Sonos vs. Apple AirTunes – Using iPhone remote apps

I have been interested in creating a living room music-on-demand setup for our home for quite some time. One of my colleagues has been preaching to me that Sonos is the answer for a year or so now – but I’ve never really considered it because of it’s high cost of entry (~$999+). Recently, Sonos released a free iPhone/iPod touch remote control application. This allows a significantly less expensive entry cost, as now you only need to purchase a single Sonos ZonePlayer to get started… but I still felt that it was a be expensive (~$350)… especially when you compare it to using the AirTunes capability of the Apple AirPort express (~$99).

This past weekend he was kind enough to allow me to test out one of his Sonos ZonePlayers. The loan unit I had was a ZonePlayer ZP80, which is no longer being sold, but has been replaced with the ZP90 which now supports 802.11N. Neither the ZP80 nor ZP90 have internal amplifiers, so if you don’t have an amplifier you would need to consider the ZP120 (~$499).

So here are my brief thoughts and comments regarding the differences, pros and cons of the two solutions, and I’ll assume you already have the following (or workable equivalents):

  • Mac, or PC with Windows (I used Windows 7 RC1)
  • 802.11G/N wireless network
  • Amplifier with speakers.
  • iPhone (iPod touch will do the job too)

Apple AirTunes

What you’ll need:

Setup is rather simple, just need to ‘authorize’ the iPhone remote app to connect to our iTunes library.

Pros:

  • Much less expensive. Only need to get an Apple AirPort express (~$99 for the 802.11N version)
  • Plays Apple DRM tracks.
  • iTunes DJ – this can be great for when friends come over.

Cons:

  • Need to keep iTunes client open at all times. This can be a pain.
  • Does not “remember” what you were you were listening too between PC reboots/iTunes restarts. I found this more annoying that I thought I would.
  • No multi-room support. This doesn’t bother me much, my apartment is too small anyway.
  • Does not support many audio formats. My collection is all MP3, so… no biggie.
  • Does not provide access to some of the more popular audio streaming services, such as Rhapsody, Napster, SIRIUS, Pandora etc.

Sonos:

What you’ll need:

Pros:

  • Better remote control app than the Apple one. A bunch of little features that make it better than the Apple one:
    >See the next track coming in the ‘Now Playing’ screen.
    >Great on-the-go queue (playlist) management.
    >When you choose a track you get the option of “Play now”, “Play next”, “Add to Queue”, “Replace current queue”.
  • No need to any client applications open, you just need the PC on to allow access to the Windows file share.
  • Remembers were you were. This I really liked… even though my PC had been off, once it is back on, the ZonePlayer will start were it left off (even mid-track)
  • Multi-room support, provided you have purchased additional ZonePlayers.
  • Better audio format support (Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, WMA, AAC, MP3, Apple Lossless, and Audible formats)
  • Access to Rhapsody, Napster, SIRIUS, Pandora, Last.fm, and most terrestrial radio stations. I did not test this as most of these services are US centric – plus my broadband connection sucks for streaming content.

Cons:

  • Expensive. $350 for the ZP90 (replacement for ZP80).
  • Does not support Apple DRM tracks.

Conclusion:

I definitely enjoyed the experience of the Sonos solution more. There are many small, often unquantifiable, nuances that make it a more complete and enjoyable experience. The Apple AirTunes solution I described is workable, but not perfect.

If money was no object, then Sonos all the way, but unfortunately money is a big consideration. For now I’m going to hold onto these facts I’ve learnt – then see if I can convience myself to take the dive.

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2 thoughts on “Sonos vs. Apple AirTunes – Using iPhone remote apps

  1. Pretty cool post. I just came by your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your posts.

    Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon!

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