Sonos ZonePlayer ZP80 and digital music system
Multi-room wireless digital audio. Yum, yum.
You have to physically connect your computer to the first ZonePlayer to get the network started - an Ethernet cable is bundled in the box, as are RCA cables. Only then can you unplug the PC or Mac and connect wirelessly, via your existing router, as you might well want to do if you're working with a notebook. You also need to keep at least on ZonePlayer connected by cable to your router - you can't connect to them directly over wireless. That's a problem if, like me, your cable modem and router aren't near a hi-fi and you don't want them to be. I now have a £270 ZP80 connected to my router to do nothing but link the wireless music network to my main WLAN. This seems a waste, but it's necessary because the Sonos boxes connect using a proprietary and - Sonos claims - optimised WLAN technology.
Incidentally, that proprietary aspect means it's unlikely we'll see Linux software, or at least an open source version of the desktop controller and set-up app.
Adding other ZonePlayers works much the same way, though this time it can be done wirelessly. To link them in, you have to press a couple of the buttons on the front of the ZP80, but the software gives you plenty to time to walk from computer to ZonePlayer to do so.
At this stage you can connect the controller, which you can do while it's charging. Again, it's a straightforward process - the device looks for a Sonos wireless network, adds your various ZonePlayers to its list then sniffs out shared music folders. With the controller set up, you no longer need your computer for anything other than hosting music. If you store all your songs on a NAS box, you don't really need a computer at all.
Tell a lie - you do. While the controller provides almost everything you need to select and play music, you can't enter new Internet radio station links. For that you will have to go back to your computer and the virtual controller software. Once you've added the streaming URL, it's automatically added to the wireless controller ready to select in future.
The controller is a large PMP-sized device with a big colour screen and an iPod-style control wheel. It's a solid bit of kit, and clearly well made: the CR-100 has a rubbery base to make it harder to slide or be pushed off whatever it's been placed on. Pick it up, and a motion sensor detects the movement and automatically turns the controller on. According to Sonos, the unit's fully sealed - buttons, ports and all - so it won't be ruined if you spill tea all over it. A quick rinse under the tap? No problem.