It's not an understatement to say that the Amazon Echo has changed the expectations of what a speaker can do for tens of millions of people around the world. Instead of being limited to playing music, the speaker could control your lights, set timers, play games, and even allow you to make Amazon purchases. The fact that Amazon continues to support the original Echo, which is nearing its seventh birthday, is especially laudable considering the fast-paced world of consumer technology, in which old models are quickly discontinued and deprecated to make way for the new.
Amazon may have kicked off the modern smart speaker revolution, but it's no longer the only game in town. Tech titans like Apple and Google launched their own smart speakers, followed by well-known legacy audio companies like Sony, Bowers & Wilkins, and JBL. Audio startups, including Sonos, Edifier, and Ultimate ears launched smart speakers to critical acclaim. Now you can get smart speakers in any shape, size, or color. The best part is that smart speakers actually improve over time, as the smart assistants they use — Amazon's Alexa, the Google Assistant, and Siri — are upgraded.
In some cases, you'll need a newer smart speaker to take full advantage of these technical improvements because features like advanced voice recognition require a lot of under-the-hood horsepower. That said, if you want to stick with the basics: Playing music from the device of your choice, using the smart assistant to help with common tasks like checking the weather, messaging a friend, or getting the answer to a piece of trivia, you shouldn't have to upgrade for many years. There've never been more smart speakers available, which can make it intimidating if you're trying to pick the right one. We've researched and tested the best smart speakers you can get right now, and presented them below, so you can find the one that best fits your needs.
— Best Overall: Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin
— Best Budget: Echo Dot
— Best With Screen: Amazon Echo Show 10
— Best for Apple Devices: HomePod Mini
— Best for Google Devices: Google Nest Audio
— Best Portable: Sonos Roam
How We Picked The Best Smart Speakers
Our recommendations for the best smart speakers are based on a mix of hands-on testing and research. Below are the factors we considered most highly when deciding which smart speakers to include in this buyer's guide.
Voice Assistants: Smart speakers are equipped with one of three different voice assistants, which is the AI you communicate with to make requests. These assistants are Amazon's Alexa, the Google Assistant, and Apple's Siri. All three have the same basic list of features, but each is differentiated in its own way.
Amazon's Alexa is plugged into the e-commerce giant's store, which allows you to make purchases, and even score exclusive "voice-only deals" during major shopping events like Prime Day and Black Friday. Amazon has gone through great lengths to work with third-party companies to build Alexa into as many smart speakers as possible, so sticking with this assistant gives you the most options. If you use the company's Echo speakers, you can download third-party "skills," which extend the capabilities of the device. Skills range from games, to voice-only versions of smartphone apps.
Google Assistant: The biggest benefit to using a smart speaker that has the Google Assistant is its tight integration with the search company's vast information network. It should come as no surprise that the Google Assistant answers more questions correctly — or more specifically — than any other AI. The Google Assistant can also give you information from the company's services. For instance, you could ask the Google Assistant about your commute time, and it'll let you know about the current traffic conditions using Google Maps. If you want to play a video on a TV that has a Chromecast attached, you can use the Google Assistant on a smart speaker to play the video on your set. This also works with TVs running Android, but those devices already have the Google Assistant on them.
Siri: If you primarily use Apple devices, getting a smart speaker that uses Siri is probably the best choice. Using a Siri-enabled smart speaker allows you to send and receive messages using iMessage, for example. Apple has committed to improving Siri on all of its devices, and we have noticed the AI getting more sophisticated over the years. We've still had more success requesting information from the Google Assistant and Alexa, but the gap is closing. Siri is locked down to smart speakers Apple makes, but the company has made its AirPlay 2 streaming technology available to third-party companies. Smart speakers that support AirPlay 2 allow you to stream music from an Apple device over WiFi instead of Bluetooth. This feature means you won't have to worry about being out of a speaker's range, or having to pair your device to the speaker each time you turn it on. If you use Apple devices, but don't care much about Siri, getting one that supports AirPlay 2 is still a good idea.
Audio Quality: Smart speakers can do so much, but they're not worth recommending if they don't sound good. The original Amazon Echo was panned for its tinny sound, but this has changed dramatically over the past few years. The latest smart speakers sound great — if not fantastic — as companies prioritize both audio quality and AI. If the smart speaker you're using is a few years old, and you're thinking about upgrading because you're dissatisfied with the way it sounds, you should be pleasantly surprised by what's available today.
Portability: All of the smart speakers we're recommending are small enough to be easily taken from room to room, but in this guide we're using the word portability to denote how it's powered. Portable smart speakers can run on battery power, which means they're truly portable and fully wireless. Non-portable smart speakers must be plugged into an outlet at all times.
Best Overall: Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin
Why It Made The Cut: Bowers & Wilkins' Zeppelin is the best smart speaker we've ever heard, and gives other audiophile equipment a run for its money.
— Voice Assistant: Alexa
— Portable: No
— Size: 7.5 inches H x 25.6 inches W x 8.27 inches D
— Unparalleled audio quality for a smart speaker
— Able to play music in true stereo
— AirPlay 2 support
In the world of smart speakers, Bowers & Wilkins' Zeppelin stands head and shoulders above the rest.
The speaker's iconic, elongated design hasn't changed much since the original model launched in 2007, but everything under the hood is completely different. Each of the Zeppelin's components, from the amp to the drivers has been custom made, and the results are incredible.
We've never heard a better smart speaker; in fact, the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin gives traditional home theater speakers a run for their money. Minute details in the backgrounds of tracks sound crystal clear, and it's easy to distinguish individual instruments even in complicated, cacophonous passages. We listened to music from every genre, new and old, and couldn't find any fault with the Zeppelin's sound. This is also the only smart speaker in our guide that can play music in true stereo, which is a big plus for music lovers.
One benefit of the Zeppelin's design is that drivers are spaced far enough apart on the right and left sides that your ears can actually distinguish sounds coming from the right and left channels very easily. Again, this is an audio feature you'd expect from a pair of individual bookshelf speakers, not a single smart speaker. Speaking of smart, the Zeppelin works with Amazon Alexa, and works wonderfully. Once it's set up, the Zeppelin can quickly and accurately answer your questions, and we couldn't stump it.
The experience of using Alexa on this speaker will be identical to one that costs a lot less, but the combination of excellent sound and smart features make a potent mix. Bowers & Wilkins designed the Zeppelin to support AirPlay 2, which is great news if you primarily listen to music on an Apple device. Whenever possible, we prefer to use AirPlay 2 rather than Bluetooth, so it was nice to use this feature during our tests.
The Zeppelin doesn't have any obvious faults, but its high price may be hard to swallow if you're on a budget, or want to outfit your home with multiple smart speakers. This is a luxurious smart speaker, but its quality is commensurate with its price tag. If you want a smart speaker that can function as your main way of listening to music, Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin delivers. For many, it'd be the best speaker they've ever heard.
Best Budget: Echo Dot
Why It Made The Cut: The Echo Dot may be smaller than most smart speakers, but it sounds good for its size and has all the same AI features.
— Voice Assistant: Alexa
— Portable: No
— Size: 3.9 inches W x 3.9 inches H x 3.5 inches D
— Compact design
— Remarkable sound for its size
— Mic off button
— Not great for large spaces
If you need a smart speaker for a small to mid-sized space, or have a fairly strict budget, Amazon's Echo Dot is the right choice.
The 4th generation of the Echo Dot has the same dome-like design as the full-sized Echo, and looks great on a bedside table or desk. The unassuming speaker actually sounds very good given its small size, although it does lose a little fidelity at high volumes. You won't notice this unless you really crank the speaker up, but it's something to consider if you want to kick out the jams. When listening at a more comfortable volume, the Echo Dot sounds remarkably good given its size. It can't compare to the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin, but also costs $750 less.
We're confident in saying the Echo Dot is the best-sounding speaker in its price range, though Apple's HomePod mini and the Google Nest Audio speaker are the better picks for under $100. Still, that's twice the price of the Echo Dot. As you'd expect, the Echo Dot works with Alexa, which means it's just as smart as any of the higher-priced smart speakers in our guide. It even has some Echo-only features, like the ability to be used as an intercom speaker. If you have an Echo Dot in every room of your house, you'll end up with a whole-home wireless intercom system for a remarkable price.
The Echo Dot has a couple of technical faults, but you won't expose them unless you're planning on using it as the sole speaker at a large party. For casual users like college students who need to play music in a dorm, or someone who wants to listen to music while cooking in the kitchen, the Echo Dot is a great choice.
Best With Screen: Amazon Echo Show 10
Why It Made The Cut: The Echo Show 10's simply allows you to use Alexa's intelligence in new and genuinely helpful ways.
— Voice Assistant: Alexa
— Portable: No
— Size: 5.8 inches W x 3.4 inches H x 2.9 inches D
— Big screen
— High-resolution display
— Rotating base
— Fairly large
Amazon's Echo Show 10 is a version of its marquee smart speaker with a 10-inch HD touch-sensitive display attached, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities in the smart home.
With Alexa, you can use the Echo Show 10 to livestream video from your home-security camera, stream video from services like Hulu, and get useful, visual answers to your questions. The best example of this is asking the Echo Show 10 for the weather. Instead of hearing about the upcoming weather conditions, a five-day forecast will pop up on the screen. If you need more information about the weather on a specific day, you tap the screen.
If you ask Alexa for recommendations on what to cook, a whole list of trending recipes will appear on the Echo Show 10's display. Tap any recipe, and you'll be taken to a set of step-by-step instructions on how to cook the dish. In some cases, recipes will be accompanied by a video. Even simple smart speaker tasks like setting a timer are more useful when you use the Echo Show 10. You can check on the numbers counting down, which is especially helpful if you don't want to lose track of time while completing a more complicated task.
The Echo Show 10's coolest design feature is its rotating base. This speaker can follow you around the room by using its camera to keep track of your movements. This is helpful if you're on a video call — the Echo Show 10 supports multiple video calling apps, including Zoom — and want to move around. You can disable this feature by closing the camera's physical shutter. This is a neat trick when you see it in person, but we mostly kept it turned off during our tests.
Earlier versions of the Echo Show didn't sound very good, but Amazon has fixed that problem over the years. The latest Echo Show 10 sounds very good overall, including at louder volumes, and its display is useful when listening to music. When you select a song, the Echo Show 10 will display the lyrics — highlighting the current ones in real-time — so you can avoid mondegreens. It's little features like that which will make a big difference in your everyday use.
The Echo Show 10 takes up a bit more space than a typical smart speaker because of its widescreen display, but we feel like this is totally justified. Having a big screen makes the Echo Show 10's best features more useful. If you want a smart speaker for your kitchen, don't look at any other options.
Best for Apple Devices: HomePod Mini
Why It Made The Cut: The HomePod mini is the only smart speaker to work with Siri, which makes it the best pick by far for users of Apple's tech.
— Voice Assistant: Siri
— Portable: No
— Size: 3.3 inches H x 3.9 inches W
— Tightly integrated with Apple's other tech
— Works with Siri
— Supports AirPlay 2
— Siri can misinterpret some requests
If you primarily listen to music on an Apple Device, and use Apple's services, the HomePod mini is the best smart speaker you can get. Apple locks down its technology, so this is currently the only smart speaker around that works with Siri. The original HomePod will also work with Siri, but Apple discontinued it in 2021.
True to its name, the HomePod mini is very small. It's roughly the same size as an Echo Dot, but it sounds better in our experience, with better bass response, and great performance at full volume. Honestly, the HomePod mini gets way louder than we expected, which was an unexpected perk. The main reason to get this smart speaker above the rest is its integration with Apple's other hardware.
If you're playing a song on an iPhone, you can hover your smartphone near the speaker and it'll start playing there. Taking a cue from Amazon, the HomePod mini can be used as an intercom, pinging Apple devices both inside and outside of your home. If you set a reminder using your HomePod mini, it'll appear in the Reminders app on your phone, ditto for adding an appointment to your calendar. The HomePod mini's hardware is impressive overall, but Siri can still be hit or miss.
The speaker misinterpreted requests on occasion, which resulted in the wrong song being played, or a random piece of information being given. These instances are becoming fewer and further between, but are still frustrating when they happen. We're also annoyed by Apple's Home app, which makes managing the HomePod mini unnecessarily difficult. Finding out whether the speaker needs an update, and applying that update if necessary, is a real chore. We're encouraged by Apple's software improvements to the HomePod mini and Siri, and hope it continues to make big strides over time. Ultimately, none of these faults are deal breakers, and we can still easily recommend the HomePod mini to anyone who sticks with Apple gear.
Best for Google Devices: Google Nest Audio
Why It Made The Cut: The Google Nest Audio is the smartest smart speaker we've tested, and it sounds great to boot
— Voice Assistant: Google Assistant
— Portable: No
— Size: 3.07 inches H x 4.88 inches W
— Superb audio quality
— Great industrial design
— Google Assistant is smarter than Alexa or Siri
— Works best with Google services
It shouldn't shock you to learn that Google's Nest Audio speaker is the smartest of the bunch. The Google Assistant can leverage all of the search giant's intelligence to get the most comprehensive, up-to-date information whenever you ask a question. The fact that it also sounds very good and looks nice is a nice bonus.
The full-sized speaker is neck-and-neck with Apple's HomePod mini in terms of audio quality, which pleases us greatly. The fact that there are two very good smart speakers at the $100 price point is driving both Apple and Google to make the best-possible hardware at a budget-friendly price. If you have a mid-sized room, the Nest Audio speaker will fill it with great-sounding music without requiring you to pump the volume all the way up. We found this speaker's sound to be pretty smooth, with no bloated bass or screechy treble that could ruin the sound of a good recording. If you listen to a lot of acoustic music, be it pop, folk, jazz, or classical, the Nest Audio is the smart speaker to get in this price range thanks to its midrange-rich sound profile.
The Nest Audio speaker is tightly intertwined with Google's services, which can be a pro or a con depending on the circumstances. If you use Google Maps, YouTube, and Google Calendar, the Nest Audio speaker will fit seamlessly into your digital life. If you use alternatives to those services, your experience will be a little less harmonious. Yes, you can ask the Nest Audio speaker for directions from your exact address to the exact address of your office, but it's a lot easier to say "Ok Google, how long will it take to get to work?" Smart speakers are designed to remove friction from your life, so there isn't much sense getting one that may annoy you to use.
If you use Google services, or don't mind dealing with the occasional minor inconvenience, the Nest Audio speaker is a blast to use. Its performance at answering questions makes it worth recommending on its own.
Best Portable: Sonos Roam
Why It Made The Cut: The Sonos Roam lets you take the experience of using a premium at-home smart speaker with you everywhere.
— Voice Assistant: Alexa, Google Assistant
— Portable: Yes
— Size: 6.61 inches H x 2.32 inches W x 2.44 inches D
— Excellent audio quality
— Works with multiple smart assistants
— Good battery life
— Annoying buttons
— Expensive for a portable speaker
Sonos waited a long time to get into the portable smart speaker market, but the Roam makes quite an entrance.
The company took everything it learned designing its sedentary Sonos One and applied it to a battery-powered portable smart speaker. The results are outstanding. The Roam is, without question, the best-sounding portable smart speaker we've ever tried.
We listened to music from a variety of genres at different volume levels and were always impressed with the results. The tinny, substandard sound we'd experienced with wireless speakers in the Roam's size class never reared its ugly head. From the moment we hit play on the first track of the listening session to the final notes of the last song, the Roam always delivered. Sonos was able to pull off this feat by designing every piece of the Roam's audio system in-house, which means they were all made to work perfectly together. This commitment to quality is reflected in the Sonos Roam's price, but you're really getting what you pay for.
Sonos has been famously agnostic in the smart speaker world, and the Roam continues that tradition. You can use this speaker with Alexa or the Google Assistant, and it supports AirPlay 2. If you've never gotten a smart speaker before, the Sonos Roam will allow you to audition two of the three big smart speaker platforms, so you can find out which one works best for your needs. If the Sonos Roam gets disconnected from a WiFi network — when you leave the house, for instance — it'll automatically enter into a Bluetooth mode, so you can continue listening to music wherever you go. If you connect the Roam to a WiFi network created by your phone (this feature is called tethering), all of its smart features will be available to you everywhere. Beware: Using a smart speaker requires a lot of data, so it's unwise if your cell phone plan comes with a limited amount of tethered data.
If you want the experience of using a smart speaker wherever you go, and the freedom to choose the AI assistant that fits into your life, the Sonos Roam is your best bet.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Smart Speaker
Where You'll Listen to Music
This is the first factor you consider whenever you're getting any piece of audio equipment. If you primarily like to listen to music outdoors, on the beach, or on hikes, you should prioritize portability over audio quality. If you want to listen to music in one place, and have a lot of space, you may want to consider getting a bigger, sedentary speaker that only needs to be set up once.
Many smart speakers can only play music in mono, which means sounds mixed for the right and left channel in a traditional speaker system or headphones are collapsed into what's called a fold down. If you want to listen to music in true stereo, but want to hear music the way it was designed to be heard by the artist and engineers, you're in luck. The smart speakers we're recommending are designed to be linked together into a stereo pair, which allows you to listen to music in true stereo. You'll need two identical speakers to use this feature, but the results are surprisingly good most of the time, especially when you consider each speaker is operating independently, and wirelessly communicating with one another and your device to play music properly.
The Other Devices You Use
The beauty of smart speakers is that they can be used with any device you have. That said, these speakers are designed to work best with other devices made by the same company. If you use Apple Maps, for example, you won't be able to take full advantage of a smart speaker that uses the Google Assistant. Likewise, Android users won't be able to send and receive messages on a smart speaker that uses Siri. Being stuck in a single company's ecosystem is perilous because it makes it harder to switch from one platform to another, but there are certainly benefits to choosing this route.
Q: Can I have smart speakers from different companies in my home?
Yes. It may sound contrary to the advice we gave above, but you could certainly have an array of different smart speakers in your home. If you don't mind remembering which smart assistant works with the speaker in the room you're currently occupying, you won't have any problems.
Q: How do I responsibly dispose of my old smart speaker?
If you're replacing an old smart speaker, we recommend reading our guide on how to responsibly dispose of e-waste.
Q: How do I update my smart speaker?
This will depend on the smart speaker you use, but every company typically requires you to download a specific app to get it set up. That app will outline how the smart speaker can be updated, and typically allows you to select "auto update," so you don't have to check manually.
Q: Do I need WiFi to use a smart speaker?
Yes. A smart speaker requires an active internet connection in order to work. Some smart speakers have a Bluetooth mode, which will allow you to stream music to them, but nothing else.
Final Thoughts on Smart Speakers
The overwhelming popularity of smart speakers speaks to our desire to have a connected home, and our comfort with voice assistants. The ability to control parts of your home completely hands-free, or play music just by speaking the song title out loud used to be either cumbersome, impossible, or expensive. In a few short years, this technology has become far more accessible while also becoming more sophisticated. Smart speakers will continue to evolve, and we look forward to being able to accomplish even more tasks without lifting a finger.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.