As one of the highest-rated series of products on CNET UK, it always gives us a thousand happy smiles to look at new Sonos kit. The ZonePlayer S5 is an entirely new form-factor for Sonos -- more of a boombox than a stand-alone streamer -- so we entered this one with curiosity piqued.
Essentially, the S5 is a Sonos ZonePlayer with built-in speakers. With software installed on your Mac or PC, the S5 will stream your entire music library over Wi-Fi or Ethernet, and blast it out using its integrated amplifier. Well, five actually: one for each of the five speaker drivers. There's a single subwoofer, two mid-range drivers and two little tweeters.
Sound quality is terrific, with ample bass and stacks of volume. It's a beautiful piece of kit, too. Well-built, satisfyingly weighty and with the look and feel you only get from Sonos.
The tech stuff (but not this TechStuff)
Any music on your computer in MP3, AAC, WMA, iTunes Plus, Apple Lossless, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, AIFF or WAV files is compatible. The bundled Sonos software works on Windows or OS X and is probably one of the slickest, easiest-to-use desktop media servers we've seen. With it, you can control the S5 remotely, regardless of which room in your house it's in.
It's difficult to criticise that. But here's our rigid calciate structure of contention: the real joy of Sonos systems is using them with the Sonos controller. The CR200 lets you control your entire media library seamlessly, and wirelessly. And we'd say you'd definitely want to get one. The problem is, it costs £279 -- that's just £70 less than the S5 itself.
The reason why is simple: Sonos wants you to use an iPhone. It has a free iPhone app which looks and functions exactly like the £279 controller, and you can use it on a £149 iPod touch. In fact, the top-end 64GB iPod touch only costs £20 more!
So the choice is yours. While still reasonably costly, it's a much more affordable door into the Sonos world, and will be compatible with any other Sonos gear you invest in down the road.