Smart speakers have come a long ways in just a few short years. Amazon’s Echo now has friends in the form of Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana—and all the third-party speakers bake in those AI brains. Even Apple’s HomePod brings Siri to a smart speaker.
With almost a dozen to choose from, we’ve narrowed to the best smart speakers out there, whether high-end speakers or smaller speakers you can take with you.
If you want 21st century speaker smarts but refuse to sacrifice on sound, you’re not going to find a better speaker that fits the bill. The biggest and most expensive in Google’s Home lineup, the Max is exactly what you’d expect from the name—maximum sound.
It also works with several streaming services, comes with Google Assistant (the best voice assistant around), pairs with other Home speakers, and can lay vertical or horizontal. It’s the most expensive speaker on this list but also the the least likely speaker to disappoint.
Amazon’s original Echo has been the default smart speaker choice for a lot of people, and that will likely remain the case with the company’s 2nd Generation version. The new Echo is smaller and less expensive than the first one, and it adds a degree of customization with your choice of interchangeable shells, including fabric and wood veneer.
The one area it comes up short is in sound quality. You can get better-sounding Bluetooth speakers for the same price if you’re primarily using it for music, and most reviews have found a bit of a drop off in quality compared to the original Echo.
Unlike the iPhone, the Apple HomePod isn’t for everyone. It’s the company’s first foray into smart speakers and it’s going to be facing some growing pains. For example, Siri only works with Apple Music, its voice recognition and music-matching algorithm still doesn’t match up to Google, and it doesn’t come with stereo pairing out of the box (at least not yet).
But if you want an incredible-looking smart speaker with equally incredible sound—and you’re already a devoted Apple fan—this speaker might just be worth the high price.
Considering that sound quality is one of the bigger shortcomings of Amazon and Google’s standard smart speakers, it’s not surprising that audio companies are stepping in with some virtual assistant-enabled speakers of their own.
One of the standouts on that front is the Sonos One, which currently houses Alexa support and promises both Siri and Google Assistant integration at a later date. It costs twice as much as the standard Amazon Echo but, as Ars Technica, Engadget, and others have found, it delivers where it counts with much clearer, richer sound.
Amazon makes its own portable, Alexa-enabled Bluetooth speaker with the Amazon Tap, but if you’re looking for the best sound quality on the go, step up to Ultimate Ears’ new Blast.
It’s essentially an upgraded, smarter version of the company’s popular Boom series of speakers. Like those speakers, the Blast is fully waterproof and rugged enough to be tossed around, and it promises an ample 12 hours of battery life on a charge. If you want an even bigger sound, you should give the Alexa-enabled Megablast speaker ($300) a close look, too.
If you have an Android smartphone you’re likely already familiar with Google’s Voice Assistant, which could make the Google Home or Home Mini smart speaker a better choice for you. They also, of course, have the advantage of integrating seamlessly with any other Google services that you use, as well as devices like the Chromecast.
If you aren’t looking for something to replace a standalone Bluetooth speaker or sound system, however, the newer Home Mini might be the better option. It won’t match the larger Home (or Home Max) in sound quality but, then again, it’s half the price.