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Best smart speakers 2021: Voice assistant AI powered audio for your home

Best smart speakers 2021: Voice assistant AI powered audio for your home
(Image credit: Sonos)

Here’s our roundup of the best smart speakers of 2021. They’ve only been around for a few years now, but the best smart speakers are already a staple of homes across the country. These AI-powered smart devices respond to your voice commands, letting you operate your home music system like it’s the computer from Star Trek. They do so much more than play music though. They have integrated AI assistants that can answer your questions, you can listen to the best audiobook services, set alarms and reminders, or just ask them to tell you the day’s latest news.

Many of the top smart speakers can be integrated into other smart technology in your home, such as smart thermostats, home security systems, and more. This gives you a single unified system that can be controlled with voice alone.

So, what should you be looking for in the best smart speakers? We think there are two core areas to focus on: audio quality and ecosystem. Sound quality is super important, as they’re speakers first and foremost, so you want your tunes to play loud and clear. Ecosystem really depends on your personal preferences between Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. Most devices play nicely with each other though, so you can mix and match without needing to exclusively buy Apple or Amazon products.

Price is the other key factor to consider. There are budget smart speakers like the Google Next Mini, which costs as little as $29, all the way up to premium speakers like the Sonos Move, which is $299. Balancing price with quality and features is down to what you need versus what you can afford, but there are great options in all price ranges. 

1. Sonos Move: Best overall 

Sonos Move Review

(Image credit: Future)

Sonos Move

Best overall smart speaker

SPECIFICATIONS

Smart assistant: Google Assistant and Alexa | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay 2 | Microphones: Six | Weight: 6.6lbs | Dimensions (HxWxD): 9.4 x 6.3 x 4.9-inches

Reasons to Buy

Super auto-calibrated sound
Battery powered
Google Assistant and Alexa
IP56 weather rated

Reasons to Avoid

Expensive

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.

2. Amazon Echo (3rd Generation): Best for smart speaker newbs

Amazon Echo (3rd Generation) Review

(Image credit: Amazon)

Amazon Echo (3rd Generation)

Best for smart speaker newbs

SPECIFICATIONS

Smart assistant: Alexa | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3.5mm in/out | Microphones: Seven | Weight: 1.7lbs | Dimensions (HxWxD): 5.8 x 3.9 x 3.9-inches

Reasons to Buy

Enhanced sound quality
Attractive design
Great price

Reasons to Avoid

Alexa app can be slow

The Amazon Echo (3rd Generation) is the latest evolution of the smart speaker that started this whole smart speaker invasion in our homes. As such this is not only the best model yet but one of the best smart speakers out there. The seven microphone array hears your commands every time and understands even the oddest of mutterings. Control music, the smart home or ask questions to Alexa. The fact it looks good too is just a bonus at this sub $90 price.

The speaker itself is vastly improved with impressive bass for the size thanks to a 3-inch subwoofer and the balance is great too with the 8-inch tweeter pumping out great audio. There's Bluetooth, WiFi and even a 3.5mm port that's in or out as you need. Multi-room support, intercom between Echo devices and voice calling are just a few of the many features this speaker brings which make it valuable far beyond that low price. 

3. Marshall Stanmore II Voice: Best for iconic looks

Marshall Stanmore II Voice

(Image credit: Marshall)

Marshall Stanmore II Voice

Best for iconic looks

SPECIFICATIONS

Smart assistant: Alexa | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3.5mm in and RCA | Microphones: Two | Weight: 10.5lbs | Dimensions (HxWxD): 13.8 x 7.7 x 7.3-inches

Reasons to Buy

Loud, quality sound
Iconic design
All the bass

Reasons to Avoid

Pricey

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 for big sound with low price

Google Home Max Review

(Image credit: Future)

Google Home Max

Best for big sound with a low price

SPECIFICATIONS

Smart assistant: Google Assistant | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3.5mm and USB-C | Microphones: Two | Weight: 11.7lbs | Dimensions (HxWxD): 13.2 x 7.4 x 6-inches

Reasons to Buy

Huge sound
Google Smart Assistant
Great looks

Reasons to Avoid

Pricier than some

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 for the bedroom

Amazon Echo Dot with Clock

(Image credit: Amazon)

Amazon Echo Dot with Clock

Best for the bedroom

SPECIFICATIONS

Smart assistant: Google Assistant | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3.5mm and USB-C | Microphones: Two | Weight: 11.7lbs | Dimensions (HxWxD): 13.2 x 7.4 x 6-inches

Reasons to Buy

LED display
Enhanced sound quality
Tap to snooze alarm clock

Reasons to Avoid

Still small-scale sound

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 for multi-room

Sonos One

(Image credit: Sono)

Sonos One

Best for multi-room

SPECIFICATIONS

Smart assistant: Google Assistant and Alexa | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2 and Ethernet | Microphones: Six | Weight: 4.1lbs | Dimensions (HxWxD): 6.4 x 4.7 x 4.7-inches

Reasons to Buy

Great sound
Alexa and Google Assistant
Multi-room

Reasons to Avoid

Not the cheapest

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 for Apple fans

Apple HomePod

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple HomePod

Best for Apple fans

SPECIFICATIONS

Smart assistant: Siri | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0 and AirPlay 2 | Microphones: Six far-field + one internal | Weight: 5.5lbs | Dimensions (HxWxD): 6.8 x 5.6 x 5.6-inches

Reasons to Buy

Superb sound quality
Clever auto tuning

Reasons to Avoid

Siri isn't that smart
Apple user limited

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 for Hi-res audio quality

Amazon Echo Studio

(Image credit: Amazon)

Amazon Echo Studio

Best for Hi-res audio quality

SPECIFICATIONS

Smart assistant: Alexa | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3.5mm in/out, Zigbee hub | Microphones: Seven | Weight: 7.7lbs | Dimensions (HxWxD): 8.1 x 6.9 x 6.9-inches

Reasons to Buy

Powerful, bassy sound
Hi-res audio support
Dolby Atmos 3D

Reasons to Avoid

Bass can overpower

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.

Google Nest Mini

(Image credit: Google)

Google Nest Mini

Best for affordable Google Assistant

SPECIFICATIONS

Smart assistant: Google Assistant | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, Chromecast | Microphones: Three | Weight: 0.4lbs | Dimensions (HxWxD): 1.6 x 3.8 x 3.8-inches

Reasons to Buy

Wall mountable
More sustainable

Reasons to Avoid

Still never going to be your main speaker
No 3.5mm audio jack

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 for basics

Google Home

(Image credit: Google Home)

Google Home

Best for basics

SPECIFICATIONS

Smart assistant: Google Assistant | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 | Microphones: Two | Weight: 1.1lbs | Dimensions (HxWxD): 5.6 x 3.8 x 3.8-inches

Reasons to Buy

Excellent voice recognition
Lovely customizable design

Reasons to Avoid

Sound quality limited
Not total smart home compatibility

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.