There are dozens of smart speakers on the market, and picking the best keeps getting tougher. First, you need to decide which voice assistant you prefer. There are three worth using—Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri—and each has its ups and downs. Right now, we prefer Google-and Amazon-powered models, as they are the most widely user-friendly.
Second, you need to figure out which speaker has the features you want. Is music quality your top concern? Do you want a touchscreen, or is voice assistance alone enough? Does your speaker need to connect to other smart home gadgets? That’s where finding the best option gets trickier. Don’t fear, you’ll find what you’re looking for here! We’ve tested dozens and dozens of smart speakers in the past few years to know what’s the best right now (and what’s not).
Updated August 2021: We’ve added the Sonos Roam.
Table of Contents
- Best Overall Smart Speaker
- Best Alexa Speaker
- Best Google Assistant Speaker
- Best Smart Soundbar
- Best Google Assistant Smart Display
- Best Alexa Smart Display
- Best Mini Speaker
- Best Party Speaker
- Honorable Mentions
- What About Siri?
- Why We Prefer Google Assistant Speakers (for Now)
- Should You Wait to Buy?
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Connects to Alexa, Sonos, AirPlay 2, or Google Assistant
There are louder speakers and some that are more portable, but no smart speaker is a better buy than the Sonos One right now (8/10, WIRED Recommends). It sets the bar in a number of areas, including sound quality, stable multiroom audio, and smart-home utility. Plus, it’s probably compatible with whatever ecosystem you prefer—it comes with Alexa enabled but also supports Google Assistant and Apple’s AirPlay 2.
On the audio front, the Sonos One sounds great. It has a balanced sound profile and robust (but never boomy) bass for a speaker its size. It connects to about 100 streaming audio services around the world, which is most of them. It’s also one of the best smart speakers to buy if you plan to build a home theater setup—it connects to Sonos’ larger speakers and its TV soundbar.
It’s worth noting that Sonos was in a bit of hot water last year over the fact that its older speakers weren’t going to get software updates. There is now a fix to support legacy hardware, but unfortunately, this is a reality of computer-powered speakers; unlike their analog predecessors, you can’t expect them to last forever. Sonos smart speakers, however, have a track record of lasting longer than anything else we’ve tested.
Connects to Alexa
Amazon’s latest Echo speaker (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is a cute ball of sound that brings the same bold bass and wide soundstage as the previous model, but with more room-filling sound than ever before.
You can put it anywhere—kitchens, bathrooms, even smaller living rooms—and it easily fills the space with 360-degree sound. Compared to the new Google Nest Audio speaker, this is the one I’d pick for off-axis listening (i.e., when you’re not sitting directly in front of the speaker). Alexa also makes getting news and weather updates convenient, and it’s dead simple to set kitchen timers and alarm clocks. We also like that you can turn off the microphones with a physical button, for when voice-assistant-wary friends and relatives are over.
If you’re after a simple, audio-focused Alexa speaker that doesn’t get in the way and won’t break the bank, this is the best you’ll find.
Best Google Assistant Speaker
Connects to Google Assistant
The Nest Audio (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is Google’s direct Echo competitor, and it fares extremely well. It’s got a compact, pillow-like shape and great sound that will easily fill small and medium-size rooms. We really like using two Nests as a stereo pair, because they combine to offer some of the best audio quality you can achieve in a smart speaker for $200.
Like all Google Assistant-powered devices, you can ask the Nest Audio to set timers, play music, or tell you the weather, and you can ask it anything you’d search on Google. The Google Home app makes it easy to pair up the speakers with any other Google-friendly smart devices you have too.
Connects to Alexa
With a wireless subwoofer, room-filling virtual surround sound, and Amazon’s Alexa onboard, the Yamaha YAS-209 is the best smart soundbar you can buy right now. It’s compatible with Spotify Connect and has both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections, which makes it a great speaker for all-around listening in your living room.
Another alternative: The Sonos Beam soundbar ($399) (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is another good option. It isn’t our absolute favorite soundbar for the money, but it has Alexa, Google Assistant, and Airplay support (with some Siri) out of the box.
Best Google Assistant Smart Display
Connects to Google Assistant
Smart displays are great in the kitchen, but they often have speakers too weak to help you dance your way through meal prep. That’s why we like the Google Nest Hub Max (8/10, WIRED Recommends), which boasts a pair of pretty impressive speakers below its 10-inch display. You won’t get the same fidelity as you’ll get from stand-alone smart speakers, but it’s enough to have a small dance party while the lasagna bakes. Plus, you can use a stop hand gesture to pause music without having to touch the screen or use your voice.
The Nest Hub Max is our current favorite smart display for a number of other reasons, too. We like that it can use its camera to identify individual members of the house, only showing information pertaining to each, and the larger display makes it great for watching YouTube tutorials. Google also added support for group video calling through Duo, Zoom, and Google Meet, making this an even better pick if you regularly connect with friends or coworkers using those services.
Connects to Alexa
The Echo Show 10 is a great Alexa-powered alternative to the Nest Hub Max. It’s more usable than third-party Alexa devices because it can call and network with Amazon’s other Echo speakers. This version looks much nicer than the first few generations of Echo Shows you may have seen, with a full-size 10-inch screen that swivels nearly 360 degrees to follow you with its cameras while you’re on a call or reading a recipe—like a cool robot assistant.
The screen lets you see what music is playing, pause the audio, skip to the next song, and view lyrics on some Amazon Music tracks. It can also play Amazon Prime videos and has a video version of Alexa’s daily flash-news briefing. Voice and video calls are supported, with Amazon recently adding Zoom support.
Connects to Amazon Alexa
If you aren’t in it for the music, the Amazon Echo Dot With Clock (4th Gen) and Google’s Nest Mini (7/10, WIRED Recommends) will give you most of the perks of owning a smart speaker, and you can use them to smarten up existing speakers on the cheap.
The sound is very similar between models, and they have nearly identical footprints, so you can easily make an argument that one is better than the other based on the ecosystem alone. We used to prefer the Nest Mini for this reason, but now that Amazon has added a simple clock to the front of the Echo Dot, we like the Alexa-powered option a little better.
The tiny display on the Echo Dot With Clock comes in handy. It can tell you when your timers are going to expire in the kitchen or when your alarm is set for the morning. Of course, it tells the time too. That makes it a better bedroom and kitchen companion. You can also ask it the weather, have it answer your random questions, and play white noise at bedtime to help you sleep. It also presents an easy way to get a smart assistant into the places in your home where you don’t normally listen to music.
Another alternative: The Nest Mini ($49) is also a great mini speaker if you prefer Google Assistant.
Connects to Google Assistant or Alexa
The pint-sized Sonos Roam (9/10, WIRED Recommends) has become our new favorite portable speaker. I (Parker) have taken it on road trips, to outdoor weddings, and in the basket of my bike. The simple-to-use Sonos ecosystem works with Google Assistant and Alexa, and the speaker has Bluetooth for when you’re out of Wi-Fi range. It even includes wireless charging, which makes it the perfect speaker to set down at home between trips outdoors.
You’ll get 10 hours of listening on a full charge at medium volume, and the thing is rugged; an IP67 rating means it can survive in 3 feet of water for 30 minutes. I’m not easy on speakers, and our review unit is still going strong. If you’re looking to up your out-and-about game, buy one of these and stash it inside a stainless to-go mug. Just grab a drink along the way.
Another alternative: The Sonos Move ($399) is also a great mini speaker, and it sounds bolder, but it’s much more cumbersome (and spendy).
There are tons of smart speakers. Here are a few more we like:
- Amazon’s Echo Studio ($200) is the best-sounding Alexa speaker. Don’t buy it for music quality alone, but the Echo Studio is right up there with the Google Home Max in terms of bold bass and room-filling soundstage. Its odd shape keeps it from the top of our list.
- Bose’s Home Speaker 500 ($299) has Alexa, and a bit extra. It’s certainly not cheap, but this Bose speaker does sound pretty good (not as clear as the Sonos One, but great on the whole), and it gets loud. It has hands-free Alexa, Bluetooth, a 3.5-mm auxiliary port to connect directly to your phone or MP3 player, and six useful preset buttons you can assign to open a specific playlist or album from Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, and TuneIn. The display on the front shows album art and a few other prompts but isn’t nearly as effective as those on true smart displays.
Apple has two Siri-powered speakers. They aren’t in our top picks, so are they any good?
- Apple’s HomePod ($399) is for Apple junkies. It’s discontinued, but you can still find it at some retailers. The HomePod is not worth the full price, despite the fact that it sounds fantastic. It’s only for people who live a complete Apple life, because it barely supports third-party music streaming services (and that’s a new feature), plus it can’t control as many devices as its competitors. Read our full review for more.
- Apple’s HomePod Mini ($100) is its new smaller speaker. It’s cool looking, but it has the same issues as the larger HomePod speaker, including its high price. You can get a full-size Nest or Echo speaker for the same money, and you should.
Why We Prefer Google Assistant Speakers (for Now)
There are a lot of reasons to love Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, and it works pretty well. If you want to use your voice assistant to shop or use Amazon services like Prime Music or Prime Video, chances are an Alexa-powered speaker is best for you.
Google Assistant has fewer skills and is compatible with fewer smart home devices than Alexa, but it can do enough to qualify it as truly useful, and Google is adding new skills at a rapid pace. Speakers with Google Assistant work better when you network them together, and they’re compatible with a wide variety of Google apps and services. Google is better at answering random questions and telling you where to go out to eat, since it can access and send information to your phone through Google apps.
Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube Music are the main ways to play music with Google Assistant, covering most of your bases. The service can also send Netflix shows and movies to your TV if you have a Chromecast attached.
Now is a great time to buy any of these speakers. Apple, Google, and Amazon all released new speakers not too long ago, and they should remain useful for several years, since many of the improvements have to do with the services powering each digital assistant rather than the speaker hardware itself.
It’s worth noting that none of these smart devices will last forever. Like every product with a computer inside it, eventually, every smart device will be made obsolete. Stick to things that are made by major brands and support the big ecosystems, and you’ll generally get more life out of your purchase.
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