As a professional in the AV industries, even as a guy interested in hi-fi, ok, maybe just as a member of western civilisation, it is difficult to have not heard of Sonos. Recently I was sat in my local iMax cinema excitedly awaiting Star Wars 7 and even in there, a very cool long, grey haired guy, was running me through the advantages of Sonos' infamous wireless music system. I was indeed drawn in, along with the rest of the cinema, to Sonos' ease of use and it's brilliant lifestyle advantage that these small portable speakers and amplifiers would bring.
Today I want to take a real look into Sonos as a solution for a multi room audio system, see what it has to offer and stack it up against Systemlines newest offering; Systemline 7, to see who comes out on top.
A Sonos Alternative?
I have experience using both Sonos and Systemline 7, and I have configured both systems in a home to give a multi room audio solution. I am an experienced AV installer, qualified electrician and often specify products for customers and have been doing so since 2005. I also sell both Sonos and Systemline to customers looking for audio solutions in their home.
Let's take a look at each system and see who wins in this all important game of top trumps of the multi room audio system. Wireless vs 'Wired for Wireless' (I'll explain more later).
Sonos, founded in 2002 with head quarters in Santa Barbara, California now has circa 1300 employees. They design & manufacture wireless music systems only, wireless is what they do and are well known for it. With financial backing from investors of over $118mil hopefully that equates to some very good products.
Established in 1988 by Bob Abraham in Great Britain, Systemline invented the concept of an 'installed music system' and were the first to introduce this idea to the English audio enthusiast. Although not the current owner, Bob is still involved in the company and its ever evolving product line of high quality single room and multi room audio systems. The company is now owned by Armour Home Electronics who also own well known Hifi brands like Q Acoustics and QED Cables. A small company in comparison to Sonos, Systemline have big plans and have produced a product line that's quite remarkable. We will herein focus on their flagship Systemline 7 multi room audio system. (S7)
It's fair to say that Sonos' marketing plan has taken them to be probably the most well known wireless speaker system in the world. Their products, compact and portable wireless speakers and streaming amplifiers, have many merits for a host of customers and are certainly popular across the industry.
Systemline on the other hand, have not had the use of large media budgets and have instead focused their efforts in a similar way to when they founded their sister brand Q Acoustics. Q Acoustics is now a well known brand with many awards under their belt. They achieved this feat with one aim, producing speakers that £ for £ sound superior to their competitors, without any large £mil advertising campaigns. In a similar vain, Systemline 7 is a system that is a high performer with many advantages for a reasonable price way below its similarly specified competitors.
Multi Room Audio
Sonos and Systemline 7 are both systems of multi room audio products with listening zones controllable via iOS and Android apps. Both systems can include amplifiers for connection to high quality ceiling speakers or in wall speakers for those looking for high quality audio. In this respect they have some similarities so let's look at some areas that divide them.
Systemline vs Sonos - The Big Difference
The biggest difference on the outset is that systemline 7 is a 'custom installation' product, this is inline with their company history of producing products that are generally installed by AV installers for their customers, rather than bought and setup by the general public.
On the other hand Sonos' Connect:amps have been marketed to the general public alongside their range of compact wireless speakers, to give customers a wireless multi room solution.
Both Systemline 7 and Sonos offer various streaming services that give access to pretty much everything you would want to listen to. Both systems have ready access to Deezer, Spotify, Tidal & TuneIn Radio. Systemline 7 also comes bundled with BBC Iplayer with access to all BBC radio stations.
Sonos as a wireless multi room audio system uses your existing wifi network to distribute and control your audio. The Sonos system is dependant on the speed and strength of your existing wifi network, unfortunately many internet service providers do not invest heavily in the equipment they provide when supplying internet routers. This is especially the case when using the Sonos Play speakers in other rooms over wifi.
Systemline 7 uses your wifi network for control purposes but not for music distribution. So no dropouts is a guaranteed with this setup. Systemlines' NetServer, at the heart of their multi room system, requires a wired connection to your router.
Sonos, in recent years, has released an additional product called Sonos Boost that is a requirement if you'd like to minimise dropouts of music or issues with your control app.
Using Sonos' Connect or Connect:AMP with a wired internet connection via their ethernet ports will avoid any drop-out issues. Your Sonos system is controlled via your wireless network although its music streaming is via a wired, more reliable, connection.
Latency a.k.a 'Its Out of Sync'
Latency is the term used to describe signals staying in sync on a system. Distributing audio to multiple zones via wifi leads to latency issues where if you listen to the same source in two adjacent areas, such as when having a party, the audio can go 'out of sync' and you end up with a slight delay in one area. This can be more than a little frustrating.
Systemline 7's wired infrastructure has zero latency issues as it only uses the existing wifi network for control of the zones, not for its distribution of audio.
Sonos Connect and Connect:AMP will avoid latency when setup via a 'wired' system, utilising their ethernet ports.
Systemline's NetServer contains a music storage hard drive up to 2TB in size. Music is ripped in lossless audio format FLAC at 16bit/44.1khz and then played directly from here to your system, this known as HiRes Audio. HQ audio is also streamed from its various sources at good to lossless quality dependant on the service.
Sonos does not have built in music storage and relies on streaming services although you can stream music from a computer or NAS on your network as long as it's turned on.
This is an area where Systemline 7 really sets itself apart from Sonos and enters a different class of multi room system. Both Sonos and Systemline have free downloadable iOS & Android apps which are easy to use and understand, even for those not technically inclined. That's the limitation of Sonos' control but Systemline then incorporates a further 3 control options which make a very appealing system with upgrade options for the future or luxury from the start.
Systemline is easily upgradable at any time with a 1 gang size wall keypad that can be used in wet environments such as a bathroom or swimming pool, then a further two wall panels based around the iPod touch and iPad mini making a 4 & 8 inch wall panel display always charged and ready for control of your system.
Sonos is controlled via an app on iOS or Android devices, wall keypads are not an option for the Sonos system. A Sonos system can be controlled via an iOS or Android device mounted into your wall.
Multi room audio systems, including integrated speakers in your home, are not generally aimed at customers looking for portable speakers. These are in essence two different product groups and two different customer types. In Sonos' range of wireless products, as well as their streaming amplifiers, they do produce compact portable speakers such as their Play 1. This Play 1 can work as a stand alone speaker or integrate wirelessly via your wifi as part of a multi room audio system. If you want to move speakers around your home, take one in the garden or even on a trip outside of the home with you then Sonos is your choice.
Systemline 7 on the other hand is designed as an installed multi room system with a focus on high quality sound and usability. Systemline 7 does has an AirPlay option that allows you to stream your music to any AirPlay enabled portable speaker in range of your wifi, such as in your garden, or an AirPlay speaker in any room within range of your wifi network.
As mentioned earlier Sonos can play stored music from a computer or NAS drive on the network as long as it's turned on but has no inbuilt means of storage.
Systemline's NetServer incorporates an inbuilt music storage server, available in four different sizes of 160gb, 320gb, 1tb & 2tb. Your existing iTunes library can be copied onto this storage in a drag and drop fashion and even constantly synced with your iTunes library with an additional software license activation. Transferring a cd to your server is simply a matter of plugging in any external usb cd drive and inserting the disk. All album artwork and information is automatically retrieved from the net, the NetServer does everything else. The Systemline team have focused on ease of use for the end user.
Once setup is complete both of these multi room audio systems are simple to use and configure from their apps. Both systems can offer a reliable product for everyday use, Sonos would require wired connections to bring this reliability.
Local source input
When using your multi room audio solution in a room with a local source, such as a tv in the kitchen & bathroom, or turntable in your lounge, audio would be preferred on your multi room system.
Sonos has analogue aux inputs on the back of their Connect products that can auto switch when a source is recieved. Digital audio can be sent across a system via CAT5 with our audio converters / senders from CYP.
Systemline sells a Local Input Module (LIM) that can receive analogue or digital audio from a local source and then play this automatically through your zones audio speakers. It turns on automatically when it receives audio and switches off when you turn off your local source. The LIM modules also requires connection via a CAT5 cable.
But what about my power hungry beloved floor standing speakers?
Yes floor standing speakers can easily be integrated into a multi room system where you prefer these to more hidden away built-in speakers. The Sonos Connect:Amp can deliver 2x55w into its one zone output. Systemline's NetAmp produces 2 x 50w for 2 zones and their NetPower amp delivers 2 x 100w for one zone, ideal for specific power hungry floor standing speakers.
Ease of setup
Sonos systems require setup via a computer and come packaged with setup CDs to guide you through the process. Each speaker / zones need pairing to the system and setting up to be correctly labelled in you control app.
Systemline 7 also requires setup via a computer, each NetAmp and NetServer has a setup menu accessible from any computer on the network via its IP address. Setup is deffinitely more involved than Sono, with full setup guides and instructions included.
If we compared a basic 2 Zone multi room system from each provider it would look like:
Sonos; 2 x connect:amp
Systemline 7; 1 x NetAmp / 1 x Mini NetServer (1 x NetAmp feeds 2 Zones)
Both of these systems then require speaker cables running to speakers in your two zones, ceiling speakers or another solution of your choice. Then they would each require a connection to the Internet, and the two S7 boxes have two USB cables between them, a digital connection for each zone.
Depending on your preferred control options with an S7 system you may then run out a CAT5/6 cable to any wall keypads or Local Input Modules as you desire. iPad and iPod touch wall panels only require power locally for charging, and can be installed up to 200 metres from power source, via CAT5 cable.
Multi Room System Cost
At the time of writing the two 2 zone systems mentioned above would equate to:
Sonos £800 rrp
In wall touch panel options from other providers
Additional zones would cost £400 per zone
Systemline7 £1200 rrp
160 Gb lossless music storage
HiRes audio capability
Integration with popular home automation systems
Local Input Module options for TV / turntable etc
In wall keypad options
In wall touch panel options
Additional zones would cost £745 per 2 zones
If you are a lover of high quality music and technology to improve your home then Systemline 7 deserves your full attention. It's ability to easily store your CD collection in HiRes / FLAC format and zero issues with dropouts /latency is reason alone for me to recommend Systemline as the best option for a multi room audio system.
Systemline 7's upgradeability with wall panels or keypad options, and their Local Input Module can give you a system that will stand the test of time and you can even upgrade as you go. You are ensured 100% reliability and will certainly impress every visitor to your now super modern home. Although S7 has a marginally higher cost than Sonos your investment is worth every penny.
Sonos does benefits from its lower cost and can certainly deliver an effective Multi Room audio solution with a wired connection.
Either way we can supply you with a Systemline or Sonos system and would welcome any questions or queries you have regarding your future system. Contact us today to discuss your requirements.