’s lots bigger. There are no big and ugly power bricks, either.

In just about 15 minutes you’ll be set up and listening to your music and audiobooks, though the first player MUST be hard-wired to your network. Each ZP80 has a two-port Ethernet switch so the signal can pass through from the Ethernet cable to the computer, if desired.

Music between the Sonos Players and communication with the wireless remote are accomplished with Sonos’ own wireless technology, so you’ll never experience a wireless network slowdown while using the product.  It’s off doing its own thing and never interferes with what your computer is doing.

With its own wireless technology the system also avoids the usually time consuming chore of adding components to your existing network, considering all the possibilities there are for your wireless network gear – from network IDs, to encryption protocols and all the other geeky things that take time and require expertise.  Forget about it. This thing’s just so easy.  The more Players you have, the better, too, as far as the network is concerned.

Instead of the way we’ve become accustomed to listening, Sonos provides infinite flexibility.  Forget about all the CD players you may have distributed throughout your house, even the mega-changers holding as many as 500 CDs. This is better, easier to manage and more flexible.

Why, this thing is so simple you won’t have to ask your kids to set it up!

Imagine your house and its rooms drawn on a paper grid upon which there are ZonePlayers, starting with as few as two.  Now, imagine there are several. Each Player acts as a communicator with the others nearby, extending the range from the nearest to the farthest across this imaginary grid. Wherever you are with that remote (which feels solid and fits your hands just so), it, too, communicates through this “grid” of Players, telling each what to do. It’s just brilliant, I tell you! Want more brilliance?  Whether on a Mac or Windows PC, the simple software, including the Sonos Desktop, can also control the system.  Just launch it and choose what you want to hear, where you want to hear it.

Another word about the remote . . . it uses internal rechargeable batteries, so it will need to be recharged every few days or so, maybe sooner, depending upon how much you use it. In the Bundle, it comes with a power cord for recharging. I recommend the $50 optional charging cradle. Just drop it in to keep it charged and pluck it out to use it. Convenience trumps all.

But why is that first Player wired?  I asked, and now it makes perfect sense to me.  That first Player has the job of coordinating what goes out and where it goes. It’s the feeder, so they had to use the reliability of wired technology to assure a positive customer experience using the first Player to suck out the content from where it resides on your home network.  Remember, the signal from it to the rest of the Players is wireless and does not interfere with whatever your computer wireless network does and that’s why it has no effect upon your normal network functions and speed.

From that base Player, there is communication – sending the goods – to the others, whether one or as many as 32 distributed throughout your vast estate. The remote control, a work of art in its own right, stores the playlists and album art for each “zone” and all you have to do is pick it up (the backlighting goes on automatically when it’s moved), select the zone or room you’ve set up that you want to control, and choose content to your listening pleasure along with the volume for that particular room. You can choose different content for each zone or link zones and the tunes (or audiobooks) go to numerous zones at the same time.  The remote’s scroll wheel has the same feel and function as the scroll wheel on an iPod. Now, really, what could be simpler or more easily functional than that?

If you’re not conveniently near an Ethernet jack for connection to the network there are solutions, such as a powerline adapter (under $50) that can turn your wall power outlet into a network connection. Believe me, they’ve thought of everything to make Sonos work FOR YOU.

Sonos Saves Money!

Because Sonos Digital Music Systems are wireless, installation is much easier and less expensive than a custom installation that requires wiring in the walls. Those systems can cost many thousands of dollars just for the installation, and then there is the expense of the components.  Sonos quality is every bit as good and versatile as you’ll experience with any of the fancier, more expensive systems a high-dollar custom installer can supply.

I also have to offer praise to the tech support professionals at Sonos. They, too, want you to succeed, and they are pleasant and knowledgeable in accepting your calls with any questions. I gave them a call just to see what they’d have to say. I asked questions about connection and configuration and found their support to be first rate.  My questions were answered with expertise and care, but without talking down to me. Another plus for Sonos.  When you call, you’ll get local support, too, and not some outsourced call to Bangalore, India where they are contracted to read from a manual when you call. These Sonos pros KNOW their stuff!

The Technology Inside is Transparent to the User

And though I have described some of the inner workings, there is none of this present or visible to the user. It’s just that cool interface on the remote and that’s it. It just works, and you can forget about how it works. In fact, the system works better than any other remotely controlled system you can experience. When you push a button to do something with the remote control, the results are instantaneous.  Again, it’s all done without wires, and that’s worth a lot to me as it would to you.  The expense of installing a custom-built system like this that is wired would be considerably more expensive and much less flexible than the Sonos systems.

On the remote, there’s a button called Music and another called Zones. Select the Zone, and then select the music for that zone. Scroll through the playlist. I use iTunes for my content organization (because it, too, is the easiest to use and most functional) and the iTunes playlists are duplicated on the remote’s screen. You may use something else, and that’s just fine with Sonos.  Once what I want is found, all I have to do is click the center of the scroll wheel to select it. There’s a queue that builds of all that’s selected, and then I press to play it. I can go fast forward or back in a selection, jump to the next song and even mute the whole thing – INSTANTLY – with a push of the mute button at the upper left on the remote. Use the obvious volume up and down volume control that also responds instantly.  Yes, it IS that easy.  And there is even more versatility.

How does the sound get from the Player to your ears?  Each Sonos ZonePlayer – ZP80 – has connections on the back and a manual volume UP/Down selector on the front, plus Mute and Mute All. Rear connections include analog RCA-type In and Out jacks as well as digital (optical and coaxial).  In other words, the ZonePlayer is designed to perfectly integrate into your existing home theater audio system’s receiver or amplifier. No home theater?  No problem.  You can also plug its output sound into the auxiliary inputs of your existing Bose Wave Radio, great new iPod Hi-Fi, your computer’s powered speakers or into a pair of freestanding powered speakers. Plug IN a CD player, for example, to feed that sound to one or all other ZonePlayers.  It all just works, easily detecting what’s plugged in.

High SAF

I know this is hit product for one very important reason. It has a very high SAF – Spouse Acceptance Factor. That’s right, it’s not only a hit with me, but my family, including Mrs. Gadget, likes it.  My daughter has one of the ZonePlayers in her bedroom and loves it. It’s hard to get that remote from her.

Knows All, Plays (almost) All

The Sonos system will play MP3, WMA, AAC (MPEG4), Ogg Vorbis, Audible (format 4), Apple Lossless, uncompressed WAV and AIFF files and more. It plays most anything.  If you don’t know about any of this, don’t worry. As I said, it just works, mostly.

Ah, but here’s the rub! Sonos WILL NOT PLAY and does not/cannot support Apple’s Digital Rights Management (DRM) or “Fairplay” tunes, Microsoft’s “Plays-for-Sure” DRM-encrypted and WMA Lossless formats. In other words, if you’ve purchased music from the iTunes Music Store or from Rhapsody’s Website, those companies have decided to not allow you to play YOUR music where you want on the device of your choosing.  Why, you ask?  It’s not because Sonos does not want to play it. It’s because of restrictions by Apple and the others who want to control where and how we listen to OUR purchased music.

Look, I understand “they” want to prevent music stealing, but I also understand that I bought my music and I want to hear it where and when and how I want it – ALL of my music. That’s MY music. I did not rent it or borrow it. I bought it fair ‘n square and I want it without THEM telling me how and where I can enjoy it.

My Workaround for Playing MY Protected Music

I lose the argument because they say so. So, I worked around it, and I’ll tell you how.  It’s NOT illegal to do what I did, but you’ll never see this information come from the companies that want you to NOT do this.  Is this workaround worth the trouble? I think so. It may be time consuming the first time if you’ve lots to convert. From then one, it should not take very long at all to keep up with the need to convert as each new protected song is added to your library.

This is NOT so you can steal music. It is so you can listen to what it is you have purchased or otherwise legitimately own. I only tried this on my Macs using iTunes, though I know of no reason why it would not work using this method or some other similar way on the Windows platform. It is the same as on a Windows PC using iTunes.  Remember, this is only needed when encountering what Apple calls Protected AAC through iTunes, songs purchased through the iTunes Music Store on your Mac or Windows PC.

First, I created a playlist into which I would be drag my protected music that will not play through Sonos. In iTunes preferences I selected the “Advanced” menu.

 

From Advanced, I select the Importing tab and set it to “Import Using MP3 Encoder” with the setting at Higher Quality (192 kbps) though you can use what you prefer here.  Feel free to experiment with the different settings, but you know that high quality MP3 will work.  Next check the box that says to create file names with track number.

Now, click the Burning tab and once there, select as the disc format “Audio CD,” with a 2-second gap between songs. Select Sound Check.  Use the Preferred Speed that works in your computer’s drive. Mine is set to Maximum Possible, but if you encounter a problem, you may wish to slow it down. See what works for you!

 

That’s it for settings. Here’s what you have done. First, you are setting the burner to take that playlist you have created and to burn the Protected songs as plain old CDs, in the format of other music CDs.  With that burned CD, you can play your iTunes music on ANY CD player, but now, there is a loss of quality, though, truthfully, you’ll never hear a difference.

Once burned, take the CD out, put it back in the computer with iTunes open. iTunes will see that “new” CD you’ve burned and you can then click in the upper right of the iTunes window to Import the songs from the CD, YOUR SONGS!  When you import them, you are using that other setting you made, to import as high quality MP3. It’ll work.  Those IMPORTED songs, now in MP3 format will be seen by your Sonos system, since they are no longer in the protected AAC format as they originally were.

You’ll have duplicates of those songs in your iTunes library, and you can ignore them, knowing Sonos will see only the one that it can recognize, or you can do anything you wish with them.  If you want them to retain their “pristine” sound as AAC, then you can do several things.  One is to do what I and everyone else in the know recommends – BACK UP YOUR ITUNES LIBRARY to another hard drive. IF something were to happen to your computer’s hard drive, whether you’ve discovered the joy of Sonos or not, you could lose all the music you have on the computer, including what you’ve purchased from Apple because Apple only allows you to get them ONE time after payment. Even THEY encourage you to create backups and so do I. Now, you’ll have everything saved and protected from a calamitous event!

If you’re a Mac user, backing up is so simple, too. Just back up (copy with Option+Drag to the new drive) your entire User folder, and all your stuff is saved, music, photos, documents, etc.  You lucky Windows users can do whatever it is you know or have had recommended to you, from among many ideas out there.  If you do the simplest thing, and that is to buy an external drive such as the new MyBook from Western Digital, or a Maxtor OneTouch III, just plug in and do it. On a Mac, drag the folder to the new drive. On a Windows PC, you can use the drives’ built-in button for the one-touch backup.

So, with this Sonos ZonePlayer ZP80 Bundle, you really can unlock your music to enjoy it how and where you want it at home. If you would like to hook up non-powered speakers, you know, just regular speakers, you can do that, too, with the addition of one or more ($499) Sonos ZP100 players that have a built-in 50-watt per channel amplifier.

More Brilliant Sonos Features Built-in – Internet Radio, External Sources

I haven’t even mentioned other brilliant features.  Sonos also supports streamed music and other content from the Internet. ZonePlayer comes with over 200 pre-programmed radio stations and it’s simple to add more via the Sonos Desktop Controller.

This is still not enough!  Not only can Sonos spread the joy of music from one computer on your network, but the system supports music from an external audio source (such as a CD player, radio or MP3 player) connected to a ZP80 can be played by all other ZonePlayers in the system.

And here’s almost the best of all for the music lover with content spread over multiple computers, even with the addition of a network attached storage device (NAS).  That’s right!  Sonos has not only simplicity in their design, but it’s also for the most hard-core computer music fanatics.

Be sure to keep your computers from which you are drawing content and sending to Sonos awake. If your computers go to sleep, they will not be available to Sonos. A better way to go for serious Sonos users is to transfer all music to one of those NAS drives. They don’t have to sleep at all, and they use less power than your computer.

You DO NOT have to have all your tunes on just one computer. Sonos can recognize up to 16 Macs, PCs or NAS devices on your home network, and more.  So, just add the multiple sources as easily as the first. Of course, all this extra takes longer than 15 minutes, but for most of us, it’s just nice to know it can be done and that Sonos has thought of it and made it possible.

If you have invested in making your music centric to your computer, you’ll really love Sonos as I do. It’s now one of my all-time favorite gadgets, right up there with TiVo, DSL and DIRECTV.

More information and direct purchase is at www.sonos.com or call 1.800.680.2345.  You can see and buy Sonos systems at retailers including Tweeter, Magnolia Home Theater at Best Buy, Crutchfield.com, and Amazon.com.

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