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Sonos: Easy multi-room music

My house pretty much always has music playing in it.  Generally the same music is playing throughout the entire house.  I do this through a fairly complex involving a pirate radio station, a PC dedicated to playing music, and a set of custom perl scripts and remote-control applications to be able to select music from any of the house’s internet appliances.  When it’s working (most of the time, actually) it’s a fantastic system.  I wander around, and hear the same thing, and it’s pretty much always something I want to be listening to.

For everybody else out there who didn’t grow up idolizing Larry Wall, there’s a better solution: Sonos.  They’ve built an amazing digital home stereo solution that blows away every other Digital Audio Receiver on the market.  And to make it even better, they just hard wired it into Rhapsody which means you have instant access to a huge catalog of almost 3 million songs anywhere and everywhere in your house.  If I hadn’t invested a ton of energy into my home-grown system, I would have a Sonos system, because it’s just that well done.  I’m actually tempted to throw away what I’ve built.

At CES a couple years ago I shared a booth with some engineers from Sonos.  They’ve done some amazing things with Wifi.  Their amp units have audio inputs as well as outputs, so you can plug your DVD player into a sonos amp in one room, and have the same audio play simultaneously in another room.  Doesn’t sound like a big deal until you consider what’s actually going on under the hood.  They’re encoding the audio into some digital format (probably mp3 or aac or some such), and transmitting it over wifi to another amp unit.  Beyond that, they have to buffer the transmission to account for potentially dropped packets.  The truly amazing part is that they can do all this with such a short delay that you don’t even hear an echo in the audio between the two rooms.  Streaming audio over the internet typically requires 5-10 seconds of buffering.  Sonos does buffering and encoding all in I’m guessing <50ms.  Very well done.

This level of detail and engineering skill is maintained in every aspect of the system.  The UI of the remote control will long be held as the gold standard home audio remote control.  As I mentioned earlier, their business team knows how to rebuild the digital home audio market, basically from the ground up.  (Like iPod docks were ever anything more than a pothole in the landscape of consumer electronics evolution.)

It’s a pricey system, but if you can afford it, it’s well worth it.

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