Sonos has a message for the Amazon Echos, Google Homes, and Apple HomePods of the world: not so fast. In an attempt to fend off the growing competition from companies trying to invade (and make smarter) its specialty of multi-room audio, today Sonos revealed an updated speaker, the Sonos One, with far-field microphones that allow it to work with digital assistants — beginning with Amazon’s Alexa. The new Sonos One costs $199 and launches October 24th. Preorders begin today.
The Sonos One is basically a Play:1 speaker that’s been refreshed for the era of voice-based assistants. The existing Play:1 already sounds better than the Amazon Echo and Google Home, so Sonos is no doubt hoping that consumers will favor its own offering over those products. The company could eventually update its other speakers like the pricier Play:5 in a similar way, but the One’s price point makes it the most sensible first step. A light on top of the Sonos One lights up when the microphone is listening and is off when the device isn’t; the mic and light are hardwired together, Sonos said, which is meant to be a privacy measure. In addition to Alexa, Sonos plans to add support for Google Assistant to the One in 2018.
Amazon Music, Pandora, iHeart Radio, and other music services can play music through Alexa commands at launch. A few key popular music services including Spotify and Apple Music won’t immediately support voice controls, however. Sonos has said Spotify in particular is coming “soon” after release. Until then, you’ve still got the option to play Spotify on the Sonos One through both the Sonos and Spotify mobile apps, and some voice commands like “pause,” “skip this track,” and volume controls work for all services out of the box.
Both Amazon and Google are starting to put more emphasis on quality, however. The new Echo has improved sound compared to its predecessor, and Google is said to be working on a high-end “Home Max” speaker. Apple has also claimed that its upcoming HomePod will sound better than the competition when it ships in December.
Last year, Sonos announced it would work with Amazon to allow Echo devices to control Sonos speakers; that feature has been in beta testing over the last several months. But building the same type of always-listening microphones directly into devices eliminates any need for consumers to also own an Echo. The Sonos One can be controlled entirely with voice. In addition to playing requested music, it can also perform other Alexa tasks like controlling your smart home.
Sonos has also expressed desire to integrate more than one voice-based assistant on its products. That (very optimistic) goal of supporting everything is similar to the company’s music streaming strategy; Sonos speakers can play music from all of the most popular services including Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Google Play Music, Tidal, and others. Giles Martin today said “we absolutely envision a world where customers use Sonos One with multiple voice assistants.”