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Best smart speakers
In an age where our homes are getting smarter by the second, the heartbeats of these spaces are often powered by the voice that answers back when we call. Enter the world of smart speakers — digital assistants that not only play our favorite tunes but manage our schedules, control our lights, and even order our groceries. Be it Google, Amazon, or Apple, as these devices become increasingly integral to our daily routines, the quest to find the best among them intensifies. Dive in as we unravel the top smart speakers of 2023, ensuring your home isn’t just smart but also sounds spectacular.
- This list of the best smart speakers was updated on August 14th, 2023, to include a new introduction, replace the Bose Smart Soundbar 300 with the Bose Smart Soundbar 600, replace the Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) with the Amazon Echo Dot (5th gen), replace the Apple HomePod Mini with the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen), update our selection of notable mentions, and answer more frequently asked questions.
- Once you've chosen a smart speaker that's right for you, see our list of the best music streaming services you can activate with a simple voice command.
- If you prefer your speaker not to be smart and simply play music manually, check out our list of the best Bluetooth speakers for all occasions.
Why is the Google Nest Audio the best smart speaker?
The Google Home line of speakers has been discontinued, but the Google Nest series is still in business. The Google Nest Audio supports stereo and multi-room playback. Its sound quality is pretty good, considering its small size, but keep in mind that it won’t have a booming bass sound because of its stature. The Nest Mini has two smart features called Media EQ, which adjusts the speaker’s sound signature depending on what type of media it is playing, and Ambient IQ, which adjusts the volume of spoken-word media based on the ambient noise level in the room. You can set a custom EQ for your speaker in the Google Home app, but its capabilities are pretty limited.
Setting up Google Nest devices is wonderfully simple. Just download the Google Home app from the app store, and you’re walked through the entire process. Once you’re all set up, you can ask it questions, have it stream from your favorite music and radio services, and set reminders. If you have other Google Assistant devices connected to your account, you can also tell Google Assistant to control them. For instance, saying, “Hey Google play The Good Place on Netflix,” will initiate streaming without you picking up the TV remote.
Like Amazon Alexa smart speakers, you can control your smart home with the Google Nest Audio. Compatible smart brands include Honeywell, Nest, Insignia, Hue, and more. According to Google, its speaker works with an excess of 5,000 smart products from over 150 brands. You can set up the Nest Audio so it only responds to pre-programmed voices. When asking a question, it will differentiate between you and your housemate’s voices.
Smart home fanatics should get the Amazon Echo (5th Gen)
Amazon continues to cater to those taking their first steps into the smart home realm with the Echo Dot (5th Gen). While maintaining its iconic spherical design, this iteration serves as an affordable gateway to the vast world of Alexa’s capabilities.
The Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen) is designed for those curious about the smart home experience without breaking the bank. Its compact design ensures it fits seamlessly on any shelf or table. Alexa’s voice recognition remains top-notch, responding promptly to a myriad of commands, from playing your favorite Spotify playlist to answering random trivia. The vast array of Alexa Skills means customization is at your fingertips, allowing you to tailor the device to your unique needs.
However, it’s not just about smart features. The Echo Dot (5th Gen) delivers a decent audio experience, especially at low to medium volumes, making it suitable for ambient listening in spaces like offices or kitchens. And for those concerned about privacy, the microphone mute button ensures Alexa only listens when you want her to. If you’re looking to dip your toes into the world of smart speakers, the Echo Dot (5th Gen) is a solid starting point.
The Sonos Move works with Google and Alexa
If you’re going to invest in a third-party pick, Sonos makes the best smart speakers. The Sonos Move is compatible with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. In addition, if you have multiple Sonos smart speakers and/or Amazon Echo speakers, you can group them all by the rooms in your house. Using the Sonos app is easier than pie; the speaker operates through touch controls on the top.
The Sonos Move can operate over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and it’s a portable speaker. You charge it in a cradle that you can use to hold it if you don’t plan to take it out of the house. It does have an IP56 rating, though, so even if you don’t want to take it outside, you could take it in the bathroom to listen to your jams while in the shower. It is a bit too bulky to be portable, but if you plan to take it to the beach, it’s a good companion.
The Bose Smart Soundbar 600 turns your dumb TV into a smart one
The Bose Smart Soundbar 600 is not just another soundbar; it’s a testament to Bose’s commitment to blending high-quality audio with cutting-edge smart features. Nestled comfortably in the middle of Bose’s Smart Soundbar line, this device offers an immersive Dolby Atmos experience thanks to its upward-firing speakers. But what truly sets it apart is its seamless integration with popular voice assistants like Google and Alexa. This ensures users can effortlessly switch between enjoying cinematic audio and interacting with their smart home devices.
The Soundbar 600’s intuitive app interface is a nod to both tech enthusiasts and novices alike, simplifying the user experience without compromising on features. For those looking to expand their audio setup, the soundbar offers the flexibility to add a subwoofer and satellite speakers. But even as a standalone unit, its TrueSpace feature impressively upscales 5.1-channel and stereo content, ensuring a rich audio experience regardless of the source. With the bonus of Bose SimpleSync, users can pair any Bluetooth speaker with the soundbar, emphasizing its role not just as an audio device but as a central hub for a connected entertainment ecosystem. The Bose Smart Soundbar 600 stands out in a market saturated with soundbars, making it an indispensable choice for those seeking a blend of premium audio and smart functionality.
Apple fans should check out the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen)
While the original HomePod carved a niche, the 2nd Generation takes the experience up a notch. This cylindrical speaker, wrapped in the familiar spongy mesh fabric, boasts a high-excursion woofer and five tweeters, ensuring a rich sound profile. Its computational audio system tailors sound based on its placement, making every corner of your room a sweet spot.
Integration with Apple’s ecosystem is, as expected, seamless. Setting it up is as simple as holding a recent iPhone close, and voila, you’re connected. Whether you’re streaming from Apple Music or using AirPlay from another device, the experience is fluid. Siri’s responsiveness is commendable, always ready to assist, regardless of the ongoing playback.
However, it’s essential to note that this speaker is truly for those deeply embedded in the Apple universe. Its $299 price tag might be a hurdle for some, especially when considering it as just a louder version of its predecessor. But for those who value Apple’s design and integration, this might just be the smart speaker upgrade you’ve been waiting for.
The Bose Portable Smart Speaker really is quite portable
While we love the Sonos Move for its capabilities and design, there’s no denying that it’s a bulky, heavy monster. The Bose Portable Smart Speaker is a clear alternative if you like all the Move offers but wish it was a bit smaller. This, too, costs $399 and supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Unlike the Sonos Move, the Bose’s speaker has just an IPX4 rating which is pretty standard.
The setup process is much easier than any Sonos smart speaker we’ve reviewed, and you can use the Bose Music app to manage all of your modern Bose products. The default sound is reasonably bass-heavy, a rare, appealing feature for a speaker this size.
Get great looks and good sound with the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin
The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin is big and expensive. But it undoubtedly looks great and sounds good. Bucking the trend for many smart speakers with Bluetooth, it supports aptX Adaptive, AAC, and SBC, so iOS and Android users get high-quality Bluetooth codecs. The Zeppelin only supports Amazon Alexa, but if you already use this smart assistant, don’t mind spending nearly $800, and want a smart speaker that also boasts impressive sound and outstanding aesthetics, the Zeppelin fits that niche well. Be aware this speaker can be a hassle to get connected for the first time. Furthermore, the Bowers & Wilkins Music app is only compatible with a few streaming services.
The best Smart speakers: Notable mentions
- Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) ($179 at Amazon): Amazon’s last generation smart speaker shares much the same build and features as their latest model, and is more affordable if you can sacrifice some sound quality.
- Amazon Echo Studio ($199 at Amazon): At just under $200, the Echo Studio offers spatial audio for folks with Amazon Music Unlimited. It also tunes to suit your room, which is a great feature. With all that said, it’s frequently out of stock.
- Google Nest Mini ($29.99 at Best Buy): Just want to dip your toe in before committing to a smart home? You can often find a Nest Mini for less than $40 on sale. You miss out on the best quality sound, but you can access all the basics of Google Assistant.
- Apple HomePod Mini ($99.99 at Best Buy): The Apple HomePod mini is a compact and more affordable alternative to the HomePod (2nd Generation), seamlessly integrating with Apple devices and utilizing Siri as its smart assistant. Despite its smaller size, it delivers impressive sound quality within the Apple ecosystem and can distinguish between different household voices for personalized responses.
- Marshall Stanmore II ($379.99 on Amazon): The guitar amp company has recently been branching into audio products. If you’re an Alexa enthusiast and prioritize volume, this speaker punches above its size at 50 watts. It’s not portable, but tactile EQ knobs are nice when you want to quickly make quick adjustments.
- Sonos One (Gen 2) ($219 at Amazon): This home smart speaker is compatible with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. It also supports streaming over Apple AirPlay 2. You can pair two together for stereo sound, and it’s all operated easily through the Sonos app.
- Sonos Roam ($418 at Amazon): For those wanting something rugged and portable, this little speaker offers both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, an IP67 rating, a 10-hour battery life, and can be hooked up to your existing Sonos ecosystem.
What should you know before getting a smart speaker?
Smart home devices are a green market. Even the most ubiquitous platform, Alexa, isn’t without its common problems. That said, don’t get too frustrated. It’s typical for users to experience hiccups, but one of the best things about smart speakers is that the firmware is frequently updated. Sometimes, you even benefit from market updates, like when Sonos allows for Google Assistant support on its speakers, which originally only supported Alexa.
Before we get too deep, let’s look at what you need to know when picking out your gear.
Which is better, Amazon Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, or Google Assistant?
That’s like asking whether chocolate or vanilla ice cream is better. All options have their place, and each person has their preference. One thing’s for sure, though, it’s easier to stick with one persuasion of smart speaker. While you can get a Google and Alexa-enabled device, it’s more work than it’s worth. As you may expect, your two main options are Alexa and Google Assistant. You can set reminders, make appointments, inquire about the weather, and control smart home devices from both, but each has pros and cons.
If you’re a frequent Amazon shopper, Amazon Alexa will make shopping easy. It’s also currently the dominant smart home assistant and has a wide array of smart device support, with more products and skills added regularly. While Google is working to increase its command and skill support, Alexa had a significant jump-start, and it shows.
If you want the most skills and greatest smart home control, get an Alexa smart speaker.
Google Assistant smart speakers are the smarter option for anyone who’s already invested in the Google ecosystem. If you’re a Pixel owner, it makes more sense for you to double down on a Google smart speaker than an Alexa one. Although Alexa can execute more skills, Google’s sentence recognition is more advanced: it’s better at understanding context than Amazon Alexa products. You also benefit from Google Search technology, which is much more mature than Amazon’s functionality.
Now, Apple users may be wondering about the HomePod mini. Unless you’re a die-hard Apple fanboy, we suggest going with either Google Assistant or Alexa. Cortana users, feel free to jump to the end of the list.
What about privacy concerns?
My tinfoil hat has gotten plenty of use this year thanks to smart speakers: consumers are legitimately concerned about smart speaker privacy invasion. Many of us feel that just because we’re letting a device into our home doesn’t mean we’re explicitly welcoming its constant recording of our lives.
Fortunately, each of the best smart speakers includes a mute toggle for deactivating the microphone. Even still, that may not be enough to assuage your worries. If you’re at a crossroads of wanting a smart speaker but not wanting it to record anything when inactive, you can always unplug it after each use. It’s a hassle but a minor inconvenience for getting the best of both worlds, so to speak.
Is streaming audio over Wi-Fi better than Bluetooth?
While Wi-Fi bandwidth is still limited, it widens the data pipes relative to Bluetooth streaming. You can enjoy Hi-Res 24-bit/96kHz audio, which is more than enough data for our brains to process.
24-bit audio is an excess amount of data for us to perceive. Our ears can barely discern the difference between 16- and 24-bit audio, if at all. To anyone shaking their head, it does make a difference when recording audio that requires editing later on. Greater bit-depth allows for more flexibility in editing. What’s more, a 96kHz sample rate is more than we’re able to perceive, too. Our ears aren’t even sensitive enough to identify a difference between 44.1kHz and 48kHz, let alone 96kHz recordings.
What matters most is how a file was compressed: that’s where we’ll notice the biggest difference between files. If you’re listening to an uncompressed WAV file, you’ll likely hear a difference when compared to a basic MP3 file. If you’re a real stickler for audio quality, it may be worth investing in a high-resolution streaming service like Amazon Music HD.
Why you should trust SoundGuys with the best smart speakers
We understand audio as both an objective and subjective experience; therefore, we combine objective testing and experiential analysis for all reviews and best lists. We’re happy to inform readers of product features but ultimately want our readers to leave each article more educated about audio than before.
Like all other best lists, this is a living document that will be continuously updated as new, worthy products are released. We acknowledge that a product may not be for you and, unfortunately, the perfect, one-size-fits-all best smart speaker doesn’t exist. However, we’re confident that most readers will find something to enjoy. Hopefully, you will find something that suits your needs. If we missed one of your favorites, be sure to reach out and let us know.
Frequently asked questions about smart speakers
Yes, a smart speaker is worth it for those looking to integrate voice-controlled functionalities into their homes, stream music, set reminders, control smart home devices, and more. With frequent firmware updates, these devices continually improve, offering users a seamless experience over time.
The disadvantages of smart speakers include potential privacy concerns, as these devices can record conversations and collect data. Some users may find the setup and integration with other devices challenging, and there’s a possibility of experiencing occasional hiccups or firmware issues. Additionally, each smart assistant platform (like Alexa or Google Assistant) has its own set of limitations, and not all speakers support every streaming service or smart home device.
Alexa-enabled smart speakers can play live radio so long as you enable the radio skill in the Alexa app. Google Assistant-enabled speakers play live radio through a TuneIn app that can be downloaded to your smart speaker. Alexa and Google Assistant can then play any available radio station through voice command.
Smart hubs allow your ecosystem of smart devices to communicate with one another. So, this won’t be necessary if you only have one smart device. Also, if your smart speakers have integrated smart hubs, like the Amazon Echo Plus, you won’t need to purchase a separate one. But if you are selecting a separate smart hub, you’ll want to make sure all of your devices are compatible with it so you can truly control all of them from one place. Most smart hubs and smart devices have Zigbee, a technology that enables inter-device communication. And, of course, you’ll want to stick with one smart assistant rather than try to juggle more than one in your home.
The choice between Google Home (now known as Google Nest) and Alexa largely depends on personal preferences and existing ecosystems. Alexa might be more suitable if you’re a frequent Amazon shopper or want a wide array of smart device support. On the other hand, if you’re deeply integrated into the Google ecosystem, like using Google Calendar or owning a Pixel phone, Google Nest might be a better choice. Both platforms offer robust features, so consider which one aligns more with your daily habits and tech ecosystem.