A couple of weeks ago, after setting up Sonos for a family member, I had lots of fresh thoughts on Apple’s iTunes + Airport Express whole home audio solution (which I run at my house) vs. Sonos’ system for whole home audio, so I jotted them down as a series of tweets. Here they are in a single blog post:
1. Sonos just works. Apple’s Airport Express + AirTunes requires some setup.
2. Sonos supports Rhapsody, Pandora & other music services. Airport Express only supports playing back music that’s in your iTunes library.
3. Sonos is more expensive — about $300-400 per room. You can get an Airport Express on eBay (that’s where I bought the three that I’m running in my house) for $60-70.
4. Sonos’ software seems more instant on. With Apple Airport Express, you use the “Remote” iPhone app, which can be laggy & behave weirdly.
5. Sonos lets you control the volume of each zone independently. With Apple Airport Express, there’s one volume level across all zones. (UPDATE: this has now been fixed in iTunes 10 and Airplay. See my post on what’s new in Airplay.)
6. Sonos’ search function is terrible, forcing you to first pick search by title / artist / etc. Apple Remote search is a simple one box, the way it should be.
7. Sonos has dedicated touchscreen device (it’s handy and gets used). No such option With Apple Airport Express, iPhone “Remote” app is it.
8. Sonos let’s you play multiple tracks, each in it’s own zone. Airport Express doesn’t. It’s one song in the zones you select.
9. Sonos seems to be more robust in dealing with wifi problems. The music with my Apple Airport Express system will glitch sometimes (see AirTunes Airport audio stream drops or cuts out). Of all of Sonos’ strengths / Apple’s weaknesses, this is probably the most significant. There’s nothing worse than having some nice music playing while you have friends over and then having it just completely cut out in the middle. I’m hoping with Apple’s renewed interest in whole home audio (see what’s new with Airplay in iTunes 10), they’re going to quickly fix this.
10. Sonos has the S5 all-in-one wifi digital music interface + amp + speakers box. It’s awesome. No such option with Apple Airport Express. (UPDATE: with Apple’s new AirPlay being opened to 3rd parties, this is no longer an advantage for Sonos… You’ll see lots of standalone speakers (and more) that are as simple as the S5. Like this iHome Airplay speaker that’s been announced.)
So while it might look like the list above says, “Sonos is the only way to go!”, that’s not true. Apple’s solution totally works, it just has some limitations. And some of those limitations have been eliminated with Apple’s Airplay upgrade in iTunes 10.
Here’s where Apple’s Airport Express + iTunes is compelling, at least for me. To wire up my four “zones” in my house, the total cost was:
4 Airport Expresses = 4 x $70 = $280
4 amps (I use this one) = 4 x $55 = $220
4 sets of speakers = 4 x $100 (roughly) = $400
The same same setup with Sonos would have been at least $1100 more! (Sonos 90, which is equivalent to the Airport Express, is $350, ie $280 more than Airport Express. $280 x 4 = $1120 more)