I suppose this starts with the scale of system you want. Sonos, as a kit, can allow you to hide all the amps, the wires, while even your speakers can become invisible; see the Amina branded by Triad “DesignerSeries” in walls (as hidden by plaster skim coat). The trade off, like many things, is flexibility of the system and certainly its future upgradability. The strength of the Sonos, as most people will tell you, is the software controller. It is available for nearly every platform, mobile and desktop. The Sonos units tap into to countless internet streaming music services as well as your locally (or cloud) stored music library. The controller app is built for humans and allows seamless multi-room/multi-zone control.
I received a Sonos Play:3 kit with wired to wireless Sonos Bridge for work rendered last year and also got a used Sonos ZonePlayer 80. My tower speakers in the living room are old Advent Heritages. I bought a used pair of 100 watt AudioSource monoblocks at some point on eBay (replacing the 1979 Denon PMA 850 that finally stopped working). In my office I ended up with a pair of Pioneer SP-BS41-LR’s that a friend didn’t want and an Emotiva mini-X a-100 50 Watt ‘Stereo Flex Amp’. I took the spare RCA output of the external DAC that lives next to the ZP80 in the livingroom and sent it to the Emotiva in the office. The Play:3 lives in the upstairs bedroom.
I’ll start this by saying, for most people looking for kitchen or small room audio, the Play:3 and the newer and more compact Play:1 represent exceptional value. This is of course not “architectural audio” with invisible plastered speakers, or even in-wall (grilled) speakers; rather the Play:1 and Play:3 are small powered speakers that sit on a shelf or desktop, sound good and happen to look nice as a bonus. The price points of the Play:1 & 3 represent the “blue ocean”; people simply want to listen to their music collections or to Pandora, TuneIn Radio & Spotify (and literally dozens of other streaming services) – but control it easily from an application on their phone or tablet. There will be those who argue the $200-300 is a lot to pay for a small powered speaker, but there is nothing else out there that does it quite as easily and elegantly as Sonos.
For bigger rooms that don’t have a television or projector the Play:3′s can be setup in software as a “stereo pair” giving an even larger sound stage. Granted for most kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms a pair of powered speakers may be overkill (and/or examples of where you’d rather not see the speakers). For users with existing audio setups the ZonePlayer 80 (now called Sonos Connect) has two digital audio outs (SPDIF Coax & Toslink) and a pair of RCA stereo outputs and inputs. If you already own speakers you want to power, the Sonos Connect:Amp adds in a high-efficiency Tripath (Class T/D) 55-watts per channel amplifier to the Connect (taking away the RCA stereo output jacks but adding a single RCA mono-subwoofer LFE output).
In the next post of this series I’ll go into why using the Sonos system is a pleasure and what I’ve done to get the most out of it (including the local Mac Mini audio server) and my thoughts after a year of usage.