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Sonos Connect review: Sonos Connect

Sonos Connect brings the company's full panoply of streaming audio services to any stereo or hi-fi system.

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Ty Pendlebury
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Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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5 min read

When Sonos first appeared on the market in 2005, the focus was squarely on replaying music from networked computers but with the glut of streaming services its scope has increased dramatically. Sonos' biggest strength is simplifying the networking nightmares of installing most wireless music systems and sounding good in the process. The Sonos Connect brings these capabilities to users who want to add network music to an existing stereo, but is the asking price too high?

The Good

The <b>Sonos Connect</b> brings the Sonos ecosystem to users who don't want a standalone speaker system. Setup is incredibly easy, and the software apps are effortless. Sound quality is good, and the digital output means it can be even better. The analog input means the system can stream analog components around your house.

The Bad

There are other components in the Sonos range that beat it for sound quality. If you're not using it as part of a multiroom setup, it's somewhat pricey for what it does.

The Bottom Line

The Sonos Connect brings effortless wireless media streaming to existing hi-fi owners, but it's not the first Sonos system we'd recommend.

Design
While most of the media streamers available today are no larger than a drink coaster in platform shoes, the Sonos Connect is one of the larger options. It measures 2.91 inches high and is roughly square at 5.35 inches wide and 5.51 inches deep.

The Sonos Connect resembles the larger Connect:Amp with the same squat shape, but instead of the two-tone color scheme the Connect opts for a simpler, and arguably more attractive, all-white design. The device sits on blue rubber feet, which offers some isolation from the outside world.

The front panel, like all Sonos players, features a mute button and volume up/down but sadly it lacks an on/off switch.

The Connect (left) and the Connect:Amp both feature volume controls on the front. Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

Features
If you have an existing stereo or home theater system and you're looking to add streaming, then the Sonos Connect is your beast. It's essentially a Sonos:Connect amp without the 55W-per-channel amplifier and as a result comes at a $150 saving.

The Connect was formerly known as the ZonePlayer ZP90, and was renamed just after the Play:3 came along. The company offers free control apps for PC, Mac, Android, and iOS.

Unlike some of the competitive media streamers on the market, this is a music device only. While it may seem expensive for what it does at more than three times the price of the Apple TV and the Western Digital WDTV, the Sonos distinguishes itself by both a friendly interface and in the number of services it offers. Sonos' tagline is "Stream All The Music On Earth" and music subscription providers are added periodically. The most recent is Amazon Cloud Player and it joins a dozen other services such as Spotify, MOG and Pandora.

While Apple's iTunes Match isn't supported, the Sonos does support streaming from PCs and Macs running the iTunes software, so your home music collection is always accessible. It also supports many NAS servers, for those who don't want to keep their PCs powered on all the time. If you stream music locally, then the device's file format support is quite broad with all of the usual types including MP3, WAV, Apple Lossless, FLAC, and Ogg Vorbis. Though it will only concern a small subset of people at present (myself included), the Sonos system doesn't playback 24-bit files: it's CD quality only.

The PC app hasn't changed much in the past few years, but the number of services has grown dramatically. Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

One feature offered by the Connects, and that the Play:3 and Play:5 systems lack, is audio inputs. The Connect has a single-stereo RCA input, which can be used to connect an iPod dock or even a pre-amp, which would enable switching between among different sources. To connect the Sonos to your stereo system, you have the choice of either analog out or digital coax/optical.

Unlike most media streamers, the Sonos Connect also features a line-in for streaming stereo components. Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

The Sonos family of products is designed as a multiroom audio system, and connect to one another via a proprietary wireless mesh system. The advantage of that is that it's not limited by your home's Wi-Fi network. The drawback is that there needs to be at least one wired connection between your home network and a Sonos unit. (Think of it like a DECT cordless phone system: one base station needs to be plugged into the wall jack, while the others communicate with that one wirelessly.)

If you're looking to add the Sonos Sub to a system featuring the Connect, then unfortunately you're out of luck, as that device is only supported by the amplified Sonos components. However, adding a sub of your choice to your existing hi-fi is a better option anyway.

Performance
If you're an audiophile, then the idea of the Connect will be much more compelling than the Connect:Amp. The inclusion of the digital output enables users to connect their own Digital Analog Converter (DAC) for a potential sound quality upgrade. While the Logitech Squeezebox Touch saw very little benefit from an outboard DAC -- its onboard sound is that good -- there was room for improvement with the Connect.

Nevertheless, sound quality of the unit was very confident, but like the Connect:Amp a little lean in the bass. The more expensive Connect:Amp demonstrated a greater sparkle when paired with Bowers and Wilkins speakers than a combination of the Sonos Connect, Marantz receiver and B&Ws. Adding the Cambridge Audio DacMagic into the latter mix helped with the lean bass, but I still preferred the sound -- and all-in-one convenience -- of the Amp better.

The iPad app is easy to use and one of the best ways to experience the Sonos system. Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

In general, the software is quite easy to use, and the capability to make playlists on the fly and control multiple zones around the house on the fly is the Sonos system's greatest strength. If you can use a tablet, you can use the Sonos.

As I outlined in the Connect:Amp review, the interface does have some niggles, but as the Connect isn't amplified the touchy volume control doesn't matter as much. Since at home I use a mix of local lossless files and Spotify almost exclusively, I only wish that the Spotify integration was better. The Logitech Squeezebox's software is more powerful, offering most of the features of the desktop Spotify app and if you use this service often I'd suggest getting the Touch instead (while you still can).

Conclusion
The Connect is an excellent combination of hardware and software that offers a plug-and-play solution for existing stereo systems. I'd only suggest this product if you already have an existing Sonos setup or are looking to get one. If you just want to play network music on your main stereo and aren't interested in a whole-house system, then the Apple TV is the best way to go. It's a pity that Logitech has discontinued its Squeezebox range and replaced it with the UE Smart Radio as it was the only real contender to the Sonos Connect.

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8.0

Sonos Connect

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8