Sonos radio taps Internet, all your tunes
When is the last time you bought a radio that didn’t have a car attached to it? Tabletop radios aren’t big sellers these days, especially at $300.
Then again, the $299 Play:3 radio by Sonos is something more than the AM-FM type. It uses Wi-Fi instead. Hook it up to your home network, and you get a high-fidelity gadget that will play all your recorded tunes in any room of the house. No AM, no FM, but it will pipe in Internet audio, and almost all of your favorite stations are probably online. If you’ve got deep enough pockets, you can put a Sonos in every room, and tune to something different on each of them.
If it still sounds expensive, consider that Sonos Inc. of Santa Barbara, Calif., first sold its Internet-enabled home audio systems in 2005 at $1,200 a pop. The company has put a lot of effort into building something more affordable that approaches the quality of its earlier high-end systems. I’ve never heard the pricier Sonos units, but I found the Play:3’s sound quite satisfactory. It’s perhaps a little thin on bass frequencies, but the overall sound is rich and mellow, with a better stereo effect than you’d expect from a single box.
The Play:3 vaguely resembles one of those Wave tabletop radios made by Bose Corp. of Framingham, only not quite as sleek. And there’s no digital readout or tuning control on board; just volume control and mute buttons. All other features must be controlled remotely.
The Sonos remote control costs an eye-watering $349, considerably more than the Play:3 itself. Luckily, you don’t need one. The Sonos software lets you control your music network from any PC or Mac. And then there’s your iPad or iPod or Android device. There are free Sonos apps for each of them.
Making it all work means attaching the Play:3 to your home network. Other desktop Internet radios pick up the household Wi-Fi signal, then use a push-button remote to log in and tune in stations, a clumsy and tedious process. They make it just as difficult to tune through thousands of Internet streams in search of your favorite music or news program.
Sonos keeps it simple. Either run a cable from your router to the Play:3’s Ethernet port, or spend another $49 for a device the company calls the Bridge, a separate Wi-Fi router used solely to control multiple Sonos devices. Plug the Bridge into your existing router, load the enclosed setup software for Windows PC or Mac computers, and the rest is just about painless. Press a button atop the Bridge, and the two buttons on the Play:3, and you’ve got yourself a music network. When your bank account allows it, you can buy more Play:3 units and deploy them in other rooms.
Each Play:3 unit can be identified by location - living room, bedroom, basement - and you can control all of them from the desktop. I sat at my bedroom PC and ordered a nearby Play:3 to serve up some chamber music, while a remote unit flooded the living room with talk radio jabber.
Of course, you’re not chained to the desktop. Load the Sonos app on a mobile device and play your favorites in one room while the kids listen to something else. Or you can issue a “link’’ command to all household Play:3 units, to have them all play the same tune.
The Sonos system will play music from your computer or any other networked machine in the house. If you’ve got one of those network-attached storage drives, Sonos can treat it as a giant jukebox. In addition, Sonos provides access to a huge inventory of Internet audio streams, sorted by content and region so it’s easy to find what you want. And the system has built-in access to the most popular of the major streaming services, such as Pandora, Last.fm, Spotify, Napster, and Rhapsody. Members can just log in and start listening.
With its painless setup, easy operation, and excellent sound, there’s only one thing to criticize here: the price. Knocking off 100 bucks would probably force some sound quality compromises, but at $200 apiece, the Sonos could well become the best-selling radio in years.
Hiawatha Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.