The cat’s finally out of the bag regarding Sonos’ long-rumored voice assistant, with Sonos announcing Wednesday that “Hey Sonos” support will be coming to all its voice-enabled, S2-compatible speakers starting June 1.
So, why do we need a Sonos voice assistant when Sonos speakers already host your choice of either Alexa or Google Assistant? Well, there’s the official reason, which is that the single-purpose “Hey Sonos” will be a better voice assistant for music than the ask-me-anything Amazon and Google assistants.
The other likely reason? Sonos is embroiled in an ugly brawl with Google over its IP, and it’s not that happy with Amazon either, so it’s surely looking to lessen its dependence on those two behemoths in terms of voice control.
In any case, Hey Sonos will soon be here as a free update for compatible Sonos speakers, and as with Alexa and Google Assistant, it’s entirely up to you whether you want to use it.
Read on for seven things you need to know about Sonos’ new voice assistant, starting with…
Hey Sonos is voiced by Giancarlo Esposito
Sonos gave me and other reporters an early peek at Hey Sonos at a press-only event in New York on Tuesday (it also revealed the Sonos Ray soundbar, which you can read about here). One of the more surprising–and delightful–bits of news was that the assistant will be voiced by none other than Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and Do the Right Thing fame.
I got to hear Hey Sonos in action during Tuesday’s event, and I was struck (in a good way) by Esposito’s soothing, textured tone, which immediately put me at ease and in the mood for some tunes. In contrast, I find Alexa and Google Assistant’s voices to be somewhat triggering after years of wrangling with them over misunderstood commands (“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get that”).
Esposito will be voicing Hey Sonos only in the U.S., while different voice talents will handle Hey Sonos duties in other territories. Which brings us to another point…
Hey Sonos is coming to the U.S. first
The new Sonos voice assistant will launch stateside starting June 1, while Hey Sonos will come to France later in June (no word yet on who will be voicing Hey Sonos in French).
As for other territories, they’re “to follow,” we’re told, with the U.S. and France serving as test cases for other countries and languages.
Hey Sonos is focused on Sonos speaker control
Well, no duh, but it’s easy to forget how dumb Alexa and Google Assistant can be (sorry, Alexa and Google) when it comes to controlling anything other than their own Alexa and Google speaker groups.
For example, you’ll be able to say, “Hey Sonos, group the Living Room and Dining Room” to group your Sonos speakers in those rooms, something you can’t do with Alexa or Google Assistant (or at least not in terms of Sonos multi-room control). You can also say, “Hey Sonos, stop in the Kitchen and play in the Bedroom,” or “Hey Sonos, a little louder in the Bedroom.”
Hey Sonos will also be savvy at letting you follow up with commands without the “Hey Sonos” wake word; for example, if you say, “Hey Sonos, play Reputation in the Kitchen,” you can follow up with, “a little louder,” or “a little softer.”
Other things you can say are “Hey Sonos, what’s my battery level,” “what’s playing,” “turn on Night Mode” (in the case of a Sonos soundbar), and (of course) “fast forward,” “skip,” and “like this song.” What you won’t be able to do with Hey Sonos commands is control your smart home devices.
Your Hey Sonos voice requests never go to the cloud
Unlike Alexa and Google Assistant, what you say to your Sonos speaker stays on your Sonos speaker. All Hey Sonos voice processing happens on the speaker itself, and your voice requests never go to the cloud, thus ensuring privacy.
Because Hey Sonos is an on-device assistant, it has another advantage over Alexa and Google Assistant…
Hey Sonos works over Bluetooth, but only in a limited fashion
When you’re out and about with the portable Sonos Move or Roam and using them over Bluetooth rather than Wi-Fi, you’ll still be able to chat with Hey Sonos.
That said, the commands that you can use with Hey Sonos will be seriously curtailed in Bluetooth mode. Sonos promises only “essential” control for “volume and pausing” over Bluetooth, which means you won’t be able to request particular tracks or artists, or find out what you’re listening to.
Hey Sonos doesn’t work with Spotify
So, here’s a biggie: Spotify, the biggest music streaming service on the planet, doesn’t support Hey Sonos voice control, or at least not yet. Same goes with some of the other big music streamers, such as Tidal, Qobuz, and YouTube Music.
The music services that do support Hey Google include Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, Pandora, and (naturally) Sonos Radio.
Sonos execs did reveal that while the likes of Spotify, Tidal, and YouTube Music won’t fully support Hey Sonos, the voice assistant will be able to perform basic playback functions with any streamer, including pausing or skipping tracks; that said, you won’t be able to say “Hey Sonos, play Taylor Swift on Spotify.”
Hey Sonos can live alongside Alexa, but not Google Assistant
If you like, you can enable both Alexa and Hey Sonos on the same Sonos speaker at the same time. But while you’re free to put Hey Sonos on one Sonos speaker and Google Assistant on another, they can’t both be enabled on the same Sonos device. Sonos reps didn’t go into detail about why that restriction exists, but we can guess.
As I already mentioned, Sonos also announced the new Sonos Ray soundbar on Wednesday, along with three new colors for the Sonos Roam. You can read about the Sonos Ray and the Roam’s new colors right here.