Sonos Music System with Rhapsody

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Sonos is one of those rare high-end home entertainment products that anybody can set up. Plug it in, follow simple instructions, and music players throughout the house link together wirelessly and pull music from the PC. Its only problem, as I pointed out when it launched, is that it can't play the music that I'm constantly buying from Apple's iTunes Store. Today, Sonos became even simpler, and pretty much solved that music problem in the process.

Sonos 2.0 comes bundled with a 30-day trial of Rhapsody Music Service from RealNetworks. Although the Sonos system was compatible with Rhapsody before, via a PC, the new software lets you run Rhapsody Unlimited without a PC. In fact, as I found in my testing, Sonos no longer needs a PC at all. I can pick up the Sonos remote, scroll and click, iPod style, through Rhapsody's bottomless trove of music, playing whatever I want instantly. Sifting through the list of artists can be daunting, but anybody with a close-to-full 60GB iPod would understand that. You can add albums to a favorites section for quick access, and view the personal Rhapsody Library by artist or genre, and even build your own playlists.

The 30-day trial shrewdly avoids any request for credit card information, or even your e-mail address (although Sonos has that on file). From the second I updated the software update to the second I was playing a tune from Rhapsody, only a minute had elapsed. Rhapsody might not have all of the music available for downloading that iTunes has — it's a different pricing model — but I was happy to see that this week's releases from Barenaked Ladies and Citizen Cope were right there, ready to play. (On the other end of the spectrum, an album I myself recorded several years ago was also in the menu.)

Back when Sonos launched, I complained about the price of its ZonePlayers, which receive and play music at each location, synchronizing with each other when instructed. The original ZonePlayer 100 had a built-in amplifier so you could connect speakers directly, but many people didn't use the amp and instead connected the ZonePlayer to their home theater system or stereo. Not long ago, Sonos addressed this by releasing the smaller ZonePlayer 80 — everything but the amp, for $150 less. Now you can get a ZonePlayer 80 and the $400 iPod-like Controller for a total of $750. With Rhapsody, you can connect the ZonePlayer to your home-network router and your stereo, set your thumb to the controller, and off you go. Sonos recommends two ZonePlayers — the $1,000 bundle — because the beauty of the product is its ability to synchronize playback through multiple zones. Either way, the addition of Rhapsody (at $10 per month) means nearly any music you can think of, when and where you think of it.