New bundles would make Sonos unstoppable

With the October release of the iPhone controller for the Sonos multiroom system, their main bundle with included remote control no longer makes sense. But I'd sure love a cheaper bundle with a wireless bridge instead.

I've been a fan of the Sonos Multi-Room Music System ever since I saw it in action at a neighbor's house a couple summers ago. There's no other solution that gives you such easy access to so much music in so many places in your house, whether that music is stored on your computer or delivered via partnerships with Internet music providers like Last.fm (owned by CBS, which also owns CNET), Pandora, or Rhapsody.

You should be able to save $399 off the price of a Sonos home system by downloading this free remote control app to your iPhone or iPod Touch. But Sonos hasn't made the necessary bundle available.

Recently, Sonos sent me a system to test out with their new free iPhone controller (more about that later), and I came away even more impressed. The setup process was a model of clarity and efficiency--every consumer software developer in the world should study it. (Microsoft, Apple, are you paying attention?) Without going into exhaustive detail--you can read CNET's full review if you're interested--the one-page quick setup guide worked flawlessly, the installation of the PC desktop controller software was fast and easy, and once installed it took less than 5 minutes to index my entire 25GB music collection. Connecting new devices to the system was as easy as walking up to them, pressing a couple buttons, and waiting for the lights to stop flashing. Done. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being attaching speakers to a PC and 10 being getting a MacBook to connect to a PC-based home wireless network and print to a PC-attached printer using SMB, this was about a 3.

To be honest, the only reason I haven't bought one--a reason which you'll see in almost every review and head-to-head comparison --is the system's price. The standard two-room Bundle 150, which gives you two base stations (one with amp, one without) and a controller, starts at $999. You can plug one of the stations, the ZP90, into any audio system with an auxiliary line-in, but the amplified ZP120 needs standalone speakers--Sonos will sell a pair to you for $179.99 . Expanding into extra rooms requires you to buy additional ZP90s ($349) or ZP120s ($499). It adds up.

Another oddity with the system is that one Sonos device in your system needs to be plugged into a router with an Ethernet cable. The justification is reasonable: Sonos uses its own wireless mesh to avoid interference with regular Wi-Fi networks. But in practical terms, this will probably raise the price even higher.

Case in point: my wireless router's in the room with my PC. I don't need a Sonos system in there--I'll just plug headphones or small speakers into my PC. So if I'd bought one of these bundles, I would now have to go out and pay $100 for a wireless bridge to connect the Sonos system to my wireless router without wasting a base station. Yow.

There's an easy fix to both problems. In October, Sonos released a free app that lets you use your iPhone or iPod Touch as a remote control for the system. It eliminates the need for the CR 100 controller.

So why not create a new two-room bundle for iPhone users with home wireless networks? (Two groups that I imagine overlap significantly--call it the SuperGeek bundle.) Take out the CR 100 controller, which lists for $399. Replace it with the ZoneStation 100--the wireless bridge--which lists for $99. That would theoretically knock $300 off the price of the Bundle 150, bringing it down to $699; with speakers, the price could be $849. That's still not cheap, but it would be well below that psychological $1,000 barrier, making it easier to justify. (You could buy these parts a la carte today, but they'd cost almost the same as the bundles with remote--$948 without speakers, $1,127 with.)

Sonos could even package an entry-level one-room iPhone/Wi-Fi bundle--just a single ZP90 and ZoneBridge wireless bridge--for something like $399 (a $49 discount off the a la carte price), and I bet they'd fly off the shelves. And the product is so cool, and works so well, once people are in, they'll keep adding extra base stations as they can afford them.

 

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