At a press conference in San Francisco on Wednesday (June 6), leading smart speaker maker Sonos unveiled its latest creation. At first glance, the Sonos Beam is just another a sleek, compact, voice-controlled soundbar intended to sit below a television, but as CEO Patrick Spence noted in his opening remarks, the new gadget is the first of its kind with the intent of limiting excessive screens, wires and devices.
“Instead of endless pings, posts, and opinions,” Spence said, “you get exactly what you ask for. You go from Twitter to time together.”
Now available for $399 pre-order in black or white and slated for release on July 17, most impressive features of the Sonos Beam are related to its ability to simultaneously integrate multiple voice assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. By way of example, Sonos vice president of marketing Allen Mask used an iPad to ask Siri to initiate a song on one speaker before instructing Alexa to carry the song over to another device. Mask noted that the demonstration marked the “first public demo of two voice assistants working together on a speaker,” and promised that integration for Google Assistant will also be available later this year.
Later in the presentation, Sonos vice president of software Antoine Leblond touched on the company’s long-term goal to support all voice assistants and cited the work Sonos has begun with China’s Rokid to allow for Mandarin voice recognition as proof of their efforts.
The thesis behind Wednesday’s announcement from Sonos is clearly targeted towards helping their customers ditch unnecessary remote controls. Thanks to an HDMI-ARC port on the Beam, the speaker can be hooked directly into a television. This means you can turn your TV on and off, tell it what to play, and even ask it to lower the volume all without ever pushing a button. The box for the Beam will also include an optical audio adapter to fit with older television models.
In addition to its hardware announcement, Sonos confirmed that starting in July, AirPlay 2 compatibility will arrive with a free software update. The AirPlay 2 supported products for Sonos include the new Beam, the Sonos One, the Playbase and the second generation of the Play:5. Many customers have long been vocal in their demands for AirPlay 2 functionality, which will allow for music and podcasts stored on iOS devices to be played directly on Sonos speakers. It will further offer the integration of Siri voice commands, meaning users can ask Siri to play content from their Apple Music libraries.
Following the presentation, Sonos invited attendees to sit on a couch in a makeshift living room and experience the Beam for themselves. Through voice-activated commands, the Beam turned on a television, adjusted the volume and played clips from Westworld, WALL-E, Arrival and Stranger Things, as well as Radiohead‘s “Reckoner,” Beck‘s “Wow” and more.
The clarity of the dialogue in Westworld was notable, which a Sonos staff member running the demonstration noted was an area of focus for the Beam’s design team. Equally impressive was the Beam’s ability to recognize a voice command while loudly playing a song, an achievement made possible thanks to a five linear far-field microphone array.
With support for over 80 music services and its seamless television compatibility, the Sonos Beam may actually live up to Spence’s lofty stated goal for his company: “to make the best smart speaker for your living room and your TV.”