Hands-On: Sonos One with Google Assistant

Posted on May 27, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Music + Videos, Smart Home with 9 Comments

Excited by the possibility of integrating Sonos smart speakers into my whole-house audio system, I purchased a Sonos One recently. But it doesn’t work exactly the way I’d like: Sonos One does support Google Assistant, but it doesn’t support Chromecast, so you can’t add it to an existing Chromecast-based system like the one I use.

Maybe this shouldn’t have been surprising. After all, Google Assistant and Chromecast are two different things. And Sonos designs its smart speakers as an integrated system, an integrated Sonos system. To play in this world, you need to use Sonos equipment only. (Or, soon, some “Sonos powered” IKEA smart speakers too.)

But that’s not strictly true: In addition to allowing smartphone apps like Spotify and Google Play Music to control Sonos systems directly, without needing to use the Sonos app, Sonos also supports AirPlay 2. This is basically Apple’s version of Chromecast and it supports both video and audio, and in the latter case, it supports both stereo pairing and multiple speakers. In other words, whole-house audio.

I verified that AirPlay 2 works as expected by streaming, or casting, audio from an iPad (played with the Apple TV app) to the Sonos One. No issues there.

But it doesn’t work on the Google side. When I bring up the Chromecast menu in apps, the Sonos One only appears in those apps that have native Sonos capabilities (again, Spotify and Google Play Music). But I can’t add the Sonos to my whole-house audio system using the Google Home app. It just doesn’t see it.

Maybe that will happen someday. For now, what you get is a premium-quality smart speaker with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support. (And, via AirPlay 2, you sort of also get Siri support if you’re an Apple user.) For those like me in the Google ecosystem, that means that it works like a Google Home: It can listen for your verbal commands and you can target it (or other speakers) with those commands.

But app and service compatibility is mixed, at least for me. I can play Audible audiobooks to Sonos using that app’s “Connect to a device” functionality. And Google Play Music can natively control Sonos, as noted. But Castbox, my favorite podcasting app, supports Chromecast on Android, and the Sonos doesn’t appear in the list of compatible devices. (I assume that AirPlay 2 support on iOS means this would work on iPhone.) I could change podcasting apps, I guess.

Aesthetically, the Sonos One is a handsome smart speaker and it offers a nice visual update over the three Sonos:1 smart speakers I previously purchased. (It’s a nice functional update, too, since those earlier Sonos speakers don’t support Alexa or Assistant either.) The sound quality is excellent, but I’ll point out again that my $99.99 Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers sound even better and are central to my Chromecast-powered whole-house audio system. A pair of Sonos One speakers would set you back $380, almost four times the cost.

Of course, people buy Sonos for the quality and style, and for the cachet of the brand. And those Sonos One delivers on all that. It’s just not exactly what I was looking for.

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Comments (9)

9 responses to “Hands-On: Sonos One with Google Assistant”

  1. ommoran

    I have the original Sonos 1, which I won as a door prize somewhere.

    Honestly, I was underwhelmed when I found out that the high cost of the things also meant a very locked in system. Yeah, it allows me to play Google Play music and Pocketcasts from my Android (originally) and now iPhone (work provided), but Sonos' lock in and control leaves as foul a taste in my mouth as does Apple's.

    My Google Home, however, I love. Funny how much better it worked with an Android phone, of course, but I still prefer it to the Sonos.

    • louiem3

      In reply to ommoran: can you give more detail on what you mean by locked in system? What would you consider an open system that is Sonos-like?

    • jchampeau

      In reply to ommoran:

      There really isn't any "lock in" with Sonos. Their stuff works with a zillion streaming services and you can switch between them effortlessly. Google Home, on the other hand, is pretty limited in this regard. This page shows Sonos supports 126 streaming music providers while this page shows Google supports five, and two of those are their own.

    • nerdile

      In reply to ommoran:

      They are nice, expensive speakers that form a virtual speaker mesh throughout your home. But you can't use them to play whatever audio you want. The audio has to come from an Approved Source. That is what is meant by lock-in.

      Have some audio files on your computer or in the cloud? Playing a video embedded in a web page? Watching something on TV and want that audio to play in the kitchen as well? These things aren't impossible, but they're usually complicated or cost extra to do. (Like, subscribing to a music streaming service, or buying a Sonos Amp to get a line input into your Sonos mesh.). The mutual exclusion of other mesh technologies is also frustrating.

      Again, these aren't major issues for most people - but the combination of high price tag + artificial software limitations starts to look a lot like rent-seeking.

  2. m_p_w_84

    The downside of Google is that the concept of ‘casting’ is so alien to other people in my home. No one has a problem with understanding how to play whatever through the sonos app.

    • ozaz

      In reply to m_p_w_84:

      Completely agree with this and this is one of the two major reasons I buy Sonos.

      The other is I’ve always been extremely happy with reliability and stability, which isn’t something I can say about Airplay or Chromecast.

  3. smahoneysr

    Hi Paul

    Do you need a Chrome cast for this to work or is it built in? I checked online nothing about chrome cast.

  4. mestiphal

    I recently got a Marshal Multi-Room. it doesn't have a mic, so it's not fully Google Assistance compatible per say, but it needs to be setup through the Google Home app, and it does have Chromecast built in. It can be selected by itself, or added to a group of speakers. Audio is fantastic.

    With it's app Internet Radio can also be heard, and it has knobs in which up to seven stations can be pre-configured.

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