The new Sonos voice assistant seems faster than the competition

Sonos devices have supported Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant for nearly five years. The Sonos One from 2017 was the first speaker the company made with built-in microphones, and almost every speaker made since then has worked with Alexa, not to mention Google Assistant. Despite supporting these popular services, Sonos has decided to build its own voice assistant. The feature, called Sonos Voice Control, is specifically designed to work with music only, so it’s not exactly a competitor to Alexa and Google Assistant. Instead, it aims to control your music as quickly as possible, and with privacy in mind.

Oh yeah, and it’s voiced by none other than Giancarlo Esposito.

Giancarlo Esposito recording for Sonos

Sonos

Sonos Voice Control will be available on any Sonos speaker with a microphone, all the way back to the first generation Sonos One. Like other voice assistants, you use a wake phrase (Hey Sonos) to grab the speaker’s attention. From there, you can ask it to play songs, albums or artists from Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer or Pandora. You can also ask it to play stations from Sonos Radio. No, Spotify and YouTube Music are not currently available, although Sonos says it plans to add more services in the future.

As I mentioned earlier, Sonos Voice Control is not a full-fledged Alexa competitor. You can’t ask it for the weather or to add things to your to-do list; instead, it’s tailored specifically for music and controlling your Sonos system. That means you can ask Sonos to move music you’re playing from one speaker to another, or to play it on all connected speakers in the house. Simple commands like volume and skip tracks also work.

Those limited commands, plus play and pause buttons, even work on Bluetooth speakers like the Roam and Move when not connected to Wi-Fi. Sonos also promises that setting it up is simply a matter of enabling the feature in the Sonos app – since you’re not connecting to a third-party system, you don’t have to bounce between multiple apps to get things working here.

You might be wondering why you should use Sonos Voice Control instead of one of the other voice assistants that work with the speakers. The company thinks privacy will be a big selling point here, as the research points out that many people who don’t set voice commands on Sonos speakers do so because of privacy concerns. But Sonos Voice Control gets around that by doing everything on the device — the company was explicit about this in a press conference and said no voice commands are saved or sent back from the device to Sonos.

This has another advantage: Sonos Voice Control is fast. Usually the speaker doesn’t have to verbally respond to your question, so you just ask them to play a song and the song will play. Obviously we need more testing with the final version of the software, but in a demo I saw earlier this week, the performance was extremely impressive. When I ask smart speakers to play music, there is usually a noticeable pause when the speaker pings the internet and starts streaming music. Usually the assistant also repeats what you asked for before it starts playing. But with Sonos Voice Assistant, there’s no verbal response, and the time it takes to process and understand commands seems to be much faster than using Google Assistant or Alexa on my Sonos speakers. In my unscientific testing, Alexa is certainly faster than Google Assistant on most questions, but the Sonos Assistant seemed even faster.

If you already use Alexa on your Sonos speakers, you can add the Sonos Voice Assistant to work alongside Alexa. You can use the wake phrase “Hey Sonos” to control your music and still ask Alexa to do all the things it can do. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Google Assistant, though; you can only use Google or Sonos voice commands, not both. In the past, Sonos has hinted that Google is the reason you can’t use both Alexa and the Google Assistant on its speakers, and that seems to be the case here too.

As for how Sonos landed on Giancarlo Esposito for their voice assistant, the company says it’s considered plenty of different options, including computer-generated male, female, and gender-neutral options. Ultimately, though, the company wanted to use a voice that would be familiar to many users — one that had more personality than you’d get from a generic voice. That said, you won’t hear Esposito talk too much, as the system is designed to only talk to you if you ask it directly for information, such as what song is playing. Sonos says it will add more voices over time as Voice Control arrives in more regions, but a company spokesperson declined to say whether they would come from well-known actors like Esposito.

Sonos Voice Control will arrive in the US on June 1, followed by France later this year.

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