Review: Sonos iPhone Controller Better Than System's Own

Control your Sonos Multi-Room Music System with you iPhone or iPod Touch.

Sonos makes the best multi-room music system that I have ever encountered. Although expensive, the system can be started with only a few components then expanded later. It lets you wirelessly stream music into any "zone" in your house--independently, or together using a centralized full color controller. However, if you already have an iPhone or iPod Touch you can download a free application to turn either of these devices into a Sonos Controller.

Sonos Hardware

Sonos sent me a Sonos Bundle 150 (BU150 $999 retail) which included two Sonos ZonePlayers: a Zone Player 120 (ZP120 retail $499) with a 110W built in amplifier, which works in any room--just add speakers; and a Zone Player 90 (ZP90 retail $349), which connects to your home theater, stereo, powered speakers or any amplified audio device. A full-color wireless rechargeable Sonos Controller (CR100 $399 retail) was included in the bundle. They also sent a Sonos ZoneBridge 100 (BR100 $99 retail) to implement the wireless portion of the system and a pair of their Sonos LoudSpeakers (SP100 $180 retail), which I connected to the ZP120. My house was rocking and rolling in no time after I set up the system and gave it access to the non-DRM music in my iTunes music library.

If you are interested in starting out and you are on a budget, you should consider purchasing the ZP90 and using your iPhone or iPod Touch as a controller. You can, with some searching, locate a ZP80 at clearance prices; check BestBuy and others for those deals.

All of the Sonos hardware was well constructed and occupied a relatively small footprint. Keeping this in mind lets look at the iPhone and iPod Touch Sonos Controller app.

iPhone 3G as Sonos Controller and System Setup

I used an iPhone 3G on Wi-Fi to control the Sonos system for most of my testing, and I briefly tried my iPod Touch; no issues cropped up with either device. I decided to set the CR100 aside for this review referring to it only briefly during my testing. The iPhone app mimics the CR100 fairly well and the workflow is nearly the same touch screen vs. click-wheel. The desktop software, which we setup on a Mac running Leopard Server, was used to setup the system initially, build a music library accessible by the Sonos System, and was then set aside.

Sonos Controller App

The Sonos Controller app launches displays a brief splashscreen. If you have not setup your iPhone or iPod Touch as a controller before you will be prompted to do so and that process is incredibly easy. You press one or two buttons on the device you are trying to connect to and poof you're there! We tried it several times and each time it worked reliably with no hitches. Just be sure that Wi-Fi is active on your iPhone or iPod before starting.

In the Zone: Your Music When and Where you Want it

One you are connected to the Sonos network you'll be presented with the Zone Menu. The menu gives you an at-a-glance view of: each zone as you named it--living room, study, den or kitchen--what music is playing in each zone, and its status (i.e. paused or playing). This screen is important, because, at a glance, you can see the status of the entire Sonos system and what music source is being played in each Zone. There is even a button for pausing all the music in the entire system--a good thing if mom is calling everyone to the kitchen for dinner. Press it again and the music resumes where it was playing before.

The Zone Group button lets you add or remove rooms from a group. So say if you want the kids to have control of the music in their Zone you can configure their controller to omit your Zone.

The app is a beautiful example of what a good iPhone app can be and so Sonos deserves high marks for this part as well.

Sonos Controller App: a Closer Look

The Sonos controller app makes it very easy to select the music you want to play from any of the sources you selected. We favored using the iPhone over the CR100 especially when doing searches. On the iPhone you could use the pop-up virtual keyboard on the CR100 you had to use the scroll-wheel to select and click each letter tediously one at a time. Imagine trying to look for "Weird Al Yankovic" - that's a lot of scrolling and clicking. Once you found it save it as a favorite and find it quickly the next time!

The CR100 wasn't as easy to navigate as the iPhone, due to its eight additional buttons. It also weighs significantly more and does not fit into your pocket like an iPhone or iPod Touch. Hopefully, at some point, Sonos will offer a bundle without the CR100. Hint: throw in an iPod Touch.

Now Playing...

The Now Playing screen is where you get to control exactly what you want to hear. The screen displays cover art similar to iTunes and the iPod app on the iPhone and some information about what is playing now: artist, song, station, etc. It sports some important buttons: mute, a 3 bar icon representing your queue (not very intuitive--maybe a stylized "Q" would be better), pause or play, a plus sign for bookmarking favorites and music.

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We'll look at the music button since the rest are easy to figure out.

Music Button

Selecting the music button and you are presented with a music menu which offers the following options: Music Library, Sonos Playlists, Radio, Line-In Sources and System Settings. We'll take a look at Music Library, Radio and System Settings.

Music Library gives you access to your music by artists, albums, composers, genres, tracks, imported playlists, search and folders. Basically, you have the same access to your music that you would have in iTunes or iPod.

Radio allows you to seek a large number of internet radio stations in all kinds of languages and in different countries across the globe. You can bookmark your favorites; I was able to listen to several Houston favorites and another in Bremen, Germany; I got to practice my German while doing chores around the house.

Sonos also gives you access to music services such as last.fm, Napster, Pandora, Rhapsody, and SIRIUS satellite radio. In some cases, a subscription might be required. You can find more information about that here. Free 30-day trials are available for some of the services.

System Settings lets you control all the settings on your Sonos system. You can manage your music library, setup a music service, adjust or add Zones, change the settings of the Sonos System devices, get online updates, change advanced settings and get information about your Sonos System for troubleshooting and tech support.

Conclusion

The Sonos system itself is a joy to use and it just works. I really liked the fact that I could have an MP3 playing in one room and internet radio in another if I wanted--all independently at different volume levels and all controlled from my iPhone.

The iPhone/iPod Touch Sonos Controller app is a must have for anyone that owns either of these devices and a Sonos System. It will definitely make you want to ditch the CR100 after you've used the app for a while. If you don't have the app yet get it now (iTunes Link).

 

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