Products We Like: Sonos

If you’re anything like me, here’s the chronology of your home stereo setup: Ten, 15, or 20 years ago, you bought some nice speakers and a receiver. About five to seven years ago, all your music started to become digital, and by several years ago, the only thing your receiver and speakers interacted with was your TV. Your music wasn’t there anymore. Physically (in a digital sort of way), your music lived on your computer, not near your stereo, which was usually in another room. You might have even bought speakers for your computer or for your iPod.

Into this product ecosystem gap steps Sonos. Sonos is a multi-room music system that uses your wireless network to get the music from your computer to stereos and actual speakers all over your house.

Set-up was moderately painless, although there is a two-minute window when you are syncing up the components to the network that causes you to run around the house like a madman. My advice: set them up all in one room, then move them to where they should go.

You can control what is playing (and in what rooms of the house) by various means, which is nifty. There’s a desktop app, an iPhone app, and a Sonos controller. The desktop app is nicely done and handsome, although an iTunes plug-in or add-on would have made more sense. Likewise, the free iPhone app is well done and is actually better than the $100 controller Sonos sells.

The controller is decidedly the weakest link in the chain, with pretty clunky industrial design and interaction design that is difficult to say the least. If you put an iPod-like scroll wheel on a music device, it should really work like an iPod scroll wheel. Perhaps for patent reasons, this was impossible. But I could easily see this upgraded with a really nice, thinner touchscreen device that fixes its many problems. As it is now, the controller is really only good for some basic tasks like starting and stopping the music.

It’s been great listening to music via large speakers again, and taking music with me throughout the house. One nice addition to the Sonos suite would be a Zoneplayer that hooks up to speakers that use a headphones jack.

Sonos is an interesting example of the kind of product I think we’re going to see a lot of in the next five years: one that converts formerly analog devices and systems into ones that can be monitored and even controlled by digital means. TiVo was one of the first of these types of products, but we’ll eventually see the conversion of all sorts of dumb appliances into smart ones, and you could do a lot worse than a system like Sonos.