Sonos ZonePlayer S5 Review

sonos zoneplayer s5 review

Sonos ZonePlayer S5

“Sonos’ ZonePlayer S5 obsolesces other iPod speaker docks with a blend of sophistication and surprising convenience, paired with audiophile-grade sound.”
  • Fantastic Sound
  • Extremely versatile
  • Great user interface- easy to use
  • Full of thoughtful extras
  • Initial setup could be confusing to some
  • High initial cost of investment
sonos zoneplayer s5 review

Introduction

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.

sonos zoneplayer s5 reviewDesign and Accessories

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.

Features

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.

sonos zoneplayer s5 reviewThe 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.

Setup

Once we connected the ZoneBridge to our router, we turned on our S5 and followed the quick start instructions for syncing the two units. The Sonos family of wireless products creates a “mesh network” that gets the Sonos units working together to maximize signal strength and integrity. This increases the wireless signal range and makes the signal less likely to be affected by your microwave oven, cordless phone or some other household devices.

After the wireless link was established, we installed the Sonos music software on our computer, and the Sonos controller app on our iPhone. As we installed the music software, we directed it to all music folder locations on our computer. This step took a while, since we have an iTunes folder in one place, Windows media folder in another, and some randomly imported tracks in various other places. It really helps to know where your music is on your computer. Once this step is completed, however, Sonos works its magic to organize all of your music and playlists and display them in one very slick interface. The end result makes the rather complicated initial setup totally worth the time and effort.

Wireless Performance

sonos zoneplayer s5 review zonebridgeSince we had just one ZoneBridge and one ZonePlayer S5, we couldn’t test the wireless range of the S5 to its fullest extent by taking advantage of its unique mesh-network approach. That said, the wireless range and signal integrity from this basic combo impressed us. There wasn’t a power receptacle available in our testing home that was far enough from the ZoneBridge such that the signal cut out on us. So, we took the S5 to some neighboring homes and found that the S5 worked perfectly well, so long as it was within our wireless network’s range. We were actually able to get the S5 to pick up our wireless signal from as far as three homes away, so we feel safe in saying that the S5 will work well in your home, too.

Audio Quality

The ZonePlayer S5’s audio quality was outstanding. Initially, our testing unit’s bass setting was maxed out. At this setting, the bass was overwhelming, but after a few seconds of adjusting the bass and treble settings to neutral, we were very impressed with the resulting sound. Bass was powerful and tight, though we did feel that it was a bit “thumpy” with some bass heavy tracks. Midrange was open, revealing and spacious enough to feel as if it wasn’t coming from a fixed point in the room. High frequencies were well controlled. We never experienced any unpleasant brightness, but the tweeters still yielded an impressive amount of detail. At extreme volumes, the highs did get a little distressed. However, these extreme volumes aren’t likely to be reached within the confines of an indoor space. Our only concern here would be in an outdoor scenario where approaching the maximum volume is more likely.

sonos zoneplayer s5 reviewUser Interface

Accessing content was a breeze using our iPhone controller app. The interface is clear and easy to navigate. We were able to dial in several Internet radio stations, our Pandora account and several playlists from our home media library in just seconds with only a few touches to navigate the menus. With so much media available, the controller interface could very easily have been a clumsy deal breaker. Thankfully, Sonos has managed to put as much thought into the software as the hardware and the combination is a pleasure to use.

Conclusion

The Sonos ZonePlayer S5 is at the top of its class for a wireless, powered speaker system. Its unprecedented combination of content access, ease of use and excellent sound make it a top choice for those interested in maximizing their convenience when accessing their music. Though initial setup may take some patience, the overall experience with the Sonos S5 is extremely pleasant. Performance like this does come at a price: Each S5 will run about $399, and a ZoneBridge will run $99, but we are hard pressed to think of any portable playback system that can come close to the S5’s combo of networkability, expandability and audio performance for under the combined $500. That’s a value in our book. We highly recommend the S5.

Highs:

  • Fantastic Sound
  • Extremely versatile
  • Great user interface- easy to use
  • Full of thoughtful extras

Lows:

  • Initial setup could be confusing to some
  • High initial cost of investment

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