If you want to stream music and video to your living-room home theater or bedroom TV, a network media player, media streamer or networked component will do the trick. On the other hand, if you want music to play throughout your home, Sonos has a host of products to give you the whole home audio experience.
Introduction to Sonos
Sonos streams digital music from the music libraries on your computers connected to your home network. What's more, it can also share music from a source connected to one of its units — a CD player, iPod, or anything with a headphone jack -- with all of the other Sonos devices in your home.
With Sonos products, you can stream music to play on your stereo (AV receiver), on powered speakers placed in any room in the house, or on portable Sonos ZonePlayers equipped with speakers.
In the past, a whole-home music solution would require in-wall controllers, wall or ceiling speakers and lots of complicated control panels. Sonos systems are now relatively easy to install yourself, once you understand how Sonos works. Sonos has its own vernacular — jargon, terms and names of products.
What is a Sonos Zone?
Sonos allows you to create "zones" around your home for listening to music. A zone can be a single unit in a room, or it can be an area of your home, or it can be any combination of ZonePlayers in your home. A "zone" is created when you choose one or more ZonePlayers to play the same music at the same time.
If you have more than one ZonePlayer, you can group all of the players, or choose any combination of players to create a zone — all the ZonePlayers downstairs, or upstairs, or the kitchen and outdoors, or the ZonePlayer in your den together with the ZonePlayer in your master bedroom. Or, choose all of the ZonePlayers for a whole-home solution.
What is a ZonePlayer?
A ZonePlayer is a Sonos device that streams music for you to hear. It may have built-in speakers and be easy to move from room to room. Another ZonePlayer has a built-in amplifier to which you need only connect speakers. Another model connects to your home stereo (AV receiver) and streams the music through the stereo and speakers. For each room or area you want to play music, you need a ZonePlayer. Whatever model you choose, the Zone Player is where you hear the music from the Sonos system and can work with your current music setup or add to it.
How the ZonePlayers Stream Music
ZonePlayers receive the music it streams from your home network and/or the internet. This means that it must be connected to your home network router to access the music. If ZonePlayers simply connected to your wireless home network like any other network media player, this would be the end of the discussion. The Sonos system, however works differently because the idea behind Sonos is that you can have a whole home system that works together rather than streaming solely to a single device.
In order to create this whole home system, a Sonos device--a ZonePlayer or ZoneBridge--must be physically connected to your home network router to access the music. That connected device then creates a separate Sonos network on which all of the Sonos ZonePlayers communicate.
Choose a ZoneBridge or ZonePlayer as the Gateway to Stream Music
To create the Sonos wireless network, there must be a Sonos device physically connected to your home network router using an Ethernet cable. It can be either a ZonePlayer or a ZoneBridge. Whichever you choose, it becomes the gateway for all the other ZonePlayers to receive music.
The ZoneBridge does not play music; its sole purpose is to connect to your home network router and create the Sonos network. Why would you choose a ZoneBridge to create the network when you can use a ZonePlayer? The ZoneBridge is less expensive than a ZonePlayer. If you don't want to hear music in the area where your router is located--if it's in a hallway or room you don't use-- you can choose to connect a ZoneBridge to the router, and place ZonePlayers in rooms where you want to listen to music.
Conversely, if your router is in a room where you want music--a den, office, bedroom, living room--you can connect any ZonePlayer model to your router. The ZonePlayer acts as the gateway and creates the Sonos network in the same way a ZoneBridge does.
The Sonos Network - Each ZonePlayer is a Signal Repeater
While any other network media player or media streamer will stream music using your home network, Sonos creates a separate network. The advantage of a separate network is that it won't interfere with or slow down internet access or other streaming media to network TVs, computers or other devices around your home. This is because the wireless signal to ZonePlayers is on a different channel than your home network's wifi. The Sonos network is set up up the channel automatically but can be changed if there is interference.
Each ZonePlayer in the Sonos network repeats the signal it receives from the router-connected gateway ZonePlayer or ZoneBridge. This is commonly referred to as an "access point"--a device that can receive a signal from a wireless router and amplify it to make it easier for other devices to connect to the router. In essence, ZonePlayers are access points for other ZonePlayers.
Sonos calls this a "mesh network."
The benefit of this type of network is that each ZonePlayer needs to only be close enough to another ZonePlayer to receive a signal. In situations where a ZonePlayer is far from the router--large homes, a ZonePlayer placed in a garage or outdoors--it can stream music if there is another ZonePlayer nearby that can get the signal from the router-based ZoneBridge. In a large home, you could have the router-based ZoneBridge at one end of your home, a ZonePlayer close by in a bedroom, another in the den down the hall, then one in the kitchen near the ZonePlayer in the garage. Each ZonePlayer gets the signal from the closest ZonePlayer.
This interconnectivity of the Sonos mesh network insures that all ZonePlayers stream music in perfect sync. This is important when playing the same music on more than one ZonePlayer.
Proceed to Part 2: Controlling and Using the Sonos System