In 2006 the Sonos Digital Music System entered our lives - a sophisticated way of playing digital music simultaneously in numerous zones of your house. And yesterday, Sonos released Sonos System Software 2.5.
This software update adds plug-and-play access to millions of songs and thousands of radio stations in the UK and Germany - all without switching on your PC. Using the Sonos Digital Music System's wireless controller, UK users can directly tap into Napster. And that means more than five-million audio tracks at your fingertips for only £9.95 a month (after a 30-day trial).
In the past this may have been all but unusable. Prior to this update to the Sonos Digital Music System, if you hadn't already marked an album as a favourite, you'd have to scroll through a long list of every artist in a particular genre until you found the one you were looking for. Those lists often took a while to load and, if you thought an artist belonged under "Country" but the Sonos thought of them as "Folk", the whole thing could be an exercise in frustration.
The latest version of the Sonos software, which was yesterday pushed out for free to Sonos Digital Music Systems, adds search capability, which from our limited experience seems to make finding what you want much quicker. Enter three or four letters of the artist's name and Sonos will suggest some acts that fit the bill.
The yesterday controller, which looks a bit like an overgrown iPod, has no keyboard or touchscreen, only a scrollwheel, which makes entering letters cumbersome, but better than the alternative.
Finally, Sonos added a piece of hardware that can make creating a network at home a little cheaper. The Sonos system uses a number of ZonePlayers, small network nodes that communicate with the controller, output your music and together act as a mesh network to pass data around. One of the ZonePlayers has to be plugged into your router for the system to work smoothly. If you don't particularly want to listen to music in the room where your router is located, shelling out around £250 for a ZonePlayer just to have a network seemed harsh.
Now the company is offering a ZoneBridge, a small node that plugs into your router just so it can be the anchor of the mesh network. It doesn't output music, but it's a lot cheaper. Still, a Sonos system is never going to be the cheapest approach to digital music. A system with one controller, a ZonePlayer and a ZoneBridge will run you around a grand.