I got a new toy today, a Sonos music system. It's a music player like my beloved Squeezebox, an audio component that turns network into music by playing MP3s off a server somewhere. But unlike the Squeezebox, the Sonos is designed for multi-zone audio and the components are amplified.
The user experience so far is beautiful, as clean to use as an iPhone. The centerpiece of the Sonos system is the controller, a large remote control with a bright LCD screen and a few simple control buttons. You use the controller to choose which music you want to play in which zone. The UI is good; intuitive and nice features like album cover art. You can try a Flash demo; look for the "Click Here to Launch" box on the left.
The controller tells the Zone Players to play music. The players have no significant UI of their own, they're just boxes that take power and ethernet or wifi in and deliver audio out. Output options are line-out, digital, and amplified. The integrated amp is the killer feature for me in the Sonos and what sets it apart from the Squeezebox.
Behind the scenes everything's working over wireless network. Music is pulled off of a NAS; I'm using Samba on a Linux box. There's also a good browser for Internet radio stations and various music services like Napster and Rhapsody. Not iTunes, tellingly.
I just got the Sonos today so there's lots to tinker with still. But out of the box things were working in 15 minutes. Great unboxing experience, simple setup, the only wrinkle was getting my stupid Samba server to cooperate.
My only caveat so far is the price; the starter bundle is $1000 for a two zone system. That's a lot, but it's a fair price for an amplified multizone system with a great UI. But if your needs are simpler then a Squeezebox or iPhone dock may make more sense.
Many thanks to Lance, my A/V system designer, for encouraging me to get Sonos. If you want to build a new A/V system in the Bay Area and need a consultant, drop me a note for a referral.