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SONOS and Music: Part 2 of 5

Posted on Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Dave!Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.

And now on with the show...

Yesterday I talked about deciding to bypass Apple's HomePod and leap into Sonos. Now that they've released the "Sonos One" with Amazon Alexa built-in, it was a better fit for me and my Alexa-centric lifestyle.

Alas, since Alexa has no way of accessing my iTunes Match library, my best option for having music she can control is to subscribe to "Amazon Music Unlimited" at $79 a year (that price reflects a $20 discount because I'm an Amazon Prime member). Since I can now discontinue iTunes match at $25 a year, that's a net increase of $54 annually over what I was already paying. I'm not happy about it, but there's nothing else I can do to get what I want. Something tells me that Amazon and Apple are not going to cooperate on getting things integrated, and I'm too enamored with Alexa to contemplate her not having control of my music the way she has control over everything else in my life.

Amazon Music Unlimited is nice, for what it is, but it's hardly perfect...

  • My biggest beef is that Alexa doesn't know shit about my music. If I want to listen to Paninaro by Pet Shop Boys, you'd think that all I'd have to do is ask her for it. Not so much. I don't care how I pronounce it, I can never get it to play. And if I specifically say "Alexa, play Paninaro by Pet Shop Boys, she'll say she can't find it even though the song is absolutely available on Amazon Music Unlimited. Whenever this happens (and it happens often) I turn into a rage-monster.
  • Even when Alexa can find the song I want her to play, she'll inevitably pick some freaky alternate version rather than the original song. If I say "Alexa, play Flamboyant by Pet Shop Boys," she'll fire up the demo version, not the album track. I have no clue why. If I want to listen to the demo version, I'd have said "Alexa, play Flamboyant demo version by Pet Shop Boys. It's absolutely stupid, and yet there's nothing you can do.
  • Let's say that I absolutely MUST hear the original Flamboyant track. What do I do? Glad you asked! First I have to fire up my web browser and search for it at Amazon. Then I have to add it to the "My Music" list. THEN I have to say "Alexa, play Flamboyant original version by Pet Shop Boys." Alexa won't know what "original version" means because it's not in the track name... however... when making guesses for a song she can't find, Alexa seems to give preference to songs in "My Music" before she'll play one of the millions of other songs available to her. This whole situation is just nuts but it's all there is.
  • Manually adding songs to the "My Music" list is not always a solution, however. Telling Alexa to "Play Always by Pet Shop Boys" inexplicably causes Alexa to play Always on My Mind instead... even if Always is added to "My Music." The only way I can play it is if I go to Amazon.com, find the song, then see that it’s listed as a 2017 remaster, then tell Alexa to "Play Always 2017 by Pet Shop Boys." It’s insane that I have to look up every song I want to play because Alexa is adding words to my request that I never asked for. If I wanted to play Always on My Mind I would have asked for Always on My Mind and not Always. Not getting what I ask for drives me insane, and I absolutely can't figure out why Alexa is making this a problem.
  • What's worse than having Alexa add words to what I tell her to play? Having her ignore words. Or having her hear the words and not know what to do with them. If I say "Alexa, play Starlight Goldroom Remix by Jai Wolf," she can't find it. She can only find the original Starlight song, which is not what I want. And here's the thing... I have no fucking clue how to play Starlight Goldroom Remix since Alexa refuses to acknowledge it exists in Amazon Music (even though it does). This kind of thing happens way more often than you'd think, and it's buckets of lame. I'm in no way being obtuse with my request. I am literally telling Alexa the exact name of the song, but that doesn't work? Why?
  • Alexa is useless in all new extremes when you ask her to play a song that dares to use initials or abbreviations. Love Etc. by Pet Shop Boys? Can't play it. Not if you say it as "Love Etcetera," not if you say "Love E-T-C," not if you say "Love ehtcee." Nothing. You have tell it to play the album Yes because that's where the song is. No clue how to do this directly with Alexa... I don't even know if it can be done.
  • For reasons I can't fathom, Amazon Music is not as extensive as Apple Music or Spotify. I tried to play A Home to Come To by Silhouettes... it's not there. Which means I can't play it. AT ALL via Alexa. Even though I purchased the song from iTunes and own the file, there's no way to upload it to Amazon. This is shitty in so many ways. Chunks of my music library are simply out of reach with Alexa and Amazon Music "Unlimited." Since I'm discontinuing iTunes Match, all the song not available to me from Amazon will have to be downloaded and stored on all my iOS devices (where Sonos can play them via the Sonos app by streaming off my phone).
  • The Amazon Alexa app for my iPhone is utter shit for so many things, but it's worse than shit for interacting with Amazon Music. You can't even search for a song! All you can do is perform very basic functions like skip to the next track and adjust the volume. I thought perhaps that I'd have better luck with the dedicated Amazon Music app, but it can't interact with my Alexa devices. So I have no idea how to get good control over Alexa when playing Amazon Music. I don't think you can... at least not yet... unless I'm missing something. Some of the slack is taken up by the Sonos app, which actually can search Amazon... but that's a workaround, not a solution, for interacting with Alexa.

That being said, there are some things I love about Amazon Music Unlimited too...

  • Despite not having all my music, the library available is unfathomably vast. In the past I've been adamant about buying music rather than renting it. Now that I can play just about anything any time I want, I'm reconsidering. I hate that any music I want to keep will disappear the minute I stop paying for it, but that's the price you pay for such unprecedented access to a bagillion songs.
  • Being able to ask for songs based on lyrics is about as dope as it gets. One of my all-time favorite Pet Shop Boys songs is The Way it Used to Be. But, for whatever reason, I can never remember the name. I always call the song "What Is Left of Love" because that's the primary hook of the song. Now I can just say "Alexa, play that song by Pet Shop Boys with the lyrics 'What is left of love'" and she'll fire it up. Hear a song on the radio and don't know what it's called or who sang it? Request Alexa to play it from the lyrics. This is far from perfect and Alexa fails as often as she gets it right... but the fact she can do this at all is just remarkable.
  • Alexa and the Alexa app may be shit for accessing the Unlimited library, but the integration with the far superior Sonos app is seamless. Thanks to Amazon for playing nice with Sonos.
  • The quality of the music that's delivered from Amazon is pretty great when played through Sonos. Some songs which break badly on the Alexa speakers are deftly handled by my Sonos One and sound fantastic.

So I dunno. If I have to pay for a streaming music service, I'd rather it be Apple because that's where my music purchases and videos come from. But since Apple was way late to the personal assistant game and has nothing to even touch what Alexa can do, that's not going to happen. So long as I am tied to Alexa for everything, Amazon is where I am going to be. Maybe one day Apple will give up on their laughably bad HomeKit crap and buy out INSTEON or something that drags me back into the fold, but right now I'm done. It's all Alexa all the time until something better comes along. And something tells me Amazon ain't going to allow something better to come along. Alexa is getting better and more capable every day.

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Categories: Apple Stuff 2018, Music 2018Click To It: Permalink
   

Comments

  1. Julia Poole says:

    This may be of no help whatsoever, but one little trick I’ve found when Alexa stubbornly refuses to recognise an artist name is to create a mnemonic playlist called something similar. Example: ‘Azam Ali’ becomes ‘Alison’. Or I name the playlist by genre if it’s unusual (‘Armen Ra’ is renamed ‘Theremin’). It’s not foolproof (as a certified fool I can attest to that) but it’s helped me … even though as I disclaimed to start with, it might have nothing whatsoever to do with the issues you are having. 😉

    • Daver says:

      I’ve actually tried this… creating a “playlist” with a single track… but it ended up being more trouble than its worth for the 12,000 tracks I have because there are so many that Alexa can’t seem to parse. For songs of the moment that I’m particularly enamored with, it’s absolutely a solution. But I usually don’t have the time to be bothered, so I move on. 🙂 The nice thing is that the Sonos app actually does a pretty good job of searching the Amazon Music Unlimited offerings, so if there’s something I simply MUST hear, that’s probably the least amount of work. Hopefully Alexa will continue to get smarter so work-arounds like this aren’t required to play the music we want to hear! 😀

      • Julia Poole says:

        I have a “Various” playlist too for my favourite singles and somehow that also seems to help with pulling out a particular song. But, as you say, Alexa should hopefully get there. 🙂

        • Daver says:

          I’ve found adding them to “My Music” helps… sometimes. Not always. It’s very hit-or-miss. I just wish that Alexa wouldn’t add words to my request and parsed all the words I use for my requests. That would solve 80% of my problems, as understanding what I say doesn’t seem to be the issue. Unless I’m saying abbreviations, spellings, or non-English words.

  2. Cb says:

    I have Sonos and Apple products. I have my music in my ch or whatever it is for Apple— but I have it also on my Mac mini which the sonos links to. So far that’s good enough for me until so is fully integrates to play iTunes.

    • Daver says:

      Yes, you can copy it all to a NAS volume as well… but you can’t control it with Alexa. You can do basic stuff like skip a track, but asking Alexa to play a specific song or artist (or whatever) won’t work. Unless you have an Apple Music subscription, that is. I just went with Amazon because I figured the Alexa integration would be best there. It’s also cheaper by $20 for Prime members.

  3. Neil Turner says:

    Have you considered Plex? There’s an Alexa skill for it, and provided all of your music is on local or network storage, it should be able to play anything that’s in iTunes. https://www.plex.tv/apps/streaming-devices/amazon-alexa/

    • Daver says:

      Actually tried it! My NAS has Plex. But it hangs more than it works, so I’m not sure what’s going on. My NAS seems to be operating perfectly and I can access the Plex share easily from anything else.

  4. Marc says:

    FWIW, Google Play Music (I know, probably not first choice for non-Android users) provides storage for 50.000 own tracks per user account, even without subscription. I consider it the best of both worlds, being able to upload all of my ripped CDs and be able to access a vast library of sometimes even pretty obscure stuff. I believe that the service works with Sonos, too. There’s apparently an ongoing open source effort underway to provide an Alexa skill for it (https://github.com/stevenleeg/geemusic).

    • Daver says:

      I have purchased from Google just to have my foot in that door… and may end up going that route, but I couldn’t find a way of uploading without paying $10 a month for their streaming music service. Since Amazon it’s never going to make it easy for their rival to integrate with Alexa, I’m kinda screwed. The third-party Alexa skill, G-Music, looked crazy difficult to get working… but maybe it will eventually be perfected and I’ll take another look. Still don’t understand why Amazon stopped allowing uploads. Their two biggest competitors do, and it’s strange they aren’t feature-matching.

      • Marc Zimmermann says:

        Indeed, hard to understand. In fact, this was the point that took me there. I’ve had my music library online long before becoming a streaming service subscriber last year.

        You’ve probably just misunderstood the fact that Google Play Music requires a credit card in the Google Play account, but it’s not charged unless you purchase something or subscribe. It’s like that for free app/movie/music offers as well – they want your card info but you can get the stuff for free nevertheless.

        If it’s indeed different nowadays, it must have escaped my eye. Still probably worth a second look.

      • Marc says:

        Oh, I forgot to mention that Google Play’s refund policy is pretty generous. I’ve purchased the soundtrack album from Treme Season 2 and it had the first track wrong (track 1 same as track 2 just named differently). I downloaded and burned it before noticing the error and filed a support request (via interactive chat) a few days later. They couldn’t fix it right away (actually, it’s still not fixed several weeks later and I wonder if it ever will be) but immediadely refunded the whole purchase. I went to Amazon to get the correct version and uploaded it to my Google library. The service seems to be considerably better than what you posted about Apple’s fuckup.

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