This week we’re testing the Onkyo G3, a smart speaker featuring Google Assistant and Chromecast Built-In technology. Onkyo has manufactured this alternative to the Google Home speaker, and it offers some serious acoustic advantages, namely, hi-fi drivers and a moderately powerful amplifier. We used our ears and our voice to put this speaker to the test, and then took out our screwdriver…
Voice control is here
Using your voice to ask your speaker to play music is no longer science fiction. Recent progress in artificial intelligence has been transforming–once again–the way we listen to music. Google, who is no stranger to this fact, has integrated a smart assistant into its Android mobile OS which can understand and respond to voice commands.
A few months ago, Google Assistant began being offered on devices other than smartphones. Google launched its Google Home and Google Mini speakers, Bose introduced the Bose Quietcomfort II headphones, Sony brought out the Sony LF-S50 speaker, and now, Onkyo has its own solution with the Onkyo G3. These products all feature a pair of microphones which are activated when the user says “OK Google,” allowing the speaker to process and respond to the user’s request. Ask the Onkyo G3 wireless speaker to “play Chet Baker”, and a female voice confirms that the speaker will cue up a playlist featuring the jazzman. Magic? A little, but not quite.
If Onkyo has set its sights on the smart speaker market, it’s because the manufacturer is confident that it can offer a better listening experience than its main competitor, the Google Home speaker. After all, Onkyo has considerably more hi-fi expertise than Google. The Onkyo G3 is equipped with two active drivers: a 3” midbass driver and a .75” tweeter which combine to compose a 2-way system. The Google Home speaker, for its part, is a 1-way system equipped with a 2” wideband driver paired with two 2” passive radiators. What’s more, Onkyo has fitted its G3 speaker with two amplifiers: a 40 W (peak power) amplifier for the midbass driver and a 10 W amplifier for the tweeter.
In other words, the Onkyo speaker covers a wider frequency range–notably in the upper part of the audio spectrum–with much more efficiency than its main competitor.
We took the liberty of disassembling the Onkyo G3 and thus found out that it was made out of wood. This was a pleasant surprise, as MDF is the most efficient material, far ahead of plastic and metal alloys.
The two drivers which are hidden behind the speaker’s perforated grill inspire confidence.
The midbass driver features a paper and carbon fiber cone with a long-excursion surround and an impressive magnet considering its size. The tweeter is a soft dome model composed of coated fabric. A typical configuration for hi-fi models.
Onkyo G3: speaker meets computer
The Onkyo G3 is actually a mini-computer running an OS compatible with Google Assistant voice control technology. Completely autonomous, the speaker nonetheless requires the use of an Android/iOS smartphone or tablet for initial configuration. The Onkyo G3 speaker also needs to know which music streaming services (Deezer, Spotify or Google Play Music) you are subscribed to, or which video streaming services (Netflix) you are subscribed to if you plan on using voice control to play a movie or TV series on your Android TV (Sony, Philips).
Control music playback… and more
Voice-controlled music playback is only one of the Google Home compact speaker’s functions. Many other ways to interact with the speaker exist. For example, the user may ask the speaker to serve as a calculator, define or translate a word, tell a joke, find the fastest route from one place to another, or share a recipe, weather forecast, sports score, or news brief.
The Onkyo G3 speaker can also control other compatible devices in your home, such as Philips Hue lightbulbs (we will soon be publishing a combined review) as well as compatible heating systems and rolling shutter systems.
In addition, the Onkyo G3 speaker can control audio and video playback on Chromecast-enabled devices (Android TVs, Chromecast Built-In wireless speakers and receivers). The speaker itself includes a Chromecast unit allowing it to be selected as the playback device for a number of mobile streaming service apps, including Spotify, Deezer, Qobuz, Tidal and YouTube.
To initialize the Onkyo G3 speaker, a smartphone or tablet running Android (Version 6 and up) or iOS must be connected to the local WiFi network. The Google Home app must then be downloaded so that it may transmit all the information the speaker needs to function efficiently. The app then prompts the user to name the room in which the speaker is being used–any name may be chosen–which is a useful function for users equipped with several Chromecast Built-In and/or Google Assistant speakers or other devices (network receivers, Android TV, Android TV set-top box, etc.).
Once the speaker is configured (this takes about 2 minutes), it is immediately functional and autonomous, and its only requirement is to have access to the local network via the smartphone which was used to configure it.
The user may then choose how to control the speaker: with voice commands, with a Google Cast compatible mobile app (Deezer, Spotify, Tune In, etc.) or with the Google Chrome web browser. Audio playback initiated via voice control may be adjusted (volume, next track, last track, etc.) via a music streaming service with a smartphone in hand.
Google Assistant does not always understand the user’s request. When this happens, the speaker apologizes and explains that it learns more each day. The user can help it along by saving “shortcuts”. Google Assistant recognizes a few shortcuts by default, and these may be entirely personalized. In the Google app for Android, the user may create as many shortcuts as desired.
What’s more, the Onkyo G3 speaker can recognize the voices of up to six different users, following an update for Google Assistant from Google.
As a result, each user can listen to music and playlists streamed from a different music service (Spotify, Deezer or Google Play Music are all currently supported).
Onkyo G3: listening impressions
The Onkyo G3 speaker is clearly superior to the Google Home in terms of audio performance. Its restitution is considerably more precise, with just as much energy and much more accuracy in the lows, and less distortion at high volume levels. In fact, the G3 can play at surprisingly high levels to create an impressive musical ambiance in a 538 ft2 (50 m2) room. Highs are restituted with all the accuracy that can be expected from a pair of hi-fi bookshelf speakers. The sound is clean, never too sharp, and better than many more expensive wireless speakers.
Conclusion: is it worth it?
Is the Onkyo G3 speaker and its Google Assistant destined for a bright future? We would be wrong to think of it as just another gadget, since it is capable of bringing your music to unusual places and always puts comfort first. An Onkyo G3 speaker installed in a kitchen or living room will quickly become a welcome addition. Above all, the Onkyo G3 speaker offers remarkable sound for the money and can continue to function via Bluetooth in case of network failure.French