The Good: Straightforward setup for multi-room audio; good wireless range
The Bad: Bulky speakers must be plugged into wall socket; weak bass performance
The Bottom Line: A simple way to deliver music throughout the home, but might disappoint audiophiles
One of my favorite electronics purchases over the last five years continues to be the Sonos wireless music system that delivers digital music throughout the home. It's easy to set up and use, and the company continually enhances your purchase with often-free software updates delivered over the Web. A recent upgrade: the ability to turn your Apple (AAPL) iPhone or iPod touch into an additional wireless controller.
That's why I was intrigued when a company called IntelliTouch recently introduced its own wireless audio system at less than one-fifth the price of the $1,000 Sonos. With the Sonos system, you get a Sonos controller and two "zone" players that can be placed in different rooms of the house. The $149 Eos Wireless Audio system comes with an iPod dock and a single wireless speaker—so you may need to spend more for speakers to connect to the zone players. The system can accommodate up to four more zones throughout the home; each additional speaker-receiver combo costs $130.
While I was pleased with the IntelliTouch setup and wireless range, I found enough drawbacks to keep me from recommending it without reservation. With a music system, looks matter, and the aesthetics of the Eos base station meet with a mixed review. Nice silver metal grills cover the stereo speakers, and both my iPhone and iPod Touch fit snugly into the middle dock. But the glossy black plastic casing and controls feel a bit cheap. IntelliTouch tries to spruce up the look with blue lights on the control buttons sitting below the dock and the wireless antenna.
Lack of Control
The remote was an even bigger disappointment. It's small, with extremely limited usefulness. You can play, pause, forward, and mute the dock. But since there's no screen, you can't search your iPod or other devices for music or create playlists, like you can from the Sonos controller. Worse, you can't control the volume on the additional zones.
The add-on receivers come with their own set of problems. They're designed to be powered from a wall socket. And because the cable is relatively short, placement of the units is extremely limited. The power adapters also are very bulky and must be placed in the lower wall socket if you want to use the upper for another piece of equipment. Even then, the upper socket is a bit cramped.
You can purchase receivers in black or white; the white units I received for review looked a bit more polished than the base station, reminding me of Bose outdoor speakers. On the top, there's an antenna with the blue light and volume knob.
After you're set up, operation is straightforward. Once you plug in your iPod (or another digital music player or stereo through an auxiliary input on the back of the base station), you press the wireless button on the front to connect additional wireless stations.
I was impressed that the Eos system actually delivers on its promise of 150-foot range—working through walls and doors with no noticeable interference. The performance is especially impressive, considering the several pieces of electronics in my home that operate on the same 2.4 Ghz frequencies. There might have been an ever-so-slight lag in syncing the music, but none so large that most people would notice.
One of the biggest problems with the system, though, is that it doesn't come close to offering the impressive sound delivered by Sonos. You can crank up the volume without much distortion, but the bass is almost completely lost, whatever the volume. And, unlike with Sonos, which lets you listen to different streams in different rooms, the IntelliTouch system limits you to the same stream across zones.
After looking at the Eos system, I'd recommend shelling out the additional dough for Sonos. In this case, you really do get what you pay for. Eos delivers decent music for the casual listener, making it good for occasional parties. But its lack of power and versatility would disappoint true audiophiles.
Edwards is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau.