Of all the musical gadgets I own, the Sonos Multi-room Music System ( ) is the one I use more often than any other. It fills my home with unlimited amounts of music from my iTunes library; a connected CD player; and such music services as Pandora, Last.fm, Rhapsody, and Napster (and fills different rooms with different music, if I so choose). Yet there’s one music source that has been a little clumsy to use—my iPod. I have an iPod dedicated to audiobooks and podcasts and when I want to listen to them on the Sonos I have to unplug the CD player from my ZonePlayer 120, jack in the iPod, and then use the iPod’s controls to navigate to what I want to hear. It’s exactly this small stumbling block that piqued my interest in Sonos’ $119 Wireless Dock (WD100), a dock that allows you to stream the content from a connected iPod or iPhone to a Sonos system.
Setup is a cinch. Just plug the dock into a free power outlet; dock an iPod or iPhone; use the Add A Sonos Component option from any Sonos controller (the Sonos Desktop Controller software, one of Sonos’ hardware controllers, or a Sonos iOS app); press the sync button on the back of the dock; and wait while the dock connects to your Sonos system.
Once it does, select a zone with your controller (again, software, Sonos hardware, or iOS app) and a Docked iPods entry appears in the list of music sources. Select this entry and you see the name of your docked device. Select that name and you see two entries: Play Now and Browse. When you choose the Play Now option you then use the device—your iPod touch, for example—to navigate to the content you want to play and press Play on the device. Out comes the audio through your Sonos system, directed to the zones of your choosing. And when it comes out, it remains in its digital form rather than converted to analog (and thus losing some of its original fidelity).
It’s worth noting that the dock can play audio from any app that can send audio out via the device’s Dock Connector port. So, for example, with an iPod touch or iPhone you could have the dock stream audio from the Pandora, Rhapsody, Napster, Mog, or Rdio apps. Or Brian Eno’s Bloom app. Or, again, any app that makes noise. (You can even play the audio tracks from videos on—or streamed to—your device, but the audio and video will be out of sync because of the latency inherent in streaming audio and video.) Additionally, because the audio is sent out the Dock Connector port before being touched by the dock, the dock can stream protected content. This is something a Sonos system can’t do with protected music in a computer’s iTunes library.
When you choose Browse you have the opportunity to browse the playlists, artists, albums, tracks, composers, audiobooks, and podcasts on the device from your Sonos controller software, hardware, or app. This is a tremendously cool feature in that it means you can browse and control your device from anywhere a controller is available to you. In many ways the docked device becomes just another browsable and playable audio source.
But there are some limitations. Unlike with other sources—your iTunes library or a subscription music service such as Napster or Rhapsody, for example—you can’t search for specific items on the docked device. You must dig down through an artist, album, track, or playlist entry to find it, So, if you have a lot of content on the device—as you would with an iPod classic—you’ll spend some time scrolling/flicking for what you want to hear if you haven’t set up a lot of playlists on the docked device. Additionally, you can’t add tracks on the docked device to a Sonos queue or playlist.
Playing music while browsing is as simple as clicking, pressing, or tapping your Sonos controller’s Play button. The Back/Rewind, Next/Fast-forward, Repeat, and Shuffle buttons work too, as does the Volume slider. Speaking of volume, you can also control it directly from the Volume buttons that appear on the right side of the dock.
Those who’ve never used a Sonos system before are likely to proclaim, “Aha! Just wait until Apple fully implements AirPlay! Then say bye-bye to this dock and, eventually, Sonos.” If Apple jumps into AirPlay with both feet, that’s possible. But it would mean jiggering AirPlay to stream different music to different devices simultaneously (the Zones concept with Sonos gear), streaming protected content, allowing any application that makes a squeak or burble to stream its audio, coming up with its own hardware solution so Wi-Fi-less iPods can use AirPlay, supporting FLAC and Ogg audio types, and controlling the works from a free remote application. It could happen, but I’ve seen no indication that Apple is serious about multi-room music.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
If, like me, you’ve ever had your or a friend’s iPod or iPhone in hand and wished you could more easily connect it to your Sonos system and control it remotely, purchasing the Sonos Wireless Dock is a no-brainer. At $119 it’s more expensive than a traditional iPod dock, but then it’s not a traditional iPod dock. It’s a logical and worthwhile extension of your existing Sonos system. I’m buying.