SONY LF-S50G

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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.

Per­for­mance

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.

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