Sonos has been supplying music streaming boxes for a few years now, and in the interim a number of rivals have sprung up, testing the company's resolve with cheaper alternatives.
But there's something about the American company's technical and aesthetic proﬁciency that sets its systems apart. And the new Sonos Bundle 150 is of no exception.
For £700, you get a ZonePlayer 90 music streamer, a ZonePlayer 120 that also contains a 55W-per-channel stereo ampliﬁ er for hooking up to non-powered speakers, and a full-colour-screened remote control – all of which are beautifully designed and apparently Apple-inspired (in a good way).
They all communicate with each other wirelessly, too. So, essentially, for one price, you can serve PC-located music ﬁles and internet radio stations into two separate rooms from the one package.
In cahoots with Napster
However, that's not the main story. Playing your own locally-stored MP3s (or WMAs) is one thing, but it's the company's alliance with Napster that provides the Bundle 150 with its own particular X-factor.
If you take out a subscription to the internet music download and jukebox service, which costs £9.95 a month after an initial free 30-day trial, you have instant access to over ﬁve million music tracks – a constantly-updated mega-playlist which you can dip into any time you choose.
For example, should you have the sudden urge to dance to the hits of Jive Bunny, you can search for the artist (in a large number of easy ways), choose the tracks you'd like to bop along to, play them instantly (with full colour album art) and shufﬂe all the way to the loony bin.
And the best news? To use the Napster service, you don't even need to be connected to a PC.
Get in the zone
One of the ZonePlayers needs to be connected to your home network (unless you invest a further £70 in an additional ZoneBridge), and the others communicate through the company's proprietary SonosNet 2.0, a high-speed and glitch-free wireless mesh.
This updated version offers better signals over greater distances than with previous Sonos products; in use I had perfect stream strength no matter where each player was stationed. Of course, the audio quality is dependent on the source material, and streamed MP3s are not exactly lossless (although it is capable of playing other non-compressed ﬁles).
In comparison to other streamers, though, and, even, high-end iPod docks, when rendering standard audio formats, this system has a tight and clean control over its playback.
The only quibbles I have with the package are minor: when connected to a PC or Mac, it can't stream DRM-laden iTunes downloads and all other accessories – speakers, control cradle, etc – come at a premium.
However, the Sonos BU150 is a well-served jukebox which effectively eliminates the need to buy another album ever again.