Rock the house, wirelessly
Music is in the air (and in up to 32 rooms of your home), thanks to a new, improved Sonos system.
By Peter Lewis, FORTUNE senior editor

(FORTUNE Magazine) - One of the most difficult lessons of the Digital Age is that music is no longer confined to a physical medium like audio CDs, cassettes, or vinyl albums. For today's music lover, the computer, or perhaps a networked device, stores the soundtrack of your life.

But then what? Our supposedly savvy song lover probably uses the PC to burn a copy of the downloaded music onto a blank CD - thereby trapping it once again on a physical substrate - so that he can listen to it on the stereo system in another room. Or he spends thousands of bucks to have custom-installed speakers wired throughout the house.

The Sonos Digital Music System ZonePlayer 80 Bundle ($999,
The Sonos Digital Music System ZonePlayer 80 Bundle ($999,
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Creating a whole-house music system, however, just got cheaper - and easier too. The new Sonos Digital Music System ZonePlayer 80 Bundle ($999, is a two-room starter kit, consisting of a pair of small, wireless ZonePlayer devices that normally sell for $349 each and a brilliant, easy-to-use wireless controller, normally $399.

One ZonePlayer 80 device attaches to the broadband router that delivers an Internet connection to your computer. The other ZonePlayer 80 attaches to the amplifier of your home stereo, home theater system, or other audio device like a stereo, iPod Hi-Fi, or Bose Wave radio.

Even if you don't already have a wireless home network, the ZonePlayers automatically establish a wireless communications link. Anyone who has struggled to set up a wireless computer network will marvel at how easily any number of ZonePlayers configure themselves around the house.

Then the Sonos software (which works with both Windows and Mac computers) catalogs the music stored on the PC or networked hard disk.

Within minutes, using the color LCD wireless controller that comes with the ZP80 bundle, you'll be listening to your music in two rooms simultaneously, or playing jazz in the living room while listening to Internet radio in the den. For extra fees you can listen to books, magazines, and newspapers while you putter in the basement workshop, or have unlimited access to's 1.5-million-tune library. Changing the music or the sound volume in another room is as easy as lifting a finger.

And good news for oil barons and Wall Street fat cats: As many as 32 rooms can be connected.

We raved last year when the Sonos Digital Music System made its debut with the ZonePlayer 100 model ($499 each), a ten-pound, shoebox-sized unit that contained a built-in amplifier. It was and still is a superb (albeit pricey) solution for distributing your computer-based digital music wirelessly.

The new ZP80 players are much smaller and lighter (1.5 pounds each), cheaper by $150 each, and enable users to connect their existing amplified sound systems to the wireless network. What about the iPod or your CD player and unripped music? No problem. Just connect any audio devices to the ZP80 with an RCA cable (included with the ZP80 bundle), and all those tunes can be piped throughout the house.

Alas, the Sonos system still won't play music purchased from Apple's iTunes Music Store or Microsoft's Plays for Sure encrypted online music stores. But if you have a large digital-music collection, a broadband connection, and live any place bigger than a dorm room, the $999 Sonos ZP80 Bundle is sure to rock the house. Top of page