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Review: Apple Music and Sonos make an almost perfect pair

Apple Music has its share of problems. The Music app is packed to the gills with features, which makes finding basic items that much harder. Liking songs isn't the best way to bookmark them. And little bugs in the system can make it hard to groove out to the songs you enjoy. But despite all that, Apple's music service is still my service of choice. And when I heard it was coming to Sonos's connected speaker system, I was thrilled.

I got my first Sonos speaker (a Playbar) a few years ago, and picked up a new Play:5 for my office after reviewing one last fall; I'm now just a few speakers away from having our entire house hooked up wireless for sound up, and the temptation to add devices increases every day. Not only does Sonos have incredible sound quality, it wirelessly hooks into a bunch of different music services and lets you mix and match music between them. Whether you have Spotify, Mixcloud, Amazon Music (opens in new tab), Bandcamp, Google Play (opens in new tab), Pandora (opens in new tab), SoundCloud, Tidal (opens in new tab), or Apple Music (opens in new tab), you can jam out to a song or album from any of the services.

I've been using Apple Music on Sonos since its initial beta release; here's what's great (and not-so-much).

The great

Sonos's app does an excellent job at integrating Apple Music's various complicated tabs into an easy-to-use interface: When you select the service, you get four large grey boxes with representative pink glyphs: For You, New, Radio, and My Music.

For You, New, and Radio all offer the same content you'd find in the Music app itself, albeit in a much more simplified manner. In the For You section, Sonos's app reduces the big, beautiful cover art from the Music app to list selections with smaller cover art next to each one. Playlists feature four small album covers arranged in a grid, while individual selected albums display solo next to their titles.

Sonos did an excellent job at integrating Apple Music's various complicated tabs into an easy-to-use interface.

New is even more simply arranged, offering a menu list with Top Songs, Top Albums, Apple Editors Playlists, Activity Playlists, and Curator Playlists. I love this version of the New screen: I primarily use the tab on Apple Music to get to the service's Activity playlists, and with Sonos, I can access them with just two taps and no scrolling.

Radio brings both Beats 1 access and support for Apple Music's algorithmic stations; for me, Beats 1 is the real draw, but I've also enjoyed streaming the John Williams Star Wars station as of late. (Still crossing my fingers that the service never takes it down.)

My favorite aspect of Apple Music on Sonos, however, is its integration with my iCloud Music Library. You can upload and manage your iTunes Music Library on Sonos's desktop app, but the process has always felt clunky; with a direct pipeline in Apple Music to all of your cloud-stored content, the Sonos controller will automatically update the content in your tab any time you make a change in the Music app. This includes any custom-built playlists you've created, along with your saved artists, albums, and songs.

Sonos's universal search and queue system is also a huge boon: Not only can you search and add tracks from multiple services, but you can automatically limit your searches to a certain area of Apple Music. This is a great way to find targeted playlists; just select the playlist section of Search and type in a keyword like "working out" or "mountain goats" to find all the playlists related to your query.

Best of all, you can create areas for frequently-listened music by favoriting tracks or albums, or saving custom playlists based off your music queue.

The not-so-good

Sonos's app offers a lot of great stuff for the Apple Music fan, but — like any new offering — I have my nitpicks. There's no great way to Like songs, so your Sonos-picked "For You" choices aren't acknowledged in any way (that I know of) with Apple Music. If you enjoy a track, you'll have to meander on over to the Music app and let Apple Music know.

There's also no way to access Connect, Apple Music's social service. Most of you may write Connect off, but if you enjoy Beats 1, the service is a great way to find yet-to-be-released songs played on-air; I recently wanted to play a song from the upcoming Star Wars Headspace album on my Sonos system and was unable to, because it's not yet available anywhere but Connect.

My last nitpick is more on Apple than Sonos: One of Apple Music's greatest advantages to other services is its Siri integration, but there's no current way to do that with the Sonos controller. Apple needs to provide third-party hooks for such a service to work properly; until it does, you're stuck picking music from the Sonos app rather than asking Siri to add it to your queue automatically.

Bottom line

If you're a Sonos customer and an Apple Music subscriber, you're going to love Apple Music on your speaker system: It adds a huge catalog of tracks and an excellent array of playlists, along with full access to your iCloud Music Library.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

  • It's too bad Apple and Sonos couldn't get this together before the initial trial ended. I have Sonos all through my house, and I was very interested in seeing how the Apple Music integration would work. But I'm not interested enough to actually subscribe to Apple Music, especially since I'm using a service that covers almost all of the bases for me.. I've used a number of Sonos-music services integrations. Spotify's is pretty bad -- there's no way to access your music by artist, album, etc. You can only access playlists. That's a big fail (maybe this has changed). And with Spotify, you also can't integrate your own music with the Spotify-Sonos experience. Amazon Music-Sonos integration is good, and it will be better when Prime music is available via Sonos (not sure if it is, or if this is a beta feature still). But for my money, Google Play Music has the best Sonos integration. Via Sonos, I can access my music by playlist, artist, album, genre, song, etc. Plus I have access to all the other music in the system. Search works great. I also have access to the former Songza feature, which works well in Sonos. And all of my own music -- music I have in iTunes -- has been matched/uploaded to Google Play Music (and all newly-added iTunes music gets uploaded -- music I rip from new CDs or MP3s I buy from Amazon Music, and sometimes from iTunes). So I have access to all my music, along with what I've selected from Google Play Music. Basically, this is the same as iCloud Library integration you get with Apple music (too bad you must have Apple Music -- and not just iTunes Match -- to have Sonos integration). I'm primarily an iOS user (iPhone and iPad), but I also have a Nexus 7 tablet. Within the Google Music app on Android, you can send music directly to Sonos, without having to go through the Sonos app. This is a bonus feature, and one I would think a native Android user would really value. And lastly, since I subscribed to Google Play Music when it was first released, my monthly rate is a bit lower... $7.99. A nice little extra. So, for my money, while not perfect, Google Play Music's Sonos integration is the best.
  • Does Apple Music allow to stream the music to a Bluetooth speaker? Sent from the iMore App
  • Why wouldn't it!? Sent from the iMore App
  • Sure it can.
  • Side question: how does a service get on Sonos? Does the app apply or does Sonos reach out? I'd really love for Overcast to work. Would probably buy Sonos in a heartbeat. I asked Marco on Twitter but didn't get a response.
  • I suggested this to Arment (via Twitter) right after Overcast was released. I agree.... it would be great to see it on Sonos. But I suspect there might be some real IP issues at work here since Overcast doesn't really own any rights to the content (or have licenses for them). But that's just a guess.
  • The only way to use Sonos properly is to connect it to an Apple Airport Express WiFi device so that you can use Airplay on any iOS device. Completely seamless. Not sure why Sonos can't just support Airplay without this add on.
  • I am also using Amazon Music (combined with iTunes Match) for my Sonos speakers, but I am struggling. I do not have iOS at all. I use Windows on my desktop and Android on my phone. I have a few big issues: (1) I can't play by genre, which is how I play, (2) the smart playlists don't come thru, (3) I can't leverage the checkbox - either to prevent syncing with iTunes Match or to prevent playing.
  • Not being able to use Siri is leaving out a killer feature of Apple Music. Using your iPhone or iPad with an Airport Express (connected to much better speakers) will give you Siri functionality. I see no advantages to the Sonos system except for having overpriced speakers scattered around the house.