Sonos ZP80 Digital Music System - How It Sounds



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So is it the answer to my techno/audiophile dilemma? The proof of the pudding lies in the eating, so I set about giving it a thorough examination.

The bulk of my listening tests involved a mixture of MP3s and WMA files encoded at a constant bit rate of 192kbps and with these files, in back-to-back comparisons with a good CD player, there was a gulf in sound quality that audiophiles will find hard to ignore.

Nitin Sawhney’s atmospheric and peerlessly produced album Broken Skin demonstrates perfectly how the system loses out at the top and bottom ends of the dynamic range compared to a competent CD player. And the gorgeous vocal harmonies at the opening of Brian Wilson’s Smile lack a little zing and headroom too. However, it’s far from unlistenable.

It’s not helped out by the ZP100’s amplifier component, which isn’t the greatest you’ll hear at the price. There’s an awful lot squeezed into what is a very tight and solidly engineered little package, but the sound quality suffers. You also don’t get that great a range of inputs on the ZP100 either – just one pair of stereo RCA inputs won’t be enough for anyone with ‘legacy’ components such as tape decks, VCRs or digital TV tuners that they might want to keep using.

If sound quality really is important to you, you don’t have to listen to those compromised lossy formats, however. First you can switch to a lossless compression format such as FLAC, which the Sonos system also supports, which narrows the gap significantly. This will bump up your disk space requirements significantly with albums taking up 200MB to 250MB of space each but with large disks and NAS boxes getting cheaper by the day, you could probably add enough capacity to your system to store your whole CD collection in lossless format for under £100.

Second – and this is where the new ZP80s really come into their own – you can connect them to your current amp and speakers using those digital outputs, bypassing the internal DAC and hooking it up using one of your own choosing. Connect a high-end dedicated stereo DAC and it’s the high-end audiophile wireless solution I’ve been craving for years.