The best smart speakers are designed to bring audio output and input into the era of the connected smart home utilizing wireless connectivity to communicate with smart devices in your home ecosystem. The very best of these smart speaker systems take this further with the ability to control those devices using your voice. Our guide to the best smart speakers will talk you through everything you need to know about the latest and greatest audio assistants and accompaniments for your smart home environment.
While the ability to connect a device to an external audio output or connected speaker system may not be groundbreaking in itself, being able to connect that same speaker to your lightbulbs, home heating controller and other home appliances certainly is.
Add to this the ability to then control these connected devices by speaking to the speaker and it’s clear that things have come a long way and we’re approaching a whole new era of home interactivity.
In this guide we’re going to take a look at the very best smart speakers, voice controllers, and integrated hybrid smart hub systems to help you find the best smart speaker system for your needs.
What are Smart Speakers?
In order to think about this question, there are usually two levels or criteria that smart speakers generally need to meet in order to be considered ‘smart’.
Firstly, the ability to connect a speaker device wirelessly through a protocol such as Bluetooth or WiFi and then being able to control it from an interface app on a device such as a smartphone or tablet would generally be considered the entry level for a smart speaker. Similarly, most of the best smart speakers in this first category are also going to be able to connect to the internet in some form and ideally stream music and other audio directly from systems such as Spotify and Pandora.
There are however a second category of smart speakers which are rapidly becoming the defacto solution for offering all of the benefits of a wireless connected speaker system, alongside
It used to be the case that the app-based control on a smartphone or tablet was the primary method of controlling the connected smart devices in your home (including any wireless speaker systems), however the rapid growth of smart speaker systems has seen this trend for home control shifting dramatically thanks to the likes of Amazon, Google, and Apple.
The age of the smart speaker has definitely arrived – and it sounds amazing.
The Best Smart Speaker Systems
The big names in the smart speaker market are undoubtedly Amazon, Google, and Apple and by and large, this is where the greatest advances continue to be made in blending ‘intelligent’ assistants, voice control, and high quality sound output systems.
The best smart speakers are those which bring this combination of feature set, accuracy/intelligence, and performance together into a system that does what you want and ultimately, allows you to carry out the largest number of tasks as possible for the minimal amount of effort or input.
With this in mind, we’ve broken down the very best smart speaker systems out there from the more established solutions through to those just entering the market and breaking new ground.
When it comes to voice control, Amazon are arguably at the front of the pack with their Alexa enabled family of hybrid voice assistant smart speakers.
The flagship device in this family is the Echo Plus, the latest iteration of the original Echo device which started it all.
Addressing three core smart home issues in one solution (hub, speaker, controller), the Echo Plus is a strong contender for the best smart speaker if you want your audio output device to do much more than simply play your favourite songs.
Unlike the other voice controlled smart speaker systems in Amazon’s family, the Echo Plus actually integrates a dedicated smart home hub, meaning it also serves the purpose of orchestrating and controlling any ZigBee enabled devices right out of the box as well as bringing together other connected smart equipment that you may have in place around your home from brands such as Philips Hue, Yale, and GE.
On top of this of course, you’ve got perhaps the leading smart home voice controller built into the same device meaning you can tell Alexa to hit the lights, increase the temperature, or lock the doors, without ever lifting a finger.
Of course, the Echo Plus wouldn’t be much of a smart speaker if it didn’t deliver high quality audio output.
Utilizing a series of improved speakers with Dolby processing, the Echo Plus is able to deliver crisp vocals and extended bass to fill the room with immersive, 360° audio when you’re listening to music, or you know, just when Alexa is letting you know the weather for tomorrow.
When it comes to audio output, the Echo Plus and Alexa are able to stream from a number of internet services such as Spotify, Deezer, and Amazon’s Music Unlimited, as well as pulling live radio streams via services such as TuneIn Radio.Learn More About the Echo Plus Here
So here’s the thing with most voice control speakers out there – they’re often built around the idea of voice control first and high quality audio delivery second.
Not so with the Sonos One.
This smart speaker comes Amazon Alexa enabled right out of the box which means that you’re going to be able to take control of a whole load of Alexa functionality using your voice, directly from the device.
Unlike other Alexa devices however, the Sonos One is built on a solid foundation of wireless speaker heritage which translates to a product where the speaker in smart speaker is very much the primary consideration.
The most obvious utilization of the in-built Alexa functionality for music fans is the ability to control what Sonos One plays just by using your voice.
Beyond this though, the real power of giving this smart speaker an Alexa-enabled brain is that you’re going to be able to take full advantage of all of those other benefits of the system such as checking news, traffic reports, and weather, and of course, controlling your smart home, all from a high performance audio speaker unit.
When it comes to output, the Sonos One smart speaker offers everything native Alexa devices do (Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and SiriusXM), while also letting you listen to a huge number of other streaming services with the Sonos app.
If you’re a true audiophile, the Sonos One may seem like the natural choice for a smart speaker that puts music first and the system can be connected wirelessly with other Sonos speakers throughout your home to play music anywhere and everywhere.
While some smart speaker systems may be guilty of delivering sub-par sound as a trade-off for smart home voice control, the Sonos One certainly doesn’t fit into this category, providing room filling sound at the quality you’d expect from a brand with this reputation.Learn More About the Sonos One Smart Speaker Here
Probably the best known of all the smart speaker voice assistants out there, the Echo is powered by Amazon’s Alexa intelligence to help you with everything from catching the latest sports results, to playing your favorite album, and turning on your coffee machine in the morning.
The latest generation of the Amazon Echo brings several improvements to the previous model it replaces ranging from a considerable reduction in size to significantly improved audio output abilities which make it a formidable standalone smart speaker when placed in a room.
At the center of the Echo is an upgraded speaker which utilizes Dolby processing for delivering 360° omnidirectional of high quality sound, whether that’s playing music or just a response to the latest kitchen measurement conversion you’ve asked Alexa.
The Echo utilizes a combination of seven microphones with beamforming technology and noise cancellation, which work together to ensure Alexa can hear you from any direction even if you’re playing music.Learn More About the Amazon Echo Here
Powered by Google Assistant (Google’s answer to Alexa) Google Home offers all of the functionality you’d expect from one of the best smart speaker voice controllers from a top tier brand at an affordable price point.
The smart speaker from Google is built around a core of good looking design and high quality build which makes it more than a match for rival smart speaker systems. On top of this, the home is (surprise surprise) exceptionally capable when it comes to search based queries you might pose it.
Offering support for up to six users at a time, Google Home delivers everything from in-depth conversational and search-based results, through to the ability to control the connected devices around your home, and playback music.
The Google Home smart speaker utilizes a high-excursion speaker to deliver high quality sound from a comparatively small form factor that is designed to look good in any room of the house.
In terms of smart home control, with Google Home within earshot, you’re going to be able to control any compatible devices from lights and smart plugs, to thermostats and locks. Offering the ability to control over 1000 smart devices from more than 150 of the best known brands using your voice, Google Home is absolutely one of the best smart speakers if you’re looking for a solution that delivers high cross-compatibility and high performance control.
Dedicated Wireless Speaker System or Voice Controller?
We all know that generally speaking, it’s hard to multitask and still give perfect results in every area, and to an extent, this holds true with smart speakers and voice controllers.
If you’re simply looking for the best smart speaker for listening to music to the highest possible quality while allowing app-based wireless control, then it’s likely that this is going to take preference over the ability of the device to also close your blinds or turn the bedroom lights on at night.
Similarly, if your primary focus is a smart speaker system that serves the sole purpose of controlling your home when you an issue a voice command and maybe also to read you the daily headlines, then you’re not going to be overly bothered if the bass response of the device is terrible.
The good news here, is that in both instances, the best smart speakers out there today have got each of these areas completely covered in one solution or another.
The even better news though, is that the top smart speakers are increasingly closing the gap when it comes to distinguishing a clear cut advantage between these two elements of smart home control and sound quality meaning you can have your cake and eat it.
Take the latest generation of the Amazon Echo and the Sonos One as good examples of this diminishing gap from both sides of the coin.
On the one hand, the Amazon Echo, built on a well deserved reputation as the smart home voice controller. While always offering an element of audio and music playback functionality in the past, the Echo was never going to win awards for sound quality when put head to head with a dedicated speaker solution – in fact, this was one of the main advantages of being able to connect the Echo to an external speaker device either via an output cable or through Bluetooth.
The latest generations of the Echo however, are rewriting this, building on the already established voice control abilities of the previous versions and shifting focus toward the device as a standalone speaker system which can hold its own against the best of them (an overhauled speaker system powered by Dolby now delivers room-filling sound with crisp vocals and rich bass).
As for the Sonos One, here you’ve got a classic example of probably one of the best brands out there when it comes to wireless, high quality home sound performance, which now comes with Alexa enabled in some devices as standard. What this means is you’re able to choose sound quality first, without sacrificing on all of the voice controlled smart home functionality that was previously the preserve of lesser speakers.