ZonePlayer S5: An iPhone-friendly Sonos with built-in speakers

Unlike previous Sonos streaming audio products, the ZonePlayer S5's all-in-one design means you don't have to connect it to additional speakers or components.

Sonos ZonePlayer S5
Sonos

We've long been fans of the Sonos Digital Music System, which lets you stream all manner of digital audio throughout your home. The latest BU250 bundle is an enthusiastic CNET Editors' Choice, in part because it can be controlled either via the included touch-screen controller or with any iPhone or iPod Touch (running a free Sonos Controller app). Unfortunately, it costs $1,000--not bad for a two-room system, but still out of reach for many consumers--and it needs to be connected to external speakers or audio components to hear the music.

The new Sonos ZonePlayer S5 aims to address both of those issues. It boasts an all-in-one design with built-in stereo speakers, so it's plug and play. And it costs $400--not cheap, but well within the price range of refined iPod speaker systems we've seen from Bose, B&W, and other luxury brands.

Indeed, the latest Sonos combines the features of a ZonePlayer ZP90 with the sort of integrated speaker you'd find on a Bose SoundDock. And Sonos has attempted to imbue the S5 with some serious sonics. It boasts a total of five drivers: a single woofer is flanked by two midrange drivers and a pair of tweeters, each of which are powered by a dedicated digital amplifier.

The Sonos S5 lacks any major controls on its body; instead, it's designed to be controlled from any iPhone or iPod Touch using the the free Sonos Controller App . (Alternately, it can be controlled via the Windows or Mac desktop software or a dedicated remote such as the $350 Sonos CR200 or the older Sonos CR100.) As a full-on Sonos component, the S5 allows you to access a panoply of online music services (Pandora, Rhapsody, Last.fm, Sirius, Napster, Zune Marketplace), Internet radio, and nearly any music files you have (including DRM-free music purchased from iTunes) on a Windows or Mac PC or NAS file server.

So what's the downside? The biggest one--that might be a deal-breaker for many--is that the first Sonos component on your home network needs a wired connection. (Subsequent Sonos components then interface wirelessly with that one via the products' built-in proprietary mesh network.) So, if the S5 is your first and only Sonos unit, it'll need to have a wired Ethernet link. Alternately, if you want to put the S5 in a location that lacks nearby Ethernet access--and you don't already have another Sonos product on your network--you can opt to invest in the Sonos ZoneBridge BR100. In our previous tests, it's worked perfectly--but it costs $100. (In happier news: the S5 has two Ethernet ports, so if you've already got a line run for your TiVo, Xbox 360, or PC, you can just daisy-chain through the S5.)

Sticklers might note other potential caveats, but we don't see them as big issues. You can't stream any music from the iPod Touch or iPhone directly to the Sonos S5, for instance--but anyone looking for that should opt for a Bluetooth speaker instead. Also, there's no dock for charging Apple handhelds, but the whole point here is that you can control the Sonos S5 from across the room--you don't want to be tethered to the speaker. (The S5 does have a line-in jack, so you can directly patch in any external device.)

The Sonos ZonePlayer S5 will be available by the end of October. We'll be getting our first hands-on listen next week, and following up with a full CNET review thereafter. (We're particularly interested to hear how its sounds and performs versus the $300 Logitech Squeezebox Boom.) In the meantime, the Sonos S5 is looking to be a strong candidate for any iPhone or iPod Touch owner who ever wanted a single-room Sonos, as well as existing Sonos owners who want to expand their systems into additional rooms.

Are you an existing Sonos owner--or someone who's tempted to take the plunge? Or do you have a competing product you'd like to suggest to iPhone owners looking to broaden their in-home listening options? Share your thoughts below.

 

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