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Philips, Sonos Unveil Wireless Music Clients

Philips and Sonos are making it possible for consumers to wirelessly connect their existing audio systems to music servers.

For its existing wireless multi-zone music system, Sonos launched a wireless client that connects to legacy products such as home theater systems and table radios to stream music from a network-connected PC or network attached storage (NAS) server.

For its part, Philips unveiled the $199-suggested WAS5 wireless client that connects to an existing audio system to stream music from a remote Philips hard-disk-equipped shelf system and from a new stand-alone wireless music server.

Philips’ WAS5 wireless client, due in March with IR remote and small-screen display, is a separately available option that can be used with the new $999-suggested WACS57 distributed audio system. The WACS57 system bundles a stand-alone 80GB music server and a WAS700 client that incorporates speakers and amplifiers in a single chassis for rooms lacking an existing stereo system.

The WAS5 client can also be added to Philips’ current $999-suggested wireless WACS700 distributed audio system, which consists of a 40GB hard-disk-equipped AM/FM/CD shelf system and WAS700 amplifier/speaker client.

Additional WAS700 clients, available at $299, and additional WAS5 clients can be added to create a six-zone audio system.

In its current form, Sonos’ wireless multi-zone music system consists of a $399-everyday wireless-RF handheld LCD controller and a $499 networked ZP100 ZonePlayer that incorporates audio decoders, proprietary mesh-network wireless transmitter and receiver, and a 2×50-watt amp that drives passive speakers of the user’s choice. Up to 32 can be used in a home to create a wireless 32-zone system. The ZonePlayer also streams Internet radio stations directly from a home’s networked broadband connection.

Here at International CES, the company launched a ZP80 ZonePlayer that lacks amplifier but connects to legacy devices that already incorporate amplifiers and speakers, including table radios and home theater systems. The ZP80 ships in the spring at an everyday $349. A ZP80, the wireless handheld controller and a low-cost NAS server can also serve as a relatively inexpensive upgrade to an existing custom-installed distributed audio system whose in-wall controls lack displays for selecting songs by title, sales and marketing VP Tom Cullen said. In this application, one ZP80 would have to be installed per zone.

The amplified ZonePlayer is 10.2 inches by 7.2 inches by 4.4 inches, and the model without amp is about half the size. It connects to legacy devices via analog and digital outputs and.

For multiroom applications, one ZonePlayer must be wired into a PC or NAS via a wired Ethernet connection to a router. Additional ZonePlayers, however, will wirelessly access the music.

In another development, Sonos announced new upgrades that can be downloaded directly to its ZonePlayers over the Internet. These latest upgrades add album art viewing to the handheld controller, more detailed track information, Apple lossless compression for higher quality playback and spoken-word content.

The devices already decoded music files in the MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, FLAC, AIFF and Ogg Vorbis formats; streamed podcasts, MP3 and Windows Media Internet radio stations; and Rhapsody’s subscription music-streaming service.

Since Sonos’ debut in early 2005, the company has sold about 50,000 units and has expanded its distribution base to 500 storefronts in the United States and Canada, including stores operated by Future Shop, Tweeter, Magnolia, Crutchfield and Myer-Emco.

In contrasting the Sonos system with Philips’ HDD-equipped Streamium shelf system and wireless clients, Cullen said his system is targeted to consumers who already have a hard drive full of music. “We are the product for people who have already gone digital, and Philips is attempting to take you digital,” he claimed.

Currently available, the WACS700 consists of the base unit and one satellite station and will have a suggested retail price of $999. The WACS57 will be available in the first quarter of 2006 and will have a suggested retail of $999. Additional satellites for rooms with no stereo (WAS700) will be available for $299 and will work with either bundle. Additional satellites for rooms with an existing stereo or home theater (WAS5) will also be available for $199 and will work with either bundle.