Sonos S5 Review

Our Review by Jeff Scott on June 2nd, 2010
Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar ::
Share This:

The Sonos S5 is the perfect non-dock iPhone based music player. While it's not cheap, it's on par with iPhone docks with similar sound quality but frees you from tethering your iDevice.

Sonos sent us an S5 unit to test out as a substitute to an iPhone dock. I have to admit I was a little skeptical, there's no place to dock your iPhone! But it turns out, this is a much better solution for music playback than any iPhone dock I've ever used.

Once you get your head around the idea of this device, it just makes so much sense. Typical iPhone docks serve two purposes, charging your iPhone and a way to play music and streaming services through speakers. Easy enough. But the big downside with that setup is your iPhone is tethered to the dock to play music. If you take it out, the music stops.

With the Sonos S5, you control the music playback with your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, but your device stays with you while the music plays through the Sonos. You can then do other things with your iDevice while the music is playing. You can make phone calls, send email, even play games. All while the Sonos churns away on the shelf playing your iTunes music or streaming your favorite internet music service.

Read on for the full review, screen shots, and more of the Sonos S5.

The Hardware

First, let's talk about the device itself. It's a good looking device, very solid and well made. And fairly compact considering the beefy speakers it contains. Available now in both cream white and black. If you want a color other than that, you'll need to get creative.

The Sonos S5 is a networked audio device that can play everything from the music on your desktop machine or many forms of NAS, to Pandora radio, Sirius XM, Internet streaming radio, and even Rhapsody. The device works by connecting to your home internet connection and then you control it from an iPhone OS application on your iDevice.

For the casual music lover, this is the ideal device. It does everything you could want a connected music device to do and much more. Hardcore audiophiles may not be completely pleased with the sound quality - while is pretty good for us normal people. That sound comes from 5 speakers crammed in this one little box. One of those speakers being a subwoofer. The sound quality is as good or better than the sound I've heard from the highest end desktop iPhone docks, but the sound won't be nearly as good as high end stereos. Basically, at this price point, the sound is as good as you are going to get.

But the Sonos S5, like those the devices, does suffer from having the left and right channels so close. Most people wont notice the problem. To address that issue, Sonos have just released an update that allows you to use two Sonos device as independent channels for a music source. So you can set one to the left, and it only plays the left channel, and one to the right to play the right channel. Of course for this proper sound separation you will need to shell out for a second device. But Kudos to Sonos for making it an option to address that problem.

One of the interesting features of the device is that if you choose, you can connect multiple devices in your home - and they can work together. The device uses some sort of a proprietary wireless mesh network that allows you to have multiple devices all playing the same thing at the same time, all synced up properly. This works even if what you are playing is the auxiliary input on one of the devices. You can, of course, also play different things on the different devices and can control all of them independently from your iDevice.

One of the downsides to this mesh network is that you will need to wire at least one of the devices via an Ethernet connection. It can't connect to your home network via wifi. If you don't have an Ethernet port near the device you'll need another device, the Zone Bridge ($99) to connect to an Ethernet port to connect the device and set up the mesh network.

The device has a purposefully sparse control panel on the top. You'll find just mute, volume up, and volume down. On the back you'll find 2 Ethernet ports (nice touch), auxiliary input, headphone jack, and power. That's it.

I would love it if the top mute control worked better as a smart pause/play controller as well. I generally leave the same playlist or streaming source as the current playlist in my Sonos for days at a time. It would be nice to be able to quickly pause or resume the playback as I'm walking by the device. If you just mute it, it keeps playing, but the sound is cut. Honestly, I have no need for a mute if I could have a pause/play button. Perhaps they will make this an option in a future revision of the software.

The connection and setup of the device couldn't be easier. I had it out of the box and streaming within 10 minutes.

Music, Music, Music

Of course the function of the Sonos S5 is to play music. And in this department, you have plenty of options.

The Sonos system can play the music that you have stored on any of your home computers shared either as a network share or by running the Sonos Desktop software on the computer. You can also stream from just about any NAS device.

Streaming Services

In addition to the music you have on your local network, Sonos can access lots of streaming services. First there is streaming radio stations. The Sonos software has thousands to choose from. You can either choose from the list or search for a genre, city, etc.

You also have access to Pandora, SiriusXM, Rhapsody, and Napster, all ready to go if you are a subscriber to any of those services. Most also come with a free trial if you want to give them a shot. There are also more services available from the Sonos web site. I highly recommend SiriusXM and either Rhapsody or Napster. Gives you a nice selection of a huge searchable music archive (Rhapsody or Napster), and a variety of quality music programmed by real DJs (remember those?).

iPhone OS App

You may be wondering, this is great, but do I really need to control all that from my desktop computer? No, of course not. While there is the Sonos controller app to do that, more convenient is the iDevice App. The app works on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Though it's not optimized for the iPad display yet. The app itself is pretty robust and covers all of the different services and options well. I think they could use the services of a top end app designer to clean it up some, it is quite functional.

You can easily navigate all of your local music and all of the services quickly and easily. Create new playlists, save them, and return to them later. There are options to store favorites under some of the different services. I'd love to see a global favorites option. Why can't I have quick favorites that point to a SirusXM station, a streaming radio station, a Pandora station, or a Rhapsody playlist all in one easy to access, top level, global favorites? A minor issue -- considering the convenience of the system as a whole but would make it even more convenient.

The Bottom Line

Yeah, but how much is it going to cost me?

The Sonos S5 was the answer to all of the critics that complained that the Sonos systems were too expensive. And while the S5 is by no means cheap, it is on par in price with the higher end iPhone speaker docks. Though, of course, we'd love to see it even cheaper. The Sonos S5 is available for $399 just about anywhere you look. The price seems to be set by Sonos and I have never seen it on sale.

You have to ask yourself if it's worth it to you. Full disclosure, Sonos send me the device to review but I fell in love with it. I am already planning on getting another S5 for my office. The two biggest reasons that I like this device over any of the speaker docks I've tried are the services that it offers, and the fact that I can keep my iPhone to do other things while the music is playing on the device. A big plus in my book.

Here's a demo video from Sonos on the S5 and the iPhone app.

Manufacturer: Sonos
Price: $399.00 (+$99 if no wired Ethernet connection)
Model Reviewed: Sonos S5 - White

Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar

- Easy Control from iPhone App, No Docking Required
- Sound Quality
- Breadth of Streaming Services Supported
- Line-in Support

- Proprietary Wireless Network
- iPhone App Needs a Facelift
- Stereo Separation Lacking


Posted in: Reviews, Hardware Reviews
Tagged With: Music, Network, Sirius xm, Sonos, Dock
Share This: