Spotify + Sonos = Music Bliss

I’ve been using Spotify Premium for a few months now and am finding it to be a very good experience. For those not familiar, Spotify is a music streaming service with 13+ million songs (according to their web site) in its database. It was founded in Sweden and headquartered in the United Kingdom. Streaming music services are not new, and of course I was skeptical (always am) of newcomers. Similar to Pandora, unless you upgrade to a monthly fee, you are bombarded by ads, both visual and vocal. But one must choose their pay music service wisely or you will find yourself spending hundreds of dollars a year. If you don’t upgrade, use caution when entertaining. You don’t want your playlist interrupted by a car insurance ad. Everyone will know you’re one of those “basic service” guys. How tacky.

Music has always played a major role in my life. Growing up I would peruse record stores regularly and built quite a vinyl collection. Making the switch to CD’s was easy, but moving all the way to digital was a much bigger jump. I liked roaming the stacks for finds and holding the physical record or CD while listening. Vinyl gave the artist the opportunity to make the packaging another part of their expression. Even with the 5″ optical disk there was a lot of creativity going into packaging. In the digital era that artifact is gone and I don’t see a comparable substitute. Read David Deal’s Superhype blog entry on the Pink Floyd Immersion Box Sets for more.

One doesn’t collect digital music, one downloads it, backs it up, synchs it and make playlists. It’s essentially file management. When I look at my iTunes library (it’s not a library by the way) I don’t see music, I see file names. All of that is rational, and misses the chance to further engage with the music and the artists who make it. But enough lamenting. Back to the topic.

I’ve sampled over a dozen music services; Pandora. Spotify, iTunes internet radio, Tune in Radio, Rhapsody, iHeartRadio, rdio. SiriusXM, mog,, RadioIO, Aupeo!, Wolfgang’s Vault, , Stitcher and Slacker. I know there are probably a dozen more with others on the drawing board. Most of them didn’t make it a week before I opted out of the trial period. Top reasons are; lack of music choices, bad user interface, polluted with content other than music and a cluttered design (trying to do too much).

For now, I’ve settled on Spotify. It is pure music. No podcasts, news reports or videos. When you’re pure, things can go much deeper and be more interesting. When you log in you see an elegant dark gray background that defaults to What’s New. They show you 8 album covers vs. the sensory overload you get in the iTunes music store. It feels hand picked, even if it’s not.

In addition to What’s New there are only two more tabs; Top Lists and Feed. Top Lists is divided into two columns, Tracks and Albums. Each one lists out what’s popular now and with a simple drop down you can change the list to reflect popularity in other countries, your own list or everywhere (I assume they mean earth) for both tracks and albums. It’s a great way to find possibly compelling new music instantly. The Feed tab opens up a list of news from Spotify (not so interesting) and a list of what your Facebook friends are listening to (hopefully more interesting, after all they’re your friends).

The fun begins. Type in an artist, album or track and in a second you get matches. I typed in Peter Gabriel and not only did it return all his recorded music, but also the soundtracks where he contributed one or two songs. It also brings back artist covers of Gabriel’s songs, which then launches you off on another musical branch. Thumbnails are displayed at the top of the search that show artists and albums connected to your search. You can star tracks and they are added to a folder for listening later. The offline mode allows you to mark specific playlists as favorites and Spotify will save them to your phone or computer for listening without an internet connection. You can import your iTunes music library into Spotify with one click, which means you don’t have to leave the Spotify experience to access the music you have on iTunes.

The Spotify radio experience is the weakest link. It’s like they just gave up. You select different genres by clicking ugly oval buttons. Navigating through the stations is not at all clear. Not such a big deal for me, because I believe music programming on radio is becoming less relevant and is in dire need of a new idea.

You need to upgrade to premium to vanquish all ads and allow you to stream to your mobile devices. It’s a seamless experience all around. If you add a Sonos sound system to Spotify it’s like money from home. Sonos is an awesome home music system. It allows you to play music from your computer or stream from the web or services through your wifi network to wherever you have a Sonos receiver. I can listen to music through Sonos in four places in my home plus the patio. Each location can play the same or it’s own music, all controlled from my iPhone or iPad. I recently added a Sonos Play 3 speaker to a room in my basement (man cave). Two clicks and it’s online with my iTunes library or Spotify. It’s small but but is 3 driver loud.

Sonos provides a great user interface all around. In the past I would use Sonos to play my iTunes catalog, but if I stay there I’m not getting access to new music. Adding Spotify to the mix allows me to explore the world of music much more easily, and at no risk. I’m more adventurous on Spotify vs. the iTunes store.

As for Pandora, it has getting kind of, well, a little dull. The songs repeat and I have to work at training it. The monetization of the site and app are a bit of a turn off as well. I still click over to Pandora, but less and less these days. Spotify allows me to experience the music I love and discover new favorites without the friction. It’s the way to go, for now.

Sonos: Rockin’ Good Time

I have written about Sonos in this space from time to time. Sonos is a wireless music system that can connect with the digital files on your computer and broadcasts them wherever you want in your home. You can play different tracks in different locations and effortlessly shift from your collection to Internet radio. The software is solid, the user experience elegant and the sound divine. Every few months or so they come out with another great feature. Today it was a version 3.2 of their  software. When one hears “upgrade” it properly elicits a grimace. “Am I going to have to carve out my Friday night to get this done?” Not with Sonos. This upgrade is a cinch. They have a one button process that takes care of everything, one step at a time. Imagine no interruptions to “accept the terms.” No “are you sure you want to do this?” It just does it. They add the new controls onto the touchscreen and update your music files so the new features can be used immediately. It all happened in less than five minutes for me and  I have over 12,000 songs in my Sonos library.

The newest cool feature is the ability to enable song crossfading. Essentially it eliminates the dead air between songs by fading one song out and fading in another song at the same time, as if it was being controlled by your favorite DJ. It works whether you are in you in your own iTunes library or on your favorite Pandora station. This will be great for parties because we all hate “radio silence” don’t we. That’s the awkward space when we actually have to talk to each other :). If you’ve got a big room and you use their S5 music player (built in speakers)  you can set-up two and pair them. One as the right channel and the other the left, for a bigger sonic experience. Kind of like Phil Spector’s wall of sound, but without the murder conviction.

In addition they’ve added lots of new, free radio stations, Pandora has been integrated for a while now, including news, sports, talk and of course traffic. They have an iPhone application which allows me to sit on my patio and program what’s playing without having another device with me (new software version is awaiting Apple approval). They have also given their alarms more power, with day by day customization. Now you can wake up to your favorite music at a different time each day. And just in case you need it, Sonos is now available in 9 languages.

I do have some suggestions. They haven’t worked as hard on categorizing the thousands of radio stations. It seems they rely on the provider to do that. For instance, RadioIO on the Sonos screen is the same as is used on the RadioIO site. But the site has more context and content surrounding the station to aid choices. Certainly this can’t be done on this small a device, but some more thought here could help. They have a search, but it requires typing, and it’s slow. I want my music now! The weather channel is choice after choice of NOAA weather stations without any geographic cues in the titles. Tough. Wonder if you guys could turn the Sonos into a SAME early warning weather device. That would be very cool.

All in all, if you are considering a music system for your home or apartment that works with your digital music library, look seriously at Sonos. I’m closing in on four years now and have never looked back. Yes, Sonos is premium priced, but in my opinion it’s worth it. From the products, to the service, to the seamless upgrades. They work hard at making it all come together.

Rock on.

Sonos Controller 200 (SR200) – Product Review

I’m a huge fan of Sonos. It’s a great way to enjoy the music that resides on your computer throughout your house, even on the patio. I discovered Sonos nearly four years ago when I was building my home and looking for a whole house music system. I am delighted with my selection.

Sonos recently released a new wireless controller, the CR200. The old one did the trick, but it used a wheel and button interface and was a bit large. The CR200 has a touch screen, is less than half the size, lighter and full color.

It was a snap to add to my system. Fully charged right out of the box, all I had to do was plug in the docking station and touch the screen to wake it up. Synching it with my zone bridge players was as simple as pressing two buttons on one of the boxes. I was listening to music and scrolling through the bright display in less than five minutes. It picked-up my local time and let me add basic services like Pandora. I logged into my Pandora account from the controller and all my stations were right there waiting for me. The touch screen keypad conveniently had the @ symbol and . right there on the main key interface. Nice detail.

The user interface is greatly improved over the previous controller. The screen surface is very responsive to the touch. You can move faster through the playlist by flicking your finger faster. It has different audio cues depending on where you are in the interface and what you are tapping on the screen. The front has only four buttons, everything else is controlled on screen by navigating through an intuitive interface structure. The back has a rubberized non-slip skin that helps you hang onto the controller as well as provide a cushion when you set it on furniture. It has definitely borrowed a bit from the iPhone, but why not. Sonos evokes Apple in my mind; clean, focused and innovative.

Battery life seems to be more than adequate, but the controller range was a bit disappointing. I have a relatively large home, but it’s not a mansion. I lose the signal when I walk from the main media room into my study where I am now typing this post. Am anxious to try it from my patio (in a few months, it’s 13° right now) where the old controller would lose connection. As far as I’m concerned this is the only draw back, but certainly not a fatal flaw. Sonos products are not inexpensive. This particular controller lists for $349, which seems high when you think about handsets, but remember those are offset with the monthly fees. Sonos is a buy it, install it and enjoy it. No monthly charges. I have had no hardware problems in that time and the only software issue was resolved quickly by their free technical support.

Full disclosure: I have been a vocal fan of Sonos over the years and was offered a promotional discount on this item. There was no expectation or request on their part that I write a product review. I viewed it as a loyalty reward.

Sonos Rewards Their Current Customers, What A Concept

Companies today tend to give their newest customers the best deals, leaving the ones who have been supporting them over time to fend for themselves. The phone and cable companies have been the most egregious offenders of this in my view. I’ve been a customer of Cingular and now AT&T since 1994 (that’s 14 years!) and can’t say I ever received anything of value from them. They continue to send me free phone offers, but they know I’ve had an iPhone since day 1 (there’s a picture of it right on the home page of their account servicing site next to my name), Do they really think I would ever switch from a phone I paid $600 for?

Well, I’m happy to report that Sonos sent me an email to today that actually rewarded me. Sonos has been a great product, allowing me to listen to my iTunes music collection all over the house, even outside. They have successfully combined a simple interface and wireless connectivity, and its performed like a trooper for over 2 years.

The communication informed me that a new software version was now available and all I had to do was download it to my Sonos system and they would give me free music, worth $200.

The download process was a bit more cumbersome than I wanted, as I ended up resetting my hand held controller to the factory defaults, which erased all my internet radio favorites and the controller playlists I built over the last two years. A little annoying.

Once that was accomplished, I clicked on the email link to see the details. Of the three offers, two of them pre-selected the music, some of which I had, other selections I didn’t care to have. The third service required a credit card and enrollment in their trial package, but the trade off was you could choose from anything in the catalog. I only took them up on one of the three offers, but that’s not the point. The fact that they demonstrated that my time was valuable, acknowledged that fact and offered me something in return.

It wasn’t a huge benefit, but neither was the amount of time. I found their support of loyal customers to be refreshing, and solidified my link to the brand.

Pandora – Radio From Music’s DNA

For the last four months or so I have been exploring the Pandora music service from my computer (via the Internet) as well as my Sonos music system. Pandora uses the phenomenal work done by the Music Genome Project to serve up individual songs in a radio station format.

In case you are unfamiliar, the Music Genome Project is an attempt to organize music into over 400 attributes via a complex mathematical algorithm. They have developed musical genes, each corresponding to a specific musical characteristic, then applied the math to tens of thousands of songs. What you are left with is a genetic map of the “body” of music. It ignores lyrical content, band members, lifestyles, etc., which one could argue drains the passion. Kind of the opposite of what music stirs in us. But the idea is so intriguing I had to check it out.

Pandora has developed code to allow consumers to select a favorite artist, composer or song and set up radio stations on their web site. Pandora then plays music, one song at at time (like radio) that matches what you selected; all driven by the Genome Project. If you hear a song you don’t have but want, a simple click will allow you to buy it from iTunes or on CD from Amazon (as available).

The User Interface is very clean and simple. As songs are played, the album cover art, song title, album and artist glide into view. You can get around the site easily within minutes.


I must say I was a bit skeptical about what would would be played, but I was quickly hooked. The gene thing works amazingly well. All throughout my stations they mange to play songs that are familiar as well as some things I have never heard. Great way to learn about new artists. You guide them as you go along by voting on each song (not mandatory) like this.


This helps the Pandora engine refine the playlist so it delivers more of what you want to hear. There are a number of controls that allows you to customize by bookmarking songs and artists, launching other music, or opening windows that give details about the artists album and song. When you add a station Pandora politely provides a brief summary of the attributes established by the Genome Project for the artist you selected, like this.


Lately they have been spending a significant amount of time building community. Within the main interface you can click on Fans and see other Pandora users who also like what’s playing, as well the stations they have created. You can click into their stations, add them to your list, learn where they live, drill down to other Pandora listeners in that city, even an individual company. Nicely done.


You can take Pandora with you on your mobile phone if you have AT&T or Sprint as your provider. For the home, it’s available for Sonos, and Slim Devices (Squeezebox and Transporter). There are some frustrations. When you hear a song you can’t go back to listen again. You can only skip a set number of songs within any given hour. Pandora claims this is do to music licensing limitations. You get it all free as long as you are willing to put up with annoying ads. The ads go away when you subscribe. Sonos users must pay once the trial period ends; no free option.

There are so many ways to experience music in this highly converging world, that it’s hard to believe there will be a clear winner. But the Music Genome Project makes this one unique and worth checking out.

Sonos Solves Leopard Issues and Delivers a Great Customer Experience

I’m a huge fan of the Sonos music system. As posted a few weeks ago I was unable to get it to work with Mac OS Leopard. In that post I called for Sonos to develop a new version of their desktop controller software that would be compatible with Leopard. They actually did that in short order, posting a new download on November 20th.

I installed that download but still couldn’t get it to work, so I called their tech support. The customer experience was excellent. First their IVR phone system told me where I was in the cue and gave me a choice of what I could do next. I could either wait, or elect to have them call me back when it was my turn. This is really great. When I selected that option it read my phone number back to me to ensure it was correct. This made me, the customer, feel as if they know who I am.

In less than 5 minutes a call came in. They were not able to fix it in that session, but kept the ticket open. Two days later they sent me an e-mail asking me to call back to speak to a tier 3 support person. That guy was busy, but Matt, a tier 1, wanted to try something, so I let him. In less than 15 minutes he fixed the problem.

Thanks Sonos. I am enjoying music throughout my house again.

Sonos Needs to Code for Leopard NOW!


About a year and a half ago I purchased the Sonos music system directly from them online. It has been a great experience, up until now. Sonos is a system that can access your iTunes music library on your computer and broadcast it to small receivers located throughout your house. Those boxes can then be connected to amplifiers to play your music collection anywhere you wish, within range. You can also get very cool hand held controller that allows you to select different songs or play lists for each box, or link them for a house wide party. The user interface is outstanding. I upgraded my Mac (you saw that story a few posts ago) and now I can’t get my Sonos to work on the new operating system. Big, fat bummer. Did all the workarounds listed on their support site, and even spoke with their tech team. No dice. Sonos, are you reading this? Throw those resources at this problem and solve it as soon as possible. I need my music!