Streaming Vinyl With A Sonos Connect:Amp

Category: Features

A couple of months ago, I got it in my head that I’d find an old record player for my apartment. Pull out a small handful of records I’d acquired over the years, and get them cranking. Start a bit of a vinyl collection of the albums I really loved.

Of course, I didn’t want to give up the streaming services; I wanted the 2 modes of music to live together in harmony. Digital and physical.

Therein lies the dilemma. How do you get these two to play along together nicely?

Well chief, you gotta go Sonos.

Photo-31-03-2015-9-32-01-pmAs nerds, we’ve all had digital music collections for a few years now. A motley collection of MP3s and AACs of varying quality, cribbed from around the web and usually loosely assembled in iTunes.

Now, you and I both know that this once-treasured collection of files has been gathering the digital equivalent of dust in the last 2 years, because you got Spotify. Or Pandora. Maybe Google Music. Perhaps Deezer. Probably not JB Hifi NOW Music.

The ease of streaming music made us all feel pretty good. It was instant gratification: we could listen to (mostly) whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted!

However, I also noticed that a few people were starting to go in the other direction. Toward vinyl, and back toward a more analogue and deliberate approach to their music. Buying physical albums of their favourite records. Old and new record players, and 2-sided albums that require flipping halfway through.

Rummaging through record bins. Liner notes! Jack White special edition Lazaretto with secret tracks under the label!

 

The Sonos Connect Amp

If you’ve looked at a multi-room speakers before, you’ve definitely heard of Sonos. It’s the speaker ecosystem that does multi-room, multi-service wireless music streaming. You can walk through your house and have all your speakers playing the same thing. It’s great. I’m not gonna dig right into the whole thing, but trust me, it’s great.

So most Sonos speakers are fed music, and output it, right? Pick Spotify song in the Sonos app, hit play. A Sonos speaker (like a Play:1, Play:3 or what have you) starts playing it. Simple.

However, the Sonos Connect and Connect:Amp are two special Sonos boxes which fulfil a very specific purpose in the chain — they allow you to translate a music input to become a Sonos-friendly source.

In other words? They allow a record player to speak Sonos. Put on a record in one room, listen to it in any room.

It’s the dream that was only previously achievable by wiring up a house with crazy-long speaker cable runs and complex input switching. In 2015 though, we can ditch the wires, and do the inputs with a phone app.

Good job future.

Chain of Command

Once I decided this was what I wanted, I needed to figure out which bits go together to make this work. See, every record player setup looks roughly like this:

Record Player -> Phono Preamp -> Stereo Amp -> Speakers

You probably know what every part of that is except for the Phono Preamp (I didn’t). Turns out, a turntable produces a phono output level signal, which you need to convert to a line level signal before it works with a stereo.

I found this beginner level guide to these setups very helpful.

Add in a Sonos Connect, and the chain looks like this:

Record Player -> Phono Preamp -> Sonos Connect -> Stereo Amp -> Speakers

Here’s the rub: these separate components can be bundled together in a variety of configurations. It’s up to you to decide how you take that chain and assemble it.

As an example, you could pick up a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC Phono USB, which is both the record player, and the phono preamp bundled together.

debutcarbonusb_piano_large

Plug that bad boy into a stereo and you’re good to go. However, it’s also pricey, clocking in at around $769 for just the player. For audiophiles that’s a drop in the bucket, but for me just starting out? Yikes.

You could buy a older stereo amp, which usually have the phono preamp input built-in. Here’s the stereo amp I grew up with, a lovely Akai AM-U33 which is still hooked up to my folks record player to this day.

akai_am-u22_stereo_integrated_amplifier

 

This is the way that many vinyl-lovers have their setups rigged, an older stereo amp that was made around the same time as the player itself. However, I wanted something that I didn’t have to turn on manually all the time, and something a bit smaller and less power-hungry than these old amps.

It was then that I turned to the Sonos Connect:Amp — available for around $849.

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This little unit does double-duty as both a decent stereo amp and Sonos Connect box in one. It meant that I could use an older (and cheaper) record player, pick up a dedicated preamp (I chose the Pro-Ject Phono Box for $179), and if I ever wanted to upgrade I later I wouldn’t be tied to amps with phono inputs only.

So in the end, here’s what the setup looked like.

Sony 1100 Turntable -> Pro-Ject Phono Box -> Sonos Connect:Amp -> Speakers

Now we were getting somewhere.

Sonos Connect:Amp

Let’s take a look at the bit you wanted to see ever since this post started: the back of the box.

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So the most important bit; the inputs. The Sonos Connect:Amp has 2 analogue inputs on the back. The record player plugs (via RCA plugs) into the phono preamp, and the preamp plugs into the Sonos.

The dual ethernet ports allow this box to function like a 2-port 10/100Mbps switch, so you can passthrough a wired connection if that’s your thing.

I’m using wireless, because my router is a fair distance away from the box. Your mileage may vary.

The speaker connections are actually spring-binding posts, which means you don’t have to futz around with Banana plugs or the like to plug in your speakers. You just push down on them and they expose a hole, which you slide the exposed speaker wire into. I’ve never had an amp with them before; they’re quite nice!

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Once you’ve got that all plugged in, you’re all set.

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The Sonos auto-detects a line-in connection, and is good to go immediately. By the way, it’s really satisfying to lay the needle down and have a record crackle to life.

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Though most of the Sonos functions are driven by the apps, the front of the Connect:Amp has just the right amount of hardware controls. You’re always gonna want to turn up or down and mute via buttons on the box.

Photo-31-03-2015-9-31-06-pm

I really like the way it looks too. It’s just one small unit, about the size of two tissue boxes, that combined with the preamp can just be kept out of the way. The record player itself can sit front and centre.

iOS-Screenshot-20150406-220350-05Onto the software: the Sonos app (I mostly use the iPhone app, but it works for iPad, Android, Windows and Mac) has been getting extra features all the time. I really dig it.

When you’re using the record player it auto-detects the line in and flips it over to that. However, it just treats the line-in like another music source.

You can hook up just about any music service to it (even the new Tidal if that’s your thing), and even mix-n-match them. Want a playlist with half Spotify and half from your own collection? You can do it.

I use Tunein all the time to stream Triple J around the house too. Works great.

My only ding against it would be that I use Pocket Casts for podcasts (of course), and there’s no way for me to send that to the Sonos just yet. A minor hitch in an otherwise flawless system.

The multi-room support (a big part of why I wanted this) is super-simple. You tap the room name up top, and optionally turn on or off rooms as you please. You can also independently control the volume for each room.

You’ll notice I won’t put a bunch of fluffy words here on how great it sounds, because I have no chops for audiophile descriptions of amp performance. I don’t know what a ‘bright soundstage’ is. I wouldn’t know if this has ‘sparkling highs’, ‘balanced mids’ or ‘defined bass’. My speakers aren’t the best anyway.

But you know what? To me, it sounds really solid. Like, you won’t be disappointed with the way it sounds. It sounds as good as those speakers have ever sounded.

A word on the multi-room part of Sonos: I have a few Sonos speakers in my apartment now, and when you set them all to the same source, and walk from one room to another, the experience is utterly seamless. Everything’s in sync. It’s still one of those “I can’t believe this works as well as it does”-type feelings. Doubly-so when it’s a record.

If you’ve got Airport Express/Extreme, you can definitely use AirPlay to achieve a similar thing, but I’ve never found it to be reliable enough to count on, both in sync and in reliability of streaming.

Sonos does its handshake directly with the service in question — no device intermediary. I feel this helps reliability, because in several weeks of use (and tens of hours of streaming) I’ve only had one or two hiccups.

Vinyl? But Whyyyy?

So at this point, you’re probably thinking… hey, you stinking hipster! Do records sound better? You hipster!

I don’t know if I can answer that (see also: thoughts on meta-contrarianism, hipsters don’t exist, being a hipster is dead). To me, they sound nicer than the digital equivalent. Less precise, but more substantial. If that makes any sense.

Maybe I’m projecting. Maybe it’s an audio placebo. Who knows.

If you’re looking for a logical reason to own a record player in 2015, I don’t know if I can give you what you need. It’s less convenient, it’s more expensive, you gotta flip records all the time.

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I love it.

26 comments

  1. What a star you are !!!!! Me to an avid record freak of many years. After your extremely interesting blog, I also took the plunge to get my beloved record deck connected within the 2015 era. ( a 25 year old Townsend Rock) £2000 in 1980 and sat in the loft for the past ten years.

    So….. Got myself a Dynavox Pipes TR3 Preamp and connected to the Sonos Connect Amp ( other components…. Sonos play / sub / play 1’s) and a very nice pair of ( also 25 year old) Polk Speakers.

    Well…. All I can say is “Wow” …. Not a £50k Hi-Fi but the sound is tremendous and the Townsend works as well now as it ever did.

    Finally, and thanks to your write-up, this happy chap is back to listening to his beloved record collection, via the 2015 tech supplied by Sonos.

    Thank you….. Peter

  2. Hey thanks for the write up. I have a Pro-ject turntable (regular one) and a Play3 and am weighing up my options to get the turntable going. Just wanted to ask if you knew what’s the difference between grabbing the ConnectAmp or going with the Play5 and preamp for a couple of dollars less? I don’t know much about these things!

    Thanks heaps!

    1. Hi Kerry! Great question — I’d probably weigh up whether you have your own external speakers already or not. If you don’t, then you’ll certainly save some money using the Play 5 as both the input for the turntable and a (very capable) speaker in one unit.

      However, if you do have separate speakers that you’d like to integrate into a Sonos system (or you’d like to get some down the track), then buying a Connect Amp will give you the flexibility to do that.

  3. Hi! – I’m glad I found this article. I purchased a turntable recently (Rega RP1), after not having listened to vinyl in many years. So now I’m trying to figure out my best option for the Connect I currently have. A single Play 5 or two Play 1’s?

    I’m leaning towards the Play 1 since I’d be able to split them up if needed. Also, would the record listening experience be a bit less than it could be by not listening in stereo?

    Last question – any future Sonos speakers won’t need a bridge correct? I can just add them and select the turntable (Line In) as my source in any room?

    Thanks for any feedback!

    1. Hi Brian, tough question! If you already have the Connect and the turntable already set up, I think it just comes down to personal preference. For what it’s worth, I think the Play 5 has less stereo separation than a pair of Play 1s (obviously), but it also comes with a subwoofer. The Play 1s only come with a mid-woofer, so they’ll be less bassy. I’d probably lean more toward the 5, but that’s just me. A pair of 1s would be pretty handy to have for reconfiguring down the track.

      RE: the bridge, you shouldn’t need another bridge, unless you’re planning on putting those speakers a long way away from the first one. And yep – you just pick the Line In from the Sonos app and you’re good to go.

    2. Hi Brian – I also have Rega turntable, did you need a pre-amp in addition to the SONOS Connect to play thru the SONOS speakers ? If so, which phono pre-amp did you get ? Out of curiousity – any idea why they dont include pre-amp in SONOS Connect Amp ?

  4. Brilliant article james!
    This may sound like a stupid question but when you connect a turntable to a phono stage then into the Connect-AMP analogue input, does it immediately digitise the music, amplify it and then un digitise before playing through the wired speakers? in other words, is it an analogue amplifier that drives the wire speakers or a digital one? I hope I don’t sound like an analogue snob – just curious really!

    1. I am not really sure! If I had to guess, I suspect that the analogue input is immediately digitised (otherwise, how could it be streamed to multiple wireless speakers?) and then outputted back through the Class D amplifier that the Connect Amp is packing, as well as the other speakers you’ve selected. But yeah, that’s a total guess. 🙂

      I’d love for someone more knowledgable in this area to comment.

  5. Question – I’m looking for this exact record player for my boyfriend. I can’t find it anywhere online can you share where you purchased it at?

    Thank you!

  6. Hi James, you have made my Saturday night reading your article. I’ve moved away from my old hi fi to Sonos, but miss the centre point of staring at a box, lights, amp or something that has an on/off button at least. So started researching turntables, and sonos. Your article has solved it all. I’m busy ordering Bowie vinyls on eBay right now but sadly can’t find a shed with a Sony 1100 on offer. Maybe one day someone will dust off my sonos from a new age Eco shed and explain this is how they used to do it. Great article, Thankyou.

  7. Hi there sorry if this is a silly question but this is going to be a Christmas present for my dad who has a bit record collection he hasn’t been able to play in years because he doesn’t have a turntable, now my mum is going to by the turn table so is it best to get one with the built in phono stage (I’m guessing this means phono amp built in) or is it best to get one without and get this part separately?
    Also we were looking at getting the play 5 as he has no speakers to connect does this mean we need a stereo amp as im guessing this hasn’t got one built in like the sonos connect amp.
    Finally (sorry to be a pain) looking at the back of the new play:5 it has a lot less inputs than the 1st gen play:5. Which would you recommend?
    Thanks in advance

  8. I have a sonos playbar and enjoy the ease of the sonos amp, but in a big room I find its output lacking. I have a pioneer amp and some decent acoustic energy floor standing speakers. I want to hook these up to the sonos but it appears I’ve to buy a connect or connect amp at $500+ any ideas on best configuration. The playbar was initially bought to boost dreadful TV speaker output.

  9. For those who may doubt the excelance of the Sonons system . (A fool and his money are Easley parted as they say). An expensive trial but really worth it.

    Record (turntable) takes the number one spot……. All other forms are secondary, but never the less part of the system.

    The system now consists of ….. Townsend Rock Excalibur turntable / SME V arm / Otofon Black mm cartridge. SONOS Connect Amp / Sonons Sub / Boost, Playbar / Play Ones / (Front System) … Play 5’s Play 3’s Rear. ( Grouped together “In the same room”, sounds bizarre. ) but it sounds fantastic). Music also from a NAS Box (ITunes Based) High quality playback from CD Player / or Roberts DAB doesn’t detract. This system is better than my old Musical Fidelity analog system by far, costing a great deal more. I use to have power amps that put out more heat than an electric fire….. But for what purpose?

    Perhaps my message is, don’t be put off by Class “D” amplification, used in the right context, “it’s fab”.

    The Sonons system can be configured to almost anything you fancy. (Old and New). So….. For those of you out there contemplating reviving thier record decks of the past….. Never give up hope.

    Hope this is of some interest.

    Sorry if this all comes across as a bit Naf…… But there are floor standing speakers out there that cost thousand of Pounds / Dollars, that just don’t cut the mustard.

    Regards to all you SONOS fans.

    Peter

    1. Peter, I want to combine a surround system by Sonos (1 x playbar, 1 x sub, 2 x play 1 surround speakers) with my turntable by using a connect. I’m concerned that it won’t sound as good as a couple of play 5’s and a sub. How exactly have you got your system grouped? You can’t share the sub for example with the surround and then the individual play 5’s can you – you have to “ungroup” them etc.
      I need an idiot proof system that sounds as best as Sonos can from both my TV and my turntable.
      Can you help?

      1. Greetings Kieron,

        It’s somewhat difficult to immediately answer your question, as you have not mentioned if you are using external amplification? However, after numerous emails to Sonos, I think I can advise but it really does depend on what have already been mentioned (above, concerning external amp).

        Anyway, this is the way my systems works for me……. ( The system has changed somewhat). ” it does it for me”.

        Now… Running bi-amped Quad 909’s / play 5’s / play 3’s / play 1’s / playbar / SUB.

        All of this is of no consequence to you I understand but…. In my opinion is the following options:-

        1. If you have external amps. ( Play 5’s) to compliment the powered speakers. ( Stereo)

        2. Add the playbar / sub and play 1’s to give that feeling of semi Stereo / Surround.

        3. If you have had too much to drink, include the Play 3’s (Sorry, that’s a joke).

        I no longer use the connect amp / just the connect, as I now have the Quad 909’s but that doesn’t detract from what is possible.

        Unfortunately, this still doesn’t answer you original question.

        I was very happy with the playbar / sub / play 1’s but you can’t have play 5s as front speakers with the latter, which is a bit unfortunate. But you can include Play 5’s within the system if you feel the need and ( indeed….. They are very good)

        If you can give my a bit more information on what you really what to achieve, it would be very helpful.

        I use my system for both TV and Music, so it’s not impossible via the connect.

        Get back to me in this is ever more confusing ( sorry but I have loss the will to live with Sonos) and then………… They find the answer !!!!!

        Peter

  10. Top, top, man James. You’ve made my mind up in diving in to purchase a Sonos package to compliment my turntable. Do you know if the Playbar is just as easily configurable as the package you’ve gone for? If so, I’d just need the Connect:Amp and Phono-Box to complete, is that right?

  11. What a gem in a sea of nonsensical discussion forum threads and non-helpful Sonos support. Not only is this a perfect list of choices, but it is served up in the nicest manner you could imagine.

    That box of jazz vinyls from our basement which moved with us from Copenhagen to Greenland 9 years ago will sparkle back to life very soon 🙂

    Thanks so much for taking your time to be such a wonderful human being.

  12. Hi James,
    If I am only looking to connect my record player to my Sonos system is the Connect:AMP required or could I just go with a Connect?

    1. If you’ve already got a Sonos speaker (or set of speakers) then you’ll only need the Connect. The Connect will let you plug a record player into it and send that source to your Sonos speakers.

      The Connect:AMP does that, but gives you the extra option to power external speakers from that box as well.

  13. Great article James, clearly describing the functionality in combining these analogue and digital systems. I love the flexibility and instant gratification of my Sonos multi-speaker (multi-level) home setup but couldn’t forgo having one room with hi fidelity speakers so I got the Connect Amp. Now with a new Audio Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable I can play vinyl thru my Bowers & Wilkins speakers without a preamp which is internal to this model turntable. Life is good.

  14. Really glad that I have found this article. Well done!!! Just got a Pioneer PL 990 Turntable, to link it with an Onkyo 7.1, 2 Sonos Play 5, 1 Sonos Play 1 and a Sonos Connect. Excited to play all my old records and get some more from my favourite bands….

    But I have had some troubles to connect all of them, because 2 Sonos P5, works properly stereo in the same living room with digital source (Spotify and others), but w/ the turntable only one P5 is working.
    I connected Sonos Connect w/ Onkyo via Digital Cable and Pioneer w/ Connect with Pioneer output cord…

  15. Thank you for your article. I have just recently purchased a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC turntable and Pro-Ject Phono Box MM pre-amp. I have the following Sonos products: 1-Playbar, 4x Play:1, 1-Play:3 and a Sonos SUB woofer.

    I have spent a lot of money on Sonos products, but I am reading on other blogs that the vinyl sound is much better with stand alone speakers. Does anyone else agree that hooking a decent turntable to sonos system will result in a lower sound quality? I could ultimately hook the turntable up to my TV and play it through my soundbar, but will I loose significant sound quality? Or should I just get a set of stand alone speakers to strictly play vinyl?

    I appreciate any advice anyone may have on this, my goal is to have the best listening experience.
    Thank you!

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