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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 July 2006, 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
Review: Wireless music systems
Sonos and Front Row
The numbers of device to stream music are growing
The digital home remains a tantalising, if unfulfilled, prospect for many users and technology enthusiasts.

The BBC News website looks at two products which let users listen to music stored on their PC around the house.

SONOS MUSIC SYSTEM

Sonos
The Sonos system includes a remote control with a screen

The Sonos Music System offers to take the pain out of streaming music from your PC to different parts of your house - and it certainly delivers on many of its promises.

The company has a number of products which let you stream music to a "zone player" which plugs into an existing amplifier or an all-in-one zone player that does not need an amplifier but only speakers.

I tested a combination of the bundles, hooking one player up to my living room amplifier, another all-in-one system in a bedroom and a further one in an attic room.

Sonos promises that you do not need to know anything about wireless networking to get the devices working - and I found it incredibly easy.

After installing software on your PC or Mac you simply hold down two buttons on one of the zone players and within a couple of seconds the players have joined your network.

There are no worries about wireless encryption keys or network SSID names.

I had a five minute hiccup when I struggled to get the software on my Mac to see my iTunes music library but the frequently asked questions page on the Sonos website soon had me up and running.

The unique selling point of Sonos is a remote control with a small screen - looking not unlike an oversized iPod - that allows you to select your music from the comfort of a sofa.

It does make a huge difference when you can access music remotely and even scroll through album art and create playlists on the fly using the remote.

Music can be streamed simultaneously to different rooms with zone players around the house or you can have different music playing in each room.

The quality of music streamed - even MP3s - is very good and the zone player with built-in amplifier is a high-spec product.

The Sonos system - in common with every other wireless music system not made by Apple - cannot stream songs bought from iTunes.

At the moment it cannot play songs bought from other download stores that use Microsoft's copy protection but I was told by Sonos that this would soon change.

For people with little or no technical knowledge the Sonos system is a pain-free way to start listening to music wirelessly.

The system is expensive but Sonos is aimed at a luxury market.

AIRPORT EXPRESS AND FRONT ROW

Front Row
Control your music via Front Row

Every new Apple Mac computer now comes with a media centre-style interface, called Front Row, and a remote control.

Users can now listen to music - as well as access videos and photos - on the computer using the remote.

But if you want to listen to your music on your hi-fi without plugging in your Mac or PC directly, Apple recommends its 90 Airport Express.

Combining the functions of a wi-fi router and printer share, the Airport Express also lets users stream music from their Mac or PC to the device which plugs into a hi-fi.

Set up of the Airport Express is not entirely straightforward and surprisingly there are two different pieces of configuration software available to the user depending on what they want to do with the device.

The software is unclear, unhelpful and rather clumsy which is surprising when Apple specialise in easy-to-use products.

Once installed you simply tell iTunes that you want to listen to music via the AirPort Express - there is a simple dropdown menu - and the music starts streaming.

If you have multiple Airport Express devices you can send music to different parts of the house.

Of course, the music can only be controlled via the remote when it is pointing directly at the PC or Mac that holds the music and Front Row is only useful when you can see the screen of your Mac.

You could use another Mac with Front Row and remote control in a different room in the house to share the music on your main computer but that is adding considerable extra expense.

The Airport Express' unique selling point is the ability to stream songs bought from iTunes - the only device which can do this. It is a huge advantage over other systems, if you are someone who has invested heavily in iTunes music.

Songs downloaded from the Apple music store sound clear and very crisp but ultimately your amplifier and speakers will play a big part in determining how good the sound is.

Once configured, the Airport Express works well and using it in conjunction with Front Row makes listening to music over a home network pleasurable.

But if you want to be able to directly control your music via the remote in other parts of the house and are daunted by the configuration, then the Airport Express may not be for you.




SEE ALSO
Digital home 'still 10 years off'
18 Jul 06 |  Technology

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