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Nikhil
2006-04-30, 10:33
Over the past couple of days, I have had a chance to test the Sonos ZP80 (the model with the digital outputs and minus the amplifier) alongside my trusty SB2 – which I have been using for close to a year now. I thought my experience would be of interest to both SqueezeBox and Sonos users / prospective users, so I am placing it on both forums.

Right off the bat, I would like to say that both products are excellent and very well thought out. It is hard to go wrong with either of them.

A] Ease of setup: If you are using a Windows PC or a Mac to store your music files, the setup process is fairly simple with both systems. For users who are unfamiliar with firewall settings and the likes, the Sonos installer actually walks you through the process, so it is a little easier. The Sonos hardware, which uses its own secure p2p mesh network, installs itself simply by following instructions to press 2 buttons on the box when asked. For the SqueezeBox, which in wireless mode uses your existing network, you have to manually enter information like SSID, WPA or WEP information, etc. If you are running Linux or some other flavour of UNIX, then setup is simpler with Slimserver (there is currently no Linux Setup software for Sonos, but there are workarounds, and also you only need the setup software once to point the Sonos system to the music – so you might be able to borrow someone’s laptop for that).

The preferred mode of use for me, however, is to have all my music stored on a standalone NAS; this is where the Sonos, with its ability to directly access SMB shares, shines. Of course, it is possible to hack your NAS to run Slimserver, like I have done with my Buffalo Linkstation. While it works wonderfully for me, I don’t think my grandparents or parents could have or would have had the patience to do the same. Where the Sonos falls short for me is that it requires at least one zone player to be directly connected via Ethernet, unlike the SqueezeBoxen, that can directly utilize your existing Wi-Fi setup. This defeats the purpose of storing the relatively noisy NAS far away from the stereo. However, this will not be a problem for someone who has an Ethernet wired home, or who can afford to buy another zone player simply for this purpose – perhaps Sonos should offer a zone bridge for significantly cheaper than their Zone Players. Another option is to use a wireless bridge – for testing purposes I am actually using the SB2 as a wireless bridge. However this mode of use is unsupported by Sonos, and I have noticed several dropouts in audio in this mode.

Overall in terms of ease of setup, I would give the Sonos the advantage.


B] Audio quality: This is the area that was most important to me. While my stereo may not be considered audiophile, my Cyrus 8 integrated amp + PSX-R power supply with Dynaudio Audience 52SEs are no slouches either. In other threads I have talked about how the SB2, when paired with the Cyrus DAC-X DA converter, is barely distinguishable from my Cyrus CD8 + PSR-X power supply paired with the same DAC. What pleasantly surprised me was the quality of the Sonos machine both through the digital outputs as well as the analogue outputs. The SB2 running through the DAC-X provides clean open sound with punchy bass and wonderful stereo imaging. The ZP80 through the same DAC is very close, if not quite as good – I can’t really put my finger on what is different though, I think it depends on the music you are listening to, for some pieces there is a clear difference on others there isn’t. I have not done sufficient testing with the analogue outputs, but my initial impressions were that the sound was a little muddier and less defined on the analogue outputs of the ZP80, but still excellent. A lot has been talked about the internal DACs on the SB2, but those on the ZP80 aren’t terrible either. FWIW, I am using a linear PSU with my SB2 – a piece that I fortuitously found lying unused at work. Also all the music files are EAC+AccurateRip extracted FLACs.

If I had to rate the audio quality of my components from good to better, it would go in this order:
1) ZP80 analogue
2) SB2 analogue
3) ZP80 with Cyrus DAC-X
4) SB2 with Cyrus DAC-X
5) Cyrus CD8
6) Cyrus CD8 + DAC-X

Advantage, SqueezeBox, but only just.

C] Remote control: A lot has been talked about the superiority of the Sonos handheld controller over the SqueezeBox remote. I have to confess that I actually like the SqueezeBox remote a lot. I think the keys are well laid out, and as long as I can easily see the nice VFD screen on the SB2, I don’t need to have a display on the remote. This works well for me in my bedroom, but I can see the need for more information on the controller if you are in a larger space or at a greater distance from the device. In that case the Sonos controller would win hands down. I would like to point out that, as elegant as this controller is, it still lacks the high quality feel of a new iPod, and the wheel could do with some work on the sensitivity front. On the squeezebox side, the work done by Ben Klaas for the Nokia 770 skin is nothing short of stellar. I do like the touch screen on the Nokia. More importantly I do like that it can be used as an Slimserver audio client by itself – paired with my Grado SR60s, it is very listenable streaming 320kbps mp3s transcoded from FLACs by Slimserver (The Nokia770 does not play FLACs natively as yet). But as much as I love the Nokia770 – I still think of it more as a geek toy with lots of reliability issues with regards to network connectivity as well as low memory and low processor issues.

Advantage Sonos for multi-room setups or large rooms. Advantage SqueezeBox for smaller rooms and single installations.


Well enough of my rambling, for those who like bulleted point summaries, here they are.

Advantages of the Sonos ZP80 over the SqueezeBox:
1) Ease of setup – it just works, always.
2) Ability to work with a NAS without any hacking
3) Robust handheld controller
4) Easier multi-room usage and synchronization

Advantages of the SqueezeBox over the Sonos ZP80:
1) Ability to work completely wireless – no need to be tied to the computer or NAS that stores the music.
2) Quality of audio (but only just!)
3) The fluorescent display on the SB2, as well as the additional information available about each track such as format, bit-rate, path, etc.
4) Ability to use Pandora
5) Value for money
6) Flexibility and tweakability (this isn’t a word is it?) – the SB2 and Slimserver has provided hours of entertainment for a geek like me

In conclusion, I am personally going to stick with my SB2, but I think the Sonos setup will work great for my parents. Hope this helps.

Regards,

Nikhil

docbee
2006-05-01, 01:28
Nikhil,
thanks for this very interesting comparison. Do you keep the sonos as well?

Nikhil
2006-05-02, 15:11
Good question :) .. I am undecided. I think I might give it to my parents as a gift.

fred21
2006-05-05, 06:03
I have a Squeezebox 3 set up at my office. It sends flac files to four sets of speakers. I have a gig network with seven computers, currently.

At home- I have a NAS box with all flac files in my exercise room with a ZP80. I have a ZP100 in the bedroom and ZP80 in the living room connected to my router.

Both are amazing. I went through the trouble of downloading album art and meticulously tagging to streamline search functions of my music. I did it while my wife was out of town. She STILL doesn't know it is all installed (yet she has seen the NAS box).

It really comes down to how you access your music, for me.

At work, I use random and 1800 songs are shuffled throughout the day/week/... Amazing. Patients comment on the source of the songs (all my bought CD collection). BTW, used really nice Polk inceiling speakers which were quite expensive even after internet discounting.

At home, Sonos. no need for a computer being on 24/7 (don't know if I can get a NAS working stand alone with Squeezebox). Use of the controller is more paramount.

Now, if I can get good at making playlists!

eq72521
2006-05-05, 10:51
At home, Sonos. no need for a computer being on 24/7 (don't know if I can get a NAS working stand alone with Squeezebox).

I read through the Sonos copy and I don't understand this statement. The Sonos, like the SB, is getting the music from *somewhere*, be it a PC or a NAS, so surely *something* fulfilling the need of music storage needs to be turned on when you're using it. What does it matter if that device is a PC or a NAS? In any case, neither should need to be on 24/7, just when you want to listen to music.

notanatheist
2007-03-03, 21:32
Interesting that you state the Sonos is better at multi-room sync. In what way is it better than the SB2/3? I have 3 SB units at home and regularly sync/unsync them. The only thing I can think of that could be considered a 'hiccup' is the current track restarts. Not enough to bother me though.

Does the Sonos give you web control as well? Is the remote RF or WiFi? I find it convienant to be sitting at a computer and just pop up the web interface to make changes to the volume and playlist on the fly without searching for the remote.

I certainly agree on the display issue though. It is nice to see what is actually playing on the screen and/or have other information at your fingertips like the date/time/weather, visualizations, track info, or custom text welcoming people. Not exactly something the Sonos can do. Squeezebox obviously gives you far more freedom to setup your device however you please and is not tied to any particular platform.

peter
2007-03-04, 00:52
notanatheist wrote:
> Interesting that you state the Sonos is better at multi-room sync. In
> what way is it better than the SB2/3? I have 3 SB units at home and
> regularly sync/unsync them. The only thing I can think of that could be
> considered a 'hiccup' is the current track restarts. Not enough to
> bother me though.
>
> Does the Sonos give you web control as well? Is the remote RF or WiFi?
> I find it convienant to be sitting at a computer and just pop up the
> web interface to make changes to the volume and playlist on the fly
> without searching for the remote.
>
> I certainly agree on the display issue though. It is nice to see what
> is actually playing on the screen and/or have other information at your
> fingertips like the date/time/weather, visualizations, track info, or
> custom text welcoming people. Not exactly something the Sonos can do.
> Squeezebox obviously gives you far more freedom to setup your device
> however you please and is not tied to any particular platform.
>

I may be an atheist, but I've had regular situations where the synced
SB3's weren't very well synced. I'm using wireless, so perhaps that's
the problem. Or you could be right and it's just god trying to get back
at me for not believing in him/her.

Regards,
Peter

aubuti
2007-03-04, 08:23
And this agnostic also finds that sync'ing with SBs is a sometimes-works / sometimes-doesn't proposition, even when the SBs are connected via ethernet. I'm still experimenting to try to find out what gives me the best odds of keeping a good sync.

notanatheist
2007-03-05, 01:15
I'm going with the combination of a fast server (Gentoo on a 2.8Ghz 800FSB P4 w/1GB RAM, no X) and self run ethernet throughout the house. Any of my PCs also get the respect of running strictly Intel or 3COM NICs.

So, for all the times I have synced I have never had an issue. Then again, maybe it's just a blessing :)

Nikhil
2007-03-05, 04:13
Interesting that you state the Sonos is better at multi-room sync. In what way is it better than the SB2/3? I have 3 SB units at home and regularly sync/unsync them. The only thing I can think of that could be considered a 'hiccup' is the current track restarts. Not enough to bother me though.

Does the Sonos give you web control as well? Is the remote RF or WiFi? I find it convienant to be sitting at a computer and just pop up the web interface to make changes to the volume and playlist on the fly without searching for the remote.

I certainly agree on the display issue though. It is nice to see what is actually playing on the screen and/or have other information at your fingertips like the date/time/weather, visualizations, track info, or custom text welcoming people. Not exactly something the Sonos can do. Squeezebox obviously gives you far more freedom to setup your device however you please and is not tied to any particular platform.

I wrote the original post nearly a year ago, so some things have changed on both platforms since then. I do continue to use both platforms side by side in my home (because each has its set of benefits). I still have a personal preference for the SlimServer + Squeezebox platform though members of my family have the opposite preference.

WRT multiroom syncing, people's experience with the SBs and TPs have been variable - for some people (like you) it seems to just work perfectly, while others seem to have no end of trouble - at least that was the impression I got at the time of the review. On the other hand with the Sonos I don't recall anyone ever having a problem - it always just works out of the box with minimal fuss or configuration.

The controller, as most people have acknowledged, is probably the strongest selling point. The controller is WiFi. In addition to the WiFi controller, there is a Desktop controller for Mac and Win and an AJAX based Web COntrol that has been and continues to be developed by the user community.