How to Save $600 With My Alternative to the Sonos Zoneplayer and Play All Your iTunes Music Store Songs

In the same PS Audio newsletter with the Noise Harvester video, Paul McGowan linked to Sonos (also see BoingBoing’s recent post praising the Sonos). Sonos makes wireless music access points with a large handheld remote. A basic kit will cost you $999. I want to compare the Sonos feature set and my own Airtunes setup, which is a much more economical solution.

For just under $1000 Sonos provides two Zoneplayer ZP80s and a two handed Controller CR100 with a table top charging dock. You hook up the first ZP80 to your home network, point it toward your digital music collection and it streams the requested songs to as many as 32 ZonePlayers in your home. Each ZonePlayer can play music independently of the others. Additional ZP80s cost $349.

The Sonos Controller CR100 has a 3.5″ QVGA LCD screen that displays a GUI featuring navigation, playlists, album art and track listings. Its best feature is a iPod-esque click scroll wheel for scanning through your large list of songs.

The Sonos system is a great wireless audio distribution kit if you have lots of money to burn but if you want 80% of the functionality of the Sonos for 40% of the price then try my Airport Express and PSP remote solution (the Geek with Family Distributed Audio Solution or GWFDAS: read my five part series on the set up and experience starting with “PSP + Airtunes + Coverbuddy = Hi-Fi Music Server Dance Party – Introduction“).

Where the Sonos wins:

  • Many to many music distribution: If you really need to listen to different albums from your digital music collection then the Sonos cannot be beat.
  • iPod envy: If you need the familiarity and usability of a click wheel the Sonos remote is for you.
  • Friendlier UI: The Sonos controller has an interface that any member of your family could figure out
  • Plug and play software: Sonos software auto configures its ZonePlayers over your wireless network

Where my GWFDAS Wins:

  • Price: Assuming you already have a computer, wireless network and remote hi-fi system, for a small investment of $250 for a PSP and $129 for an Airport Express you can control your computer’s music library remotely
  • Shelf real estate: The Airport Express and PSP both fit in the palm of your hand. The Airport Express can be plugged directly into the wall or power strip, at just a little larger than a deck of cards. No additional hardware is needed at your computer.
  • Software Options: You could use Coverbuddy, Patiotunes, or an open-source PHP iTunes remote software that all have a small screen mode meant to fit the PSP’s screen.
  • Apple DRM Friendly: For those of you that think paying 99¢ for a song is a good idea, the Airport Express is fully compliant with Apple’s Fairplay DRM.

The GWFDAS is the clear winner on price alone, and I have found features I was missing with Coverbuddy (Playlists primarily) through the other software solutions I’ve found (all shareware less than $30). The only area Sonos pulls ahead is in being able to play different music at each access point. Though if I were going to spend that much money on extra Sonos Zoneplayers and Controllers I would instead mod an Xbox and play music through Xbox Media Center with a wireless controller and a small LCD screen at each music zone.

So save yourself $600 or more (if you already have a PSP or Airport Express) and set up a remote controlled iTunes music server. As a bonus the Airport Express can act as a wireless bridge for any networked devices in your listening room and I’ve read the PSP can play this new invention called video games.

Everything you need to know is detailed in my “PSP + Airtunes + Coverbuddy = Hi-Fi Music Server Dance Party” series.

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