The best smart speakers are a great way to give yourself voice control over just about every aspect of your home. While they are, first and foremost, speakers - which means they can be connected to one of the best streaming music services so you can play the latest Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran or Machine Gun Kelly track just by asking, many are also home automation bridges, meaning you can use them to control lighting, plug sockets, universal remote controls and more.
Smart speakers are entirely about convenience and entertainment, reading you the news or weather report while you do something else, counting down the time your food needs to b e in the oven, and even reminding you what day of the week it is.
There are a lot of smart speakers to choose from, with a number of different voice assistants too, so it’s important to know which one covers your needs, and whether the sound quality from the speaker itself is up to your personal standards. The sound from tiny models can be a bit tinny, but the larger ones generally acquit themselves well, and you can often create a stereo pair by buying two. Alternatively, they can connect to Bluetooth speakers, or run a line-out to an analog pair.
Premium devices from known audio manufacturers also offer a bump in audio quality, but the devices from the voice assistant companies - Amazon, Google and Apple - frequently offer the best balance of sound, features and affordability.
More affordable options that offer great value for your money would be devices like Amazon Echo (opens in new tab), but there are premium devices like the Sonos Move (opens in new tab) that offer a real bump in audio quality. On the other hand, smart speakers like the Google Nest Mini (opens in new tab) are great choices if you’re on a budget.
Top 10 best smart speakers 2021
1. Amazon Echo (4th Gen): Best smart speaker
The Amazon Echo 4th Generation just goes to show that they mean business when saying ‘out with the old and in with the new’. No longer a rectangular, tower-like shape, the Amazon Echo 4th Generation boasts a new, spherical shape which not only makes it easier to move around your home, but looks really adorable too.
It’s got an immediately noticeable audio upgrade from the Amazon Echo 3rd Generation, and has a well-rounded array of features that goes beyond just being a very good speaker that plays music. It makes it one of the best smart speakers to pick for those out there who are just starting out their smart speaker journey.
2. Sonos Move: Best premium smart speaker
The Sonos Move is the best smart speaker on our list for overall awesomeness. It's not the cheapest but for the money you don't have to make a compromise as this does it all. You get a choice of either Google Assistant or Amazon's Alexa which can control your smart home via the WiFi connection. You also have Apple's AirPlay 2 on that Wi-Fi. Unlike most smart speakers, this has a battery onboard for 10 hours use outdoors - yes it's IP56 rated for weather and drop resistance. There's also Bluetooth for when you're out of WiFi range.
A six microphone far field array hears your commands from anywhere and the speaker's Class-D amplifiers sound superb. The Move also has TruePlay which is smart self-tuning that calibrates the speaker when it detects it's been moved, so as to create the best sound for the space it is in. This speaker is near perfect, with great sound, superb smart assistance, a tough and good looking build plus it does everything automatically so you don't have to lift a finger - literally, with this voice controlled beauty.
3. Marshall Stanmore II Voice: Best smart speaker for iconic looks
The Marshall Stanmore II Voice is a stunning looking and sounding smart speaker. It is designed to look like the cab of a Marshall amp, making it instantly and iconically recognizable. It's not small, larger than all other smart speaker in this list, in fact. But that's a good thing as this packs in bassy, rich, powerful and well balanced audio on a wide soundstage that does even the most complex tracks justice.
The Alexa smart assistant is built-in so this can be used as a multi-room speaker, as a voice controlled assistant or simply to play music with vocal commands alone. The 50W Class-D amp for the sub backed by two 15W Class-D amps for the tweeters make for seriously big sound that stays distortion free right up to max volume - not that you'll need that unless you're partying very, very loudly.
4. Google Home Max: Best value smart speaker
The Google Home Max is, as the name suggests the largest speaker in the company's range and, as such, packs the most power. This is a seriously loud speaker that can be used as a party speaker, or as part of a stereo pair for big audio movies thanks to the dual 4.5-inch woofers in this beast. Despite the big impression this can make, it has a minimal design that allows it to fit into any room.
The dual microphones pick up voice commands to the Google Assistant which is one of the easiest to talk to and be understood by. Play music, turn down the smart thermostat, ask a question, get it to tell you a joke - the list of smarts goes on and on. All that and it dramatically undercuts the sonically similar competition on price.
5. Amazon Echo Dot with Clock: Best smart speaker for the bedroom
The Amazon Echo Dot with Clock adds to the third generation Dot with an LED display that shows the time and, if asking the weather, displays the temperature. It also comes with a touch sensitive top making it the ideal bedside alarm clock that you can tap to snooze. Or, of course, just tell Alexa to be quiet and you can head back to sleep. The Alexa LED light ring helpfully lights before the alarm so you can wake before even hearing the noise.
Beyond being a smart alarm clock this is a fully fledged Alexa voice assistant with controls for the smart home and music as well as answering questions and more. The speaker is small but it's good enough to listen to the news, radio or podcasts - just don't expect it to replace your real stereo. A great, affordable way to smart voice control your home from yet another room.
6. Sonos One: Best multi-room smart speaker
The Sonos One supports Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple's AirPlay 2 making it one of the most versatile smart speakers, allowing you to add it to most multi-room setups. The Sonos multi-room support is the best out there for playing back different tracks in different rooms, one tune throughout the house, or tracks in certain sections you group off.
The speaker packs in two Class-D amps, far field noise cancelling microphones and a mid-range woofer for a superbly balanced and powerful audio performance. It'll even allow you to tune to the room, using a smartphone app, for the perfect equalizer balance. It looks great anywhere and can be grouped up as a stereo pair or even as part of a 4.1 sound system.
7. Apple HomePod: Best smart speaker for Apple fans
As you'd expect the Apple HomePod is well designed and built to look and sound fantastic. This has one of the best sonic performances of any smart speaker, and that applies to any room as it auto calibrates to suit its surroundings. You get Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0 and AirPlay 2 support but everything is controlled via Siri - which isn't a good thing as Siri just isn't that smart. Also you're limited to Apple Music for a decent experience so if you're not an Apple user you might as well move along now. Also, this is a really expensive smart speaker, so keep that in mind when weighing up your choice.
8. Amazon Echo Studio: Best smart speaker for Hi-res audio quality
The Amazon Echo Studio is the go-to speaker for playing Hi-res audio as it packs in a 24-bit DAC and supports Dolby Atmos, Sony 360 Reality and FLAC to name but a few high-quality audio formats. That's all played out through a hefty 330W amplifier that runs three 2-inch midrange speakers, one 1-inch tweeter and a mighty 5.25-inch woofer. That equates to really big, really immersive and really high quality sound. This also analyzes the room and adjusts acoustics to suit the space perfectly.
Alexa is the smart assistant running the show, meaning you get lots and lots of smart home and internet focused controls that are too many to list here. We particularly like the ability to make calls, for free, from the Echo and to send out intercom or announcement messages to other Echos - great for getting the kids down at dinner. The only downside is the bass can be a little overpowering at times.
9. Google Nest Mini: Best cheap smart speaker
The Google Nest Mini might look like the old Google Home Mini, and it also sounds similar due to identical speakers, but it does more. This one has three microphones so it'll hear you far better and that's a good thing since this is made to be wall mounted, like an intelligent voice assistant for every room. The price makes that possible as this is super cheap.
This isn't going to be your main speaker with that little 40mm driver, but it does work well for answering questions, playing the radio or listening to a podcast. The design is minimal allowing it to fit into any room and the bass has been enhanced by Google smarts making it a step forward from the last generation without stepping up the price.
10. Google Home: Best smart speaker for basics
The Google Home is the oldest smart speaker on this list as Google hasn't changed it since it was released in 2016. As such it's starting to look a little dated with that dual microphone, 2-inch driver and dual 2-inch radiators but no sub and limitations on Spotify tracks across speakers.
But it's also cheap. For the money you get a Google Assistant packing speaker meaning free calls can be made, you can control Google Cast between device, issue smart home orders, ask questions and enjoy Google Routines to make combinations that activate with just one word. So while the hardware isn't the newest, that Google brain is always getting better.
Best smart speakers advice
What can smart speakers do?
Smart speakers do a lot. It’s kind of their thing. As the name suggests, they’re speakers first and foremost though. This means that they’re ideal for playing music throughout your house via music streaming services like Spotify and Amazon Music.
Alongside this, smart speakers are also an amazing way to connect and control all of your other smart devices around your home. This can be anything from asking Alexa to turn the heating down on your smart thermostat through to asking Google Assistant to dim the lights via your smart lamps.
You can also ask your smart assistant all kinds of questions using your smart speaker. You can ask for anything from news and weather updates to random trivia questions. Smart assistants will even tell you jokes and play games with you too.
Which is the best AI voice assistant?
There are basically three choices when it comes to AI voice assistants for your smart speaker - Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google Assistant. At first glance, you might just think that it’s best to stick with what you know. So, if you’ve got an Apple iPhone then get an Apple smart speaker and if you have an Android phone, get a Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa device.
There is certainly some logic to that, and it’s true that devices usually play best with other devices in the same ecosystem, but that’s not the be all and end all when it comes to choosing the best smart speaker.
Some smart speakers are locked to the smart AI assistant that they’re built for, so if you choose based on the software, then you’re also limiting yourself when it comes to hardware. Amazon devices only support Alexa, Google devices only support Google devices, and you guessed it, Apple devices only support Siri. Third-party devices like the Sonos Move and Sonos One have more freedom though, letting you choose which AI assistant you want.
OK, but which one is the best? Well that depends on what you’re expecting it to do. When it comes to answering questions, Google Assistant is the clear winner. An industry analyst called Loup Ventures (opens in new tab) put all three AS assistants through their paces in a rigorous series of tests back in 2019 and found that Google Assistant answered 92.9% of 800 test questions correctly, and correctly understood the question 100% of the time. By comparison, Siri only answered correctly 83.1% of the time, while Alexa managed to give the correct answer just 79.8% of the time.
That doesn’t make it a clean sweep for Google Assistant though. If you’re looking for device compatibility, Amazon Alexa really can’t be beat - it works with just about everything. And if you’re looking to inject some humor and humanity into your AI assistant, then Siri is certainly the funniest and most naturally speaking of the bunch.