by John Sciacca at February 10, 2012
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1) Sonos understood the changing audio dynamic
For years, distributed audio was built around traditional – legacy – sources that involved CD changers, AM/FM tuners, plus maybe cable boxes or satellite tuners. These were mostly “dumb” one-way control items. Most systems offered only rudimentary play, stop, next disc, next station, preset 1 type of control. iPod changed all of that, with metadata becoming all-mighty, all-powerful, and all-important. Go on, try and control your iPod/Touch/Phone without looking at it. Not possible. You need that visual feedback. Sonos got that metadata importance early on and that network streaming – and feedback – was going to be crucial for house audio listening version 2.0.
2) It plays just about anything
When I first started ripping my audio files, I did it in Windows Media Center and turned everything into WMA files. I didn’t think anything of it. Until I got an iPod and found that I had to re-transcode everything into a format it would understand. There are lots of files types out there that aren’t MP3 and Sonos supports a gamut of them that includes just about any that a typical user is likely to encounter.
All manner of lossy (MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG, Audible), lossless (FLAC, ALAC), and uncompressed (AIFF and WAV). No, it won’t play any DRM-wrapped files purchased from iTunes, but that is less of an issue since the store dropped DRM a while back. (However, if you have a large library of purchased music from the iTunes store, you should check out Autonomic’s Mirage Media Server. It can be an “authorized” Apple player and will handle all that stuff.)
3) It streams just about anything
The Cloud is a giant part of audio 2.0, and Sonos supports more Web streaming music services than any other system. (If you know of a system that supports more than Sonos does, please let me know.) While some manufacturers are all, “Yeah. We do Pandora. That’s right!” and others feel all tough because they add Rhapsody and then maybe go the extra step of adding Spotify, Sonos basically says, “Hey, we’re agnostic. We’re gonna do them all. You decide which one you like instead of which one we make you pick.” The list that Sonos supports includes: Spotify, Pandora, Sirius-XM, Tune In Radio, Slacker, Rhapsody, MOG, iHeartRadio, Rdio, last.fm, Wolfgang’s Vault, BBC, NPR, Aupeo!, Stitcher and all manner of thousands of Internet radio stations. The cool thing is that THEY KEEP ADDING SUPPORT. Maybe the next big thing hasn’t even happened yet. But chances are, when it does, Sonos will be there to support it.
4 It has the way-coolest interface
I have pretty much established my reviewer-ness based on looking at user interfaces over the years and then breaking them down and finding out what’s good, what works, and what blows. This is why I love Kaleidescape and Sooloos so much. Those guys developed an interface that is just way-cool and way easy to use. A homerun interface is one that you can just hand to someone and they can just intuitively figure it out and make it work. And I’m not talking about handing it to someone who spends their days living/breathing/sweating A/V gear, I’m talking someone like my mom. Who has trouble figuring out how to read a text message or charge her digital camera. Sonos interface is this interface. Oh, and the programming time it takes to make all that magic work? Zero.
5 Control: Can’t beat ‘em, embrace ‘em
Sonos offers a handy little controller called the CR200 that looks nice and works really well. Except, you’ll probably rarely sell one. Because Sonos realized pretty early on that they could A) continue making a controller that would cost more than an iTouch and DO way less or they could B) embrace the iTouch and make a killer interface for it. I’m sure this made for some painful, sitting around the board room conversations – “We’re going to just give up on selling controllers?! Are you mad? MAD?!?!” – except it was the right decision. They still offer the CR200 for people that don’t have a separate control option and there are still benefits to it (the dedicated hard volume buttons for one, and that it isn’t likely to walk-off like an iPhone/Touch/Pad), but Sonos has embraced iOS and Android controllers in a way that sacrifices or limits nothing. Even better? Using Sonos on an iPad. The larger real-estate provides a huge array of info at a glance.
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