About two years ago Wendy and I hosted a Halloween party for our neighborhood. Not only did it mark a celebration of our favorite holiday, but it was also one of the first times many neighbors had seen the changes we had been steadily making to our home over the years.

Many were familiar with the dirty, off white, and slightly rundown version of our house they had seen when it was listed for sale in 2002 before we swooped in. (Everyone loves a good open house.) The party served as our mini reveal from all of our efforts, and we had a wonderful and very positive reponse to everything we had accomplished. The funny thing was that overwhelmingly one of the features people seemed to love and ask the most about was our Whole House Audio solution. One friend and neighbor, Sherry, liked it so much that she wanted to talk about how she could accomplish something similar in her house.

Shorty after the party we got together with Sherry to discuss details of the system, what she wanted out of it, and what she currently had. At the time there wasn't much on the market that didn't require a pretty major effort with lots of construction, so we put the idea on the back burner.

Fast forward to present day...yes, two years later. (Again, I'm slow.) I had not forgotten our conversations with Sherry and decided to put together a plan for how we could make music throughout her house a reality.

With the introduction of the iPad (and other tablets), the rich set of apps in the app store and market places, advancement in technology and availability of Internet streaming music services, and wireless capabilities, it was finally time to get Sherry's system up and running.

Let me first say that Sherry's house is absolutely amazing. I'm not kidding and I really can't oversell this. If we could walk around Old Town and choose any one house to live the rest of our lives in, Sherry's home may very well be it. It was built between the late 18th century (the original rear flounder section) and 1810 (the three story front section). It is large enough to comfortably fit almost any size family, but it isn't overwhelming in its size. It has a rich history, a great flow, wonderful original details throughout, an amazing yard, and a garage. It's one of those houses in Old Town where you just say, "Wow!"

Here's a photo of her house circa 1933.

And here it is today.

I was very excited to bring this 18th century home into the 21st century with audio in every room like we had our home, but don't forget, in our house we've been renovating for years. We had been running speaker and network cabling for the first several years of the renovation in anticipation of an audio system. Sherry's house is not constantly in the midst of a major renovation, doesn't have the necessary wiring all over the place, and she would like to get the project done sometime before it becomes a 22nd century idea. Luckily, I had a plan.

I recently installed a Sonos Connect (formerly ZonePlayer90) to work with our Nuvo Essentia E6G system and have absolutely loved how well it works. Pandora, Spotify, IHeartRadio, etc. all played from the convenience of an iPhone or iPod touch controller can't be beat. I liked the Sonos product that I purchased so much that I recommended Sherry go the Sonos route for her whole system.

We sat down with Sherry one evening to discuss the plan and gather her basic needs and requirements. Sherry's main interest was to start with music in the dining and living rooms. Beyond this she wanted to be sure the system could be expanded without significant issue, was easy to use, and could leverage her existing mp3 music catalog.

Based on her requirementsI I forumlated a few potential scenarios for Sherry to choose from. Each plan had its own pros and cons related to price, features, and what to use as a controller, but Sherry is a decisive person so the selection process was easy.

I proposed a range of systems that would either leverage an existing stereo and speakers that Sherry already had, or would utilize the Sonos Play 3 or 5 all in one devices (basically stereo and speaker combos). We settled on a two zone system with a Sonos Connect in the dining room that could work with existing speakers and stereo, and a Sonos Connect:Amp in the living room that could power a set of larger speakers that Sherry already owned. We would also need a Sonos Bridge that would install where the Internet came into the house at her cable modem.

With the system defined we had to figure out what to use as a controller for the whole thing. I suggested four options.

  • An iPod Touch
  • An iPad
  • An existing Android device
  • A laptop or desktop computer

Each controller solution has the ability to run a native Sonos app to operate all aspects of the system. The packaged software has an interface similar to iTunes and allows independent control of each zone, including volume.

Sonos does offer a standalone controller for the system that is a color touch screen, but at $350 it just seems like a lot to pay for not a lot of functionality. Buying an entry level iPod Touch will provide better overall function and will cost you about $150 less. It's a no brainier.

When I presented the options to Sherry, she liked the idea of the iPad. She had been looking for a bit of an excuse to buy one, and this was it. So we figured out all of the specs and ordered everything that night. We also opted to make use of her existing Windows based laptop as well.

The only item that i had proposed that we didn't end up ordering was an external network attached storage device (external hard drive), or NAS, for remote storage and access of her existing music catalog. She already had one of these configured in her home network so we could just use the existing solution -- no need for something new.

A few days later all of the goodies showed up at Sherry's house and we got to work installing. For the nerd in me, even other people's tech toys are fun.

Before I get into the actuall install, let me first say how easy it is. I honestly think that any DIYer could quickly and successfully install a Sonos system without issue. The instructions are clear and setup is straight forward. The only thing you need to ensure is a good and strong wifi signal is able to reach all of your devices.

The first step in our install was to unpack everything and make sure we had everything we ordered. Sonos does a great job with packaging and everything comes in small devices with clean lines and a minimal footprint. We also had the iPad in Apple's signature beautiful packaging, and I had brought over the supplies I might need: speaker wire, my iPhone, wire strippers, and my laptop.

Once we were sure everything we had ordered was included, we got to work setting up the iPad. This was probably the longest part of the process. Getting the latest iOS version, signing up for the various plans, getting on the wifi, etc. I'd say about 50% of the overall project was configuring the iPad for use. The final step on the iPad was to download the Sonos app from the app store. Though the instructions suggest setting the system up from a PC, you can easily do the whole thing from a mobile device.

Once the iPad was all set, I took the Sonos Bridge to the point in the house where the cable modem is located. In this setup, think of the bridge as the source or antenna where all of the music ultimately streams from. Each Sonos device will connect wirelessly to the Bridge to obtain a stream of the various music services. The setup of the bridge was as easy as starting the Sonos app on the iPad, telling it to add a component to the system, then pressing the blinking button on the bridge. After that, the app did the rest.

The second component, the Sonos Connect:Amp, had to be located near a plug and also near the speakers we were using for that room. I connected the speaker wire from the speakers to the Sonos device, selected "add component" on the iPad, pressed the blinking buttons and bam, the second device was done.

At this point I also installed the software on Sherry's laptop to be sure it was working as well. Since I had already connected the various devices within the Sonos network all I had to do was sync the laptop with a single device and it was online. Within a few minutes we had Pandora playing over the first device and sounding great.

Next I turned my attention to the second component, the Sonos Connect. Like the Amp, the Connect utilizes an existing set of speakers, but this one doesn't have a built-in amp and acts as a source on an existing stereo. If you'll remember, I installed one of these in our Whole House Audio a little while ago.

This was a little more difficult than the first two items but only because of the location of the stereo. The tight space meant I had to wedge myself into a cramped and dark area to run wires and ensure proper setup. Good thing I'm not a big guy. Once all of the wires were run and the unit was plugged in, we were all set and adding it to the network was as easy as the other devices.

Once everything was properly configured we instructed the system to automatically apply a software update to all of the devices. This update took about 5-10 minutes to complete, an it was a good test to ensure all of the devices had good wifi coverage.

With the system fully in place and updated, I instructed it to leverage the external hard drive I had mentioned earlier. This is one of the best parts of this system. If you already have a robust mp3 catalog or have made many purchases through the iTunes store, you can instruct the Sonos devices to connect directly to your catalog. This allows you to listen to any and all music you have access to, not just what's available streaming.

The final step of the install was to sit down with Sherry to cover how to use the system. I gave her a rundown of the iPad app, the PC app, and the various available music sources. We signed up for a subscription to Spotify for on demand streaming services, configured Pandora, IHeartRadio, and the various other sources, and went over the basics of how to go about selecting music to play.

I also covered how to select which music plays in which room, how to independently control the volume, and how to group rooms for parties and control the volume all at once. I must say, the iPad app for the Sonos system is super sweet and intuitive.

In all the whole process from selecting which items to purchase to actual setup and install was a relatively painless process. Sonos has gone to great lengths to ensure the system is quite user friendly while providing a high quality audio source that leverages the latest and greatest in digital and web based music. I'd say the succeeded in achieving their goals.

I can honestly give the various Sonos products my seal of approval. I will surely continue to recommend them to people who want a low to moderate cost whole house audio solution that leverages streaming sources. We live in a digital age and I think our stereos at home should reflect this.

Do you have any experience with installing Sonos components and would like to add something? Or maybe this just sounds like something that's really cool that you want in your house? Leave us a comment and let us know what you think of the project.

Note: We weren't compensated for this review. We simply want to share good products when we see them, and hope that learning from our mistakes can help save you time, money and frustration.

iPad Interface Image Credit: CNet.com

Comments 8

Comments

bu2fulday
1/9/2012 at 11:40 AM
You know, we had the same great success with squeezeboxes by logitech. We did that a year ago and I love it! We expanded that to get WD media players on all our tvs, and used some WD device that turns our existing electrical wiring into something like an ethernet cable to cut down on the wifi in the house... It is GREAT!
Alex
1/9/2012
I've heard good things about those devices but I've never seen on in action. It's just amazing how far the home tech has come in the last five or six years. I love it.
1/9/2012 at 12:34 PM
I keep showing these techy posts to my techy future husband - we might be following in your foot steps one day!
Alex
1/9/2012
I'm pulling for you! It's really one of my most favorite improvements to our house, and I was glad to help out our friend with it. I know I have a few other friends who are doing the same type of system in the next few months. It usually just takes a trip or two to our house before people start thinking about how to do it in their house.
Tiffany
1/10/2012 at 9:57 PM
Alex, Marko asked me to get your opinion on what you'd suggest for a whole house video system. We're currently designing our house audio and visual system and he's thinking of AMX--any thoughts on that? Happy New Year to both of you!
Alex
1/13/2012
Hrm, video is a bit of a tough one because you are between paradigm shifts (seriously, how buzzy and lame is saying "paradigm shifts"). There is a huge transition going on between old school coax and overkill solutions and the newer school digital video over internet, wifi, etc. Similar to the whole house audio, only a few years ago you needed to focus on a single control unit, now you can buy separate items that work as one. I think that may be the way to go with video as well. Basically you want to make sure your TVs and video devices can communicate with each other, rather than communicating with a single control unit. With Google and Apple throwing their hats in the ring, you should have a pretty clear view of things in the next year or so.

No matter what, run network cable all through your house. Regardless of the solution Cat-6 and/or fiber has enough bandwidth capabilities to carry audio, video, analog, or digital, you just need the right converters at each end. That's way more flexible and affordable than running lots cable you may or may not use depending on the solution.
Nikki
1/13/2012 at 10:55 AM
Your link for the Sonos bridge is no longer valid. I was checking out the links to see the cost of the whole system...seems pretty reasonable for what you get if it works well! I am going to keep this in mind! Thanks
Alex
1/13/2012
Thanks for the heads up, got it all fixed up now.

You're right, it isn't too bad for an overall cost. I've seen systems cost 10 times this or more and do way less.

I've only ever listened to the Play 3 and Play 5 speakers in a store, and they sounded pretty good. I have a friend who is probably buying one soon, so I'm anxious to hear it.

I think the thing I like best about the system is that you can buy it one piece at a time, pretty much when each room you want music in needs one. That works well for the DIYer who is working on one room at a time.
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