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Review and Measurements of SONOS Connect Streamer

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the SONOS Connect Audio/Multi-room streamer. It is on kind loan from a member and costs $349 on Amazon including Prime shipping.

The Connect has the look of earlier SONOS products which is attractive:

Sonos connect streamer Audio Review.jpg

Functionality takes a backseat to looks though as you get to decode blinking LED that can change its color. Better have the manual handy to know what it is saying.

The back panel better shows the capabilities of the unit:

Sonos connect streamer back panel Audio Review.jpg

The only inputs are Ethernet/Wifi and analog in. There is both Toslink and Coax and they are output only. This made my testing quite difficult as my Audio Precision analyzer cannot control such a device.

Initially I fired up Roon and was pleasantly surprised that it saw the Connect and happily streamed my test signal to it. But all of a sudden it started to get errors talking to the box and I could not get it to work no matter how many times I reset/rebooted things. :(

This forced me to use the Sonos App for all of my streaming. I find the app very poorly designed with hardly anything intuitive about it. Check this box for example that popped up as I was trying to configure it:

Sonos Connect Message.png


So the speaker is added and I am being asked if I want to add the speaker??? Didn't a person with an ounce of common sense check this interface? And what are you supposed to touch next? The check box? Add a speaker, or not now? I hit the latter only to be taken back to start of the wizard. :( I am assuming once the company went public all the good people cashed out and are long gone....

DAC Audio Measurements
I configured the Sonos Connect for fixed output and played my 24-bit 1 kHz tone on the app and analyzed it as such:
Sonos connect streamer DAC Audio Measurements.png


We have a bit over 2 volts output which is nice. SONOS specs the device at 0.009% THD+N and we are beating that by a good bit, getting a reasonable SINAD (signal over noise and distortion):
Sonos connect streamer DAC SINAD Audio Measurements.png


Sigh of relief that it didn't end in the bottom red bucket of all DACs tested.

Frequency response is pretty flat in audible band:
Sonos connect streamer DAC Frequency Response Audio Measurements.png


Next I ran my j-test signal that is encoded at 48 kHz and got this:

Sonos connect streamer DAC Jitter Audio Measurements.png


Good grief. What is going on here? Our 12 kHz tone is there but boy, do we have a mess of unwanted signals everywhere else.

Guessing that this may be due to some really awful 48 kHz to 44.1 kHz sampling algorithm, I played a pure 12 kHz sine wave and got a much more reasonable output:
Sonos connect streamer DAC 12 kHz Audio Measurements.png


This is very clean although the noise floor is high enough to mask a lot of sins.

Digital Output Performance
The owner uses the digital out from the SONOS Connect to an external DAC and wanted to know if that is an improvement. So I hooked up my Topping D50s via Toslink to the Connect and ran the same 1 kHz tone through the SONOS app:

Sonos connect streamer DAC with external Topping D50s DAC Audio Measurements.png


We get a 6 dB boost in SINAD but we are still at 98 dB whereas the D50s is capable of reaching up to 110 dB. The jungle of spikes including the one starting at 100 Hz tells me it is most likely truncating the 24 bit samples to 16 bit. With 16 bit, you can't get a SINAD higher than 98 dB.

To confirm, I ran the Toslink output to my Audio Precision analyzer's Toslink input and measured that using the same file playing:
Sonos connect streamer DAC Toslink Measurement Audio Measurements.png


We see that even staying in digital domain we can't do better than 98 dB of SINAD.

So yes, you can get 6 dB of improvement with a better external DAC but a lot of the performance is left on the table if you play higher resolution content than 16 bits.

Conclusions
I continue to be disappointed in the poor usability of the SONOS software compared to their early start where people would compare them to Apple when it came to design. Today, what I see is engineering driven user interface without any usability testing.

I am also unhappy to see so many audio pipeline errors from poor sample rate conversion to bit depth truncation. Yes, most of their customers don't have or care about 24 bit audio. But don't they have any audiophiles in the company that care? Why not at least document all of this? It should take an audio analyzer and bunch of expertise and time to find out about them. Actually, I wonder if anyone has tried to properly test this device in the company to realize the butchered job here.

On the good news front, the internal DAC has very good performance for its intended audience. 92 dB of SINAD is within shouting distance of ideal range for 16 bit audio. And if not, addition of an external DAC would get you there. Don't spend much on that though as you are only going to gain 6 dB so stay with under $250 DACs.

The owner linked me to some vendor making a mod board to supposedly improve digital output jitter performance. Forget about it! There is nothing wrong with using the Toslink as is. Performance is not jitter limited. It is the 16 bit samples that hold it back.

Bottom line, as long as you can avoid the landmines in configuration and signal processing, you should have very good sound both out of the analog outputs and digital.

------
Questions, comments, critique, etc. are welcome.

Get this: the pink panther in the review picture came to me and says he wants to take dance lessons! Being a great dancer myself, I could teach him everything he would ever want to learn. But I don't have the time and instead need money to hire a dance instructor. So please donate money using:

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/audiosciencereview), or
upgrading your membership here though Paypal (https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...eview-and-measurements.2164/page-3#post-59054).
 
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#8
Tried this model. My feeling was the application is just here to grab your email address, and I decided not to use this thing. I am more confortable with a raspberry pi. This review is the confirmation I was right to not insist with this kind of equipment.
 
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#9
I also tried one a couple years ago to see if I could extend audio wirelessly onto my enclosed front porch. The interface was so exasperating that I returned the product the next day.
 

M00ndancer

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#10
Is there any reason to choose this over Chromecast Audio?
I second @VintageFlanker here, can't see any reason at all to get it unless you are in the Sonos ecosystem already.
Even if you don't use the CCA as an analogue unit it's a perfect transporter.
 
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#11
But limiting Sonos to 16 bit data ( as specification states) and using an outboard DAC is OK? I have Sonos and Chromecast Audio as alternative with my TIDAL app. Outboard DAC/ Pre is Trinnov Amethyst that is used as endpoint for JRiver ( for hard drive music) However Tidal integration in JRiver is useless , so Tidal goes through Sonos Connect and then to Trinnov SPdif input. Should I replace the Sonos with something?
 
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#12
I don’t understand the criticism of the Sonos App. It works intuitively and smooth and never fails and also integrates well with Tidal. Setup was automatic and worked without hiccups when I last did it say 5 years ago, running ever since
 
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#13
I have both. I had a plethora of Sonos devices (including 2 Connects) 10 years before Bluesound came out in the market. The Bluesound Node2’s analog output isn’t that good either. An external DAC made my Bluesound sound cleaner.
I have Sonos Connect and Blueound Node (old funny-looking one) as well. I find myself always preferring using the Sonos because of better software. I am primarily using Deezer, so this might be because Deezer paid more attention to software for the Sonos. But the general functionality makes a lot more sense to me, and searches are much faster on Sonos, and after choosing music it plays without delay on Sonos whereas there tends to be an annoying delay with Bluesound Node. Again, possibly this is only with Deezer, but since that's what I use it's what matters to me.
 
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#14
I don’t understand the criticism of the Sonos App. It works intuitively and smooth and never fails and also integrates well with Tidal. Setup was automatic and worked without hiccups when I last did it say 5 years ago, running ever since
Are you running on iOS?

I am, and it’s flawless/faultless. Unfortunately Sonos treat Android as a 2nd tier platform.

My unit is the Zoneplayer ZP90 launched in 2008, then later rebranded as the Connect. It still has firmware and software updates 11 years later, which is an eternity in the computer era. It was
US$349 in 2008 and still $349 in 2019; wow that’s some lasting power.

Anyone who remembers the early days of streaming from a NAS or Internet radio will remember the Slim Devices/Logitech Squeezebox; I had one of these; it was technically superior, but I stopped worrying once I realised I don’t need more than 16 bits:
https://www.audiocheck.net/audiotests_dynamiccheck.php &
https://www.audiocheck.net/blindtests_dynamic.php?dyna=24

The main issue was that the UX was web browser based and sluggish, the iOS app was terribly late and horribly limited functionality (3rd party iPeng was far better). And every so often a firmware update would break things and my wife would say “what have you done to my music (system) now!?”

The one great thing about the Sonos system that no one ever seems to talk about is that it’s just the GOOGLE or BUNG search of music.

Suppose I type in “gun” , it will get you hits from your local music library and ALL your subscribed services eg. Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple Music, from artists to song names to folders to genres...
 
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AndrovichIV

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#16
I'll third this one. CCA will get either analog or optical wherever you want it to go.
Agree. You can use CCA analog which is as good as this unit will get in either analog or digital for a fraction of the price. You can even change the volume of the CCA through your phone as a poor man's control remote. A CCA plugged to a Jds Labs Atom is all you need.
 

DonH56

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#17
I've had a SONOS system many years now and until fairly recently there just weren't practical alternatives. I have two Connects and both are limited to 16-bit/44.1 kS/s. I keep thinking of switching streamers in the media room but SONOS is everywhere else so I'd probably keep the Connect down there. Virtually all my library is ripped from CDs; I only have a few SACDs and have not managed to rip them to my NAS yet nor do I have a way to play them if I did (working on it, slowly), and I have not (yet) purchased any hi-res material.

I found the app intuitive for the most part and easy enough to set up and use the speakers (etc.) My biggest beef is that they keep "improving it" and adding features I don't need or want at the cost of compatibility with our older phones and PCs. Lately it has been much more finicky to get everything working after a power outage or system reset' it used to always come up after a few minutes, but now I have to retry a few times and usually unplug one or more speakers and back in to get them to link.

Years ago the Connect's analog outputs were knocked due to their LF roll-off. I have measured it in mine; don't know if that's fixed in later units. I use the digital outputs instead (optical in one system, coax in the other).

I frankly expected worse performance so am not too disappointed. I figure my speakers and ears distort more.
 
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#18
I don’t understand the hate on the Sonos app Amir. While I personally feel interfaces like roon work great for me. I’ve been using Sonos in my house since 2006 and the Sonos application has been easily picked up by everyone who has come over. Even my 77 year old father has been able to select music on the Sonos app. Roon on the other hand is always met with confusion by everyone who is not and audiophile or heavily into tech gadgets, which is the majority of people over at a party or casual get together. I find roon pretty easy to use, but for some reason no one else does, including my wife. Sonos also supports their products for a long time, I’ve got ZP90 that were the original Connect that are still working perfectly and fully supported by Sonos updates. Probably one of the few things I own that is so well supported over a decade after I bought it.

Also they are very clear about only suppprting redbook audio, so giving it a file it clearly does not support and commenting on its handling is a little unfair imo.

I do wish that Sonos supported hires audio and had some more features in its app. But their core audience does not care about those things,it suppprts just about every streaming service out there and does it very well. For me I prefer roon and use that almost exclusively, but the rest of my family as well as when people are over the house prefer and use Sonos.

Anyway thanks for testing this, a lot of people use it and it has always has a reputation as crap in the audiophile world, filled with jitter and bad sound. That does not seem to be the case from this test.
 
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#19
Agree. You can use CCA analog which is as good as this unit will get in either analog or digital for a fraction of the price. You can even change the volume of the CCA through your phone as a poor man's control remote. A CCA plugged to a Jds Labs Atom is all you need.
The only problem is that the CCA is discontinued. I love the little devices, but there is the question of continued support and the possibility that the two CCAs that I own might eventually break down. You can still buy a new CCA on eBay, but the current going price is around 50 USD, and it's only going to get more expensive as availability grows more scarce in the future. Too bad; the CCA is (correction: was) the ultimate cheapskate audio device.
 
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#20
The only problem is that the CCA is discontinued. I love the little devices, but there is the question of continued support and the possibility that the two CCAs that I own might eventually break down. You can still buy a new CCA on eBay, but the current going price is around 50 USD, and it's only going to get more expensive as availability grows more scarce in the future. Too bad; the CCA is (correction: was) the ultimate cheapskate audio device.
This is true... They were just starting to get traction on here when they were discontinued. As part of the Google ecosystem, I'm not as worried about ongoing support, and even at $50 I can't really see an obvious competitor in the current market. I have quite a stash of them from the 2/$30 delivered days that I will use as I add new nodes around the place. Incredibly useful little things.
 
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