With the launch of the Sonos One and, subsequently, the Arc and Beam, we finally had a smart speaker with the choice of either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant smart speakers. Roll on a few years, and both systems are beset by some issues, which the Sonos Voice Control system is designed to fix.
Available as a third smart assistant on any Sonos speaker with a microphone, Sonos Voice Control is dedicated to speaker control and music playback.
More control, no privacy issues
Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant have come into the headlines in recent years over privacy concerns, with recordings being stored and, at times, listened to by employees. It’s no wonder that some people are nervous about having either system in their homes.
The Sonos Voice Control is designed to overcome that. As Paul Peace, audio systems engineer at Sonos, explains, the voice assistant is “local to the player, doesn’t talk to the cloud, doesn’t remember”. It’s a system that’s designed to replicate the app’s experience, only using voice.
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Sonos Voice Control also doesn’t require any additional sign-ins or accounts to be created.
The second issue that the voice assistant is designed to overcome is compatibility and control. Currently, with the Sonos Alexa Skill, if you start playing a track with a voice command, it’s streamed directly to the chosen player bypassing the Sonos app. That’s not an issue when playing on one player, but it creates a problem when you want to use a streaming service with another player in your home.
Via the app, you can use one streaming account, such as Apple Music, to play different tracks in different rooms; switch to voice control, and you’re limited to playing one track from one service in one room.
Hey Sonos play music
Activated with “Hey Sonos”, Sonos Voice Control isn’t a general-purpose voice assistant but one that’s designed for music playback and player control. Sonos has said that the voice assistant is designed to understand natural language rather than specific commands.
With Sonos Voice Control you can, among other things, play a track from a chosen music service on the player of your choice; group and ungroup players; play content that “you like”; adjust volume; skip tracks; and move music from one room to another.
Compatibility and limitations
Although the skip, group and volume options work with any source, you can only ask for a specific track or station to be played from Sonos Radio, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer and Pandora. Other services, such as Spotify, will not support voice search at launch, so you’ll have to use the app instead.
The roll-out is going to be a slow one, with Sonos Voice Control launching in the US on June 1 and France later this year. Other territories, including the UK, will come later. We’ll bring you more on this as we have it.
Simple voice control is needed, but there could be too many limitations
Privacy concerns with the big voice assistants, not to mention that skills seem to keep changing the features that they offer, signal that it is time there was a simpler way to control music playback, and the Sonos Voice Control is a step in the right direction. I do worry that, at launch, it’s not quite ready for prime time: the system will only be available in the US and the lack of Spotify support is a huge gap. This would likely make me warier of switching to Sonos Voice Control, as Spotify is my default streaming service.
That said, if Sonos can increase support for streaming services, it has a good chance of making its voice assistant a reliable alternative to Alexa or Google Assistant. In particular, the ability to group and shift music using Sonos Voice Control, make it an enticing alternative voice assistant.