Digital Music Player Comparison: Sonos vs. Roku

Overview

I purchased network home music players from both Roku SoundBridge M2000 and a Sonos Digital Music System Bundle, with the objective being a winner-take-all comparison where one is kept and the other is returned. I’ve completed my evaluation and the results are below.

Roku SoundBridge M2000 vs. Sonos Digital Music System

Setup

The Sonos system was easier to setup than the Roku. However, the Sonos did require a wired network connection. The advantage is that no wireless network configuration is necessary because the Sonos uses its own encrypted wireless network from that device to every other one in your house. The Roku, however, did require me to remember and enter my WEP encryption key (it doesn’t support the more secure WPA encryption). On the PC side, the Sonos software walked my through sharing music and enabling Real Rhapsody, where as the Roku relied on the third-party software Windows Media Connect, which I had to figure out how to enable and then how to authenticate the SoundBridge to my PC. I tried several different versions of SlimServer software, the Roku saw the SlimServer software, but it never connected. Similar results for MusicMatch Jukebox 10. Also, the Roku required an external amplifier and the Sonos did not, simplifying installation and clutter. For setup, the Sonos was the clear winner.

Music Format Support

The whole reason for one of theses systems is to play your music. If a system doesn’t support the music format you use, you’re out of luck. Both systems support MP3 and WMA (non-DRM). However, the Roku has a slight advantage because it also supports WMA DRM songs purchased from online music stores; the Sonos offers no DRM support.

In the lossless category, the Roku supports WMA Lossless and the Sonos supports FLAC. dbMusicConverter quickly and easily converts between any format, so this was basically a tie.

The Roku does support AAC (non-DRM) files, but only if you use iTunes as the server on your PC instead of Windows Media Connect. The Sonos supports AAC (non-DRM) with no server switching required. Still, because of DRM support, the Roku is the winner here. (Note: I recommend that you don’t mess with DRM-encrypted files in the first place. The HYMN project can unencrypt your iTunes-purchased AAC DRM files. Otherwise, just buy the CD and rip them to a lossless format — that way you have max quality and a backup.)

Search

I’ll start off by saying the Roku was the clear winner here. However, since I first posted this review, Sonos released a software update with a Power Scroll feature. The Roku still holds an for searching however.

The test was listing all ~2400 songs in my library by song name and searching. With the Roku, you hit the up/down buttons to scroll song-by-song or left/right buttons to jump forward by letters of the alphabet. A song start with Z took a relatively few number of button presses to jump to the letter Z and then scroll down song-by-song. With the touchpad / scroll wheel on the Sonos, I thought I was going to burn my thumbprint off before I reached Z (spin, spin, spin, . . .) but the new Power Scroll feature solved that problem.

The clear advantage of the Roku is that it gives you detailed song information before you play it. For example, I have about 8 different versions of the same song but from different albums. The Roku let me select each of the songs to give more detailed information (album, artist, song length, file format, bit rate etc) before playing it or adding it to the play list. With the Sonos, I saw a list of 8 songs and had to guess which was which; I couldn’t tell which version of the song it was until it started playing and I went to the “currently playing” screen. To have such a great graphical interface on the remote, the Sonos is surprisingly lacking here. It doesn’t even allow viewing of file type or comments and only displays length when the song is being played.

Finally, the Roku allows searching of song titles that contain a certain word anywhere in the title. For example, all songs that contain the word “rain” anywhere in the title. The Sonos allows only an alphabetical listing of the songs by the first letter in the song name. Sonos needs an on-screen keyboard to allow for entry and searching within file names and albums.

The Roku rules when it comes to searching through large libraries in multiple manners.

Easy-of-Use

The Roku relies on the large built-in character-only display while the Sonos requires a separate (expensive) remote with a color display screen. The Roku requires you to be standing nearby to read the display or use the line-of-sight IR remote. The display is great: bright and easy to read from 15 feet with adjustable font sizes.

With the Sonos, however, the remote can be virtually anywhere because it operates on a WiFi network. I took the remote across the street to determine the maximum neighbor-friendly volume level and the remote worked perfectly. I used it at the dinner table to set the proper background volume. The wireless remote is great because you can take the song info, player controls, and volume controls anywhere in your house. Also, you can control any or all rooms in your house separately or simultaneously. Because of the near-perfect wireless remote, the Sonos is the clear winner here.

Roku Remote vs. Sonos Controller

Internet Radio

I found very little difference between the two offerings; both gave internet radio and Real Rhapsody support. This was a tie.

Multi-room support

As I stated earlier, I tried to get the Roku to work with SlimServer but was unsuccessful. The Roku server selector screen listed “SlimServer on MyComputerName” but would never connect to it. (I didn’t switch to a wired connection to see if that made any difference, it should not have). Anyway, without SlimServer, the Roku offers no multi-room capabilities. The Sonos, on the other hand, has that great wireless remote that allows control of any and all rooms. Walking from one area of the house to another while hearing/controlling the playlist and volume was even cooler that I thought it would be. Sonos is the clear winner here.

Cost

Roku offers lower-cost models (M500, M1000) with smaller displays than what I evaluated. Because the Roku requires an external amplifier (that would cost about $100 on the low end), the minimum cost is around $250/room + speakers; $500/room if you go with the more expensive M2000 with the large display. The Sonos ZP100 is about $500/room + speakers and requires no external amplifier. However, you also have to spend an extra $400 on at least one wireless Sonos CR100 remote control. However, you’re getting one heck of a color/graphical/wireless remote with the Sonos, so this should be factored into the evaluation. The Roku gets the nod here for offering multiple models at lower price points, but it should be noted that the advantage is slight because of the better integration and larger feature set of the Sonos system; you get what you pay for.

Improvements

In summary, Sonos still needs to improve their search feature to give more song details before playing and to search by keyword. Also, DRM-support could be a nice addition for many people. There is still hope that these features can be offered via software upgrades.

Roku has done a great job at targeting the lower-cost, single-room market but is greatly lacking in the area of multi-room support. Also, Roku needs to consider offering their own desktop software instead of relying on third-parties. None of the multiple servers were greatly intuitive and each offered different music format support, making things more confusing than they should be. Finally, a anywhere-in-the-house WiFi graphical remote is would be a welcome addition for Roku. Roku also needs to add support for ReplayGain volume compensation to eliminate songs that are too loud or too quite. ReplayGain adds a tag to the song in the header area and does not modify the song itself. (Sonos added ReplayGain support in their previous software update.)

Verdict

For me, the Sonos stays and the Roku is being returned. The DRM and multiple-server support didn’t turn out to be that big of an advantage for the Roku; the multi-room listening and WiFi graphical remote turned out to be a big advantage for the Sonos. Multi-room music is much more of a “killer app” than I initially expected, making the Sonos the easy winner.

For Others: If you have a lot of WMA DRM music files, you maybe should consider the Roku. However, if you are looking for something to the Roku with multi-room support, the SqueezeBox by SlimDevices may be a better alternative to the Roku. SqueezeBoxes work with the SlimServer software (SlimDevices develops it). However, based on everything I’ve read, the configuration is probably even more complicated than the Roku. In my opinion, the simplicity and features of the Sonos makes it the best alternative of the three. (Note: I have not personally evaluated at SqueezeBox.)

Sonos Software Wish List

I’ve chosen the Sonos as my preferred music player. However, there is still room for improvement here. Below is my wish list of additions to make it the ultimate player.

  • Ability to view comprehensive file / song details: I canâ��t tell songs apart when searching. The default action is to play the song when the center button is clicked and there is no option to view song details. I’d like to be able to see album, track number, year, comments, rating, format/bitrate, genre, cover art, etc.
  • Global option for Center Button Behavior: I’d like an option for a global setting for the center button when clicking it with a song highlighted on the display. I can think of 3 global options that users may want: 1) play the song, 2) add song to queue, or 3) display song info. User gets to pick how they want the system to act.
  • Search by keyword: This would make it easier to find songs instead of just by first letter of song name.
  • Bandwidth saver when muted: if the mute button on the ZonePlayer itself (not the remote) is pressed and held for a few seconds, it will stop receiving the (repeating) playlist or internet radio feed. Currently, it just mutes and continues to stream music indefinitely until you stop it via the remote.
  • Alarm clock feature, with automatic weekend alarm disable option: Roku now has an alarm clock, but it is an otherwise inferior system. Iâ��d love a cool alarm clock configurable via the controller. I’d rather wake-up to Sonos that to a buzz or an annoying DJ and auto-weekend alarm disable is a must-have for me.
  • View personal photos on the Sonos Controller: I would really like the ability to view digital pictures stored on my PC on the Sonos Controller. The Sonos has freed my music from my PC; I’d like to do the same with my digital photos.
  • Support for more music formats: I know, everyone wants just one more format supported. If I were to pick one, it would be WMA lossless DRM. I might actually start purchasing music online again (MusicGiant.com) if the Sonos supported that format. (FLAC is supported, so Iâ��m not complaining too much. because DRM is annoying).
  • Support for song ratings: I have have a bunch of songs and sometimes I just want to hear my favorite ones. It would be great to be able to sort by my personal rating and also to modify the song rating.
Written by in: Home Theater | Tags: , , , , , | Last updated on: 2014-May-27 |

20 Comments »

  • […] See my Sonos vs. Roku comparison to see why I originally chose the Sonos.  […]

  • Kai Harrekilde-Petersen says:

    According to several reviews on the net (links below) the SqueezeBox is very easy to setup, apparently very close to the Sonos.

    http://www.trustedreviews.com/multimedia/review/2006/05/31/Slim-Devices-Squeezebox/p1
    http://newz.dk/articles/view/36/

  • Carlton Bale says:

    Kai, I agree that the SqueezeBox from Slim Devices is probably the best alternative to the Sonos; especially considering the price. When I originally conducted this comparison, it looked as if Roku was really taking off (Windows Media Extender support, WMA-DRM, works with iTunes, distribution through RadioShack and BestBuy, etc.)

    Since then, SlimDevices has quietly and steadily improved their product line. They’ve released new models that don’t look like alarm clocks. The SlimServer PC software is unquestionably amazing; the extendability through plug-ins is something I wish Sonos embraced. The ability to view RSS feeds and stream music from archive.org makes this Sonos owner jealous. Now that SlimDevices has been purchased by Logitech, I see an even brighter future for them. The hands-off approach taken by Logitech when they purchased Harmony Remotes bodes well for Slim.

    Overall, I’d still recommend Sonos because of the controller; it really sets it apart from the competition. But it is very expensive. For anyone not interested in paying the Sonos premium, the SqueezeBox is the best alternative out there. Roku does have a lower-cost model, but it is missing so many features as compared to the SqueezeBox that I don’t the cost offset is worth it. In my limited experience, the Roku is also buggier and less well-supported.

  • uofmtiger says:

    I was looking to buy an M2000 and stumbled across this somewhat old review. The one thing that is not mentioned is the fact that the slimserver software can be controlled with any device with a server connection. Instead of paying $400 for a Sonos remote, you can use a PSP, iPod Touch, laptop, etc as a remote. They are cheaper and have a lot more uses…

    If you use a laptop, you can also install Visual MR to control the firefly server.

    Personally, I want a display on the actual player. That is just my preference. With a Roku, you get the best of both worlds.

  • Carlton Bale says:

    If you want a display on the player, a Sonus is not the answer. Sonos devices can be controlled via the Sonos Desktop software from any PC/Mac. It can also be controlled by any Universal Plug and Play (uPnP) aware device, such as the Universal Electronics Nevo line of remotes. There is no doubt that the selection of remote control options is limited. However, out of all of the options for controlling a Roku/Sonos/SqueezeBox, the Sonos remote control is best do to the scroll wheel and excellent graphical user interface. The tradeoff for the excellent hardware is the price.

    If you’re looking for a non-Sonos music player, I’d strongly recommend the Slim Devices SqueezeBox over the Roku. It supports Slim Server much better (meaning that it officially supports it) and there is also a new remote control in development that is much more Sonos-like than anything Roku or Slim currently offer. When I originally conducted this review, I thought the market was headed toward a DRM-capable player such as the Roku, but I must admit that I was wrong. The flexibility of the open software behind Slim (and their new remote control) make it a much better choice in my opinion, unless you really need support for Windows Media DRM.

  • uofmtiger says:

    “If you want a display on the player, a Sonus is not the answer”
    Which is exacly why I am ruling it out as a choice. I have a Roku M1000-B, that I picked up for $99) and can control it very easily with Slimserver software and an iPod Touch. The screen on the Touch is 480×320 pixels, so it looks better than the Sonus controller. It can also be controlled with the touchscreen, which many people would prefer over a scroll wheel. The Slimserver/Roku/Touch setup is actually perfect if I want to have a handheld controller of my music with a digital display. The search function is amazingly fast (less than a few seconds) even with 21,000+ FLAC files. Also, for the same $399, I get a lot more with an iTouch than with a Sonos controller.

    The one feature I like with the Sonos is the Rhapsody support without a computer, but I am not real sure how it works. Does it allow you to scan their complete library and play any album like Rhapsody does with a computer? I have Rhapsody and the M1000 only allows access to what the computer has in MY library, not the entire Rhapsody library. Of course, it can play channels that I setup with my favorite artists, so it still has a lot of functionality, but the Rhapsody without a computer setup of Sonos is interesting.

    I thought about a Squeezebox, but I am not sure the display is much larger than the M1000 and I mainly want something I can read from the couch (about 14 feet away). Is the Squeezebox display that much bigger than the M1000 Soundbridge? The M2000 has a huge display which is why this article raised my interest.

    While I think Slim Devices has put themselves way ahead of Roku (their new Soundbridge upsamples everything to 48khz! Yuk!) in nearly every way, I am not sure it will offer me anything better than what I have right now with my setup. As I mentioned, the Roku works perfectly with the slimserver using the Nokia skin. I am also using the digital output on the Roku to feed a DAC, so the better DACs in the Squeezebox do not mean much to me.

  • Carlton Bale says:

    It all depends on how much time you want to spend working on devices vs. money spent for an elegant out-of-box experience. The beauty of a Sonos is that I’ve literally spent about 30 minutes total in the past 3 years setting it up, it works flawlessly, and there is no PC software to install/configure. It does multi-room perfectly and the controller / zones automatically connect to each other over a wireless mesh network. It’s a trade-off between between customization (using an iPod touch as a controller but having to navigate to the web page first) vs. ease-of-use (the dedicated Sonos controller that is always in Sonos-control mode.) Both have their own advantages.

    I haven’t tried the Rhapsody since the latest Sonos software update, which added advanced search. I was impressed with the initial integrated version but thought it really needed a search function. It’s apparently been added, but I have no experience with it.

    I think the Slim SqueezeBox display is pretty similar to the Roku M1000. The M2000 is definitely the largest display available and great for across-the-room viewing.

    And I agree, Roku made a huge mistake by cost-reducing their DAC to output only 48kHz when 99.99% of music is 44.1kHz. If you’re going to pick only one, why not the most common? Plus they completely abandoned their customers on the HD picture player, which I’m very glad I didn’t purchase.

  • Scott says:

    I like the SqueezeBox Duo, but currently it doesn’t work with SlimServer on a NAS. It works with SqueezeServer 7.0 but that doesn’t work on a NAS yet. What are my options?

    The iPod + Roku + SlimServer sounds interesting. Do I need to run SlimServer on the NAS for that? I know that the Roku can access UPNP which the Thecus N2100 has by default.

  • Carlton Bale says:

    You would need to run SlimServer the same way for Roku as for Squeeze. Roku will play music from a UPnP server, but that is not as elegant of a solution as the alternatives. I’d recommend getting either SqueezeBox Duo or a Sonos. Those both have awesome controllers. I’d guess that SlimServer will be updated before long to add more features; it’s under constant development. The Sonos can play files off of a NAS with no problems. Just enter the computer name, directory share name, username, and password. No special software required.

  • Scott says:

    Right now the SqueezeCenter 7.0 won’t work on a Thecus N2100 or any NAS apparently, and the Duo needs it. That leaves me with the old Squeezebox without the nice controller, or the Sonos. Which one has the better interface, and should I consider an iPod Touch or Nokia Internet Tablet as an alternative? Most of the time I’d probably prefer to use a laptop to control the music.

  • Carlton Bale says:

    Those would work, but require more work to configure and lack the refinement of a dedicated remote. It’s really personal preference of how much time you want to spend tweaking vs. spending $ on dedicated equipment, and how refined you want the remote to be vs. how multi-featured you want the device to be. I went for the Sonos because it is extremely compatible and very easy to use – pretty much no wasted time messing with it. If you already have a Squeeze, I’d suggest visiting their forum and see what the plan is for NAS support with the latest version. They may have plans to add that soon.

  • Scott says:

    Thanks for all the help Carlton. I think for me it’s between the SqueezeBox Duo and the Sonos, just because once in a while I’d like to be able to just turn the stereo on without having to worry about computers being on. Most of the time I’m sure I’d use a notebook to change tracks, but it’d be nice to have the option of using the remote.

  • Scott says:

    How about from a web interface perspective, which is better the SqueezeBox or Sonos? Most of the time I anticipate navigating music via a laptop.

  • Ben Rose says:

    I use Sonos…it just works…and doesn’t require a dedicated PC/server.

    As I happen to have a server anyway, I use it to run the purple.org web controller linked in the comment above. It’s excellent and means, if I don’t have the Sonos controller available, I can control my Sonos from my Nokia phone or even from my Nintendo Wii!

    Of course, there’s nothing like the official controller.

  • Carlton Bale says:

    Scott: Squeeze has the best web interface. Sonos has dedicated software that runs on PC/Mac; it works very well because it is a native application and not a web app. There is also a third-party program that adds a web interface to Sonos: http://www.purple.org/sonos/ So I’d say the dedicated web interface is better on Squeeze, but the desktop app Sonos uses is slightly better overall and there it is possible to add a web interface in addition to that. Really, you can’t go wrong with either. If your time is worth more than the cost differential between the two, I’d suggest going for the Sonos because it requires the least amount of tweaking.

  • Scott says:

    I was somewhat disappointed by the SqueezeCenter web interface, it was very slow running just on my PC, so I wonder how slow it’d be over a network running on a NAS.

    Another option I’m considering is iTunes and the AirTunes or whatever it’s called. That way I could have all music on a NAS, and I’d control it via iTunes on a PC. Bonus if I could control it via an iPod Touch or iPhone. Apple pisses me off because they’re kind of proprietary, but whatever works I guess.

  • uofmtiger says:

    I have only used the Slimserver interface (currently using version 6.3) with a Roku M1000. I currently have 18,724 files in FLAC format and it was extremely easy to setup. I downloaded the software, opened up the webpage, then told it to select the folder with the music and then chose an interface (ipod touch). Done… The Roku automatically sees the Slimserver on its screen. Using it with a NAS is more complicated and I have a media computer that is always on, so I have never tested it. Here is an article I posted on the combination of the Roku and the Slimserver interface (my guess is that it would work with a Squeezebox just as well):

    http://www.blog.uofmtiger.com/2008/01/05/ipod-touch-roku-perfection/

    At some point, I will record some video to show the speed (which is amazingly fast) when searching. I have an ipod dock next to my usual sitting area, so the thing is always charged up for surfing the web and controlling the Roku. Also, with the $20 add-on for the iPod Touch that Apple has added, I now have an icon for “SlimRoku” on the Touch’s home screen. When I am ready to listen, I turn it on, hit the icon, and I am ready to play. Not really all that complicated. However, I should mention that my Roku is hard wired to my router and I am not currently using wireless.

    For iTunes, there is an iPod Touch solution. A program called “Signal” will control your iTunes playlists when you have iTunes running on a computer. I found it to be very clunky and I have only used it one time, though.

    One other thing about the Roku is that it works great with a laptop program called visualMR and you can control just about any media server you want with it (Firefly, Rhapsody, Orb, etc..).

    Personally, I would go with the Sonos if you need an easy NAS solution. If you use a media computer, then I would go with something cheaper like the Slimserver Duet (if you need a dedicated remote) or a used Roku (stay away from M1001) if you can get by with an iPod Touch or Laptop to control it or if you are close enough to see the display.

  • jlynch says:

    The Sonos system has very strong support for Rhapsody. Honestly, I rarely use anything besides rhapsody.

    It has :

    Playlist Support
    Full Browse of All of Rhapsody Library
    Search
    And Album Art

    I currently have 2 Zones, 1 driving 4 Inceiling speakers and the other Driving 2 Inceiling speakers. I am using 8″ Polks with the Sonos ZP100 and it drives them very well.

    This system has a very High WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor).

    HTH

  • cliff says:

    Does the sonus support digital radio?

  • uofmtiger says:

    “The Sonos system has very strong support for Rhapsody. Honestly, I rarely use anything besides rhapsody.” Thanks for the info. I understand that the Slimserver Duet will have similar functionality, so I am waiting to see some reviews of that setup. I have a media computer, so I can browse that way, but it would be cool to be able to browse the full Rhapsody library with my TV off..

    One other server that works with the TV off is a PS3. With one of the newer firmware upgrades, the user now has the choice of outputting audio via the PS3 or PSP when using “Remote Play”. I tested this with a Tversity/PS3/PSP setup and it works remarkably good. It does not have the search function (that I could find with my limited testing), but it is very quick…much faster than controlling a Roku with the PSP.

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