Hands-On: Spotify + Sonos

Posted on December 19, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Android, iOS, Mobile, Music + Videos with 9 Comments

Hands-On: Spotify + Sonos

For the past few months, I’ve been testing a new capability that integrates Spotify Premium with the Sonos connected speaker system.

It’s wonderful. And it needs to come to other music services immediately.

Sonos announced in late August that it would open up its connected speaker systems to third party apps. If you use Sonos, you understand why this is a big deal.

If you do not, then here’s the short version: To date, Sonos has been a closed system, meaning that you must use the firm’s Sonos Connector app (on Windows or mobile) to play music through their speakers. This is both good and bad: Though I find Sonos Connector to be terribly designed and hard to use, it does let you mix and match playlists from multiple services. But who really needs that feature? (And who would want to lock the resulting playlists to Sonos?)

The other issue with Sonos Controller is that you’re stuck with whatever services it supports. There is broad support for music services—even Microsoft Groove is in there—but it starts to break down when you turn to podcasts. And Audible isn’t supported at all. (It used to be.)

So Sonos opening up its speakers to third party apps is huge. This means that the apps we actually use could support playback over Sonos, just as they support Chromecast (Android, iOS) and AirPlay (iOS) today. It makes Sonos a smarter and safer buy, which helps everyone—Sonos and its potential customers—because these things are so damned expensive.

Finally, it’s nice to just use a single app. If you choose Spotify, or Groove, or whatever, you get used to how that app works. And it’s weird to have to switch apps to play music over a certain speaker or set of speakers. This should just work from the app. And now, with Spotify, it does.

As I wrote in August, Sonos is opening up its speakers first with Spotify, the world’s leading paid streaming music service, and with Echo, Amazon’s market-leading voice-controlled digital assistant appliance. I don’t have an Echo, but as noted, I have been testing this capability with Spotify, thanks to a Sonos beta program I’m part of.

But you don’t need to be in the beta: As of this month, anyone can control Sonos speakers using the Spotify app. You need to have a Spotify Premium (or Premium for Family) account to use this feature, but beyond that it works exactly as expected.

On my iPhone, I see all of the available speakers in the house: There are Sonos, AirPlay, and Chromecast options on the Now Playing screen.

available

When I tap that area, I see the list. My living room-based Sonos system—a paired set of Sonos PLAY:1 speakers, the cheapest models they sell—appears as “Living Room,” which is the name I gave them in Sonos Connector, and is noted as type “Spotify Connect”.

list

To switch from the phone’s internal speakers to my Sonos system, I just select that option from the list, obviously. Basic playback works exactly as you’d expect, and you can adjust the volume, navigate through your collection, whatever, just as you normally do. The only difference is that playback occurs through the Sonos speakers. It’s only worth mentioning because this was never possible before (from the Spotify app).

volume

But there are other capabilities. You can also select a “More” (“…”) option next to the Sonos speaker system to manage Sonos speaker groups (rooms, really; I have only the one) or to do more complex management tasks, which requires (and launches) the Sonos Connector app.

Spotify also benefits from the social functionality that Sonos has always offered. Which is to say that Sonos speaker systems are, by default, “unlocked”: Anyone can come into your home and add songs to the Now Playing list and make other changes. Now they can do so with Spotify too. (This can be abused, of course.)

I was surprised to discover Sonos was opening up its speakers, but in retrospect it makes tons of sense. And now that it’s available on Spotify—which I have because the rest of my family uses this service—I’d like to see it opened up on the music apps I really do use. And on Audible, which would be amazing.

Good stuff.

 

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