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Alexa and Google Assistant work well together on JBL's new speaker, but not perfectly

Alexa and Google Assistant work well together on JBL's new speaker, but not perfectly

JBL is very proud of its new Authentics speaker range. It prides itself on its retro-inspired design, which is reminiscent of its L-100 speakers from the 1970s. It prides itself on the sound quality (obviously) and the range of streaming services and technologies they support. But when I got a chance to try out the speaker for myself, the only thing on my mind was its ability to run Google Assistant and Alexa at the same time, and listen for each wake word simultaneously.

This isn't the first time that two popular voice assistants have been available on the same speaker, nor is it the first time that two voice assistants have been available side by side. Sonos already sells speakers that have both the Google Assistant and Alexa built-in, but only one can be active at a time—you can't have them both listening and responding to commands. Alexa may also be present for use with Sonos' own voice control service, but not with the Google Assistant.

That's why it's a big deal to be able to listen to your wake words at the same time as Alexa and Google Assistant, the most full-featured and popular voice assistants out there.

I was given a demonstration of the JBL Authentics 300, the middle child of the new Authentics lineup. The $329.99 Authentics 200 is smaller and less powerful, and the $699.99 Authentics 500 is larger, with an active subwoofer and support for Dolby Atmos. The $429.99 Authentics 300 sits in between them in size, power, and price, and is also the only member of the lineup to be battery-powered (JBL claims you'll get about eight hours of playback on a single charge).

So how well do Alexa and Google Assistant really work together? In my brief time with the speakers, I'd say they do a good job, but with a few caveats.

In my demonstrations, I saw the best results from more general voice commands. Ask Google to start playing some music, and Alexa will have no trouble adjusting the volume after the fact. If you start a countdown using Alexa, Google won't panic when asked to silence the resulting alarm. Ask Alexa to play a news briefing, and Google will happily silence it with the "Hey Google, pause" command.

But if I used commands that were more specific to the content being played then problems started to appear. I asked Google to set a timer before asking Alexa to stop before it's done, and Alexa replied "No timer set." I asked Alexa to read the news, and then asked Google to "stop news" and the Google Assistant happily told me "Nothing's happening right now" (the more common command is "Hey Google, stop"). Work done).

So the two voice assistants aren't always able to function as one, and it took a bit of trial and error for me to figure out how best to get them to work in sync. But initially it felt like a trial-and-error process of talking to the voice assistant a lot, figuring out what different assistants understood and didn't understand voice commands.

Apart from their voice assistant (which can be turned off with a physical mute switch at the back), the speakers seem thoughtfully designed and well-specified. All three speakers in the lineup come with a trio of dials on top, one for volume (as you'd expect) and two others for manually adjusting the speaker's bass and treble levels. According to J├╝rgen Amsterdam, director of product marketing at JBL's parent company, Harman, including this type of EQ control on the speaker is useful when multiple people are using the speaker in a household, but only if one of them is using the speaker. Have JBL partner. App installed. But he also admits that a lot of the dials look downright cool. "It's part of the design, it goes back to its retro look," says Amsterdam.

The lineup's most obvious retro touch is its front grille, whose design is similar to that of the company's classic L-100 speaker (as well as its recent Home speakers). The new JBL Authentics are only available in black for now, but when I asked about other colors like JBL's signature orange, Amsterdam says the company wants to "make sure black is successful" before starting the experiment.

It features three dials as well as a programmable "Moment" button, which can be set to automatically play a playlist or radio station from any streaming service available within JBL's companion app. Unfortunately this doesn't extend to services that work with the speaker but aren't available within JBL's app (Spotify is the prime example), but it does allow for a button to play the radio station of your choice via TuneIn. Provides a set. Opens the door to being able. Without opening any app every time.

As for connectivity, JBL's Authentics speakers offer traditional Bluetooth and a 3.5mm aux input (Ethernet for wired Internet), and also have wide compatibility with various streaming services and multi-room systems. There's support for AirPlay, Alexa multi-room music, Spotify Connect, and Chromecast built-in, and support for Tidal Connect is coming in a future firmware update (for now, Tidal can be played from within the JBL app ). Future firmware updates will also include the ability to link multiple JBL speakers together to create stereo and even multi-channel surround sound listening setups.

It's hard to predict how a speaker will sound at a launch event performance, where you're locked in a room full of strangers and listening to music you're not familiar with. But from what I've heard about JBL's three Authentics speakers, they sound like they're really powerful. Even the smaller Authentics 200 has weight, but as you move up the lineup, the sound becomes more detailed, culminating in the Atmos-enabled Authentics 500, which offers the best sound separation. That speaker is equipped with three 1-inch tweeters, three 2.75-inch midrange woofers, and a 6.5-inch active subwoofer. The step-down speakers in the range have fewer drivers and passive radiators.

Finally, a note on sustainability. JBL advertises that the Authentics speakers are made using 100 percent recycled fabric, 85 percent recycled plastic, and 50 percent recycled aluminum. The battery on the Authentics 300 is also designed to be easy to replace if it wears out over time. Currently it can be replaced by authorized service centers, but the company is working towards making it officially user-replaceable before the new EU regulations come into effect in 2027.

My big question, and one to which neither I nor my colleague Jennifer Pattison Tuohy got a conclusive answer in our interviews with Harman, Google, and Amazon, was whether we could see Alexa and the Google Assistant co-located in the future. Can. Those who wish can see more speakers. There's clearly been a lot of work done on this feature from all three companies, and my demo showed that most of the technical hurdles have been ironed out.

But, for now, it seems that simultaneous access to both voice assistants is being seen as an experiment that may or may not be repeated. "This is the first test," Marisa Chacko, director of product management for Google's Home Assistant, told my colleague Jennifer. "We want to see how it goes and see if there's a demand for it."

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