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Sonos Bundle BU250

>> Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The latest Sonos adds a major upgrade the CR200 touch screen remote. If that wasn't good enough and the remote is excellent it can also be controlled by any iPhone or iPod Touch running a free app that's available via the iTunes App Store. The result is a whole house music system that's easier to control than ever before. The catch? The system costs a somewhat pricey $1,000. And while that may seem like a lot, custom installed systems can cost as much as $5,000 per room and they aren't as easy to use nor do they offer the level functionality found in this system.

We were always impressed by Sonos' capability to access your home music collection and a variety of online music options, but the addition of the slick new touch screen remote and the iPhone or iPod Touch integration gives the luxury digital audio system a compelling leg up on the competition. There are three main components of the Sonos Digital Music System two ZonePlayer base stations one ZP120, one ZP90 and one CR250 Controller (the remote control).

Each one is available separately as well additional ZP120s are $500, the ZP90 is $350, and the CR250 goes for $350 so the $1,000 price tag of Sonos Bundle BU250 represents a $200 savings versus buying them a la carte. Take one look at the silver and white color scheme (and that scroll wheel on the remote), and you get the idea that Sonos wants you to think its understated sleek components would fit right into Apple's iPod line and they would. We just wish a black option was available as well especially after seeing a custom painted version.

The ZonePlayer ZP120 houses a fully fledged, 55 watt per channel, Class-D digital amplifier and weighs 5 pounds. It fills out a 3.5 inch high by 7.3 inch wide by 8.15 inch deep footprint about the size of seven DVD cases stacked on top of one another. The ZP120's die cast, matte aluminum enclosure feels far more solid and substantive than most of today's all plastic consumer electronics. It sports two pairs of high quality speaker binding posts, one set of analog stereo inputs (for attaching and playing any external device through the Sonos system), a subwoofer output, and two Ethernet ports (more on those later).

On board buttons are limited to three volume up and down and mute because the main functions are controlled remotely. With its built in amp and speaker terminals, the ZP120 needs only a pair of speakers connected to fill a room with music no other audio equipment is required. (Sonos offers the SP100 speakers, but nearly any set of unpowered speakers will suffice.) But the ZP90 ZonePlayer is intended for those rooms where there's already an audio system in place. Just about anything will do a tabletop radio, a mini system, an iPod speaker system, or a full fledged AV receiver so long as it has an auxiliary line in jack.

Because it lacks the built in amplifier, the ZonePlayer ZP90 is smaller than its big brother it measures just 2.9 by 5.4 inches square and weighs a mere 1.5 pounds. As a result, it can fit in plenty of tight spots that the larger ZonePlayer can't. The front panel offers the same sparse volume controls, but the ZP90's tiny backside is chock full of jacks in addition to analog stereo inputs and outputs, there are also two digital audio outputs (one coaxial, one optical) for single wire all digital connections. Two Ethernet jacks provide network connectivity.

Features
Sonos Digital Music System can stream a wide range of file formats from your personal music collection. With the exception of lossless WMA files, nearly all other file format standards will stream perfectly : MP3, AAC, WMA (nonloss less), Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, and AIFF files are compatible, as are Audible audio books. Since DRM (digital rights management) is, thankfully, largely a thing of the past for music purchases, the wide file compatibility means that Sonos will stream downloaded tracks bought from iTunes, Amazon, Classical.com, eMusic, Napster, WalMart, Live Downloads, and Zune Marketplace.

The only caveat is for iTunes : most of the tracks purchased from the Apple site before 2009 will still be encoded with Fairplay DRM and will not be streamable by the Sonos until and unless you "upgrade" them via the iTunes Store to the DRM free iTunes Plus version (it costs 30 cents per track, or $3 per album). Perhaps more importantly, Sonos also offers a great selection of online music services from both subscription (paid) and free sources, each of which can be accessed from the Sonos Controller without the need to have the PC powered up.

The Rhapsody, Sirius, and Napster premium services each charge a monthly fee. (All of them offer a free 30 day trial through the Sonos, available at the touch of the screen no annoying sign up process or limitations.) Last.fm and Pandora are free streaming music services (with optional step up paid versions). Nearly all of the services offer access to thousands of artists, songs, and albums across a variety of genres, available on demand or via customized "stations." In addition to importing all of your iTunes playlists, Sonos also offers its own playlists. The advantage of the latter is that you can build them from the remote and (what's really cool) mix and match your own music with some of the "rentable" tracks from the likes of Rhapsody and Napster (assuming you're a subscriber).

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