View Full Version : Sonos and Harbeth, a great match for high quality home audio

Kumar Kane
13-03-2012, 11:02 AM
With Harbeth to produce the sound, a great step forward for home audio is to add Sonos to the home.

Here is how it works, in brief.

Sonos does not need any computer to be on to stream the music. All the music, ripped from CDs, sits on one network server - which can be as simple as a HDD plugged into the USB port of a wireless base station that is the hub of the home wifi network. One of the Sonos units has to be wired to this base station via LAN cable. Alternatively, a Sonos bridge can be so connected, if wiring a playing Sonos unit to the router is inconvenient. This Sonos unit or the bridge then pulls the selected tracks from the HDD and broadcasts them via a proprietary Sonos network. Other Sonos units that serve different rooms work on a peer to peer basis on this network. Peer to peer allows for wider network extendability across the home, and a more robust network as more Sonos units are added for additional rooms/zones. The proprietary and dedicated nature of the network to audio means that spikes in demand on the home wifi network do not affect the audio streams.

Using a Sonos controller app, one can then play different music from the same HDD in different rooms at the same time. And the music can be selected by as many users as have access to the Sonos controller app, a free download to i devices and android phones. Each user can build their playlists, that are accessible by all users on their app, and play the music of their choice.

If the need is to play the same music across all rooms in sync, that is possible too.

Finally, Sonos has different units to meet different user needs. Units are available to connect to existing dac or amp driven audio systems/active speakers, to connect to and drive passive speakers where the Sonos unit provides amplification as well, and also where no audio system exists - with players that are self-contained boxes that include amplification and speakers. One picks what one needs for each room. And one can start with one room, and add others to taste and budgets.

Music selection in the above manner is possible from all the music that is on the HDD, or, via the wireless router, from internet radio stations, or internet music service providers such as Pandora, Spotify and the like.

Sonos works equally well in Apple or non Apple environments.

Finally, and most important, Sonos works very well out of the box in most cases. But for the times it does not, there are two world class support systems in place.

First, there is a Sonos user forum, of a very high quality akin to this one, moderated by very knowledgeable volunteer moderators. Second, Sonos support, available free to all Sonos users for the life of the units, is world class. Aided by an ability to receive remote diagnostics of user systems, that allows them to pinpoint problems for resolution via emails/phones/chat.

With Sonos as a front end for a home wireless streaming solution, and Harbeth speakers to voice the sound, one really does not need to have things such as turntables and CD players any more. With lossless CD rips, the sound heard is as good as via a high quality CD player. Of course the quality of the recording and the mastering of the CD will always matter, as it does for CD player driven music.

It looks like the future of audio is in this direction, and with music streamed from internet audio service providers such as Pandora, or Spotify. Why buy the music when it is available on demand for a monthly fee? Even with lossy streams, the quality of heard music through Harbeth speakers is brilliant. And the sheer convenience of track selection and making up playlists on the go means that one listens to a lot more music than before, which is a worthwhile end in itself.

Harbeth speakers will still be present in the future because they are needed for quality sound reproduction, but the rest of the upstream is headed in this direction.

Sonos leads today in this field, and as a delighted Sonos owner, I hope for that to continue. Even if it doesn't, it seems to me that this is where the future of home audio is headed.

13-03-2012, 12:08 PM
They may have competition...

Sonos is truly very friendly.
There is no need for any knowledge of wi-fi, not even password is required.
The only possible technical part is if one needs to pick up a folder from the NAS.

Kumar - do you use your digital volume control?
I have found a big difference if volume is not max/close to max.

Kumar Kane
13-03-2012, 01:35 PM
Kumar - do you use your digital volume control?
I have found a big difference if volume is not max/close to max.
I first used the fixed setting on Sonos to bypass it, but that involves using another remote for the volume - Sonos spoils you! I now have the volume on the amp set up in such a way that for normal listening the digital volume has to be 75% of max. Best of both worlds, that way.

Kumar Kane
13-03-2012, 02:31 PM
Sonos tends to be not easy to understand at first - it took me a while to get it - so here are some pointers for Harbeth owners.

What Sonos needs for it to work at home is a home wifi network, driven by a wireless router. That is key.

Harbeth owners will have existing amplification. For them, the way to start is by getting a Sonos Connect unit, that has to be wire connected to either the analog inputs on the amp, or the digital ones if the system has a high quality DAC. If convenient, this Sonos unit has to be connected by LAN cable to the router. The Sonos controller can be installed on a computer or an iPod touch/iphone/ipad/android phone and is a free download. Any of the latter is obviously the most convenient.

CDs need to be ripped once on to the server, which is connected to the network. Doing this transfer for the first time is the real time investment involved.

If the amp is too far away from the router, as it usually is in most homes, a Sonos bridge has to also be bought to be the one required wired connection to the router, and then the bridge wirelessly connects to the Sonos Connect unit.

Once set up, the amp gets the music signals from the server via the Sonos Connect unit. And if the CDs are ripped in lossless codec, the quality of the input signal to the amp is as good as that from a CD player. All controlled by the Sonos controller. It took me some time to be convinced of this, given my audiophile instincts (snobbery?!). The end result will be as good as it sounds today, connected to whatever CD player you have. Once this is all done, any CD you have transferred to the server can be selected for instant replay from the iPod touch/iphone/android phone. And of course you can also access internet radio/internet radio services, and they sounds almost as good as CD replay, depending on the stream quality, some of which are very good indeed.

If one want to set up a new system, then instead of the Connect, the unit to buy is the Sonos 55wpc Connect amp, that has speaker cable terminals on it to run cables directly to the speaker pair. I think the unit would pair well with either a P3 or a C7. All one needs for high quality music is this amp, perhaps a bridge, and the speaker pair.

Extending music to other rooms then involves just adding another appropriate Sonos unit for the room, which can be installed in less than 2 minutes. Tends to be addictive, this.

As an active member of the Sonos forums, I plug Harbeth speakers whenever I can, so I thought it might be time now to return the favor to Sonos - with whom my only affiliation is that of a delighted customer. I am listening to music a lot more now that Sonos has made it so easy to do so.

Kumar Kane
13-03-2012, 03:27 PM
Some downsides:

The nature of the technology of any wireless streaming solution is such that there may be occasional glitches - which is where Sonos support plays its role if needed. The system will not be as robust as a CD player+amp+speaker hard wired combination, which will play flawlessly for years, barring mishandling or hardware failures. That is certainly an area for improvement.

In my case, I had to spend some time with Sonos staff in the first month sorting out a glitch, but in the eight months since, it has always worked flawlessly. People also have trouble when Sonos or Apple update their software, and the solution can be as simple as powering down all Sonos units and the wireless router, and repowering it in a recommended sequence to reboot the system, but it is something that has to be done if necessary.

Kumar Kane
13-03-2012, 03:49 PM
They may have competition...

They had better, one of the problem with Sonos may well be that they don't have enough comparable competition! I don't know if this one will be that though, given that they use power line technology. Power line transmission works very well when it does, but it has lots of troubles when it doesn't due to interference, house wiring schemes and the like. And this offering seems to be at around the same price point as Sonos, without the comparable brand equity and support infrastructure, so it is hard to see how they will compete or scale up.

It will be interesting to see how this market plays out in future, that's for sure.

None of this affects Harbeth in the near future or more, because regardless of the upstream developments, the final product will still need a good speaker pair for its delivery. Nice place to be, for a speaker maker!

14-03-2012, 09:15 AM
Im am interested in the Sonos-System.
But I am no computer-expert.
To me (as I have no music on an external hard-disk yet) it would be perfect if an external hard-disc would exist with an included cd-rom.
My intention is to just put cds into that machine one after another and it automatically rips them onto the hard-disk, ready to use with the Sonos.
Do such machines exist??
Or do I have to use the Computer and an added hard-disk?

found a machine called RipNas which seems to fit the bill, but relatively expensive 1192,- € (amazon Germany).

14-03-2012, 10:10 AM

Have a look at this: http://www.olive.us/products.html
Olive is in another price bracket however.

There is another chap in the UK who has a budget product that does the same but I can't remember his name right this moment.

14-03-2012, 10:30 AM

Kumar Kane
14-03-2012, 11:18 AM
Or do I have to use the Computer and an added hard-disk?

I have a mac with iTunes, and the way I did it was to insert each CD into the mac, and used iTunes to transfer the contents of the CD on to the hard disc of the mac. For optimum fidelity, I chose the Apple lossless transfer option, where the music gets transferred without compression. This doesn't need more computer knowledge than using the mac - or a PC for that matter, that has iTunes on it. What it takes is time, lots of it, each CD takes about 5-10 minutes to transfer. There is other file transfer software too, but I am not a great computer expert either, which is why the mac. I have about 500 CDs transferred this way, over the last few years. Also, this way, I can also have all the music on an iPod as well, to have all the music in portable form. Doing this only requires the iPod to be connected to the mac, the transfer then happens automatically.

I then connected my designated for Sonos HDD to the mac via USB, and copied the music files from the mac to this HDD. Any time I buy a new CD, this is the first thing I do, and the CD then goes into storage.

Remember that this is only legal as long as you continue to own the CDs. If that matters to you.

By the way, another option that is also available is to connect the iPod to an amp with a digital input USB for iPods, and play the music from the iPod, digitally, via the amp/Harbeths. This also yields sound that is as good as CD replay. No wireless, and no multi room/ multi user features of course, but selecting the CD or playlists from the i Pod is also very convenient. And if you have an i Pod touch that has wifi, and a home wifi network, you can also play the hundreds of free internet radio stations and listen to them on the Harbeths. The ones that offer decent streams also equal CD replay for sound quality.

Finally, having spent the time to get the CDs on to the mac, it is wise to back up the mac on another external HDD, so that if either the mac or the Sonos HDD fails, you don't have to go back and redo the CD transfer thing.

14-03-2012, 11:26 AM
Take a look at Naim for a range of great streaming products.

14-03-2012, 11:47 AM
...hmmm, I have a Macbook as well (and a few cds stored on it as well, but not losless, as it was intended to use with my iPod).
So it is that easy to export music to an external hard-disk?

Kumar Kane
14-03-2012, 11:48 AM
Take a look at Naim for a range of great streaming products.

I did, those as well as Linn. Way out of my budget, unfortunately!

Kumar Kane
14-03-2012, 12:00 PM
...hmmm, I have a Macbook as well (and a few cds stored on it as well, but not losless, as it was intended to use with my iPod).
So it is that easy to export music to an external hard-disk?

As easy as copy and paste! Sonos then uses the track information to index the music, so it can use its software to organize and manage it for replay, including for playlist construction.

As far as lossless is concerned, personally I can't hear the difference between Apple Lossless and the default AAC lossy mode. People with younger or better ears probably can, and since HDD space is now cheap, and for the psychological satisfaction of it, I use Apple lossless. Sonos doesn't care which one you use, it will faithfully broadcast the bits and bytes there are on the HDD.

Also, if you rip the CDs in Apple lossless into the mac via iTunes, you can still transfer them to the iPod in the lossy AAC by an i Tunes selection, but you can't go the other way around.

14-03-2012, 02:11 PM
Kumar showed me the Sonos system when I was there and its really amazing and so simple to use! Will be adding a Sonos system soon! But still will play more LPs for more pristine sound quality! The Sonos and C7 combo is lovely!

Kumar Kane
18-05-2014, 11:57 AM
Sonos has served my music needs at home admirably since 2011, which encouraged me to go further in my simplification journey. I have just changed my C7 source from a Sonos Connect>Marantz SACDP>Quad99>Quad 909 to a Sonos Connect Amp, which effectively replaces all the preceding now that all my CD are ripped to a network attached HDD for some time now. The Connect Amp is small square box with 55wpc into 8 and 110 wpc into 4 ohms. Wired to the C7s, and stashed away out of sight behind them, it eliminates the need for a component rack and long speaker cable runs, and is about 20% of the cost of what it replaces in my set up.

My CDs are ripped in lossless, but recent ITunes purchases are 256kbps files. As are most internet radio streams I access. To my ears, the sound quality from the C7s from all is identical. Which is to say brilliant, regardless of source!

Kumar Kane
19-05-2014, 11:35 AM
One day in use in its new role, and the Sonos amp is working as well with the C7s as the Quad pair did. Volume needs to be set at higher levels for the same sound levels, but being a digital amp with digital volume control it is designed to not distort even with volume control on 100%.

Those levels will never be called for in my case though. It also has a very usable tone control section - perhaps not as sophisticated as the Quad tilt control, but enough to tune the bass of the C7s for a speaker position that is now close to side walls.

With some space available behind the speakers, I have to say that the C7s don't show the lack of space around them as many speakers seem to do, the C7 sound is just as good with a little dialling down of the bass control, to allow the midrange to shine just as it did in free space. This success reinforces for me the error in the theory that expensive speakers always need expensive amps to deliver their full potential.