Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant join forces in the smartest speaker yet – and it sounds great, too.
When it comes to multiroom audio, Sonos stands head and shoulders above the competition. The reason for its success is simple: Sonos’ family of speakers blend superb sound quality, an easy-to-use mobile app and mesh Wi-Fi networking to create a truly smart, whole-home sound system. The Sonos One takes that one step further: it combines Sonos’ multiroom talents with the latest in voice control from Amazon Alexa and, coming later this year, Google Assistant.
A single power cable trails neatly out of the rear, four rubber feet give the One a firm grip onto the surfaces beneath, and a single Ethernet socket allows for wired operation where Wi-Fi isn’t a viable option. The only fundamental difference between the Play One and the Play:1 is that Sonos has removed the threaded speaker mount, so discreet wall-mounting is no longer an option.
While the One is small, its sound is the opposite: it’s exciting, detailed and as capable of droning out soothing ambient as it is spraying staccato guitar riffs and vicious techno. As you’d expect for such a tiny speaker, the bass isn’t earth-shakingly powerful and there certainly isn’t the mighty mid-range slam of Sonos’ larger speakers, but what’s there is potent and well-controlled.
The Sonos One can’t do everything Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo products can. You can ask general questions about the weather, nearby shops and services, perform maths and weight conversion calculations, set alarms and reminders. However, you can’t use any of the voice call, drop-in or messaging features, nor can you ask Alexa to read ebooks or receive notifications.
I set up the Sonos One in an open-plan space with a Play:1 in the kitchen, a Play:3 in the dining area, and a further Play:1 in the upstairs bedroom. The setup process is more convoluted than that of a pure Sonos speaker, clunkily bouncing you between the Alexa and Sonos apps on your phone, but that effort is worthwhile. Add it to an existing system, and you can then control playback across an entire home with voice commands.
For instance, you can adjust the volume in specific zones (“Alexa, turn down Living Room” or “Alexa, turn Kitchen volume to [any number between 1 and 10]”); play music in different areas of the house (“Alexa, play Fleetwood Mac in the Kitchen” or “Alexa, play Carl Craig everywhere”); or pause playback and skip through tracks.
What it doesn’t let you do currently, however, is group rooms together or to actively move the music from one room to another. One workaround is to group all the speakers in your home using the Sonos app, then ask Alexa to mute or unmute rooms as you see fit.
Alexa is also able to control playback from Spotify, TuneIn Radio and Amazon Music, but that isn’t the case for Tidal, Apple Music, Bandcamp, SoundCloud or any of the other services supported by Sonos. While playing music from these services, it’s only possible to pause playback or adjust the volume. And another thing to remember: you’ll need a Spotify Premium account if you want to take advantage of the integration.
Use any of the supported services, however, and Alexa comes into her own. You can ask Alexa to play music by genre, artist, or request specific tracks, albums, playlists or radio stations.
Best of all, though, Alexa allows anyone in your household to play the music they want, when they want it, without having to reach for a phone, tablet or laptop first.
One buying decision
The Sonos One is now an integral part of my Sonos system. What tips the One over the edge from good to great, however, is the fact that you aren’t tied to Alexa at all. Once Google Assistant support is fully baked-in, you’ll be able to take the best elements of each smart assistant or pledge your allegiance entirely to one or the other. Unlike Amazon, Google and Apple’s smart speakers, you’ll have a choice – and whichever option you take, one thing is guaranteed: the music will take centre stage.