Sonos ZonePlayer S5 review

Can the slickest Apple add-on around head-off the AirPlay challenge?

Image 1 of 3 Sonos S5 in situ
Sonos S5 in situ
Image 2 of 3 Sonos S5
Sonos S5
Image 3 of 3 Sonos S5 bedroom
Sonos S5 bedroom

No Airplay, but easy set-up and streaming and Android support make this a winner

You’ve got your iPad – the world’s best touchscreen controller – now add the planet’s finest multi-room music system. Hyperbole? Perhaps – the Sonos ZonePlayer S5 isn’t the very last word in audiophile quality, that’s for certain – and if Apple’s AirPlay continues its momentum, the wheels could quite easily fall off the Sonos success story.

But the whole system is so well thought-out and simple to use that it drags hi-fi out of the dark ages and puts it into the palm of your hand – and even around an entire house – that it’s hard to see Sonos losing its grip on the wireless multi-room market.

Granted, the Sonos experience relies wholly on your WiFi network and doesn't achieve multi-room unless you buy multiple S5 units, but it’s the free iPhone-iPod Touch-iPad apps that make it deeply attractive. Well designed and structured, it’s even possible to choose tracks and put them in queue, just like a jukebox.

One slight issue is that if songs are added to a queue, and then you select a new song to play immediately, the queue evaporates.

Sonos Zoneplayer S5: Music streaming

But it’s not just your existing MP3 hoard that this Sonos system wants to spray around your home via a couple-or-three S5 units – or even just the Internet’s 10,000+ radio stations (which, incidentally, are clearly labelled and easily searchable, though do buffer in the usual annoying manner). Oh no, there’s plenty more streaming goodness in the Sonos app in the shape of, free trials for other music streaming sites such as Napster, Deezer, Wolfgang’s Vault, Pandora, Rhapsody, and now Spotify.

You must be armed with a Spotify Premium subscription at £9.99 per month to get its contents and your playlists integrated into your Sonos app read our Spotify on Sonos review here.. But it’s worth doing since the quality also jumps from the standard 128kbps to 320kbps. And while the speaker drivers in the S5 are of excellent quality and offer enough bass alongside reasonably detailed treble highs, it’s noticeably muffled with low-resolution MP3s.

Set-up of the Sonos is easy; a piece of software for Mac or PC finds an S5 through a simple two-button pairing process. Download an app for your Apple gadget – iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad – and you’ve done it. Add either a second ZonePlayer S5 or another Sonos gadget (a ZonePlayer 90, £280, to soup-up a an existing hi-fi or a just-add-speakers ZonePlayer 120 device, £400), and suddenly you can control two zones from the app, easily configuring different playlists and volumes in each room.

Another alternative if you're feeling particularly flush is to by to S5 units are link them up as a stereo pair; again, through the app it’s possible to stream one side of a stereo mix to each unit – and to devastating effect.

Sonos ZonePlayer S5: Verdict

In fact, the only drawbacks we can think of are (a) that your PC or Mac has to be switched on if you want to stream music (though this doesn't apply to streaming web radio, Spotify or any of the other streaming services, which are completely independent and accessed though the app), (b) it can’t stream content directly stored on your iPhone (is the S5 due an Apple AirPlay update, per chance?), and (c) the lack of an app for Android phones.

The latter is about to change. As we write this, Sonos is busy preparing an app for Android 2.1-and-above phones that will see voice search and native contol (i.e. you can control the Sonos’ volume using the volume buttons on your phone) added. The Sonos ZonePlayer S5; no longer just an Apple fanboy’s dream, and with Apple AirPlay set to dominate the mid-range hi-fi sector where the ZonePlayer S5 sits, it’s about time.

Sonos ZonePlayer S5 launch date: Out now, link Sonos

Sonos ZonePlayer S5 price: £350