5 Steps for Building Your Ideal, Cheap Sonos System

I received a Sonos Play:1 speaker as a Christmas gift. It's fantastic.

In fact, it's SO good that I'm eager to Sonos-ify the rest of our house. But I'm learning this as I go. What do I need to do? What do I need to buy?

Sonos allows you to set up a music network in your house.

It uses your home wi-fi to stream music - and creates a dedicated Sonos wireless network.

It can play music from essentially any source you own, or any service you may sign up for.

Still, creating a Sonos system from scratch can be a bit overwhelming. Here's what you need to consider:

1. Determine Where You Want Music 

This sounds pretty obvious, but it's the first question that has to be answered.

Where do you want your Sonos music to play?

For now, we only have the one Sonos PLAY:1 speaker. Yes, it's portable. But it lives in our kitchen.

I'd like our primary stereo, in our living room, to play Sonos music. Ideally, without having to manually change the input on the stereo.

I'd like to have Sonos music in our master bedroom and bathroom - but that's less important.

It's vitally important that the basement, when completed, have a working Sonos system.

So, basically, we're looking at 4 "zones" - the living room, the basement, the kitchen, and the master. Each will need Sonos equipment.

2. Identify the Sonos Equipment You Need

Sonos stuff isn't cheap. And it can be a bit tricky to determine what you're going to need. 

  • Basically, all Sonos equipment connects to your wifi network. 
  • Some equipment also has an amp, so you don't need a stereo - you only need to connect speakers. 
  • In fact, some of it even has the speaker - so it's self-contained, plug-and-play. 
In my living room, I want to use my existing Sony stereo receiver and Bose Acoustimass speakers. 

For that, I'll need the Sonos CONNECT.

Sonos CONNECT            

The CONNECT is $349 new. 

It has analog and digital outputs - finally, a use for my old TOSLINK fiberoptic cables!

I have one concern here - I'd like to make sure that my stereo automatically switches to the Sonos system input when we're using it for music. 

That may happen with my system, it may not.

We'll have to update this post - and maybe update our stereo receiver.

In my basement, I'm going to want to set up a completely parallel music system with speakers in the ceilings. 

Separate and distinct from any potential TV or home theater. Two separate sets of speakers, in fact. 

For that, I'm going to need a CONNECT: AMP.    

Sonos CONNECT:AMP                
The CONNECT:AMP is $499 new. It has 2 speaker outputs, and a subwoofer output.

It also has red/white analog inputs, although I'm not sure what those are used for.

I'm guessing that they're for other line-in sources, like a CD player. For now I'll ignore them.  

In the kitchen and master, it's important that the solution be unobtrusive. In both cases, I'll be using the Sonos PLAY:1. It's beautiful, and most importantly, it's the cheapest Sonos piece at $199 new.

It's possible that we could go with a PLAY:3 or PLAY:5 in the master - but I don't think that will be necessary. The PLAY:1 is awfully good. 

The question then - how cheap can I get this stuff? 

Because for the configuration I want, I'm looking at more than $1,000 - even considering that I have one PLAY:1 in hand.

Unfortunately, eBay sales tend to be awfully close to retail. I'll keep you posted - but this could be slow going. 

3. Pick Your Music Services

We have a pretty large iTunes library, which we listen to pretty rarely. For better or worse, it's still largely stuck on our computer.

We're SiriusXM subscribers.  We typically listen to in the car. (And occasionally using their fantastic app.)

I love Spotify, but we're not currently subscribers.

After using Spotify on Sonos, that will change.

Our Spotify use has been on the iMac - we can play songs on-demand, usually through the iMac's speakers.

Sonos only lets you use Spotify if you're a subscriber, but if you are - WOW. All of that music, on demand, coming through actual stereo equipment.

We're also Amazon Prime members. Prime Music is a Spotify-style "on demand" music streaming service. While Amazon Music is available on Sonos, Prime Music is not as of January 2015.

As soon as that changes, Prime Music could be a Spotify replacement.
It's not as good, but it might be good enough.

Beats Music is available on Sonos - and there are rumors that Apple has something interesting on the way here. We'll stay tuned.

Finally, we listen to a number of terrestrial radio stations and internet radio stations that are available on Sonos - most notably, Chicago's Finest Rock, WXRT.

At the start, we'll be adding the following sources to our Sonos (yours will likely be different):

  • iTunes Library
  • Spotify
  • Sirius XM
  • A Few Radio Stations
The only incremental cost here will be the cost of the Spotify subscription - and that monthly charge will only continue until Prime Music is available on Sonos. 

4. Link Your Existing Music Sources

If you want to get your iTunes library into Sonos, you need to download the Sonos Desktop Controller on your PC or Mac.

It's a pretty simple process. Once the application is installed and configured, you point the application to your music library, it syncs for a while..... and your music library is fully available through Sonos.

You don't need to have iTunes open.
You don't need to have the Sonos Desktop Controller open.
It just works, no matter what.

It will be nice getting acquainted with our music library again!

5. Configure Your Sonos App

This is really the most important step. The Sonos app is how you set up your Sonos equipment.

It's how you add music services.

And in most cases, it's how you're going to be selecting and playing music.

The good news is this - the Sonos App is remarkably easy to use.

It adopts the UI of each music source - using Spotify in Sonos works very much like using Spotify in its native app.

My favorite part of the Sonos experience is that you don't HAVE to use the app.

During the holidays, for instance, we had the PLAY:1 tuned to SiriusXM's holiday channel. If we wanted music, we'd hit the "on" button on the PLAY:1, and it immediately started playing music.

No need to get your phone out. No need to go to the computer. Once it's set up, you're good to go.

This is a "connected home" system that really "gets it" - while smartphone control is nice, it shouldn't be required.

I don't want to have to get my iPhone out in order to turn off my lights, or to set a lighting "scene". I want buttons on the wall to do that.

With Sonos, I don't NEED to use the phone to hear music. Just turn the thing on. It's remarkable.


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