Sonos has always been trying to meet the needs of its users, and Sonos’ new voice control appears to be the latest way the company aims to embed them into its smart speaker system.
Sonos’ voice control works as you’d expect. You can say “Hey Sonos” to the speakerphone and it allows you to control playback, volume, and the rooms in which sound is played. On Wi-Fi only, you can also ask the assistant to play specific tracks or playlists.
The feature Sonos put the most hype behind at a recent press event in New York is the focus on privacy for its new voice control system. Every request is processed on the device, and Sonos says your voice will never be recorded or sent for analysis unless you sign up for the Sonos Voice Control beta.
Since the chip on the speaker does all the work, that means you can even use the voice controls on Sonos’ Bluetooth-equipped speakers, including the Roam and Move. When using Bluetooth, users are limited to only being able to adjust volume, playback, and skip tracks, but it’s still nice to have the option.
It’s also important to note that processing audio locally opens up the ability to stack requests without using the “Hey Sonos” alert word. The company said it listens to tracks longer than competitors because it doesn’t send its audio recordings to the cloud.
In an interesting twist, the speaker was voiced by Giancarlo Esposito Break the bad, do the right thing and recently Far Cry 6 Fame. His voice fits in with the “record-loving vibe” with which Sonos agreed better than I expected, but it’s only a small part of the story behind the new assistant.
Sonos developed this new technology with the help of Snips.ai – a French voice assistant startup that the Voice Company acquired in 2019. During my time at the event, Sonos Voice Control worked well and responded quickly. A representative from the company told me that it should work smoothly on all Sonos devices with microphones released since 2017. However, I wasn’t able to test the voice-activated assistant myself, so I’ll need to wait until it launches on June 1st to put it in its stride.
The assistant runs only in American English, so anyone wanting to try it out will need to set their language to that. A French version is launching by the end of the year because Snips is a Parisian company. Sonos has no information regarding Canadian French language support.
The most important problem with Sonos Voice Control is that it does not support Spotify or YouTube Music at launch. Hopefully, these features will launch soon, but Sonos doesn’t have dates to get in on the action.
When I take a step back and review this new assistant, I’m still a bit skeptical. Sure, it’s great that it’s private and no one listens to me awkwardly yell at a rigid speaker, but only time will tell how many people put in the effort to use it. Sonos says that when it surveyed its users, privacy concerns were the number one thing stopping people from using voice assistants on their speakers. Ideally, this new assistant would solve this problem for these people.
An interesting decision regarding Voice Control is that it is not turned on by default. Users will need to enter the Sonos app setting to enable it. Since this has to be done manually, I’m not sure people would care enough to get it working.
In a sense, it looks like Sonos is just paving the way with Sonos Voice Controls, and more great features are to come in the future. It would also be nice to see the company add different types of sounds to its Assistant down the line.
Here are some of the phrases Sonos has shared about controlling the new voice control assistant:
- Hi Sonos, play Brittany Howard very cool.
- Hey Sonos, stop playing in the kitchen and play in the living room instead.
- Hey Sonos, turn up the volume only in the bedroom.
- Hey Sonos, play something I love.
- Hey Sonos, play SolarSystem on Sonos Radio.
- Hi Sonos, what’s up?
- Sonos, louder… louder.
- Hey Sonos, play more cool.
- Hi Sonos, skip.
- Hey Sonos Play… turn up the volume.
- Hey Sonos, put together your living room and family room.
- Hi Sonos, what is my battery level (roaming and moving only).
- Hey Sonos, play here instead.