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Sonos + Apple’s AirPlay: Making Music Together

Last week Sonos announced the integration of Apple’s Airplay technology into their Wireless Multi-Room Music System. This was a bit shocking as many including myself viewed Apple’s Airplay platform as a direct threat to the highly regarded Sonos system. However, this is not the first time Sonos have bucked conventional thinking.


For instance when they were selling their (rather expensive) first remote for their initial ZonePlayer based systems they secretly worked on a iOS based remote that they eventually offered on the Apple App store. This free and infinitely better iOS based remote app led to the sale of more ZonePlayers than ever before as it cut the entry price point down by almost ¼ to ½.

Most companies would not cannibalize their own product sales but Sonos realized the untapped market of iDevice users leveraged that market. Sonos has proven multiple times that they are not afraid to take chances to enhance their product even when it goes against conventional thinking; thus they embraced Apple’s AirPlay technology.

AirPlay in theory is very similar to the Sonos system with its ability to wirelessly stream music throughout one’s home. One drawback to the AirPlay ecosystem is its still rather limited product selection. Sonos saw this limitation of AirPlay platform choices as an opportunity to enhance their already impressive ZonePlayer platform.

As an owner of a Sonos ZonePlayer and Sonos Wireless Dock, I am quite familiar with the systems capabilities. So when Sonos was kind enough to send an Apple AirPort Express to test the AirPlay capability of the recent Sonos system update, I jumped at the chance to test it out.

Besides requiring an Apple Airport Express, you’ll also need the included audio cables that come with the ZonePlayer S5 or ZonePlayer 90/100/120 and a Cat5 network cable. Sonos provides detailed setup instructions on their site including a video.

Setup involves connecting the Apple Airport Express to a Sonos ZonePlayer via the 3.5 mm audio cable and network cable, then plugging the Apple Airport Express into an AC outlet.

Next you will need to configure the Apple Airport Express via the Airport Utility as per Sonos’ instructions. This process takes 5-10 minutes.

Next update your ZonePlayer software to version 3.4 if you have not already done so. The final step is setting up the AirPlay as a line in source off the Sonos ZonePlayer via a Zone Remote.

Now you are ready to send your music from your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or from iTunes to your Sonos system. Sonos should be now recognized as an AirPlay playback option when connected to your home network.

In terms of function, it works as advertised. Playing music remotely off my iDevices to my home stereo was as simple as pressing the Sonos Airplay selection. When the music switched from iDevice to the ZonePlayer and back, it resumed playback from the same exact track position.

At this point you may be asking what differentiates Airplay from what the Sonos system offers? Why can’t I just connect the Apple Airport Express to my stereo and use Airplay directly?

The difference is Sonos allows different music to be streamed to different rooms while Airplay only allows access and streaming to one source at a time. Thus my daughter can listen to her iPod Touch streaming through a ZonePlayer S5, while my wife can listen to the streaming Pandora off the Sonos ZonePlayer 90 in the living room at the same time.

Playback can occur in one zone, selected zones or all zones if so desired. Guests can come and play their iDevice playlists on the Sonos system with a few tweaks.

Now my kids can stream their music off their iPod Touches, my wife can listen to audiobooks off her iPad and I can catch podcasts from my iPhone through my Sonos system.

One drawback to using the Apple Airport Express exclusively with the Sonos is it renders the wireless Apple device neutered, as you will need to use a cable connection to allow it to become part of the SonosNet Mesh Wireless network. According to Sonos this allows optimal AirPlay functionality.

Adding AirPlay capability to the list of music sources found in the Sonos ecosystem – rhapsody, Napster, Sirius/XM, Wolfgang’s Vault, rdio among others is a brilliant strategy. It makes the Sonos system that even more enticing to new buyers while helping garner more loyalty from already established Sonos owners.

Of course you will need to purchase another piece of hardware with the Airport Express to take advantage of AirPlay, but that applies to other AirPlay devices as well; so why not integrate it into your Sonos system?

With the addition of AirPlay, Sonos has proven they do not rest on their laurels and will continue to improve their already terrific Wireless Multi-Room Music platform.