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July 31st 2009 1:51 pm

Sonos or Apple TV & Airtunes

I'm trying to plan out a whole home media system that will allow me to listen to music and podcasts. I've heard good things about Sonos systems for streaming music, but the systems are fairly pricy I'm not sure how they handle podcasts. The other option that I am considering is using a couple Apple Airport units with AirTunes. If I went this route I may also get an Apple TV. In this type of setup I'm not sure if it is possible to play the same music on multiple devices at the same time or as separate zones like with the Sonos. In either setup I would control the playback from my iPhone. One thing that is important is how each system would handle play counts. I need the system to update the play counts in iTunes so that podcasts can be auto deleted after I listen to them. Any insights or opinions?

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man i wish i didn't read that last "need" of yours. I was just about ready to list the dozens of reasons that Sonos would rock your world but one of the "plusses" to the system is that it does not write to your system in any way (this has many benefits from performance to safety) but causes a couple negative side effects, such as the inability to update tags back to your system as you request.

There are work-arounds galore to various sonos-itunes connections and the forums at sonos.com (under support) are a fantastic starting point to get some questions answered.

As someone who went from using itunes streaming to a set of speakers wirelessly as you describe to now having used Sonos for a couple years (in perfect connection with using itunes to set up my library and playlists) and with an ipod-touch as the controller for the past 6 months, I have to say that it is a stellar system and just works so easily. However, because of the evident importance of your specific need, I would recommend further research on your end to make sure. Remember Sonos has a 30day money-back (in the US) to test it out or you can hit up a local Best Buy to at least see the device.
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I certainly see how the Sonos not writing to my system could be a big advantage in lots of ways, but I often listen to 20+ podcasts a day and having to manually manage that process would be a big disadvantage. The other thing that I use the iTunes play counts (and last played date) for is a "smart shuffle" playlist. Nearly all of the songs in my library have a rating (1-5 stars). I use a smart playlist to get a combination of songs where 3 star songs get added no more frequently than 2 months since the last played, 4 star are at least a month, 5 star are at least 2 weeks. It lets me cycle through my library without much thought. You said that the Sonos was a huge improvement over the AirTunes solution, what was it about AirTunes that was less convenient?
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Nothing against airtunes, and i am a itunes/ipod user who feels they do the best they can....with software. sonos is about the only company i know of that handles their distributed audio through hardware alone. in other words, i currently have 5 rooms that each have a sonos zone player. each player keeps a copy of the index for fast searching, etc, and any controller (sonos controllers, free ipod-touch controller or free desktop controller) tells any or all of the zone players what to do. each of those boxes now is its own boss and runs the show from a hardware side. So nothing is running on any of my computers to "serve" or "play" anything. the sonos players simply ask for whatever tracks they need and read my harddrive (currently in a NAS, though it worked just fine when i pulled tracks off my computer). if i am playing pandora, internet radio, napster (or others that I don't currently use) nothing except my router is even being used outside of the various boxes. For me, the hardware plusses made the grade. It allows perfect streaming, perfect sync (i can have any number of rooms in perfect sync 100% of the time, no exaggeration, or a combination such as 2 rooms in sync with one song and the other 3 playing different songs...all located on my drive but not taking any resources from the computer itself). My uses of itunes, such as smart playlists based on recently added songs, genre combinations, etc are all updated and imported into Sonos no problem, and I never used the rating system so that didn't effect me. I agree that it would be nice to have the ability to make the sonos playcounts backwards-update the itunes list...and I have even added my agreement to that official suggestion on the sonos boards...but (again, just for me) it wasn't a "killer" checkbox.

the other hardware positive, again for me, was that Sonos uses its own mesh network and not my household wi-fi. the fact that I have 5 zones means they each find the best bridge to each other and to the music source and the signal strength is fantastic all the time. my household net currently has one access point and the farther i get or the more I am doing decreases the signal enough that general web-browsing is fine but i wouldn't enjoy the choppy music streaming. back in the day when I had only one remote zone, it worked well enough and was a cost-savings enough, that i am not unhappy with the airtunes at all for those types of installs.
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You should checkout the mulit-zone audio software at www.plethra.com. It can play to Apple AirPlay/AirTunes devices as well as to computers. It can play podcasts found in your iTunes library and an iPhone app is in the works. It is very similar to Sonos but more powerful and more affordable.
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