What Is the Sonos Home Music Streaming System?

Creating a Whole Home Music Streaming System With Sonos

SONOS Product Examples
SONOS Product Examples. Image provided by Sonos

Sonos is a wireless multi-room music listening system that streams digital music from select online streaming services, as well as music libraries on your computers connected to your home network. What's more, some Sonos products can also access music via a physical connection, such as from a CD player, iPod, or other source and stream that to other Sonos devices in your home.

Sonos allows you to create "zones" around your home for listening to music.

A zone can be a single "player" in a room, or it can be an area of your home, or it can be any combination of players in your home. A "zone" is created when you choose one or more players to play the same music at the same time. 

If you have more than one Sonos player, you can group all of the players, or choose any combination of players to create a zone in the living room, bedroom, kitchen, den, or even outdoors. Or, if you desire, you can play the same music in all your zones at the same time.

How The Sonos System Streams Music

Sonos receives the music it streams through your home network and/or the internet. This means that a Sonos player must be connected to your home network router. If Sonos simply connected to your wired or wireless home network like any other media streamer, this would be the end of the discussion. The Sonos system, however, works differently because the idea behind Sonos is that you can have a whole home system that works together rather than streaming solely to a single device.

Creating a Sonos Network

In order to create a whole home music system using a Sonos network, you need to start with at least one Sonos device connected to your home broadband router in order to access streaming music sources. That connected device then creates a separate Sonos network on which all of the Sonos devices you add can communicate with each other and the Sonos app (more on that later).

A Sonos device can be connected to your home network router using an ethernet cable or WiFi. Whichever you choose, the first Sonos player connected becomes the gateway for all the other players to receive music.

It must be pointed out that the Sonos network is a closed system. In other words, only Sonos products are compatible with the Sonos network. You cannot use Sonos to stream music to Bluetooth speakers or stream music from your smartphone using Bluetooth to Sonos players.

However, there are ways you can integrate Airplay with Sonos, with the addition of an AirPort Express or Apple TV device.

How The Sonos Network Works

Sonos uses a "mesh network" (Sonosnet). The advantage to using this type of network setup is that does not interfere with, or slow down, internet access or the ability to stream audio/video content to smart TVs, computers or other devices around your home that is not part of the Sonos setup.

This is because the wireless signal to the Sonos system works on a different channel than your home network's WiFi. The Sonos network sets up the channel automatically but can be changed if there is interference. Another benefit is that all of the devices within the Sonos network are in perfect sync, which is important if you have multiple players or zones.

Each device in the Sonos network repeats the signal it receives from the router-connected gateway player. This is commonly referred to as an "access point" – a device that can receive a signal from a wireless router and amplify it to make it easier for other devices to connect to the router.

Setting Up and Controlling Your Sonos System

To set up the Sonos system, or to add players, simply use the controller app (available for iOS and Android) in conjunction with pressing a combination of buttons on the Sonos device. That is all there is to it - with just the app and at least one Sonos player, the network is set up.

Other than volume buttons and a mute button, there are no control buttons on most Sonos players. Players are wholly controlled remotely. But the control options are plentiful.

Sonos can be controlled by a program (app) on a computer, an app for iPad, iPod, iPhone, Android phones, and tablets. The app lets you pick the music playing and where you want to play it. Using the app control options, you can stream music from Sonos-available streaming services, or other compatible sources to any of the Sonos players you have. It important to be aware that while some streaming services are free, many require a subscription or pay-per-listen fee.

While you can instantly start playing music on any single player, the controller app makes it easy to group any combination of players together to simultaneously play the same music on more than one player. Play music from one service or source in the kitchen and your office upstairs while you play a different source or service in your bedroom.

Use the controller app to set up alarms and timers to play music on any of your players. The bedroom player can wake you to music in the morning, and the player in the kitchen can play internet radio every day when you get ready for work.

Any Sonos player can be controlled from anywhere in your house. If you carry a smartphone with you that has the Sonos controller app, you can play music on any of the Players at any time. Each compatible Android or iOS device can have the Sonos controller app, so each member of the household can control any Player.

If you prefer a dedicated remote control, Sonos control is compatible with Logitech Harmony remotes and the Sonos PlayBar and PlayBase are compatible with select TV, Cable, and universal remotes.

Sonos Players

In order to listen to music using a Sonos system, you need one Sonos player device that can access and play streaming music.

There are four types of Sonos Players

  • PLAY:1, PLAY:3, PLAY:5, and One: These players are wireless powered speakers that are easy to place around the house, so you can play music in whatever room you are in. They can also be configured as stereo pairs if you so desire.

    Also, the Sonos One takes things up a notch with Alexa Voice Control built-in. It offers voice control for both core speaker functions, such as volume, as well as direct access and control of online music services, such as Amazon Music and Music Unlimited, Tunein, Pandora, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM, Spotify (via update), as well as Alexa Skills, which enables access to news, information, shopping, and smart home control features.

    You can use two PLAY:1's or One's as a surround pair when using the Sonos PlayBar or PlayBase.

  • CONNECT: This Sonos player does not have built-in speakers, but, instead, connects to an existing stereo or home theater system. You can either stream music to the CONNECT, and/or plug in other sources to it. The CONNECT then plays as a music source through your stereo or home theater system. This is a great way to add streaming to an older stereo or home theater receiver. The stereo or home theater receiver must be powered on for the CONNECT to play through it.
  • CONNECT:AMP: This is a player that connects to speakers directly and does not require connection to a stereo or home theater system. In other words, you can stream music through the network directly to the CONNECT:AMP and also physically connect additional sources to it. All you have to do hear the music is connect any traditionally wired speakers to it, sit back, and enjoy.
  • Sonos PlayBar and PlayBase: The Sonos PlayBar and PlayBase can be connected directly to your TV via a digital optical cable to enhance audio for better TV listening. You can also add the Sonos wireless Sub, and two wireless Play:1 speakers for a full surround sound experience. However, when not watching TV, the PlayBar and Play Base can also play streamed music just like any other Sonos player.

The Bottom Line

Sonos is a practical system makes it possible to set up multi-room music in the way that works best for you. While it is not the only wireless audio option - competitors include: MusicCast (Yamaha), HEOS (Denon/Marantz), and Play-Fi (DTS), it is rich in features, and it can stream from a number of online music services. You can start with just one player and add more players and rooms as your budget allows.

Disclaimer: The core content contained in the above article was originally written as two separate articles by Barb Gonzalez, a former Home Theater contributor. The two articles were combined, reformatted, edited, and updated by Robert Silva.