Onkyo and Pioneer receivers now work with Sonos. A AV receiver can therefore be part of a larger Sonos system at home. But how does it work and what do you need? We set to work with one of the first Pioneer amplifiers with “Works with Sonos.”
Works with Sonos for AV receivers
When Onkyo / Pioneer announced that their receivers would work with Sonos, seemed to be a victory for both the American multiroom helmsman and the Japanese holding company that owned Onkyo and Pioneer. Although Sonos remains the undisputed market leader in multiroom, it had to watch with dismay how rivals like Denon and Yamaha could spread their multiroom platform over many more types of audio devices. With both, you can install active speakers as well as amplifiers and receivers with their HEOS or MusicCast software. Bluesound also took similar steps, by expanding its platform with partners NAD and Dali. In short, who in his home in some rooms had sufficient wireless speakers but in other rooms still wanted to go for real hi-fi or home cinema found Bluesound, Denon and Yamaha still more options.
But Sonos works that ‘backlog’ way through to get in touch with Onkyo / Pioneer? The answer is partly ‘yes’, but also ‘no’. We discovered that when we tried out the function as part of a full test of the Pioneer VSX-933. You will soon read the review of this 599 euro receiver. The software running on the VSX-933 is almost identical to other Pioneer receivers this year and very similar to the software of new Onkyo devices. With other AV receivers, the menus may be slightly different, but we do not expect significant differences.
Hardware for Works with Sonos
One big difference between ‘Works with Sonos’ and the multiroom implementations at Bluesound, Denon and Yamaha: where in the latter the software was incorporated in the receiver, you have to invest with Onkyo / Pioneer in a Sonos Connect (349 euros). For those who do not know it: the Sonos Connect is a pure streamer, a box that appears as a playback device in the Sonos app and has outputs that you can connect to an amplifier. You can choose from an analogue cinch connection, an optical output or a coaxial output. You can choose freely for ‘Works with Sonos’ which you use to connect to your receiver. We would recommend that you opt for a digital connection (optical or coaxial).
The biggest drawback to the Connect is that it is a relatively large thing (7.4 x 13.6 x 14 cm). ), much larger than, for example, a Chromecast Audio. The Sonos Connect is also almost ten years old, so it only supports WiFi via 2.4 GHz. In our experience it works very stable, but 5-GHz support is becoming a must in terraced houses and flats where many competing WiFi networks are at 2.4 GHz.
How does it work?
The VSX-933 we received the test with the new 1010-3000-0030-0010 firmware with the ‘Works with Sonos’ feature. You find this new option by diving into the system settings and then selecting ‘Hardware’. Select the ‘Works with Sonos’ option and you will see the necessary settings. First you indicate which input on your receiver is connected to the Sonos Connect. This can be any audio input, both analogue and digital. Do not forget that you can assign an input to a source name (such as ‘cd’ or ‘strm box’) via the ‘Input / output assignment’ main option in the system settings. Unfortunately it is not possible to give an input a name (such as ‘Sonos’), or not to the VSX-933.
Connect the Sonos Connect via an analog input on the Pioneer -receiver, then you get an additional choice to indicate to play the music via Sonos in your main zone, zone 2 or both. With digital, this option is not available and you can only play in the main zone.
Finally, you search for the Sonos Connect over the network via ‘Connected device’. Your AV receiver must of course already have a connection to the network, via WiFi or via Ethernet cable. You get a list of all Sonos devices, other audio devices such as DNLA servers and network players do not show. Select your Connect and you’re done. In terms of installation, ‘Works with Sonos’ is therefore not particularly complicated.
Previously you can of course also connect a Sonos Connect to an Onkyo or Pioneer receiver – or any audio device with suitable inputs. What is different now after the ‘Works with Sonos’ update? In essence, only one thing: if you play music in the Sonos app via the Connect, the receiver automatically switches to the correct input. You had to do this manually before via the remote of your receiver. Also positive is that the receiver turns on if you press ‘play’ in the Sonos app while the Pioneer is in standby.
And the volume control? Disappointingly, you can not directly control the volume of the receiver in the Sonos app. You have to do this via the Pioneer remote control or via the corresponding app. The only thing that is possible is that you dive into the Sonos app in the settings and at the Connect the output level is set to ‘Variable’ (instead of ‘Fixed’). Then the volume control in the Sonos app works, but only to make the volume level quieter than the current volume level of your receiver. That is not perfect. For example, if you set the receiver to ‘-20.0’ (which is very loud) and then you control the volume at 50% via the Sonos app, you will hear the music quietly. Then switch to another source, such as a console, then you get sound to the full level served. That can be frightening.
The ‘Works with Sonos’ feature is a useful extra for Pioneer and Onkyo receivers that end up in a Sonos household. At the same time, it lags far behind how BluOS, HEOS and MusicCast are integrated in NAD, Denon and Yamaha devices respectively. In those three, the multiroom platform is simply part of the total experience, here you are clearly having a witty marriage where both partners still do their own thing. In the ideal world, the Sonos software would be completely in the Pioneer and Onkyo receiver, and you could control more functionality of the AV receiver via the Sonos app. Hopefully we will see that happen next year or via a software update.
We have to be honest and also note that the Onkyo / Pioneer streaming platform in their new receivers is very extensive. You can find a lot more streaming options on a VSX-933 and receivers from the same generation than most competitors. The VSX-933 with ‘Works with Sonos’ has an amazing array of other features, including Chromecast, Airplay, Play-Fi (a popular streaming platform popular in the US), its own FlareConnect platform (with which multiroom is also possible), Spotify Connect, DLNA streaming and a number of ingrained services (Deezer, Tidal and TuneIn). ‘Works with Sonos’ is just another extra on top of that.