We at PopSci love Sonos, the wireless music streaming system that has won two Best of What’s New awards over the years. And since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Linksys division of Cisco seems to love Sonos too. They’ve come out with their own version of the product–with a few features that may be better.
For one, their Wireless Home Audio system doesn’t have to set up its own, closed Wi-Fi network. It can piggyback on the one you already have–whether the router is from Linksys or another brand. That saves money because you don’t have to waste a Linksys component (as you do have to do with a $100 Sonos ZoneBridge) by plugging it directly into your router to link in a second, closed network.
Despite having to share the network with other gear, the Linksys system synchs music perfectly to multiple receivers. (At least it worked fine during a demo I heard in a hotel suite a few weeks ago.) So if you’re sending the same song to your stereo in the living room and an amp in the neighboring kitchen, there’s no lag on one set of speakers. Doing all this in software on a crowded network is pretty impressive, and I’d like to know more about how it works, but Linksys wasn’t talking.
The system also works with more music sources. Linksys sells an $80 iPod/iPhone dock, for example, that lets you control the player via remote control and stream its music anywhere around the house.
Linksys also supports the nascent DLNA standard which (at least in theory) means it can automatically find and play music from a host of supporting gadgets including Nokia phones, Sony laptops and many network hard drives—without you having to install special software on those devices.
The number and variety of components is a bit dizzying.
A $450 director is a Wi-Fi attached 50-watt/channel stereo amp that can pull music from PCs, Macs, hard drives or any other gadgets on the network and send it to speakers. It’s basically the same thing as a Sonos ZonePlayer 120 (for $50 less). But it also has an LCD to provide details about what you’re listening to, like the current song playing.
A $300 player is the same thing as a director, minus the amp. So it can deliver music into an existing stereo or home theater system—same as the Sonos ZonePlayer 90 (which costs $150).
Linksys also has a $350, LCD-bearing Wi-Fi remote that is a lot slimmer and slicker than the $400 brick that comes with Sonos. (An just as Sonos has an app that turns an iPhone and iPod Touch into a Wi-Fi remote control, Linksys is working on a similar remote control app for its system.)
In addition, the players and directors have infrared remotes that give you some basic control, such as adjusting the volume or selecting among pre-set Internet radio station “favorites,” as well as the Rhapsody service (if you have a subscription ).
Linksys is selling a starter kit with a director, player, Wi-Fi controller and two IR remotes for $1000—the same as a comparable Sonos bundle.
Finally (I think) there is a conductor all-in-one wireless module with an amp, stereo speakers, a subwoofer and a built-in CD player. (Price not yet set, but figure at least $400.)