The Best Smart Speakers That Are Helpful and Entertaining
The best smart speakers keep you connected and stream your favorite music and podcasts
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Shopping for the best smart speakers
If you use a smart speaker in your home, you probably wonder how you ever got along without one. These smart home devices help you manage your day, turn the lights on or off, stream your favorite tunes while you cook and so much more. They make great tech gifts—for others or yourself—but before you lay down cash for one of the best smart speakers, make sure you know what these devices do and which features to consider when shopping for them.
What are smart speakers?
“Smart speakers are speakers that are connected to your network and provide a connection to the speaker via Wi-Fi. They can have a voice assistant built in or can work with other voice assistants for simple operation,” says Kevin Portaro, a product specialist with Sony Electronics. “It’s also possible to control smart speakers from your own device if you do not want to use a voice assistant.”
But people don’t invest in these devices just to amplify music alone. The best smart speakers allow you to create an interactive experience. You can listen to your favorite music, ask questions of a digital assistant (think Alexa or Siri), hear the news, weather and traffic, and make phone calls. You can even tap into your smart home and control everything from your lights to your smart locks or connected window shades.
While some smart speakers are incredibly pricey, you can find entry-level devices and build a system as you decide what you need most.
What to consider when buying smart speakers
Before you buy a smart speaker, Portaro says, understand the space that you’re placing the speaker in. “This will help in determining what the right speaker is to purchase,” he says. “Generally, the larger the space is that you are trying to fill with sound, the more powerful speaker you will need.”
Another tip from Portaro: Check to make sure your speaker will work with your preferred voice-assistant technology and supports the applications you use regularly.
How we chose the best smart speakers
We love testing out new products to make sure we’re always offering our readers the best possible recommendations. (Don’t believe us? Just check out reviews of the best smart doorbells and smart alarm clocks.) To determine the best smart speakers, we relied on recommendations from both experts and friends, plus rave reviews—and warnings. We also took into account the smart speakers we use daily, then tested a few of the higher-priced models to see how they compare to the more affordable versions.
Here are our picks for the best smart speakers on the market:
- Best overall: Sonos One
- Best value: Amazon Echo (4th Gen)
- Best for work: Microsoft Audio Dock
- Best for the shower: JBL Go 3
- Best for music lovers: Bose Portable Smart Speaker
- Best for kids: Asimom Rhyme
- Best multipurpose: Amazon Echo Show 8
- Best for Apple fans: Apple HomePod Mini
- Best for Google users: Google Nest Audio
- Best for portability: Marshall Emberton Bluetooth Portable Speaker
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While some people think Sonos speakers are only for listening to music, the new generation of smart speakers allows you to do everything from stream music (of course!) to use your voice assistant. Connect it to your TV, and you have a home theater. If you’re looking for easy setup and use, this is the speaker for you: Use AirPlay to send music from your smartphone, tablet or computer directly to the speaker, stream straight from apps like Spotify and set up your home system using the Sonos app. The speaker will make your life easier with its voice control and simple on-speaker touch control.
- Great sound
- Voice and touch controls
- Lets you mix and match speakers to build a home sound system
- Sells out quickly
Amazon Echo (4th Gen)
There’s a reason the Amazon Echo is so incredibly popular. On its own, this is a cute beginner-level speaker with really great sound. But it’s even better as an expanded home system. I know because I have more than one of these Amazon smart speakers, some of which I pair for targeted sound, depending on my mood. I’m impressed by the richness of the sound, especially when you combine multiple devices and play around with the settings. Beyond that, it offers voice control with Alexa and a built-in smart home hub that lets you do things like control the lights and smart locks.
- Affordably priced compared to competitors
- Works with Alexa for voice control
- Great sound quality
- Alexa can sometimes disconnect from services, so you won’t be able to stream Sirius XM or other favorites all the time
Best for work
Microsoft Audio Dock
This streamlined device makes it easy to get better sound quality on all of those video meetings you attend every day. Simply connect it to your personal or work computer to finally hear what everyone is saying—no guessing required. Not only does it deliver great sound quality during meetings, but it also makes using other Microsoft tools easier. A status light lets you know when you’re on mute, and an integrated Microsoft Teams button means you can quickly raise your hand during discussions.
- Specifically designed to enhance the audio quality of online meetings
- Integrated Microsoft Teams button
- Status light when muted
- Plays music beautifully
- Works best with Microsoft devices, though you can connect to any system
Best for the shower
JBL Go 3
Love singing while you soak? Check out JBL’s cute Go 3, which comes in loads of colors and also in a fun camo pattern. It’s perfectly sized for portability, but you may just want to keep it in the shower—it’s waterproof, after all. The dust-proof exterior means you can stream music from anywhere without worries. Plus, a single charge will give you five hours of use, so you don’t have to worry about recharging while you’re out. For an even more fun toy, check out these immersive VR headsets.
- Waterproof for shower use
- Small, portable size
- Up to five hours of play on a single charge
- If you crank up the volume too loud, you’ll hear or feel vibrations
Best for music lovers
Bose Portable Smart Speaker
All about that bass? Bose makes the best smart speakers for music lovers who want purity of sound. These Bose smart speakers have a 360-degree surround-sound effect and built-in voice control. If you like a classic approach, though, you can control your speaker with touch or through the app. The handle makes moving it from room to room a cinch, which means you don’t need to invest in a speaker for every space in your house. If you care more about music quality than smart-speaker features (and you have a whole lot of money to burn), check out Sony’s XV900 X-Series Party Speaker, a $900 speaker with amazing sound. Ready to go beyond the best smart speakers? Check out some of these unique gifts.
- Even music played from your tablet or smartphone sounds like a concert
- Voice control using Alexa or Google Assistant
- Portable design
Best for kids
Designed with kids in mind, Asimom’s adorable smart speakers double as bedroom decor for kids who want their tech to have a personality. Not only will this cute little guy encourage kids to dance or listen to a bedtime story—it will also give them the great sound they’re looking for. Plus, it has a high-capacity battery, so the speaker can play for up to 15 hours before it needs charging. That’s a lot of “Baby Shark” (doo doo doo-doo-doo-doo). The under-$40 price tag makes it a great Amazon Prime gift for wee ones.
- Cute, kid-friendly design
- Easy to pair two of the speakers via Bluetooth
- Sound quality is fine for the price, but skip if you’re looking for top-quality sound
Amazon Echo Show 8
During the worst parts of the pandemic, I couldn’t visit my mom as much as I wanted to, so I treated her to an Echo Show 8 that she assured me she didn’t need. It’s now her favorite device ever. The sound quality is excellent without being overwhelming, and the speaker itself is a jack-of-all-trades. You can watch YouTube videos, listen to music, set reminders, stream your favorite shows, display photos and control your smart home. The Amazon Alexa integration makes doing all of that even easier—just use your voice. And depending on the model you buy, you can add the Zoom app for easy video calls.
- Multifunctional speaker streams music, TV and podcasts; controls your smart home; displays photos and recipes; and more
- Capable of making video calls
- Button to turn off the mic and camera for privacy
- Need to adjust the settings if you don’t want Alexa’s suggestions for things to try
Best for Apple fans
Apple HomePod Mini
Like everything Apple designs, the HomePod Mini doesn’t just work exceptionally well but also looks fantastic in the process. This little speaker, which comes in five colors, fits perfectly on a desk or nightstand and provides room-filling sound. Better yet, Siri almost never misses a single voice command on it. If you have a few of these Apple smart speakers, set them up around the house for a home sound system and intercom system. They’ll do more than play your favorite tunes; you can also answer calls coming from your iPhone, stream TV and movies from your Apple devices and control your smart home.
- Seamlessly connects with Apple devices
- Effortless to set up with your iPhone
- Apple makes privacy a priority
- Can be difficult to control some devices that were previously set up to work with Android
Best for Google users
Google Nest Audio
Looking for a no-nonsense smart assistant that’ll respond to your voice commands without issue? Check out the Google Nest Audio. You can connect these Google smart speakers to a host of apps to stream music, plan a trip or set a reminder so you don’t burn the cookies in the oven. The speaker also has impressive sound and a relatively small footprint. Use it to control your smart home, or subscribe to Nest Away, which will ping you if the device hears something suspicious (like breaking glass) when you’re not home.
- Built-in Google Assistant
- Easy to use
- Can move your music between speakers if you go to another room
- A nice speaker for the price, but the sound won’t blow you away
- Requires use of the Google Home app
Best for portability
Marshall Emberton Bluetooth Portable Speaker
Most smart speakers are portable, but some are easier to grab and take with you than others. Marshall Emberton’s unexpectedly great-sounding speaker looks like a teeny guitar amplifier and, quite appropriately, plays a fun guitar riff when you power it on. It has nearly 20 hours of play time and boasts 360-degree sound. And while it may look like a piece of decor, it’s a tough piece of tech that will handle activity and is also water-resistant. This could make a fun addition to help elevate a road trip or glamping experience.
- Portable and durable, so you can bring it with you anywhere you go
- Great sound quality for the size
- Compatible with Apple and Android devices
- Battery charge time varies per unit, so you might not get the full 20-ish hours
- Kevin Portaro, product specialist with Sony Electronics