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Sonos Aims To Expand Appeal Of Wireless Multiroom Music

10/23/2007 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Santa Barbara, Calif. — Sonos expects to expand the appeal of its wireless mesh-network multiroom music system by launching a dedicated low-cost wireless extender and by expanding the number of premium subscription-music services that can be distributed throughout a broadband-connected home without turning on a networked PC.

Sonos’s system, launched in 2005, consists of a $399 wireless-RF LCD remote that displays the song library of a networked PC, displays a menu of Web-based streaming sites accessible without a networked PC and directs music to wireless clients called ZonePlayers. The clients incorporate audio decoders, DACs and proprietary wireless mesh-network technology to access PC-stored songs and Internet music without long wire runs.

A $499 Zone Player incorporates 2x50-watt amp to drive passive speakers, and a $349 version without amplifiers connects to legacy stereo systems.

To distribute music wirelessly, consumers previously had to use an Ethernet cable to connect one of these ZonePlayers to a nearby networked router. With the launch of the $99-suggested ZoneBridge, however, consumers can make the wired connection to a router at a lower cost. As a result, ZoneBridge makes Sonos systems more practical for use in newer homes whose network routers are installed in structured-wiring cabinets in utility closets where no one listens to music, said Sonos president Phil Abrams.

ZoneBridge also makes Sonos more practical in houses where a PC and router are in close proximity, he added. In these applications, consumers often don’t need an expensive Zone Player near their PC, which can easily be used instead of a Zone Player for music playback, he explained.

The 4.3-inch by 4.3-inch by 1.6-inch ZoneBridge also doubles as a repeater that can be used in lieu of a more costly ZonePlayer to extend system range in large houses, Abram said. The range of a ZonePlayer or ZoneBridge is about 50 feet to 150 feet, depending on the house.

Custom installers can use the ZoneBridge to extend the range of the Sonos wireless remote in large homes, he added. In a custom application, installers mount multiple ZonePlayers in a central A/V rack and wire them to in-wall and in-ceiling speakers spread throughout the house. In some cases, installers connect the Zone Players directly to more powerful multiroom amplifiers or to a custom-installation hub that connects to other centrally located AV sources. In a custom application, Sonos’s remote is needed to control music selection because in-wall touchscreens can’t display the Sonos menu, Abrams noted.

ZoneBridge “also helps us at retail” because dealers can use less expensive ZoneBridges to extend system range to demo units in a store.

With or without a ZoneBridge, a Sonos system now accesses five premium subscription-streaming services direct via networked broadband modem without a PC or networked-attached storage (NAS) device running. Sonos added direct access to the Napster and Best Buy on-demand subscription-streaming services, which join already available direct access to the Rhapsody on-demand service and the Sirius and Pandora radio services, Abrams said. Combined with direct access to 400 non-subscription Internet radio stations, he said, Sonos is expanding its appeal beyond digital music enthusiasts who rip CDs for storage on a home PC. “It has become easy to find music through the giant jukebox in the sky without having to buy and rip CDs,” Abram said.

Napster’s streaming service, be noted, delivers on-demand access to about 5 million songs for $9.95/month by album, artist, song title or genre. Napster, the on-demand Rhapsody service, and Pandora’s streaming service also let users create custom stations playing only music from a particular artist and similar music. Pandora’s service also lets users create a custom station by selecting a track title. The station automatically plays music from that artist as well as similar music from other artists.

With another software upgrade, Sonos is enabling users to search for music on the Rhapsody and Napster services by typing in the name of an artist, album or song title on a virtual keyboard appearing on the Sonos remote’s LCD screen, just as they previously did with the Pandora service. Previously, consumers searched for specific Rhapsody-streamed music by drilling down through a multilevel menu.

In other software upgrades, Sonos is delivering scrolling song titles and making it easier to unlink rooms linked together in a single zone. As a result, consumers have fewer menu steps to go through to unlink rooms to play music only in the room they’re in.

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