This article was last updated by Digital Trends’ smart home editor John Velasco on 7/9/2020.
The Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. It also features fantastic sound for its size, support for Apple’s AirPlay 2 wireless streaming, and — because it’s a Sonos — it’s a champ at multiroom audio, integrating with the rest of your Sonos setup right out the box.. It’s not often you find something that supports both
We chose the Sonos One because it’s not just a great smart speaker, it’s also a great wireless music speaker, which gives you the best of both worlds. However, it’s not to say that it should be the only smart speaker worth considering.
Our team has reviewed smart speakers since the category emerged with Amazon’s Echo all those years ago, and we’ve developed a keen sense of what to look for in one of these products. After hundreds of hours of listening, controlling smart home tasks, and generally getting the various voice assistants to do our bidding, we’re confident the Sonos One will be ideal for most people. Still, it’s a crowded field, with lots of great products. Our list is stocked with great alternatives, offering a speaker tailored for every home.
Best smart speakers at a glance:
- The best smart speaker: Sonos One
- The best cheap smart speaker: Amazon Echo Dot with Clock
- The best smart speaker for Amazon Alexa: Amazon Echo (3rd Gen)
- The best smart speaker for Google Assistant: Google Nest Mini
- The best smart speaker for Apple Music: Apple HomePod
- The best smart speaker for TV: Sonos Beam
- The best portable smart speaker: Bose Portable Home Speaker
- The best smart speaker for room-filling sound: Marshall Stanmore II Voice
- The best smart speaker for 3D sound: Amazon Echo Studio
Why you should buy this: It sounds great, gives you a choice of voice assistant, works with every Sonos device, and offers more streaming services than any other smart speaker.
Who it’s for: Everyone.
Why we picked the Sonos One:
You can buy lots of smart speakers with Amazon’s Alexa. There is also a pretty good selection of those that have Google Assistant. But if you want a smart speaker that gives you a choice between these two options, well that’s much harder to find. Thankfully, the Sonos One does just that, making it not only one of the best sounding smart speakers you can buy, but also one of the most flexible. You can’t run Alexa and Google Assistant simultaneously, but switching between them is very easy to do.
The speaker’s far-field microphone array effortlessly hears voice commands from across a room, even when music is playing. If you have qualms about privacy, Sonos claims that muting the microphones is done via hardware, ensuring that when the mic indicator light is off, the speaker is definitely not listening. With AirPlay 2, you can stream any audio from an Apple device directly to the speaker, or to any other Sonos speaker in your home.
There are some minor drawbacks: No Bluetooth means that Android devices must use the Sonos app, and you can’t take the Sonos One away from your home’s Wi-Fi network and still use it as a wireless speaker. Unlike the older Sonos Play:1 — on which the Sonos One is based — there’s no speaker mounting hole.
But our favorite aspect of the Sonos One is simply the fact that it’s a Sonos speaker. The Sonos wireless whole-home music system remains the very we’ve ever tested. It has support for almost every major music streaming service, and it’s all controlled from an app on your phone, tablet, or PC. Not only is the app full of great features like Apple Music playlist compatibility and the ability to group multiple speakers, but these features are also remarkably easy to use.
Thanks to Sonos’ partnership with Ikea, there’s also a growing ecosystem of cool third-party devices that can be used to control the Sonos One and any other Sonos speakers in your home. It truly is a fantastic speaker, and a great way to smarten up your home.
Why you should buy this: It’s affordable, controls your home, displays the time, and can route sound through bigger speakers — though you might not need to.
Who it’s for: Those in need of an Alexa voice-control hub.
Why we picked the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock:
Technically a third generation model, the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock recycles its predecessor’s design, low price, exceptional audio quality, and easy access to Alexa. However, it’s now fashioned with an LED clock to display the time, temperature, and even count down a timer. It makes for a wonderful bedside companion, allowing you to instantly tell the time without having to fumble around for your smartphone in the dark.
As part of 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) — the Dot has, in the past, prioritized smart control over audio quality. It leaned heavily on its 3.5mm auxiliary-out port to deliver better sound through an external speaker.
At just $60 or less, the Echo Dot with Clock offers all the Alexa-based powers you’d get from one of the larger versions, which means it’s a great way to save money.
Like the full-size 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.
Why you should buy this: The Amazon Echo is the go-to Alexa powered speaker thanks to its excellent audio and home control.
Who it’s for: Casual music listeners who own Alexa enabled devices in the home.
Why we picked the Amazon Echo (3rd Gen):
Similar to the Echo Dot with Clock, the Echo is in its 3rd generation — offering a balance of rich audio performance with the intelligence of Alexa behind it. When it comes to music, it certainly is an upgrade versus the puck sized Echo Dot, since it’s packing a tweeter and woofer in one compact sized package.
Of course, it’s a wonderful centerpiece in the living room if you’re planning to entertain guests, thanks to its robust and ample audio quality. Other features like a 3.5mm auxiliary jack, Bluetooth, and stereo pairing rounds out its audio features. When it comes to controlling the smart home, the Amazon Echo (3rd Gen) can be used to turn off lights, check up on calendar appointments, and order pizza. Meanwhile, it can also monitor your home while you’re away by sending you notifications if it hears the sounds of smoke alarms with Alexa Guard.
You’re getting a rich smart speaker in terms of performance, and features with the Amazon Echo (3rd Gen). And you know what? It only costs $100.
Why you should buy this: It’s cheap, attractive, and surprisingly powerful.
Who it’s for: Those in need of an affordable Google Assistant voice-control hub.
Why we picked the Google Nest Mini:
Though identical-looking to the Google Home Mini (our previous pick for this category), the Google Nest Mini offers a few advantages over the older model: It’s made of more eco-friendly materials, it is easily wall-mounted, and it’s much faster at responding to your voice command.
The Nest Mini doesn’t have an aux-out port for sending your tunes to a bigger speaker, but it does have Bluetooth, which could work if your larger speaker supports this technology.
If you prefer Google Assistant to Alexa, the Nest 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. We think the Dot has better overall sound, but the Nest Mini is just fine for casual listening, even if it won’t blow your mind with clarity and detail.
Why you should buy this: You’re willing to pay for great sound, and you’re an Apple fanatic.
Who it’s for: Strictly those with an iPhone and either an Apple Music or Spotify subscription.
Why we picked the Apple HomePod:
The HomePod is a great smart speaker as long as you’re willing to go all-in with Apple’s ecosystem. It only works with iOS devices like the iPhone or iPad, it can only control smart home devices that are compatible with Apple’s HomeKit automation platform, and if it’s music you want, you’re limited to Apple software like Apple Music, and Spotify — at least as far as voice control is concerned. Through the Apple Home app, there’s basic multiroom control, but it can be tricky to use and some features are Siri-only, which isn’t ideal.
The HomePod has AirPlay 2, however, which means that as long as there’s an iOS app for your favorite music service, you can play it through the speaker — you just can’t ask Siri to help you out. That said, the HomePod is an amazing speaker for music.
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 impressively clear.
If you’re an Apple fan for life, and don’t mind spending extra to chat with Siri, this is an awesome-sounding speaker.
Why you should buy this: You want much better sound for your TV, with sophisticated voice control too.
Who it’s for: Those with a TV in a smaller room like a bedroom or kitchen
Why we picked the Sonos Beam:
Even the best TVs typically have lousy sound quality due to their tiny built-in speakers, which makes soundbars an attractive option for many. However, many soundbars tend to be large, and clunky affairs despite their overall simplicity. This where the Sonos Beam comes in.
A compact and well-styled bar, it can easily fit under the smallest of TVs on either a console or on the wall using the optional bracket. Like every Sonos product, it has very good sound quality for its size and can become part of a much larger multiroom audio system. The Sonos app lets you stream from virtually every music service on the planet and it does an excellent job managing your private music collection too.
But the reason we’ve chosen the Beam for this roundup is its smart speaker chops. With the ability to run either Google Assistant or Alexa as its voice assistant, it can serve as the hub for a host of home automation commands.
What we really like about the Beam is that it can translate spoken commands for Google Assistant or Alexa into signals that control your TV. “Alexa, turn on Bedroom TV,” will do just that. Other commands, like “Alexa, turn the volume up on Bedroom TV,” work well too, as will similar commands for Google Assistant.
These voice commands are so effective, they almost entirely eliminate the need for a physical remote. But don’t worry, the Sonos Beam also plays nicely with traditional infrared TV remotes too.
Why you should buy this: Lightweight and highly portable, yet with surprisingly good sound, this smart speaker can do it all.
Who it’s for: Those who want a smart speaker that can keep up with their on-the-go lifestyles.
Why we picked the Bose Portable Home Speaker:
You already know that we love the Sonos One for its ability to let you choose your preferred voice assistant. The Bose Portable Home Speaker gives you that choice too, plus a built-in rechargeable battery, carry-handle, and Bluetooth so you can take it with you anywhere you go.
Though considerably more expensive than the Sonos One, the Bose is the ideal choice for people who demand absolute flexibility. When at home and connected to your Wi-Fi network, the Portable Home Speaker is a full-fledged smart speaker that lets you talk to Alexa or Google Assistant. Using your voice to control music playback via Spotify works like a charm, but the Bose app gives you additional options like multiple speaker groupings. The app isn’t as good as the one Sonos provides, but as long as you don’t intend to build a whole-home music system using Bose speakers, we doubt you’ll mind.
While you shouldn’t let it fall in the pool, the speaker is protected from small amounts of water thanks to its IPX4 rating, so you need not fear the occasional unexpected rain shower.
Apple users will love the AirPlay 2 integration which lets you stream any audio — be it music from your favorite streaming service, or the soundtrack from a Netflix movie — directly to the speaker when connected to Wi-Fi. When on the road (or if you’re an Android user) the Portable Home Speaker’s Bluetooth connection lets you keep the tunes going. With 12 hours of battery life between charges, those tunes can go on for most of a day.
Why you should buy this: The Stanmore II Voice has the capabilities of a voice assistant in a serious sound machine.
Who it’s for: Those who don’t want to compromise on big, full sound — or classy looks — when buying a smart speaker.
Why we picked the Marshall Stanmore II Voice:
Smart speakers, it can be argued, often suffer from two drawbacks. First, they’re not the most attractive. Whether it’s a small plastic puck or a fabric-wrapped cylinder, few of them add to the decor of your space. Second, though some of these speakers sound very good, they lack the kind of power needed to really fill a room with big, bold sound.
The Marshall Stanmore II Voice addresses both of these issues head-on. With its retro-cool, guitar amp-inspired design, there’s no denying the Stanmore II Voice makes a statement. That vintage vibe carries all the way through with physical control knobs on the top surface and chunky rubber feet on the bottom. It gives instant appeal to any room.
With its single woofer driven by a 50-watt amplifier and two discretely-powered tweeters, you not only get big, bold sound, you also get true stereo — making it one of the few smart speakers on the market that does this. It balances heart-thumping bass with clear treble to produce a sound that is as musical as it is powerful. Go ahead and crank up the volume — you won’t get a hint of distortion even at the highest settings.
Even if you like it loud, your voice assistant will hear you clearly, thanks to the built-in far-field mics that are surprisingly sensitive, while connection options include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a 3.5 mm line-in jack, and a set of RCA plugs on the back — perfect for connecting a turntable.
You can’t use both Alexa and Google Assistant, unfortunately, but Marshall sells two different versions of the Stanmore II Voice, so the choice over which one you prefer is still yours.
Why you should buy this: As the only smart speaker with Dolby Atmos capabilities, it delivers an incredibly immersive, 3D sound experience.
Who it’s for: Alexa fans who want a speaker on the leading edge of new digital music formats.
Why we picked the Amazon Echo Studio:
Though it bears a resemblance to the Apple HomePod with its cylindrical shape, the Echo Studio is, in fact, an entirely new breed of smart speaker. It’s still an Amazon Echo, which means that you get all of the benefits of being able to issue voice commands to Alexa to control everything from your music to your thermostat. But when it comes to audio, the Echo Studio is in a class of its own.
Recently, Amazon has been getting very serious about audio quality. We talked about this above in relation to the Echo Dot 3rd gen, but it goes much further. With the launch of the Amazon Music HD streaming service, Amazon is now a leading source of top-quality music. The service offers CD-quality audio and hi-res audio, as well as immersive 3D music tracks via Dolby Atmos Music, and Sony 360 Reality Audio. And for now, the Echo Studio is the only speaker on the planet that works with all of them.
CD-quality and hi-res audio are easy to understand: They’re the best versions of stereo audio you can get. Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio are different. These two new formats expand your music into something far wider, deeper, and immersive — which is why we refer to them as 3D. The Echo Studio not only projects these formats around a room they way they were meant to be heard, but it also reinforces the sound with a clean and powerful bass response we simply didn’t expect from a speaker at this price.
The Echo Studio may not please audiophiles — it has a tendency to muffle some midrange sounds for stereo sound — but it is nonetheless a superb value and (at the moment) a unique smart speaker that leads a growing movement.
Research and buying tips
- Should I buy an Alexa smart speaker or Google smart speaker?
- What about Apple’s HomePod?
- Do smart speakers help the visually impaired?
- Do smart speakers have an aux input?
- Can I use smart speakers to listen to FM radio?
- Do smart speakers usually have a battery?
That depends on which ecosystem you like most. Both have their benefits and drawbacks, and both allow you to use the most popular streaming services out there. If you’re undecided, go for a smart speaker that gives you a choice like the Sonos One or Bose Portable Home Speaker.
If you’re an Apple devotee, this could be a decent speaker for you. That said, because it only works with iOS devices, it is probably not a great choice if you don’t exclusively use Apple devices — or you want your non-Apple loving friends and family to be able to pick out tunes.
Yes. Because they have a lot of functionality that doesn’t require buttons, smart speakers can be great for visually impaired people.
Some smart speakers, like the Marshall Stanmore II Voice, have 3.5mm inputs. If you need an AUX input, we recommend checking to make sure the speaker has one before purchasing.
No, most smart speakers do not have an FM tuner. If you want to listen to the radio, your best bet is using internet radio on these speakers.
Some do and some don’t. If you want to take your smart speaker with you on the go, we recommend making sure it has a built-in or add-on battery (like the Bose Portable Home Speaker).
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