Sonos buys an AI startup to improve voice control for its speakers

Snips could lead to speedy voice commands for basic playback.

Sonos might just be less reliant on third-party assistants for voice control. The company has bought Snips, a Paris startup that helps create "tailored voice experiences" through its AI voice platform and tools. No, Sonos isn't planning to take on Alexa or Google Assistant -- rather, the company said in a letter that this is to "add to [Sonos] customers' ease of use and control" for music. Snips' speedy, private on-device voice processing is designed to sit alongside general assistants, suggesting that Sonos may reserve the custom voice control for basic functions like playback.

Snips is a small, 50-person outfit, and that was reflected in the size and speed of the deal. Sonos bought the firm for $37.5 million, and it quietly closed on November 14th.

The buyout is a recognition of an intensifying smart speaker market. Competitors have usually leaned more on voice assistants than audio quality to challenge Sonos, but that gap is closing -- it's now possible to get rival speakers that are comparable in both sound and smarts. Snips could help Sonos stand out by delivering performance that isn't possible elsewhere.