The $800 Victrola Stream Carbon is the first turntable that transmits audio directly to a Sonos system, with no additional hardware required. Developed in partnership with Sonos, the Stream is Works With Sonos certified. All of which means it’s super simple to set up. Just plug it into power, connect it to the same Wi-Fi network as your Sonos system, and play your vinyl through your Sonos speakers — no fussing with wires or amps or other paraphernalia.
Whenever I think of vinyl records, I have flashbacks to being five years old and dancing around my living room to Petula Clark’s Downtown for hours on end, pausing only to reset the needle every three minutes. I grew up in a house that worshiped vinyl, and my musical education was formed from those pressed PVC discs and hours spent listening to the likes of Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, and lots and lots of Buddy Holly. So, I was excited to test this gadget out — especially as the record player I bought a few years back has been gathering dust, thanks to the ease of streaming music through our Sonos system.
The Victrola Stream Carbon is made by that Victrola — the original dog and phono(graph) show. Victrola has a storied history as one of the first American manufacturers of record players. Now under new ownership, Victrola’s Stream is the first Sonos collaboration from the company. But according to Victrola, there are more to come next year.
Easily playing my vinyl records throughout the house on all my Sonos speakers was a real treat
The Stream has a sleek minimalist design with more than a hint of a mid-century modern vibe, thanks to its low profile and rounded corners. A solid MDF body is topped with a die-cast aluminum platter accompanied by metal turntable components. A smooth aluminum front hosts the single digital control: a volume knob.
I spent the last week testing the Stream, and it’s been largely a delightful experience; the perfect mashup of nostalgia and high-tech convenience. I set up the two-speed, belt-driven manual turntable in just a couple of minutes, a process that involved assembling the carbon-fiber tonearm, attaching the headshell mounted with an Ortofon Red 2M cartridge, and plugging it into power.
Using the Victrola app, I connected it to Wi-Fi and my Sonos system — which includes a Sonos Arc paired with two Play:1 speakers — and soon had the vinyl spinning. I was impressed with the audio quality; it seemed nothing was lost in the digital translation. Yes, even the crackling sound on my older vinyl records came through loud and clear. Jordan Rapp, director of product design at Victrola, told me the analog signal is converted to digital using an integrated analog-to-digital converter and streamed at Sonos’ maximum sampling rate of 48kHz.
The Stream works with any Sonos speaker or group of speakers, and you can select which you want to pair it with in the Victrola app. Once connected, you don’t need the Victrola app again — you can control playback from the Sonos app.
In fact, the only reason to reach for the Victorla app is for troubleshooting, which I had to do a few times when the tracks would skip occasionally. Turns out, this had to do with a wireless audio delay setting. Once I switched the turntable to a High delay using the app, the skipping mostly resolved itself, although it did occasionally resurface. When it did, force-closing both the Sonos and Victrola apps fixed it. This did get a bit tiresome after a while, however.
Don Inmon, head of product and brand at Victrola, said the company is working on app updates to fix this. Unsurprisingly, the most reliable playback was when I connected the Stream via Ethernet using the onboard port. There was no skipping at all with this setup. (Alongside an Ethernet port, the Stream has stereo RCA outputs that work with an onboard pre-amp, meaning you can hook this up to non-Sonos speakers if you really want to.)
The downside of relying on the Ethernet port is you’re limited in where you can put the device. I did test the turntable in various rooms of my house using the wireless setup — to see if this helped with the skipping issue. It didn't. But I did appreciate how portable it is for a turntable.
The best feature here, though, is how easy it is to play your vinyl on good quality speakers — and the easier it is to do something, the more likely it is you will do it. Easily playing my vinyl records throughout the house on all my Sonos speakers was a real treat.
Having a nice knob to control your music is always welcome
The other surprisingly cool thing about the Stream is its physical volume knob. Not only does this control your Sonos speaker’s volume when you’re playing vinyl but also when you are streaming anything to your Sonos system.
This meant when I switched from vinyl to some Taylor Swift (Midnights dropped during my testing), I could easily adjust Taylor’s tones. You can also set the turntable to only begin playback to the Sonos speakers when you press and hold the knob. This way, no sound will come out even if you have the needle on until you press the knob. Otherwise, playback starts when you place the needle on the record. Having a nice knob to control your music is always welcome.
What’s not so welcome is the price. If you’re a hardcore Sonos fan, you’re used to sticker shock, but at $800, this is one pricey piece of kit. You’re paying for a premium turntable here, along with the Sonos integration, which is very smooth. It was super easy to switch from streaming music to playing vinyl records, back to streaming, and even to TV playback (I use the Arc and Play:1 as surround sound for my Samsung Frame TV).
Of course, there are other ways to get your vinyl into your Sonos. You can plug a turntable into a Sonos Five with an aux cable or use the RCA connectors with a Sonos Port or Sonos Amp. If your turntable offers Bluetooth support, you can pair it with the Sonos Roam and stream vinyl across your system that way. The biggest selling point of the Victrola over these methods is that it’s completely wireless and will play to your whole system. That type of ease of use will be worth the premium price to some. (Plus, the Amp and Port are routinely back-ordered at Sonos, so they can be tough to come by.)
Photos by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge