At the start of 2012, rumors started spreading that Google was readying a home theater device to rival the likes of the Apple TV and the Sonos system. But when that mythical creature turned out to be the Nexus Q, it was hard to swallow our collective disappointment.
While the Nexus Q will remain a curio until Google can boost its feature set, the competitive Sonos Connect:Amp feels like a real hi-fi system. From its solid build to the simplicity of the user interface it's something that the Nexus isn't: refined. It's compatible with nearly every online music service on the market, and can also stream your personal digital-music collection.
But if you thought the $300 Nexus was expensive -- and for what it does, it is -- then you might want to hold on to something: the Connect:Amp is two-thirds more expensive. (Thankfully, Sonos also offers three other models -- the Play:3, the Play:5, and the ampless Sonos Connect -- at $299, $399, and $349, respectively.) Yet, regardless of the price, the Sonos Connect:Amp is a full-featured digital audio system with a lot to offer both casual users and serious audio enthusiasts -- especially if they're looking to eventually build out a multiroom audio system.
Measuring 3.5 inches high, 7.28 inches wide, and 8.15 inches deep, the Sonos Connect:Amp is larger than your average "small black box" media streamer such as the Roku or Apple TV.
The Sonos features a two-tone color scheme with an "anodized precision-machined extrusion aluminum case" nestled on a white plastic base. The 5.1-pound box has some heft to it, and -- unlike a lot of the flimsy plastic boxes you buy today -- the Connect:Amp feels really solid and well designed.
The front panel is about as minimalist as it gets: Volume Up/Down and Mute; everything else (including redundant volume controls) is controlled through an amp on your tablet or smartphone. There's no power button, since the Sonos is designed to remain in standby mode at all times.
The Connect:Amp was formerly known as the ZonePlayer ZP120, and was renamed when the Play:3 came along. While the ZP120 was initially offered as part of the BU250 Bundle, that package is no longer available, not least because the CR200 touch-screen controller has been put to pasture. The company instead offers free control apps for PC, Mac, Android, and iOS devices. In other words, nearly any smartphone or tablet -- including iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, Kindle Fires, and all newer Android phones -- can double as the remote.
The Connect:Amp is a rare product in that it is part music streamer and part amplifier. When I say rare, I mean there are a couple of products like it, but most are hideously expensive music servers, or...ahem...the aforementioned Google Nexus Q. Whereas the Nexus Q has a 25W amplifier, the Connect:Amp features a much beefier 55W -per-channel output.
Obviously, the built-in amp means that it's up to you to supply your own (unpowered) speakers. You could go for something like Dayton Audio B652s, or step up from there.
If you have an existing stereo or home theater system and you're looking to add streaming to it, might I suggest the ampless Sonos Connect ($349). Alternatively, you can go the all-in-one route with the Play:5 and Play:3, both of which have built-in speakers.
One feature offered by the Connects and that the all-in-one Play:3 and Play:5 systems lack is audio inputs. The Connect:Amp has a single stereo RCA input that can be used to connect an external audio device -- perhaps a turntable or an iPod dock.
For speaker connections, the Sonos includes solid, spring-loaded speaker jacks at the back for connecting banana plugs or bare wires -- though not spades.
Last in the list of connections is the subwoofer-out, which can be used to connect to a third-party subwoofer. Or you can opt to go with the wireless Sonos Sub instead.
One feature I kept wishing for while using the Sonos was an IR port, usually in order to mute the system. Instead, you'll either need to unlock your phone and launch the Sonos app, boot up your PC, or finally -- heaven forbid! -- walk over and press the Mute switch.