Lifechanger: Happiness Is a Loaded Sonos

Illustration for article titled Lifechanger: Happiness Is a Loaded Sonos

Magic is a singing home.

But piping music all over a house has always been unreasonably hard. Or just primitive.

Over the last 10 years, I liked music, but it was an inconvenience. I had to drape wires through holes we we knocked, drilled or cut in drywall, or have a stereo in every room. Or I had to play my music really, really loud or walk around with headphones on. In recent years, wireless networks and computers and digital files, have let me stream some music to a TV or radio in a really basic hacked together way. But I did not have the ability to play any song, in any room, at any time, with high fidelity, until I installed a Sonos system in my house. I'm talking about Beethoven in the den and Ramones in the kitchen, or every place playing the Beatles, controllable from anywhere, controlled from a smartphone. This week, Apple launched Airplay, which has great potential to fix this for video and audio. But it's still just a system in its infancy, with not much in the way of hardware. Sonos is working for me today, and all the pieces work pretty much perfectly.

Illustration for article titled Lifechanger: Happiness Is a Loaded Sonos
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It's really strange to describe Sonos: It's basically a bunch of audio playing boxes that come in different forms. Some of the boxes are amped and can directly drive your speakers. Some are signal out only. And some are standalone boxes with speakers built in. The boxes store no music, but connect to your home networked computers or servers, or get streaming services like Last.fm and pandora and internet radio from the net. Setup is easy because all the boxes set up their own wireless mesh network pretty much automatically, without sapping any of your home network's bandwidth. Everything is controlled by software on a computer, touchscreen remote or your iPhone/iPad, from anywhere in the house. It works and its flexible yet simple to use.

Sonos has been out and evolving over a few years. But now that I live in a pretty big place by myself I can really appreciate it's ability to take a place that is too quiet and breathe more life into it.

Illustration for article titled Lifechanger: Happiness Is a Loaded Sonos

This is what I wake up to: a track at top volume, playing in the bedroom to bathroom to kitchen to garden to office; Usually some upbeat wake me up anthem, like Walking On Sunshine, or We Are the Champions, or something. This is how I go to sleep, from shower to livingroom, to bed; Usually listening to someone strumming something gently and downbeat. This is how I throw bbqs, have friends over to smoke and listen to music til 4 in the morning, and the next day when writers come over to work. Whenever I am home, there is music playing.

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Illustration for article titled Lifechanger: Happiness Is a Loaded Sonos

Anyone can hack together an audio system in their house using the primitive ways. But when you fill the place you live in with music you love, synced up from room to room, loud, clear and ambient, the notes seem to soak into the wood and paint the walls, and tiles and tint the lights with mood. And somehow it becomes that you feel transported into your own music video. Powerful anthems to stoke your spirit before a night on the town, somber ballads to commiserate a loss, motown for intimate company, or classic picks from any given decade to time machine you and your home back to a time when you at least remembered things as more simple. Much like the experience of driving and listening at high speed and volume, I think music at home just sounds better when your ears are naked and your neighbors are slightly pissed off. And the biggest compliment I can pay Sonos is that it's helped me listen to at least 10x more music than I did before, just because it's so easy to get it delivered the way I want it delivered.

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DISCUSSION

No mention of Squeezebox?

It does everything Sonos does for loads less dough.

The server can run on any PC/Mac/Linux box you have around the house, and is free. If you decide to buy/build your own server, well, it's whatever you pay (I built one for around $200 including 3TB storage)

Playback devices start around $200, and can work as wired/wireless. Some have amp/speaker, some feed sound to your own gear.

There are several ways to use the PCs, Macs, linux boxes around the house as players. All free (My favorite is one called 'squeezeslave')

All these players (including the software ones) can be easily synchronized).

Control is either via a Squeezebox device (a bit pricey) plus there are third party apps for iPhone/iTouch/iPad, Android, and Symbian. the server has a built-in web server and web UI, so you don't need a controller at all if you have something that can show web pages.

The server can re-encode music on-the-fly, so if you have a player at work (software or a device) you can, for instance, re-encode FLAC into MP3 to use less bandwidth (and keep work IT folks happy).

The server can connect with services like Pandora and classical.com - and you can synchronize that.

the hardware devices also can work without a server, if you're getting everything from services.

My favorite feature is something called MusicIP. This is a free third party app that lets you essentially say "I like the current tune, find me 10 (or 40) more like it."

[edit]

I forgot to mention: support for most every sound format you can think of.

And there's iTunes integration (which I've never used, not being an iTunes person)

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