Google Assistant in a Sony speaker, adding Bluetooth, splash-proofing, and very handy gesture control. You don’t even have to say ‘Hey Google’...
Alast-minute addition to our group, Sony’s $249 smart speaker again uses Google Assistant, which operates identically to those in the Google Home and JBL Link 10, as detailed in the previous article.
So what else does Sony bring to the party? You get a strangely vertical digital clock display (you can dim this or turn it off, but we thought it very useful), and as with the JBL Link it adds the ability to play via Bluetooth, here with NFC tap pairing. This is a mainspower device, with no battery for portability, and no buttons on top at all (mike muting and Bluetooth pair buttons are at the bottom rear) — instead there’s gesture control. We loved this, and it’s particularly valuable when, say, getting messy in the kitchen. Swipe left/right for previous/next track; circle your finger over the top for volume control (this takes some practise); swipe forward to stop music. You can even swipe forward instead of saying ‘Hey Google’ — perhaps Sony HQ didn’t like hearing the G word quite so often!
The LF-S50G is splashproof to IPX3 rating, behind the JBL’s immersible IXP7 rating, but we like that you can remove the outside cover and rinse it under the tap. Doing so reveals the innards, showing that the S50G is mono, like the Google Home, but with an unusual combination of a 48mm driver firing upward onto an omnidirection diffuser, plus a slightly larger 53mm driver firing down, and rear-ported through a bass reflex duct into the room. Sony promises via
a future update to introduce ‘automated volume control’ “which will adapt to noise in the room so you can always
listen at a comfortable level.” But you can tell Google to turn the volume up or down, use the app, or do the finger-twiddle thing, so you still have plenty of options.
We were able to switch a Spotify stream between the three Cast-equipped smart speakers for easy comparison. At higher levels the Sony maintained clarity to levels far above those of the Google Home. Playing Pink Floyd’s
Money the Sony may have sounded a tad boxy, but it had level to spare far after the Home hit its max. Up too high, however, Dick Parry’s sax solo got rather piercing, whereas the JBL was able to keep this rounded and to make a more solid presentation of the bass and also, as the only stereo speaker here, the JBL was, of course, able to pan the sound effects left and right. At medium levels we were surprised to find that the Sony was perhaps the least musically fulfilling of the group. It lent a flat nasal midrange sound to It’s A Beautful World by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, the bass content trumped by mid/upper frequencies; even the Google Home offered a better balance, with the JBL best of the three by a significant margin.
One excellent bonus with the Sony is a night mode, which reduces LED glare and tames the Assistant volume between hours you select. That fixes the quirk of the Assistant shouting at you in the wee small hours if you’ve left the volume up (see JBL review). You access this through Device Settings in the Google Home app.
So, the Google smarts entirely match the others, and Sony has added some great friendly features; the gestures in particular complement voice control nicely. But the JBL Link 10 trumps the Sony for sound quality.