We live in an area with quite poor radio reception and as a result antennas for radios are always frustrating. FM requires an outdoor aerial, or has a constant hiss, DAB only works reliably upstairs – for a radio in the kitchen, I had to install an outside aerial.
We use the radio in the bedroom as an alarm, so any unit we have there has to have a timer and clock function – quite a difficult feature to find now, and limits the choice a lot. I wanted to have a radio in our conservatory, but again, getting reception there was a nightmare.
A friend has had a SONOS system for a while, I had never really understood it, but thought that streaming radio would be the answer to the conservatory problem. So, I purchased a PLAY:3, a self contained speaker from the SONOS system. It’s available in black or white.
The unit came with a BRIDGE, the ‘rule’ being that you must have one SONOS device connected to your broadband router via an Ethernet cable – after that, the system is completely wireless (apart from mains supply cables, of course). The BRIDGE just connects to the network and sends the SONOS signal wirelessly, if your first SONOS speaker is going to be next to the router, you won’t need a bridge, it will perform that function for you.
We are well equipped at home with iPads, iPhones and computers, these are the remote controls for the system, and being WiFi, you don’t need to point the remote or be able to ‘see’ the units. Setup is easy, is surprisingly non-techie, just hold down a couple of buttons on the unit, no settings to enter. Apps are available for Mac, PC, iOS, Android etc.
After that, the app on your phone does the rest. You can select radio stations – they stream audio over the Internet, and now, you are not restricted to the stations within reception range, but from anywhere in the world. Listening to radio from Sydney or Los Angeles can be a bit surreal, though.
If your music library is available on your home network – either by sharing the drive on the computer it’s stored on, or in my case, it’s already on a NAS drive – then you can point the SONOS system at it and all of your library is available via the app. I can think of a track, find it and play it in well under ten seconds now. Try doing that with your CDs! You can also stream straight from your iPhone.
After the success of the first unit, we got another two, one for the bedroom, another for the kitchen. Now, SONOS really comes into its own. You can have different things playing from each room – streamed radio, your music library, whatever. Plus, you can ‘group’ speakers so they play the same thing simultaneously and without any time difference. Even DAB radios don’t do that, you get annoying echoes as you walk around the house.
You can set the system to play different things at different times, so working as a radio alarm system. We have the bedroom unit working as an alarm, and I have another as a background music device coming on a bit later. All very conveniently set via the remote control, and you can have different alarms (or no alarm) for different days, so the days of disabling the alarm on a Sunday and holidays have gone!
SONOS also have CONNECT and AMP devices. The former provides a link to and from an existing audio amplifier, the AMP will drive your own speakers. These have the benefit of giving you stereo audio, the all-in one speakers don’t have the separation.
New to the range (and next on my list) is the PLAYBAR. This is a TV soundbar with an optical input to connect directly to your TV, will work with your TV remote control, but still work as a SONOS system component. It’s pricey, but convenient and will replace the last piece of conventional audio equipment in our home, an ageing home cinema sound system.
So, now I have no worries and irritation with antennas, am reasonably future proofed – certainly against the FM switch off, no geographic limitations – we can get Capital FM’s limited looped playlist on repeat, whereas being on the edge of the reception area it was difficult before. But better still, there are so many specialist radio stations around the world, that any taste of music is catered for. R&B, Blues, Classic, any genre you care for, it’s there. SONOS also include a 6 month free subscription to Napster, although I have not tried that. Next to our Nespresso coffee machine, this is one of the most life changing pieces of technology I’ve ever purchased. Highly recommended, and even thought the price might scare you, it’s actually great value.