Sonos turns iPhones and iPods into direct audio sources. (November 6th, 2010)
Sonos has long made it easy to get music out of a computer or the Internet, but getting music out of an iPhone or an iPod hasn't been an option. The Wireless Dock theoretically solves that with a simple drop-in-and-play mindset. We'll find out how well it works in our own review.
Product Manufacturer: Sonos
- Simple setup.
- Works either through direct or remote control.
- Allows any audio app through direct control.
- Appears the same as a computer source.
- No change in audio quality.
- Relatively expensive.
- No Ethernet.
- Initial, temporary issue keeping audio going.
As you might imagine, the Wireless Dock isn't a solo device. It needs an existing Sonos network already established, either using either ZonePlayer gateways hooked up to traditional speakers or the self-contained ZonePlayer S5. And as it's wireless, you'll need a ZoneBridge as well; the dock runs on the same proprietary wireless networking as other Sonos hardware. The requirements mean the actual cost of using the dock can run up to several hundred dollars for the entire setup, but then the company has never promoted the Wireless Dock as a stand-alone device.
Already having an existing Sonos network going does make setup much easier than for starting from scratch. It only requires adding a device to the network from a Sonos app and hitting the connect button to start the pairing process, which in our case was reasonably quick. The Wireless Dock becomes a source and has to be linked either to a particular zone or to a group, but once done any device can be used to control music, if you like with volume harmonized across the network. We found it slightly ironic to be using an iPad to steer another iOS device.
Ports and controls are few, and the only direct on-device control is a volume rocker. While the role of the device is self-explanatory, we do wish there was an Ethernet jack on the back. Sonos is at its best when wireless, but there are no doubt some multi-room custom installations where a wired link would be useful.
Browsing music and audio quality
Once ready, the dock can serve up audio in one of two ways. At its most basic, it can play audio directly from the iPhone or iPod itself. The vertical nature of the docking itself will prevent you from using the system to watch video, but it does offer the possibility of streaming Internet radio or otherwise going beyond your existing library.
The more likely option will be to remote control the dock using any of the usual outlets, whether it's a Mac or Windows PC, an official Sonos Controller handheld or another iOS device. Audio is limited to the iPod app in these circumstances, but finding a track is virtually indistinguishable from browsing a computer and includes the same categorization, such as albums or playlists. We were glad to learn that there's relatively little lag between starting playback and hearing the audio at the destination.
Output is clean; the use of the Dock Connector port doesn't degrade the audio signal, and the Sonos system's network was designed in part to avoid interference with other wireless devices. We did encounter an unusual quirk when we first tried it, however; the Wireless Dock would play a track for several seconds and then fall silent. Adjusting the position of the dock seemed to solve it, so it may have been a one-off positioning issue or even cross-talk.
There's something to be said for a simple product that does one thing very well; that's the Wireless Dock. It sets up quickly, works as advertised, and doesn't discriminate between sources if you're controlling directly from your iPhone or iPod. We'd again like to add Ethernet; the price is also somewhat steep if you're used to sub-$100 (and frequently sub-$50) docks. Moreover, there's also the simple question of needing to dock at all. Streaming audio from a handheld can consume battery quickly, but the ideal would be to eventually use an MP3 player or phone without a dock at all.
All the same, if you already have a Sonos system, this is an easy way to have your local collection of music accessible without having to leave a power-hungry computer turned on or to let friends share their own music without having to bring over a notebook. The Wireless Dock is, in the right conditions, the finishing touch for a strong multi-room audio environment.