Sonos One Meets Alexa

Posted Posted in Connected Home

It’s not my fault that I’m very, very particular about how my music sounds. My dad was an audiophile who originally owned a record store and moved on to own radio stations. He’d build speakers for our home from scratch, going to Acoustic Research in Cambridge, MA for the very best parts. And then fishing through walls and floors to wire for whole home audio. These were large, stage/concert quality speakers and wow, it was magnificent even though I wasn’t allowed to play rock and roll or folk music. When I started equipping my own home for music, many, many years later, I started with some Bose bookshelf speakers in one room and then a 5.1 system of speakers from Cambridge Soundworks through a home receiver/home theater setup. But still only in one room/one floor And then, along came Sonos with whole home audio. I listened to Sonos Play 5’s in a showroom and was hooked. And of course everything was going digital and online streaming services were just starting up and I signed up for Pandora. I ripped my existing CD collection to digital and starting working on doing the same with my dad’s vast collection of vinyl. With Sonos Play 5’s paired up on 2 floors, I had whole home audio (the master bedroom shares air space with my loft home office and a cathedral ceiling covers both).

sonos oneI’d been thinking about getting a pair of Play 1’s for the bedroom for a while and didn’t pull the trigger as I started hearing the rumors of an Alexa powered Sonos speaker. I’d been using an Echo Dot in the master bedroom, sometimes connect to a Bose Soundlink Mini II (which I mostly use outside on my deck in the summer). So, I when launch day arrived, I grabbed two white Sonos Ones.

I’d already enabled the Sonos skill in the Alexa app and linked my Sonos account, so setting up the new speakers was pretty fast and easy. Got them tuned with True Play. And they sound amazing. Alexa somehow sounded happier on Sonos One than on the Echo Dot Winking smile

And then the first test, “Alexa, play Adele in the Bedroom”. Oh yeah, shuffling Alexa from Prime Music (where I have some playlists) and oh yeah, what great sound. A stereo pair really fills the room and while some complain about not having thumping base, for me, the balance is perfect. My music taste is pretty eclectic and ranges from Opera to Rock, to Blues, to Folk, to Jazz and to Classical.

There is one negative about Sonos that I feel important to call out. Since Sonos still (obstructively) relies on the dangerous SMB1 protocol for streaming from local Windows computers to Sonos speakers, I’ve moved to a DLNA based Twonky Server on NAS for streaming my huge collection of ripped music. Sonos really should be ashamed of themselves for not addressing this.

Alexa, What Can You do on Sonos One?

There are only a few Alexa skills that I’ve found that don’t work on Sonos One. You can’t make and receive calls (but for my usage, being able to make and receive calls on Sonos is not something I need, and I do have an Echo Show in the kitchen). On the other hand, I do like to call up my Flash Briefing when I get up and currently when I ask Alexa for my flash briefing on Sonos One, there is silence. I’ve been told this is a known limitation and being looked into. An Internet search turned up this Sonos thread on non working skills where after reading through all the posts, it seems that only Sleep Sounds is called out by name as not working along with the Flash Briefing. I’m not concerned about the sleep sounds skill since as an Amazon Prime subscriber there are plenty of Sleep Sound playlists that work just fine if I ask Alexa to “play a sleep sounds playlist in the bedroom”. Edit: Working as of November 30! But all the other Alexa skills that I currently use are working and I’m a very happy camper. Compared to using an Echo Dot and a connected speaker, well, for me there is no comparison. Sonos One rocks.

Alexa, Sonos, Smart Things, Harmony, Oh My

Posted Posted in Alexa, Amazon Echo

So I wasn’t invited to the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Alexa beta and I have some concerns about how Sonos activities are going to be handled with respect to Alexa’s voice recognition.

It isn’t exactly transparent how to add/configure the Harmony->Sonos->Smart Things->Alexa routines to start Playlists or Stations from your Sonos favorites after you’ve done an initial setup. You have to roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty.

When you edit your Sonos favorites in any official Sonos App (add/remove, etc.) the Harmony App/Remote doesn’t necessarily reread the Sonos lists. To get a revised Sonos Favorites list to refresh for Harmony, you need to START a Sonos favorite, hit the star key on the bottom of the app, then scroll and hit REFRESH. Then you can edit that activity and select a new channel or add Activities and specify a Sonos favorite from the refreshed, up to date list.

Below is a screen shot of the first “page” of (scrollable) activities. The naming convention is something I’m working on, and I’ll explain a little further along in this post. Ideally, I should be able to use the same Activity Name across the board, but this turns out to be problematic and confusing.

harmony

When you’ve configured and tested your new or edited Activities, next step is to add a Thing to SmartThings. This, too, isn’t intuitive. Select the + on the Things screen on your phone, then Entertainment, Buttons/remotes. Select Logitech. Your already configured Harmony Hub will appear. Select it, watch the spinning cursor as it refreshes and pulls down your revised, increased list of Harmony Activities. Then select additional activities, watch the cursor spin and the app will populate with the revised list of activities.

Smart Things insists on adding [Harmony Remote] to the end of activities imported from Harmony; you’ll need to edit them to at least remove the [Harmony Remote]. To edit, tap the activity to open its page and then the gear wheel to edit the name. Here’s where the name game becomes interesting. I’ll come back to this when I’m done explaining the process to get all of this hooked up to Alexa for voice control.

smartthings

The final step is to access the Smart Home tab in the Alexa Echo app. If you have the SmartThings skill enabled, you will need to disable it and then enable it so that it can re-read the list of “Things”. Then you’ll need to re-run Discovery (a pop-up should automatically appear to action this). All of your new activities should now show in the Your Devices list. And you’ll need to do this each and every time you edit or add a “Thing”.

There’s a big gotcha to be aware of. You can’t use the Station name/Playlist Name in your Sonos Favorites. You can’t use any Artist name or recognizable Playlist Name because Alexa will ignore the SmartThings skill and play music natively on Echo/Dot.

Here’s how I learned what works and what doesn’t.

I discovered that when I selected an Amazon Playlist named ABBA (or even the Pandora ABBA Station) from Favorites for the channel to play from Sonos on the Harmony Activity named Sonos Music and linked it with SmartThings and enabled Alexa that every single time Alexa played something else named Sonos on the current Sonos speaker (or already grouped speakers). And completely ignored the SmartThings list. When I renamed the “Thing” to My Sonos in SmartThings and removed/re-added the skill in the Alexa App, I had better luck, but only some of the time.

I similarly had problems with a John Denver and a Judy Collins playlist in Favorites. Alexa consistently ignored the SmartThings skill and played music by (whomever) on the Echo or DOT. .

After the above limitations sunk in, I decided to try a task based name, Exercise Workout. I set that up and was able to use ANY Sonos favorite without confusing Alexa. So in SmartThings, I currently have Sonos Colorado for John Denver and Sonos Folk for Judy Collins (these work). I’ll have to come up with better, memorable names that are task based.

So now I’m going to finish the task of renaming activities on the Harmony and in SmartThings to get this Harmony-Sonos-SmartThings-Alexa setup to work 100% of the time. Probably using task based and/or some other convention that Alexa won’t recognize. If you have any ideas, let me know on Twitter @barbbowman.

And I hope that the same situation isn’t true with the coming “native” Alexa support for the Logi Harmony Ultimate.

Completing My Alexa Connected Home with Sonos Stations via Yonomi

Posted Posted in Amazon Echo, Connected Home

Earlier this week I started a quest to include my Sonos speakers in my Connected Home in order to control them and action music with my Amazon Echo. I found a “wow” solution for DLNA control using JRiver Media Center and a powerful Alexa skill called House Band. What was missing was a way to summon and play my cloud based streaming stations using Alexa’s voice control. Last night I found a great solution in the Yonomi App (available for iOS and Android) that just this week added Alexa integration.

I’ve got a bunch of streaming stations configured in Sonos and all are added to my Sonos favorites. I’ve got Pandora Radio fav’s, Amazon Prime Stations, Tune In Radio, plus some of my own local playlists.

Yonomi works using routines that you can set up based on time and/or location, but you don’t need to make routines dependent on those criteria, you can just set up a routine that you can summon on demand, and once you hook up via the Smarthome menu on the Echo App, Alexa can TURN ON (routine name). Magic.

I’ve got all kinds of “things” provisioned in the Echo App. Insteon modules, Hue Lights, etc. Here’s a short video where I turn on a lamp and then start a Pandora Station that plays ABBA radio using a Yonomi routine called “Fun Stuff” to my Living Room Sonos:

 

Here’s how I did it.

 

1. I downloaded the Yonomi app and set up and account and then ran Discovery and it found my Sonos Speakers. I connected Yonomi to Alexa.

connect2alexa

 

2. I created a new routine without a location or time based trigger that sent my Favorite:Abba Radio (Pandora Station) to my Living Room Sonos and named it “Fun Stuff”. (You want to avoid using names that might trigger Amazon Music to play directly on the Echo, which is why I didn’t name it Abba Radio.

routineroutine2

 

3. I selected Favorites in the Yonomi App and added Fun Stuff

 

favorites

4. I opened the Echo app from a computer (http://echo.amazon.com) and navigated to Smarthome and ran Discovery. Yonomi, the Sonos Speakers, and the Routines were discovered. Note: every time you add a new routine you will need to return to the Echo App and run discovery, the routines are not added automatically; think of them as devices that need to be discovered every time a new one is added).

 

I can now tell Alexa to Turn on Fun Stuff. Boom, the Sonos speaker starts playing Abba Radio.

 

Bonus! I get a notification on my Apple Watch showing what routine is being run.

yonomi

 

I’m REALLY liking this – and I’ve just gotten started. I’ve got Yonomi for streaming station Alexa voice control and House Band that can actually search my local collection and put together on the fly playlists by artist, album, etc. Can it get any better than this?

Insteon and Sonos Happy Together

Posted Posted in Connected Home, Home Automation, Insteon, Sonos

 

 

insteon

I’ve had my Sonos Play 5’s since 2010 and started my Insteon Connected Home in 2012. And now, I’m happy to say that Insteon has made it possible to incorporate Sonos speakers in my little connected world. As announced at CES 2016, Insteon integration makes it possible to incorporate music into your Insteon scenes, control scenes and playback via keypads, mini remotes and more, and use the Insteon App to control speakers.

Supported features are as follows:

Control play, pause, volume, and tracks for a Sonos Player from an Insteon Keypad, Mini Remote or Wall Switch
Trigger a Sonos preset from an Insteon Keypad, Mini Remote or Wall Switch
Use a scene to trigger a Sonos preset

 

Setting it Up for the First Time

 

 

discover sonosIt takes a few steps to get all of the new features this set up, starting with discovering your Sonos speakers. You can add up to four speakers; they all should be discovered, but you will need to go back and add them one at a time (those already added will be greyed out).

If you have trouble setting up your Sonos speakers, check http://www.insteon.com/support-knowledgebase/ for a solution.

Once you’ve added your Sonos speakers, you can immediately use the Sonos transport controls within the iOS app (Play, Pause, skip, volume up or down, next, previous, etc.).

In order to reap the full benefits of Sonos integration with Insteon, you’ll need to setup presets using the Insteon App in combination with the Sonos app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set Up Presets

 

Currently, up to 10 presets are supported (and these are shared among all Sonos speakers controlled by Insteon). Also, only Pandora stations are officially supported at this time. I don’t know if other music services will be added over time.

To get started adding presets, the first step is to open the Sonos App on your iPhone and start playing the station you want to configure in the Insteon app.

1. Open the Sonos App and play the station you want to use as an Insteon preset.

2. Go to Devices, Edit Devices, and select a Sonos player and then select Add a Preset.

3. If the station you want is playing, tap Next when prompted.

4. Change the name if you don’t like what is automatically configured and then tap Done.

 

steps add preset

 

Setup Scenes that Include Sonos

 

 

scheduleThis is a very big deal for me. Previously, I could set Sonos Alarms to wake me to music and separately set some schedules scenes in Insteon to turn on lights at the same time. With this new functionality, I’ve been able to create a scene that turns on lights and wake me to the Doobie Brothers Pandora station and use Insteon to schedule an ON time and and OFF time. Once you’ve configured your presets, if you’re familiar with the Insteon App, it’s very easy to setup a scene that includes Sonos speakers, and then configure a schedule.

I’ve got my two Sonos players grouped, using the Sonos App on my iPhone so I’ve got the same music playing upstairs and downstairs. My home office is a loft room that shares a cathedral ceiling with the master bedroom, and the Office Sonos sits on the railing and fills both the loft and the bedroom with sound.

I don’t think I’ve had a better “wake up and get out of bed” alarm, ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use Remotes and Keypads and

 

More to Control Sonos Playback

 

 

In addition to all the above, Insteon devices such as wireless mini remotes, keypads, plug in modules/on off switches, etc. can be used to control Sonos functions. Using an 8 button Insteon mini remote, you can assign a preset to each button and have an arm chair remote for your favorite 8 stations. Or set up a motion sensor to trigger Sonos music.

Bottom line, if you’re an Insteon user with Sonos speakers, all of this is coming your way in the very near future. Watch http://www.insteon.com/sonos/ for news.

Sonos S5 Music Players, Connected, Converged, Fantastic

Posted Posted in Apple, DLNA, iPad, iPhone, Media Center, Networking, Software, Sonos, Technology, WHS, Windows 7, Wireless Streaming

I’m not easily impressed, but my jaw is hanging open today after installing two Sonos S5 Music Players to cover my home with end to end music. I’ve used computers, Media Center Extenders and all kinds of hardware and software in the past to move music around my home, but I always had to cobble together pieces and use separate devices and controllers to get what I wanted.  What did I want? Well, everything imaginable. The list below is not in any particular order:

1. The ability to stream from ANY of my computers (using Play To or anything else) to more than one music player/renderer simultaneously.

2. To be able to control the volume above individually or together.

3. Play Pandora Radio and other Internet sourced digital music

4. Use existing/create new playlists

5. Use iPhones, iPads and  iPxxx whatever to control and manage the device as a remote control (including graphical menus).

6. Use the system as an alarm clock with choices to wake from alarm, music, Internet music, whatever

7. Wireless connectivity in my Living Room

8. A system that was upgradeable.

9. Quality sound

10. Expandability

I’m still stunned that I found a system that does ALL of the above. (And I’m betting I discover more features – I’ve only had a few hours experience with this all, so my exploration and discovery has only just begun).

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