Smart speakers are becoming more and more common in homes these days, and if you want to get one too, you’ll want to get the best smart speaker for you. The process of buying a new smart speaker can seem a little intimidating since there are so many options that vary in price, size and audio quality, each one with its own voice assistant.
Almost every smart speaker allows you to control the lights, play music, ask questions, set reminders and much more with simple voice commands.
The decision may only come down to which brand you’re already invested in. If you have an affinity for a particular company’s products, whether you’re an Amazon acolyte, Apple obsessive or Google stan, picking a speaker is easy.
Head here for help picking a smart speaker from Amazon, which paved the way for other smart speakers with the original Echo and Alexa voice assistant. Meanwhile, here’s a guide if you want a Google-equipped smart speaker.
For those who are platform-agnostic, the range of choices might seem intimidating at first. We here at CNET have been testing voice control devices and smart speakers since they first hit the scene.
We considered all of the important smart device features, from sound quality to the ease of installing multiple speakers. Our top picks are the fourth-gen Amazon Echo, second-gen Google Nest Mini, Apple HomePod Mini and second-gen Sonos One. Here’s why.
Ben Fox Rubin/CNET
Deciding which smart speaker and accompanying assistant you want at the center of your smart home is a tough call.
Both Alexa and Google Assistant work with lots of devices. Both help you organize and control them easily with good audio performance.
While Google Assistant is a little smarter, Alexa works with more smart home devices and makes setup with voice commands easier.
Ultimately, we’ll give the smart-home edge in the best smart speaker category to Amazon thanks to Alexa and the $70, fourth-generation Amazon Echo.
The newest Echo combines the usual Alexa smarts with a speaker that sounds great, and it has a built-in Zigbee radio, too.
That’s a nice inclusion that’ll let you connect Zigbee lights, locks, sensors and other devices to your setup without need for a separate hub device.
The Echo is even useful while you’re away, as Alexa can send alerts if your smart speaker’s microphones detect the sound of glass breaking or a smoke alarm.
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Google has done an admirable job of catching up to Amazon in the smart speaker race. At this point, picking between the lowest-price smart speaker devices from the two companies comes down to splitting hairs.
Google Assistant now has almost as many capabilities as Alexa, making the $50 Google Nest Mini a solid alternative to the Amazon Echo Dot if Google Assistant is your preference. Plus, per our tests, Google Assistant is slightly smarter than Alexa.
It responds more flexibly to voice commands if you can’t remember the exact name of your smart home devices, and Google’s grouped commands, called routines, work with more types of smart devices than Amazon’s similar routines.
Google Assistant can recognize multiple voices, so it’ll give you and your spouse different answers if you each ask about your calendars, though Alexa can do this now, too.
If Alexa is your voice assistant of choice, you should go with the latest Echo Dot. It’s affordable and offers all the Alexa skills and smart home integrations you’ll need.
Overall, Google still has the intelligence edge, and the Google Nest Mini is a great, low-cost way to take advantage of those smarts.
Apple’s small, Siri-enabled smart speaker bridges a strange gap between its competitors with a $100 price tag like Google’s Nest Audio and the Amazon Echo, and other, cheaper speakers that come in small packages like the Nest Mini and Echo Dot.
Features like intercom, audio handoff and stereo pairing make this little smart speaker quite practical. It looks good and sounds great, too.
When it comes to the smart home, Siri and HomePod Mini are limited to devices that work with Apple’s smart home platform, HomeKit.
There are fewer HomeKit-compatible devices like that than there are devices that work with Alexa or Google Assistant, but that could soon change once the universal smart home standard Matter arrives later this year.
If you like Apple — and if Siri is your smart assistant of choice, or if HomeKit is your preferred smart home platform — you’re going to love Apple’s newest smart speaker.
For those who already use an iPhone, Apple TV or original HomePod, adding this smart speaker to the collection just makes sense.
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The $220 Sonos One allows you to pair two units to play stereo sound or multiroom audio, but even a single speaker sounds awesome playing a wide variety of music genres.
Better yet, the Sonos One has both Alexa and Google Assistant built in — simply pick which one you’d like to use for your voice commands during setup.
On top of that, Sonos has Apple’s AirPlay 2 so you can control it with any Siri-enabled device, including your iPhone.
Add it all up and the Sonos One is a great-sounding, reasonably priced premium smart speaker that can fit into smart hub households centered on Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri. That’s a tough pitch to beat.
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Other smart speaker options
Those smart speakers are our favorites, but you still have lots of other options if you’re looking for something specific in audio performance.
Read our breakdown of Alexa versus Google Assistant versus Siri if you’d like to learn each one’s pros and cons, and decide on a smart home device by platform.
Note that neither the original Amazon Echo nor the Nest Audio made an appearance above because you can get the same capabilities for less with the smaller (Dot and Mini) versions. That said, if you want a smart speaker that splits the difference between affordability and premium sound, both are still solid options.
If you like the idea of always-listening help but want something more visual, check out our list of the best smart displays. Smart displays essentially combine a smart speaker with a touchscreen so you can watch videos on YouTube, make video calls, scroll through pictures and control your smart home gadgets with a touch. Amazon and Google both have several options worth considering in the category.
Read more: Best Smart Displays for 2022
Figure out what platform or features you’d like, and you should be able to quickly narrow down your options and find the best smart speaker for you and your family.
Best smart speaker FAQs
Are there any stereo smart speakers?
Nearly every Amazon Echo smart speaker can stereo pair with another Echo speaker. The list is quite long, so take a look at Amazon’s stereo device compatibility page. You’ll find a list of which speakers can pair with each other for stereo sound.
All of Google’s smart speakers can be stereo-paired, as long as they’re identical models. Google’s Nest Audio speaker is the best bet for stereo pairing, and a two-pack of these speakers often provides a discount off the $99-per-speaker MSRP.
You’ll be able to set up the speakers in your Google Home app and tell Google which speaker is right and which is left. Bass and treble settings are also adjustable from the Home app.
Apple’s HomePod Mini (the only smart speaker Apple currently makes), can be paired with another HomePod Mini for left and right channel stereo listening. You can also pair your HomePod Minis with your Apple TV for surround sound theater. These smaller speakers won’t blow you away, but it’s a nice extra feature.
If theater surround sound for your TV is your biggest smart speaker priority, Sonos offers the best audio quality in our opinion. Two Sonos speakers (of the same model) can be stereo-paired.
If you’re interested in connecting your speakers to a larger system, the following smart speakers are equipped with an auxiliary jack:
Who is the smartest voice assistant?
Today, the race is extremely close between Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. Apple’s Siri is on the board but in a solid third place when it comes to reliability, knowledge and comprehension of human requests.
Overall, we give the edge to Google Assistant for its superior cadence, naturalistic tone and ability to understand (and answer) questions and follow up queries consistently.
That said, it’s close enough that you can safely invest in either Google Assistant or Alexa based on other preferences like speaker style, devices and compatibility with other popular smart home products.
Alexa is nearly as good as Google Assistant, so you really can’t go wrong no matter which assistant you choose. You’ll learn its quirks and how to interact with your assistant to coax the best responses and helpful information.
For fun, here’s our deep dive into each assistant’s “personality.”
Which smart speaker is loudest?
In our testing of Apple, Amazon and Google smart speakers, we think the Amazon Echo (4th gen) offers the most when it comes to sheer volume. Nest Audio is close behind with powerful sound, as well.
However, the Sonos One (2nd gen) is our current pick for best sound quality, especially if you’re considering using your speaker in a stereo pair or as a theater system for watching TV.
Read our Amazon Echo (4th gen) and Nest Audio reviews to learn more about the sound quality of these two flagship models.
Which smart speaker is best for free music?
Amazon smart speakers can play music from free or paid subscription tiers on Pandora, Spotify and other popular music streaming platforms. Additionally, if you have an Amazon Prime account, you can play music from the vast Prime Music catalog.
Google smart speakers have similar music streaming options, but while Amazon requires a paid Prime subscription for ad-free listening via Prime Music, Google includes YouTube Music Premium for free — a $10-per-month value that also offers a wide variety of ad-free music choices.