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How to Choose a Network Music Player

Discover three easy ways to enjoy digital music anywhere in your home

Heads up!

Welcome to this article from the Crutchfield archives. Have fun reading it, but be aware that the information may be outdated and links may be broken.

A network music player is a device that connects you to a virtually limitless assortment of music. What you can play varies from model to model, but most let you play tunes from:

  • your iTunes® library or other types of music files stored on your computer, smartphone, or tablet
  • thousands of free Internet radio stations
  • a variety of online music subscription services that offer intriguing ways to discover and mix songs

[Shop our selection of network music players]

Think this is something only a geek could love? Think again.

The best of today's network music players are ready to rock the moment you walk in the door. You don’t have to turn on your computer or insert a CD. Simply fire up an app on your phone or tablet and tap the screen a few times. And there you have it – sweet-sounding music to soothe or inspire you.

Music players vs. media players

This article will help you shop for products designed for music. It's not about the multi-purpose network media players built into TVs, Blu-ray players, and surround sound receivers. You can certainly use those to play music, and they may well meet your needs for tunes in your home theater room. But they're impractical in many listening locations. And casual users may find them difficult to operate.

Where do you plan to listen to network music?

Is the room you're putting a player in a place in which you want to relax and really focus on the music? Will you ever want to play it at high volume? Or are you looking for low-key background sound in a kitchen, bedroom, or workshop? Your answers to these questions will help you decide which of the three groups below make sense for you and which product best meets your needs.

1. Compact, all-in-one solutions

iHome iW1 Using Apple AirPlay® (a feature of iTunes), you can stream music from your computer, iPod touch®, iPhone®, or iPad® to the iHome iW1

The all-in-one players listed below have the amplifier and speakers built-in. They're perfect for background music in small rooms. Some models play surprisingly loud and clear. For a dorm or apartment, they may be all the stereo you need. Their portability is a plus, too. You can easily carry your player out onto your patio, deck, or balcony.

Sony NAS-SV20i
WiFi iPod/iPhone speaker dock

iHome iW1
AirPlay portable wireless speaker system

Sonos® Play:3 (S3)
Compact wireless music player

Sonos® Play:5 (S5)
Wireless music player

Klipsch® Gallery™ G-17 Air
Powered speaker system with AirPlay

Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air
Powered speaker system with AirPlay and iPod dock

2. Compact player/amplifiers – just add speakers

Sonos powered ZonePlayer You don't need a receiver, a CD player, and shelves full of discs. All you need is a network music player with a built-in amp and a pair of speakers. Goodbye clutter.

The models listed here are relatively compact, though not exactly portable, players. Each comes with built-in amplifier. Add a pair of speakers, and you're set. You can expect better sound all around and the capacity to play your music louder.

Powered player for Sonos multi-room music system

Denon RCD-N7
AM/FM/CD/Internet radio receiver with iPod dock and Wi-Fi

Marantz M-CR603
AM/FM/CD/Internet radio receiver

3. Component network music players

The products in this group don't include amps or speakers. You could keep things simple by adding a pair of powered speakers. Or you could add one of the models listed below to a full blown hi-fi system.

Non-powered Sonos ZonePlayer

NAD C 446
Hi-fi network music player

Marantz NA7004
Hi-fi network music player

  • Old School from Mount Holly, NC

    Posted on 1/1/2017

    I have a Denon DCD-A100 32bit/192khz SACD player, an Oppo BDP-105 Multi-format player in one system and one of your Marantz 8004 SACD machines in another system. Why can't I stream music from my PC through them?