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.
- 1 What are Smart Speakers?
- 2 The Best Smart Speaker Devices and Voice Control Systems
- 3 Dedicated Wireless Speaker System or Voice Controller?
- 4 Intelligent Speakers and Smart Voice Controllers – What You Need to Know
What are Smart Speakers?
In order to think about this question, there are usually two levels or criteria that the best 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 the ability to control an ever-growing list of compatible smart devices around your home.
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 smart 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 Devices and Voice Control 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.
Some smart speakers are designed to work specifically as part of a combined smart home entertainment setup, some are designed for premium music and audio output, and some are designed to move effortlessly between these roles.
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 Alexa 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.
If you’re looking for a the best smart speaker that brings a comprehensive smart home hub into the mix, then the Echo Plus is where you want to start.Learn More About the Echo Plus Here
If there’s one thing Bose know, it’s how to produce high quality speakers and sound systems that stand head and shoulders above most of the competition.
The Home Speaker 500 is the brand’s latest smart speaker offering and delivers a combination of legendary sound delivery with in-built Alexa smart functionality.
Based around a single speaker, the Home Speaker 500 projects wall-to-wall stereo sound, while allowing you to choose your favorite songs using your voice courtesy of Alexa or via a traditional Bluetooth connection straight from your phone or tablet.
An eight-microphone array forms the basis of the Home Speaker 500’s voice capturing hardware, with Alexa then taking over once the device picks up your request.
If you’re looking for a smart speaker system from a leading audio brand, then the Bose Home Speaker 500 is going to represent an excellent combination of high quality audio output alongside Alexa’s smart home controlling expertise.Learn More About the Bose Home Speaker 500 Here
While other devices in Amazon’s Alexa-enabled range (like the Echo and Echo Plus) have come a long way towards now actually representing some of the best smart speakers on the market, the Echo Studio is the company’s first move into the ‘sound quality comes first’ category of these voice assistant systems.
Built around a 5 speaker setup, the Echo Studio is quite literally designed to sound amazing with superior bass, midrange and highs all delivered from the device, while the inclusion of Dolby Atmos technology provides depth to the sound produced by this smart speaker.
Beyond this, the Echo Studio is able to adapt the sound output it produces based upon the specific acoustic qualities of the room where it’s installed, ensuring that you get the optimal audio experience for your space.
In terms of smart home functionality, the focus on sound quality doesn’t equate to a reduction in the Studio’s connected credentials.
As with the Echo Plus, the Echo Studio also comes with a smart home hub built-in to the device which means it’s ready to control and orchestrate Zigbee compatible devices from the moment it’s powered up.Learn More About the Echo Studio Here
So here’s the thing with most voice control smart 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 with 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.
If your idea of the best smart speaker puts high quality sound output front and center, then the Sonos One starts here and then includes awesome Alexa voice control functionality over the top of this solid foundation.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 is a clear contender to the title of best smart speaker and 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 beam-forming technology and noise cancellation, which work together to ensure Alexa can hear you from any direction even if you’re playing music.
The original best smart speaker just got better.Learn More About the Amazon Echo Here
Powered by Google Assistant (the search giant’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.
The latest wave of smart speaker development is (perhaps unsurprisingly) being led by Amazon and brings a visual display into the mix of voice controlled smart home automation and speaker systems.
One of two visual devices within Amazon’s Echo range (the other being the Show, covered below), the Spot incorporates a combination of 1.4″ screen with a 2.5″ speaker to deliver an excellent compact smart speaker and home control system.
At the most basic level, the Echo Spot is an Amazon Echo device with an in-built screen, meaning you’re going to get all of the main ground-floor advantages of the excellent Alexa enabled systems with the added benefit of a screen for making video calls, watching flash news briefings, or viewing a live feed from a connected smart camera elsewhere in your home.
As you’d probably expect, if you’re looking for the best smart speaker system where sound and music playback quality come first, there are going to be better options out there, either in the form of an audio-only Echo device (such as the 2nd Gen Echo) which features better speakers, or another dedicated wireless speaker system.
With that being said, the sound quality is still going to be good from the Spot and if you want an integrated visual display in your smart speaker system, you’re not going to get it from devices built around a speaker system.
What this means is the Spot (and it’s bigger brother the Echo Show) is an excellent option for listening to music in the kitchen, catching up with the news in the bedroom, or having a video chat with your mom, but probably not the first choice for a speaker system for use at a party.Learn More About the Amazon Echo Spot Here
Apple are somewhat late to the smart speaker scene with the HomePod which represents the company’s rival to Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home systems, but there’s still a lot to like about the tech giant’s entry into the world of connected smart speakers.
Built around Apple’s Siri voice assistant, the HomePod is a smart speaker system that brings high quality sound into focus and places them at the top of the device’s feature list.
What this means in practice is you’re going to get an excellent smart speaker system that delivers trademark Apple quality sound, design, and user experience, however as with other Apple devices, compatibility with other devices is still somewhat limited compared to other smart speakers on the market.
Siri is of course, voice responsive meaning the HomePod will listen for the wake word “Hey Siri” and will then be able to respond to any questions you might have for her, whether that’s news and weather updates, or setting reminders.
In terms of smart home device control, the HomePod is compatible with Apple’s HomeKit platform and will work with enabled devices that share this foundation for their connectivity.
If you’re an Apple fan then this is going to be the best smart speaker system for you if you’re after a Siri powered speaker that will connect to compatible devices. If you’re not however, then you’ll probably want to look towards Google or Amazon when it comes to the widest range of smart home automation compatibility options.
If you’re looking for a slightly heavier hitting version of Amazon’s Echo Spot, then the Echo Show is the natural next step up when it comes to a combination audio/visual smart speaker device.
While the Alexa smart assistant still sits at the heart of the Echo Show for intelligence and voice control, the device’s key output features come in the form of a 7″ screen for visual display and dual 2.0″ speakers for sound.
Unlike the more compact Echo Spot, the Show is designed to deliver audio output throughout a room, and it’s Dolby powered sound system is fine-tuned to deliver dynamic bass response and crisp vocals for an immersive audio experience, whether you’re listening to your favorite music, or simply listening to your latest flash news briefing.
This improved audio capability puts the Echo Show higher up in the best smart speaker shortlist than it’s smaller sibling and if visual display combined with sound quality are of equal importance in your final smart speaker system, then this device is going to represent the optimal choice.
Smart home compatibility has always been the ace in the hole with the Alexa-enabled Echo devices and the Show is no different in this regard, providing the ability to control any compatible and connected smart devices you might have in your home ecosystem whether it’s turning off the lights upstairs, adjusting the temperature of the house, or locking the doors. On top of this, the inclusion of a 7 inch display means you’re going to have connectivity (and visibility) of any paired smart camera systems or baby monitors in your home.Learn More About the Amazon Echo Show Here
There are a couple of options open to you when it comes to integrating smart speaker and voice control technology with your TV or visual smart home entertainment system.
On the one hand, many of the best smart TVs will include an in-built smart voice control interface which will utilize the unit’s speakers for audio output.
The other option is to go for a dedicated smart speaker system or smart sound bar that’s designed to work alongside your TV and it’s in this category that the Soundbar 500 from Bose is a solid contender for the role.
Much like the Bose Home Speaker 500 (see above), the Soundbar 500 comes with Alexa as standard as well as an array of 8 noise cancelling microphones to pick up your every command.
A slimline design means this smart soundbar speaker will deliver exceptional Bose audio output without sacrificing on real estate around your TV.
Connectivity in the form of Bluetooth and Wireless makes it incredibly simple to get right to listening while control from app, voice control, or remote provides a ton of options for easy access.Learn More About the Bose Soundbar 500 Here
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 the best smart speakers and voice controllers.
If you’re simply looking for the best smart speaker for listening to music with the highest possible quality while allowing app-based wireless control of the smart devices in your home, then it’s likely that this is going to take preference over the ability of the system to also close your blinds or turn the bedroom lights on at night.
Similarly, if your primary focus is finding the best smart speaker system that serves the sole purpose of controlling your home when you issue a voice command and maybe also to read you the daily headlines or traffic updates, 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 speaker devices out there today have got each of these areas completely covered in the form of one solution or another.
The even better news though, is that the best smart speaker systems 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). The result is one of the best smart speaker devices that money can currently buy.
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.
The best smart speakers are rapidly blurring the lines between what used to be a clear cut distinction when it came to sound quality vs smart voice assistant capabilities.
With the big names in the industry bringing in devices that give established audio brands a run for their money, some of the best smart speaker systems today are able to deliver a quality level that would have been the preserve of wireless speakers three times the price just a couple of years ago.
Whether you’re looking for a system that will act as a hands-free assistant around the home or a premium wireless speaker system that also comes with intelligence as standard, the best smart speaker systems out there today mean this is now not only easier than it’s been up to now, but is also more cost effective than ever before.
The best smart speakers are changing the way we listen to music, catch up on the news, and interact with the connected devices in the home.
Intelligent Speakers and Smart Voice Controllers – What You Need to Know
The relatively recent rise of smart speaker systems and voice controllers is down to a number of factors ranging from the continually reduced cost of high-technology components, the astronomical increase in big data, and of course, the subsequent progress being made towards intelligent systems and advances in the field of machine learning.
Whether we’re talking Alexa or Google at the heart of all smart speaker devices is always an intelligent natural language processing system whose job it is to understand what you’re asking or commanding, before generating an appropriate response or action in the form of an output.
This might look like telling you the weather, providing a kitchen conversion, switching on the smart lighting upstairs, or playing your favorite songs.
As technology and the collection of data continue on their inevitable climb, one rule holds true when it comes to smart speaker systems – they will keep getting smarter and more effective at the job they’re designed to do.
Think of the developments from the television of 20 years ago, to the latest smart TVs of today, or for that matter the same period of time for advances in PC or cellphone technology.
As the smart speaker systems in our homes become more intelligent by the day (literally learning as we all continue to use them), the future for the smart voice controller seems pretty incredible.