Product Review

Sonos ZonePlayer 80 Wireless Digital Music Server

Part I

October, 2007

Kris Deering




Wired and Wireless
Up to 32 Controllers and
   Independent zones
Supports MP3, WMA, Apple
   Lossless, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis,
Analog and Digital outputs
Support for Internet Radio,
   Sirius, Rhapsody, and Pandora
MSRP: Full Bundle $999



Recently, a friend of mine held a large audio get together sponsored by our friend's at AV123. The event showcased lots of different speaker setups and upcoming products from the AV123 line. About a week before the event, Shawn (the host) asked me to come by and give him some feedback on his ideas for the event and comments on what he had so far.

Having this many audio setups throughout the house can be tricky. Managing the music for all of these demos could be even trickier. Shawn had a solution in place though, and it was one that I wasn't familiar with.

He introduced me to the Sonos Digital Music System (a music server). I've used a few music server solutions in the past at my own house or friends', but I've never really been blown away with their operability or feature sets enough to want to invest a bunch of money of my own. After Shawn ran me through this product though, I ordered one the next day.

We reviewed Sonos a couple of years ago, and it is time for an update.

The Music System

The Sonos Digital Music System revolves around three key products: a controller and a choice of two different types of zone players. The zone players are the heart of the system and are what provide you with the music. There are two options here: the ZP 80 and the ZP 100. Both are identical in terms of what they process (more on that later), but the difference is their output. The ZP 80 has several output options including Toslink, digital coax, and standard stereo analog outputs. The ZP 100 features a built in 100w integrated amplifier (50W per channel) so that you don't need an outboard receiver or processor, you can simply plug in a set of speakers and you're good to go. For this review I requested their controller and a ZP 80.


Before I start in on these products, let me just put it out there that I am not what one would call "computer savvy". Sure I have a basic understanding of the key concepts, but once you move past web browsing, word processing, and some other basic concepts, I'm useless. I have a very simple home network at the house, only because I have some products in my home theater that require an Internet connection.

Since I've been keeping my eye out for a music server option to replace my current solution (Xbox 360), I was looking for something that wouldn't require a Masters in Computer Networking to use. So if you are intimidated by networking, but want something like this in your home, the Sonos product line may be one to look at close. 

The most important part in deciding what type of music server you want for your home is deciding what type of features and support that server offers. You need to look at the hardware and output options to integrate into existing audio components, and you need to look at whether or not the audio files you plan on using are supported. Do you like Internet streaming audio? Do you like music subscription services? Do you plan on using lossless compression? Do you want to integrate your current playlists? These are all questions you should ask yourself when you're shopping around.


The Sonos system supports MP3, Windows Media Audio (WMA), FLAC, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, Audible, Apple Lossless, WAV, and AIFF. For Windows Media Audio (WMA), there is no support for WMA Lossless. I talked with Sonos about this and they said the format requires too much computing power for the zone players, so other features would have been cut back to add this one, and they didn't feel it was justified. Personally, I totally agree with them. You still have lossless audio support with FLAC and Apple Lossless and uncompressed support with WAV and AIFF. The unit also supports sample rates of 48, 44.1, 32, 24, 22, 16, 11, and 8 kHz. All of the necessary decoding is handled by the zone player.

The Sonos also supports several streaming options for Internet Radio including MP3 and WMA. On top of that, it supports playlists from a variety of music services including iTunes, Rhapsody, Windows Media Player, Winamp, and Music Match. So importing your existing playlists is not an issue.

With respect to streaming audio, the Sonos provides support for several subscription based services on the market. This includes Rhapsody, Pandora Radio, and Sirius. Existing members can integrate their subscription with ease to enhance their music server experience. You can control your playlists, stations, artist, song preferences, and more, right from the handheld controller. Sonos even offers a free 30-day trial for all of these services, so you can try them out for yourself. During my evaluation, I took advantage of all three and had varying degrees of experience with them.

Sirius Radio is very similar to XM Radio and has become a staple for satellite radio. It is essentially digital radio stations being streamed over a satellite or from the Internet. There are music stations divided up by genre or themed based stations that cover things like pop culture, politics, sports, movies, and more.

Most of these are commercial free, or nearly commercial free, and you can get a nice mix of tunes. I had this service for nearly a year when I bought an SUV a few years back, and I enjoyed it for the most part, but not enough to become a full fledged subscriber. I don't listen to talk radio much (in fact I try to avoid it), and most of the playlists on Sirius didn't do much for me. I'm happy to see this service supported by Sonos for anyone who already has a subscription, but it wasn't my cup of tea.

Rhapsody was pretty much the same. This isn't a streaming radio service but rather an Internet-based music service. You can stream tracks from their long list of available music, but I found them a bit limited in selection with my music tastes. Their interface is also a bit frustrating. Again, a nice feature for present customers, but I didn't get a lot out of it.

Pandora Radio was the gem of the bunch in my opinion. I had never heard of this service before, but it was quite cool. This is a streaming audio service created by The Music Genome Project.

They have dissected music into roughly 400 attributes to allow the end user to input some simple information and create music "stations" based on them. You are greeted with a question, "What is your favorite Artist or Song?" and based on your response, it creates a music station from that answer. Sounds gimmicky, but it works very well.

I created about three stations from different bands that I like. The service then plays music from that artist or artists with similar styles from there on. The similarities were remarkable, regardless of the genre of music. Pandora also created a "Quick Pick" station based on the stations I created. It was a fusion of music styles based on what I had created before. I've had that station play for hours on end and literally never heard a song I didn't like, even if it was one I'd never heard of before. You can also provide feedback directly from the controller telling the service what you like and don't like, so it can adjust the playlist on the fly. Of course it displays the artist, album, song, and cover art right on your controller. Truly one of the coolest music services I've used to date.

Go to Part II.

Copyright 2007 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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