Sonos Port review: A mostly unworthy successor to the Sonos Connect

Sonos covers all the bases: The audio component maker builds a range of powered speakers and soundbars to stream music from every source, local or on the web, but it also offers a stand-alone tuner/amp if you want to use higher-end passive loudspeakers. And for customers who want streaming music delivered to their own favorite amp or receiver and higher-end speakers, the company launched an add-on, tuner-like component: the Sonos ZonePlayer 80 in early 2006, which was succeeded by the ZonePlayer 90 in 2008. The ZP90 was later relaunched as the Sonos Connect. That product has been succeeded by the topic of this review, the Sonos Port.

With the imminent launch of the Sonos S2 operating system, Sonos Connect owners must make a crucial decision: Replace every Connect with a Port—at $449 a pop—or forgo S2. The situation grows even more stressful if you have any combination of newer and legacy (pre-2013) Sonos hardware: The latter includes the aged Connect:Amp/ZP120 and the first-gen Play:5 speaker. These two classes of gear can’t handle the S2 platform, so any Sonos system that includes a mix of older and new components must bifurcated and the two groups controlled separately (you’ll find more details in this story).

If you crave the benefits that S2 promises to deliver—including support for higher-resolution audio and Dolby Atmos (in the new Arc soundbar, for instance)—you really don’t have a choice. But if you can resist the urge to upgrade to the latest, greatest software, hang onto your legacy hardware and run it on the original platform (now called S1). That goes double for anyone who cares deeply about audio quality and has a Connect linked to high-end audio components.

After conducting a comprehensive series of A/B listening tests, I’ve concluded that the Port sounds vastly inferior to the Connect it replaces. The Port puts out decent sound, acceptable in a storm and with music you’re not intimately familiar with. But compared to the Connect, the Port’s sound field seems flattened, compressed, and so lacking in personality that you might think it was delivered by phone line.

sonos port vs sonos connect front panels Jonathan Takiff / IDG

Older components like the Connect (left) aren’t compatible with the new S2 operating system and can’t be grouped with newer components that are.

Feature set

I get the impression that the Sonos product-management team started with an idealized sketch of a smaller, prettier, market-friendly successor to the clunky-looking Connect. Then the engineers went to work, squeezing in what they could to deliver a slim, trim box that looks good on a retail shelf—and that almost disappears when perched atop an A/V receiver. Most especially, something that would appeal to the custom-installer community, who will find the Port easy to use and won’t balk at its price tag (which they’ll mark way up in their quotes to their well-heeled clients).

The Port is a trim, buttonless, matte black personal-pizza box with roughly the same footprint (5.4 x 5.4 inches) of a Connect, and about half its height (1.6 inches). Three Ports will line up neatly on a standard 19-inch, 1U rack shelf. You can connect them to your home’s wireless network (the minimum requirements are very low: 802.11b/g, 2.4GHz); or for the most reliable performance, you can hardwire it to your home’s router using the 10/100Mbps ethernet ports in back. There are two of those, so you can gang a bunch of Ports together and consume just one port on your router or switch.

The Port runs cooler than the Connect and in a wider range of environments—from 32 degrees Farhrenheit to 104 degrees F. The manufacturer mildly discourages users from stacking Ports, however; mostly because it can lead to Wi-Fi interference. The Connect’s volume up/down and mute buttons have been excised, but the Port’s LED on-and-connected indicator looks snazzier than that of its predecessor.

The ethernet ports on the backside of the Port are joined by one set of analog stereo inputs for a CD player or turntable preamp (or a turntable itself, if it has a preamp built in), and one set of analog stereo outputs for connecting an amplifier or self-powered speakers. There’s a coaxial S/PDIF connector should you own a cherished outboard DAC—or simply want to keep the signal in the digital domain until it reaches your DAC-equipped receiver or pre-amp. But I’m disappointed that Sonos decided not to also carry over the Toslink digital audio output from the Connect. I know custom installers prefer to use coaxial cables, because their connectors are much less fragile than the ones on Toslink cables and coax cables perform better over long runs, but Toslink is far more common on less-expensive audio components.