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The children being born now won't own physical media when they reach record-buying maturity. And while we might lament this sad fact, their lofts will be less cluttered, they'll have a high-quality archive of every piece of music they ever bought and, most importantly, they'll be able to access their music on everything from their home audio system.to a multi-room
That brings us neatly to one such multi-room audio system. In this case, it's part of the much-loved Sonos range, and it's called the Play 5. It costs £350, connects to your home PC and the Internet and can entertain you with more music than you ever dreamed of. Perhaps more crucially, it's what your kids will want you to buy them for Christmas, instead of a hi-fi.
Costly, but lovely
Sonos isn't an entry-level piece of kit, which you probably realised as you read the intro -- we heard the sharp intake of breath. Yes, £350 is loads of money to spend on something so, well, simple-looking.
The Play 5 is basically a speaker with a built-in amplifier and, of course, all the Sonos electronic trickery that makes it do awesome things. It's the only piece of Sonos equipment you can take out of the box and use straight away, without connecting to external speakers or an amp of some kind.
Fantastic to look at, the Play 5 comes in two different colours. We were sent one in black and one in white. The version you buy will depend on where you plan to put it, and what your home decor is like.
The front of the Play 5 is simply one large speaker grille. At the top, there's a volume control, mute button and status LED. At the back, there's a headphone socket, line-in and pair of Ethernet sockets.
You can buy a Sonos-branded remote, but it's very expensive at £280. By far the better option is to buy an iPad. With the iPod touch starting at £190, it's a comparative bargain, and you get a portable music player that works in exactly the same way as the official controller., or
Sonos actively encourages this thrifty substitution. It even admitted that users were better off buying the Apple hardware for use with this product, as it simply can't compete with the iPod on price. It's pretty decent of Sonos to admit this, and we agree -- the iPod interface is excellent.
We do think the company should make an Android app, but in the meantime, there's a simple third-party solution for that platform that has basic functionality. Search the app store for Andronos to get it for free. Sonos will eventually develop an Android app, but it moves quite slowly on these things.
Handy Ethernet switch
If, like us, you make use of powerline adaptors around your home, you might be a little short of Ethernet sockets. Even if you're not, with more and more stuff requiring network access these days, you may well run out sooner than later. The Sonos includes two RJ45 sockets to alleviate this problem, and the device acts as a switch, which means you can plug something else into it -- handy if you're down to your last network port.
Pair them up for more sound
If you're feeling flush, it's a very simple process to combine two Play 5s. This gives you more coverage if, for example, you're in the garden having a pleasant Sunday afternoon barbecue. You can also combine any other Sonos hardware on your network with what are called 'groups'. In theory, you could have 32 separate pieces of Sonos hardware -- that would cost £11,200 if you wanted to use Play 5s -- and play them all together.
While using these devices together might sound simple, it isn't. Because of the way networks work, there is no way for a standard network to deliver music like this without the risk that some zones -- those further away -- will be out of sync. This isn't necessarily a massive problem. Sonos has special software algorithms which mean the music will always be in sync.
Other bits of kit
We've reviewed the rest of the Sonos range before, but to get you up to speed, we'll give you a brief rundown on the other hardware:
ZonePlayer 90 At £280, the 90 is the cheapest piece of Sonos music hardware -- apart from the controller. It doesn't have an amp built in, so you must connect it to a stereo amplifier, hi-fi, separate system or your home theatre.
ZonePlayer 120 Costs £400, but has a built-in amplifier, so you simply need to connect it to a set of speakers -- sold separately -- and you're good to go.