When Sonos released the Play:5 speaker in late 2015, the Amazon Echo was still an unproven tech curiosity. But since then, Alexa and the Echo have grown rapidly in both popularity and functionality, inspiring competition from the likes of Google and Apple. Talking to a speaker is totally normal now -- but Sonos users haven't been able to that. They've instead had to choose between the convenience of products like the Echo and Google Home and the superior audio quality that Sonos speakers offer.
But when Sonos started working on integrating Alexa into its multi-room wireless music system a year and a half ago, though, that setup posed a problem. Most Sonos users have more than one speaker, and a surround sound system full of blinking lights would turn their homes into an ersatz light show. Plus, it felt wrong: Sonos is an audio company, betting its future on sound as the interface for all the tech in your home. There had to be an audible way for Alexa to let you know it's listening. The team seized on a setting buried in the Alexa app, which enables what Amazon calls "sound cues."
Sonos made a host of announcements at an event in New York City on Wednesday, including a brand-new speaker--the Sonos One--that will incorporate Amazon's Alexa voice service. And in a pledge to continue being service agnostic, Sonos CEO Patrick Spence said the Sonos One will also incorporate the Google Assistant in 2018. Sonos is taking preorders for the $199 speaker now and plans to ship it on October 24. As with previous Sonos speakers, you'll be able to use the Sonos One independently, as a stereo pair, or as surround speakers in a home theater, backing up a Sonos Playbar or Playbase. You'll also be able to use voice commands to control other Sonos speakers, even ones that don't support voice commands natively.
Sonos just launched its new smart speaker, the Sonos One. The device has Amazon's Alexa smart assistant built-in, marking the first time a Sonos speaker has voice control. I had a chance to hear a little of what the Sonos One is capable of at its grand unveiling in New York City. I listened to some tunes, then saw how it takes advantage of the new Alexa integration to act as a smart hub to connect with other Sonos speakers in a closed-off demo room. The Sonos One works just fine as a smart hub, from what I saw and heard -- you use it just like Amazon's Echo line -- but it really stands out with rich audio quality and the ability to connect with and control other Sonos speakers all around their house to create a premium smart audio platform.
There are two distinct ways of looking at the new Sonos Beam soundbar: from the perspective of a person who already owns Sonos speakers, or as a person who does not have any Sonos speakers. The company says nearly 40 percent of Sonos purchases within the past year were made by people who already own a Sonos speaker, and that once people buy a Sonos product, they use it for years. You will think you are listening to Beyonce or Childish Gambino or "Chill Hits" on Spotify. But what you're really hearing is "Buy more Sonos." You will wake up with no recollection of having bought the thing, and you may have some explaining to do.