The best smart speakers

These top-line smart speakers conduct the most sophisticated symphony: Your life

Is your speaker just too dumb? Do you sit in frustration, issuing fruitless voice commands to a cold, lifeless hunk of metal and plastic that couldn’t even do your bidding if it wanted to? It may be time to look into a “smart” speaker.

Best Smart Speakers Award

From Sonos to Apple, smart speakers are hot right now. At the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, there were countless devices of all shapes and sizes packing speaker drivers, microphones, and digital assistants capable of answering your queries and helping you control your smart home products. But how do you separate the good from the bad? We’ve gone and done it for you. No matter your needs, these are the smartest speakers out there.

Editor’s note: There’s one smart speaker for Microsoft’s Cortana A.I. (the Harman Kardon Invoke), but Cortana currently isn’t popular enough to warrant a spot on our list. Also, there have been rumblings about Samsung developing a smart speaker equipped with Bixby, its proprietary A.I., so stay tuned.

The Riva Concert and Amazon Echo Dot both won our award for the best products of the year. Make sure and check out all our other selections for Best Products of 2018.

Riva Concert

Our Pick

Riva Concert Best Speaker 2018
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It sounds incredible, has Alexa built-in, and offers wide support of multiple streaming services.

The best

Riva Concert

The Riva Concert is our favorite smart speaker in terms of both value and performance.

Who it’s for: Everyone.

How much it will cost: $199.

Why we picked the Riva Concert:

With gorgeous sound, a small footprint, and Amazon Alexa built-in, the Riva Concert goes head-to-head with our previous favorite smart speaker, the Sonos: One.

But there are a few awesome features that help the Riva Concert beat the Sonos option. First and foremost, it’s that the Concert offers true stereophonic sound — something the compact Sonos speaker doesn’t offer. This means wide stereo image and a beautiful soundstage, allowing the speaker to reproduce your favorite tunes with ease.

The splash-proof Riva Concert also features Bluetooth (another thing Sonos lacks), and the option to add-on an external battery — meaning it can be a great portable speaker, should you need one.

The Concert supports Spotify Connect and Airplay, and is extremely easy to set up via the company’s Riva app, making it an absolute no-brainer regardless of which of the most popular streaming services you use.

Read our full Riva Concert review

Amazon Echo Dot

The best budget smart speaker

best tech gifts under 50 echo dot 3rd gen image

Why you should buy this: It’s affordable, controls your home, and can route sound through bigger speakers.

The best budget smart speaker

Our Score

Amazon Echo Dot

Save your money and smarten up with the Echo Dot, which adds Alexa support to most any speaker.

Who it’s for: Those in need of an Alexa voice-control hub.

How much it will cost: $50.

Why we picked the Amazon Echo Dot:

Alexa is the first Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) assistant that comes to mind for most people, and Amazon’s Echo has followed suit, becoming the signature smart speaker line. Typically, the Echo series — comprising the Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Spot, Echo Plus, and Echo Show (not to mention auxiliary items like the Echo Buttons and Echo Connect) — prioritizes smart control over audio quality, but the Dot’s got a unique solution for that concession.

At just $50, the Echo Dot offers all the Alexa-based powers you’d get from the full-size version, and adds an awesome touch — an auxiliary output port, which allows you to route playback through a bigger (and presumably better-sounding) speaker, as long as that speaker has an aux-in jack.

Like the Echo, the Dot’s microphone will recognize your voice individually, so everyone can quickly get the info they need, and it’ll offer full command over all your Alexa-compatible smart devices. Plus, of course, it can tell you jokes and help with homework.

Read our full Amazon Echo Dot review

Google Home Mini

The best Google Assistant speaker

Google Home Mini vs Amazon Echo Dot audio output
Dan Baker/Digital Trends
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s cheap and surprisingly powerful.

The best Google Assistant speaker

Our Score

Google Home Mini

The Google Home Mini offers full control via Google Assistant, and it's got more firepower than you think.

Who it’s for: Those in need of an affordable Google Assistant voice-control hub.

How much it will cost: $49

Why we picked the Google Home Mini:

When Amazon introduced the Echo Dot, Google must have taken it personally, because it went out and designed a speaker that’s basically the exact same thing, except it sounds better. The Home Mini doesn’t have an aux-out port for sending your tunes to a bigger speaker, but it’s a damn good option nonetheless.

If you prefer Google Assistant to Alexa, the Home Mini is pretty much a no-brainer (unless you want to shell out some more cash for something with more oomph). There are tons of gizmos and gadgets that work with Assistant, it’s got individual voice matching, and it’ll make phone calls hands-free.

Compared with the Dot, the Mini is a tad taller and has a much stronger sound overall. It’s not going to blow your mind with clarity and detail, but it won’t make you cringe either.

Read our full Google Home Mini review

Apple HomePod

The best for Apple devotees

Apple Homepod
Greg Mombert/Digital Trends
Greg Mombert/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: You’re willing to pay for great sound, and you’re an Apple fanatic.

The best for Apple devices

Our Score

Apple HomePod

Top-notch audio from this marshmallow? Yep. It's not perfect, but the HomePod can be a very good speaker in the right hands.

Who it’s for: Strictly those with an iPhone and an Apple Music subscription.

How much it will cost: $349.

Why we picked the Apple HomePod:

First of all, we don’t want to mislead anyone. The HomePod is not currently a very effective smart speaker. It only plays nice with iPhones, doesn’t currently offer multiroom audio support, and might stain your wood furniture (though, some say Sonos and Echo will too). Still reading? Well, good, because the HomePod does happen to do one thing very well: Play music.

Assuming you’re an iPhone user subscribed to Apple Music, the HomePod is an excellent choice. Its A8 processing chip constantly scans the speaker’s environment to optimize audio quality, and it works impressively well.

No matter where you place the HomePod, it sounds great, thanks in part to seven (!) tweeters surrounding a four-inch driver, each equipped with its own amplifier. Bass is big, midrange performance is warm and velvety, and treble is clearer than we’d ever hoped for upon the speaker’s initial announcement. If you’re flush with cash, and don’t mind spending extra time chatting with Siri, this is an awesome-sounding speaker.

Read our full Apple Homepod review

Google Home Max

The best smart party speaker

Google Home Max Review
Juliana Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Juliana Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’ll blow your doors off, and supports Google Assistant.

The best smart party speaker

Our Score

Google Home Max

Looking to organize a party? The Google Home Max can manage your grocery list -- then manage the tunes all by itself.

Who it’s for: Google Assistant users or those with extra cash to spend.

How much it will cost: $399.

Why we picked the Google Home Max:

Like the Google Home Mini above, the Home Max is compatible with a laundry list of smart devices, it can recognize different voices, and it’s got an understated, fabric-covered form factor that looks a little nicer than most of Amazon’s gaudy, futuristic speakers.

It’s also a sonic savage, capable of filling spacious rooms with booming bass and startlingly clear audio. At more than 11 pounds, it’s not really a speaker you’ll be carrying from room to room, but you probably won’t need to, because you’ll be able to hear this puppy from a distance. The touch controls are neat, if limited, and the Max supports a litany of hi-res audio codecs for playback.

The microphone does occasionally struggle to pick up commands over loud music, but chances are you won’t be asking for weather updates while you’re dancing the night away.

Read our full Google Home Max review

Amazon Tap

The best portable smart speaker

Amazon Tap

Why you should buy this: It’s part smart speaker and part portable Bluetooth speaker.

The best portable smart speaker

Amazon Tap

With a nine-hour battery and Bluetooth support, the Amazon Tap can transition seamlessly from home base to the open road.

Who it’s for: Anyone who values versatility and portability.

How much it will cost: $130.

Why we picked the Amazon Tap:

The Tap occupies an interesting niche in the smart home space. It doesn’t offer the best sound quality-to-price ratio, it can’t make phone calls for you, and it doesn’t have any revolutionary abilities. It does, however, have a rechargeable nine-hour battery, so it effectively splits the difference between portable Bluetooth speakers and Echo-esque smart speakers.

The Tap boasts 360-degree audio, and unlike the Echo, it fires omni-directionally — not downward — meaning the sound travels further and with better clarity. It’s got a microphone button on board for Alexa activation, but you can set it up for voice activation using the mobile app.

Otherwise, it can do everything an Echo does, minus phone calls. Need trivia answers? Sure. Access to Alexa’s Skills? You betcha. Want to trigger smart home routines? You get the picture. Just don’t take it near the pool, as it’s not waterproof.

Still looking for late holiday gift ideas? We’ve found the best last-minute gifts and best stocking stuffers to help you out. 

Product Review

Step aside, Sonos: Riva's Concert is the best smart speaker you can buy

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