Cheap and simple or complex and expensive, all iPod docks all share a common drawback: They lack real convenience. Sure, some of them may be portable, but the more portable they are, the less likely they are to sound good. Plus, you are limited to what is on your iPod, and you have to live with your device tethered to the dock.
The Sonos Zoneplayer S5 is the answer to all the limitations of an iPod-centric music system. It’s the ideal combination of a network music device and powered speaker system. By connecting to the Internet, it is capable of delivering a mind-boggling amount of musical content, including all of the music on your computer – even your iTunes files. Don’t worry though, your iPod touch or iPhone still gets to join the party, but in an entirely different role. In this review, we’ll discuss the build quality, sound quality and capability of this network music player and how it could potentially change the way people listen to music at home.
The Sonos ZonePlayer S5 measures about 8.5 inches high, 14 wide and 4.8 deep. Its thick, rigid plastic shell feels as if it could very easily stand up to higher-than-average wear and tear. On the front face of the S5 is a grey, light metallic grill. On the top of the unit are small volume and mute buttons; other than that, the front face of the S5 has an extremely clean appearance that is simultaneously sophisticated and simple. On the back of the S5, you’ll find a 1/8-inch audio input for just about any other audio device you might want to connect, a headphone jack, and two Ethernet ports. We were pleased to see that the power converter for the S5 is built in, so all you need to do is connect a simple, lightweight power cable. Not having any bulky DC converters to lug around is a big plus for convenience in our book.
Finally, Sonos throws in a six-foot-long Ethernet cable for connection to your home router.
The Sonos S5 can be connected directly to a router, but it won’t be portable. You can still listen to music from that location, but to really enjoy the S5, you’ll want to use it wirelessly. For the S5 to operate wirelessly, it needs either another Sonos wireless music player or the $99.00 ZoneBridge BR100, which acts as a wireless control center for your Sonos system. We recommend use of the ZoneBridge as it is more compact and easy to integrate into the system.
You can add as many S5’s to your home as you like. Each of these portable, powered speakers can be assigned different names and controlled independently. For instance, you could play Pandora Internet radio in your living room, your workout playlist in the garage, and a podcast stored on your laptop in the backyard, all at the same time and controlling it with one iPhone, iPod Touch or any computer connected to your home network.
The S5 will let you access any Internet radio station and will index any iTunes, Rhapsody, Windows Media, Winamp and MusicMatch playlists that you may have. If that wasn’t enough access to content, you can connect a CD, DVD or a portable music player to any one S5 in your system and have access to it at all of your other S5 locations. When it comes to content, the S5 leaves nothing on the table.
The S5’s speaker array is made up of two tweeters, two three-inch midrange drivers and one 3.5-inch subwoofer driver. Each of these speakers is driven by its own Class-D digital amp. All of the EQ and crossover work is done in the digital domain by a DSP chip programmed by Sonos. The cabinet is ported to enhance bass response and the port pulls double duty as a convenient carrying handle, too.