- 1 Top 7 Best Smart Speakers Compared
- 2 Smart Speakers Buying Guide
To help you find the best smart speaker for your home, we’ve tried out dozens of products, testing them for sound quality and integration with popular smart assistant software. During our testing, we looked for models that were easy to use, with voice-activated connectivity to Alexa, and WiFi and Bluetooth compatibility. We also chose speakers with truly outstanding sound, with deep bass responses and natural sounding mids and highs. Additionally, we favored models with full smart home integration and multiple layers of privacy control.
Of the seven best smart speaker on our list, Amazon’s 3rd gen Echo Dot boasted the highest cost to benefit ratio, with best-of-class integration with Alexa, a light sensor that automatically adjusts the display’s brightness, amazing sound and some truly innovative privacy controls. It also comes packed in with four free months of Amazon Music Unlimited, allowing you to easily listen to millions of songs and podcasts right out of the box. Keep reading to learn more about the Amazon Echo Dot (3rd gen) and the other smart speakers on this list.
Top 7 Best Smart Speakers Compared
#1 Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen) Speakers
Award: Top Pick / Best Value
WHY WE LIKE IT: The Amazon Echo Dot has become an icon in the industry, with easy-to-use voice activated controls, full Alexa integration and a rich sound that belies its low price point. The ability to create a true stereo image, by purchasing a secondary unit, and simple streaming from all major music platforms easily makes this the best pick on the list.
The Amazon Echo Dot boasts many of the features typically found in its higher priced cousins, including full Alexa integration, easy-to-use smart home controls and the ability to stream content from Spotify, Apple Music, SiriusXM and more. The speaker sounds great, filling the room with rich, though mono, audio. To that end, you can easily make this a stereo unit by purchasing a second model, as pairing two Dots together is extremely simple. It also comes with some innovative privacy controls, including a button that quickly cuts off all microphone input.
The smart speaker does have some small drawbacks, however, as it contains just four surface microphones, as opposed to the seven included in the second gen model. The end result? Sometimes the unit has trouble picking up your voice from across a large room. The 1.6″ speaker does sound great for its size, but the audio it produces is not as rich as some of the other products on this list. You may also want to read about the WooHoo Smart AI Speaker and Home Assistant.
#2 Amazon Echo (2nd gen) Speaker
Award: Honorable Mention
WHY WE LIKE IT: The second generation Amazon Echo is, essentially, the device that started it all, with a 2.5” downward-firing woofer and 0.6” tweeter, both powered by Dolby, helping to deliver world-class sound, and a suite of surface mics that allow the device to be woken up from across a large room or perhaps the entire home. Years after taking the world by storm, this is still the product to beat, offering fantastic sound quality and superior Alexa support
The Amazon Echo delivers on its promise to bring true innovation to the home, with full Alexa integration, the ability to stream content from any major platform and a host of privacy forward features, including an easy-to-access button that turns all microphones off. The Dolby-infused speakers, which include a downward-firing woofer and a tweeter, sound absolutely fantastic, truly bringing your favorite music and podcasts to life. (Far superior to speakers like the Bullfrog Bluetooth Speakers.) We also found the voice recognition capabilities to be stellar, with the seven surface microphones easily picking up on our commands, from across the home or in a noisy environment.
The product’s equalizer, while a nice addition to the 2nd gen model, was not as capable as we’d like, with only a range of plus or minus 6dB for bass, mid and high frequencies, and the speaker occasionally strains with bass frequencies. Additionally, the Echo is not a stereo product, though it can easily be paired with secondary units.
#3 Amazon Echo Plus (2nd Gen) Speaker
Award: Best for Smart Home
WHY WE LIKE IT: The Amazon Echo Plus offers some significant upgrades over its lower-priced cousins, including a built-in ZigBee smart home hub for controlling external devices and a free Philips Hue light. These features, and the ability to deliver world-class sound on par with the standard Echo (#2 pick), easily make this the best item on this list for controlling the smart home.
The Amazon Echo Plus features everything you love about the product line, with the addition of a built-in ZigBee smart hub to help you fine tune many home automation devices. To that end, Amazon throws in a free Philips Hue light to get you started with making your home a smart home. The product features full Alexa integration and a Dolby-infused 0.8″ tweeter and 3″ woofer, delivering warm, rich sound to any room in the house, better than the Dot and on par with the standard Echo. On the privacy end, the Echo Plus delivers the ability to review and delete any and all recordings made with the product’s surface microphones.
The Echo Plus is not a stereo product, despite its higher-than-average price tag, requiring a secondary unit. Additionally, the product only comes in three colors, with the garden variety Echo coming in seven colors. Not as small as the iSmart Skyer, but you get much more obviously. If you like Amazon’s smart home devices, be sure to check out the Amazon Echo Studio as well for a larger alternative that projects a full, crisp sound.
#4 Sonos Play:5 (2nd Gen) Speakers
Award: Best Sound Quality
WHY WE LIKE IT: A perfect marriage between smart speaker functionality and superior sound quality, with 3 custom designed woofers that sound fantastic, combining to deliver incredible bass. The product is fully compatible with Alexa & Google, and Apple AirPlay, making this a beast for world class music playback.
The Sonos Play:5 delivers incredible sound reproduction, thanks to its three custom-made woofers, which finesse bass response, and sealed cabinet designed by world renowned music producer Giles Martin. The wall-mountable design was certainly well thought out, with an easy set-up process that actually fine tunes the audio depending on the size of your room. It also boasts Bluetooth integration, AirPlay 2 support, line in and an ethernet port for a wired connection, further increasing the ways in which you can listen to music, podcasts and more.
While this product certainly sounds great out of the box, with the best audio quality on this list, it needs to be paired with a secondary unit to achieve true stereo, which can get pretty pricey, considering this is the highest priced speaker we reviewed. Additionally, it needs a separate purchase in order to integrate with Alexa or Google, such as an Amazon Echo or Google Home. Be sure to check out Google’s whole line of home speakers if you’re interested, like the Google Home Max or Google Nest Mini. Lastly, this product truly shines when used with other Sonos speakers throughout your home or apartment, as it can play different songs from one source all controlled through the Sonos app. For the more business-minded, there’s the eMeet M2 AI Powered Wireless Conference Speaker.
#5 Bose SoundTouch 10WHY WE LIKE IT: The Bose SoundTouch 10 is a capable wireless speaker, with WiFi and Bluetooth functionality right out of the box and a related app that easily streams content from your phone or tablet. It also delivers rich and full sound, making this a great choice for those of you looking for a smart speaker that delivers audio quality in line with what the company has been producing for decades.
The Bose SoundTouch 10 is controlled via app, which we found to be highly intuitive, allowing us to easily stream music from any of the major content providers. To that end, the product delivers stellar sound, with a thick, punchy bass and an exciting mid-range, with some decent treble to boot. The product is also extremely attractive, featuring a minimalist look that comes in black or white.
The main drawback to this product is that it requires a separate purchase in order to integrate with Alexa, meaning you’ll have to buy a Dot or Echo to take advantage of voice control. Additionally, we ran into a couple of instances where the SoundTouch 10 could not support an Alexa voice command. Check out the Bose Portable Home Speaker, which has features like voice assistants Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and other specs included for a convenient listening experience.
#6 Amazon Echo (3rd Gen)WHY WE LIKE IT: The third-generation Amazon Echo brings some new features to the fore, including a redesigned speaker system, which includes a 0.8″ tweeter and 3″ woofer for increased bass response. This product truly produces high quality audio, boasting a frequency field of 360 degrees, making this a great purchase for those of you want to keep abreast of the latest and greatest on offer from Amazon.
The third generation Amazon Echo boasts a redesigned speaker system, with increased bass response and an audio frequency field of 360 degrees, meaning it can blast music in any direction throughout your home. We were constantly surprised by how loud the audio could get, while still remaining crisp and distortion-free. The Alexa integration was also as good as ever, allowing us to check the weather or change songs by using voice commands.
All told, this is not a huge leap over the second gen Echo, despite the increased bass response. It is even a step back in one way, lacking the easy-to-use analog rotation ring for volume control, a feature that was heads and shoulders over using Alexa to control volume. The Apple HomePod is another option if you’re interested in a speaker that’s compatible with smart devices. It has Apple’s own built-in digital assistant Siri, so you can easily play music, switch songs, etc. on your smart speaker.
#7 Sonos One Voice Controlled Speaker (Gen 2)
Award: Best Bathroom Speaker
WHY WE LIKE IT: The second generation Sonos One delivers absolutely breathtaking sound quality, with vocals that stand out clearly and mids and highs that sit comfortably in the mix, and features full integration with both Alexa and Google Assistant. It can also be wall mounted and is humidity resistant, making it the most versatile speaker on our list for placing in different locations throughout the home, even the bathroom.
The second generation Sonos One comes with two Class-D digital amplifiers and a mid-woofer, to ensure faithful playback of mid-range frequencies, along with a tweeter, all combining to produce unparalleled audio, which is perfect for listening to a variety of music styles. It’s also fully compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant, further increasing its versatility. The speaker can also be placed virtually anywhere in the home, thanks to it being manufactured with humidity-resistant materials and packed with a built-in wall mount.
Like most of the speakers on this list, this is a mono product, with the ability to be paired with secondary speakers to create a true stereo image. We can attest that using two of these to go stereo does increase the sound quality, but this is not a cheap smart speaker, so buying two may be out of your price range. Also, the product cannot stream audio via Bluetooth connection, a feature the generation one speaker supports.
How We Decided
To help narrow to the above list, we set these speakers up in our test living area, running them through their paces in order to suss out sound quality and smart assistant integration. We were attracted to products that boasted Alexa integration right out of the box, as noted by the number of Amazon-branded products that we featured.
On the sound quality front, we looked for speakers that truly captured the full range of audio response, with a deep bass and natural sounding mids and highs. Many of the above speakers boast built-in woofers to further enhance bass response. Additionally, we gravitated toward products that could get pretty loud, filling the home with music. The ability to easily link to secondary products, in order to create a true stereo response, is also something we checked out.
Finally, we took a look at additional functionalities, like easy-to-use privacy controls, Bluetooth functionality and integration with assistants other than Alexa, like Google. We were also impressed by any products that offered warranties in the one year range, as these tend to be expensive purchases and should be protected accordingly.
Smart Speakers Buying Guide
The Most Important Features to Consider
- Alexa Integration
All of the above products can integrate with Alexa in one way or another, but if you are looking to make the most out of Alexa, including the ability to easily control smart home appliances, you might want to check out the products that are actually manufactured by Amazon. These require no other purchases to make full use of the smart assistant and provide more of those “wow” moments that come with having a fully voice controlled speaker sitting in your living room. If you are more tied to the Google ecosystem, however, you might want to go with the Sonos products, as they offer the ability to choose which smart assistant you prefer.
- Sound Quality and Stereo Pairing
All of the above speakers sound pretty darned good, but if hifi audio is your bag, make sure you pick one with a wide array of audio enhancement features, including a customizable EQ, high quality digital amplifiers and a built-in woofer, to enhance bass response. Some of the products on the above list also feature a mid-woofer, which truly does make the mid-range pop. Additionally, if you want to go for a stereo image, or if you just want to buy a bunch of speakers to place throughout the home, go with products that can easily be paired with one another. All of the Amazon and Sonos-branded speakers come with this functionality. Finally, make sure you buy something with an audio out, so you can connect it to your home stereo system. All of the above products boast this feature.
- Smart Home and Bluetooth Integration
If you are looking for a simple entrypoint to the smart home craze, pick a product with full Alexa functionality, which will allow you to control the basics of any related home automation system. If you are looking for advanced control, however, you might want to go with the Echo Plus, which features a built-in ZigBee hub that really lets you get in there and fine tune. For instance, without a form of smart home hub, a Philips Hue light bulb can change to about a dozen different colors. With a hub, you can choose from 16 million color combinations. Most, though not all, of the above products also boast Bluetooth integration, meaning you can easily use your phone to stream music and the like, without even having to ask Alexa anything.
Smart Speakers FAQs
Do these speakers spy on me?
Short answer, maybe. Just in case, make sure to buy something that allows you to easily mute the microphones, so you can have control over what information is being fed into the device. Some models also allow you to go in and edit and delete any voice command you’ve given, which could come in handy on the privacy front.
Are these speakers safe?
While we can’t say with certainty that the companies that manufacture these products aren’t spying on you, we can say they take precautions to prevent hackers from listening in. Most smart speakers support WPA-2 encryption, a secure WiFi connection that can prevent data and relevant instructions from being intercepted by hackers. They also support two-factor authentication.
Can these devices call 911?
Though most smart speakers can now make phone calls, in some fashion or another, they can’t often place calls to 911. This is due to regulatory compliance, though there are often workarounds, such as simply putting 911 into your contacts as something else, like “my buddy.”
Do these speakers get better the longer they are in use?
For the most part, yeah. The voice recognition services provided in your average smart speaker uses a series of algorithms, so that the system becomes more familiar with your use of words and individual speech patterns as time goes on. The end result? The longer you have it, the better it will respond to your commands.
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