Best Smart Speaker Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?’s round-up of the best smart speakers you can buy in 2019.
Thanks to the arrival of virtual voice assistants backed by big-hitters Amazon, Apple and Google, wireless speakers have never been so full of smarts. Whether you want to know what the weather’s like, the name of the track you’re listening to, get news headlines or create a bit of mood lighting, virtual assistants Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant are waiting in the wings to help you out. It’s all part and parcel of the smart speaker experience.
Alexa and Google Assistant devices aren’t just clever so-and-sos, either. They stream music over Bluetooth or wi-fi and, depending on the brand, you also have access to a number of different music streaming services, including Apple Music and Spotify.
But what should you look for when choosing a smart speaker?
The first thing to consider is compatibility. Most smart speakers are platform agnostic, so they’ll work with both Android and iOS devices, but the Apple HomePod isn’t much use without an Apple mobile device to set it up.
It’s also worth thinking about which ecosystem you use most. If you often use Google’s services – Calendar, Maps, Gmail – maybe a product with Google Home baked in would be best for you. Love shopping at Amazon? An Amazon Echo might be right up your alley. (While these both work with other services, they’re tightly integrated with those made by their creators, making them much slicker to use.)
Finally: sound quality. This can vary quite a lot between models and manufacturers and spending more doesn’t always guarantee a better listening experience. Some of the smaller smart speakers are limited purely because of their dimensions. Be realistic about your budget and what to expect.
From cheap budget options to premium sonic experiences, read on for our pick of the best smart speakers for music and voice features.
The headline here is that the Echo Dot with Clock is actually the best-sounding Dot that Amazon has produced. The differences between it and the third-gen Echo Dot (listed below) aren’t huge, certainly not proportionate to those between previous generations, but they’re noticeable.
There’s no denying the Echo Dot with Clock is more comfortable keeping a tempo as well as offering more rhythmic drive than previous iterations. It’s almost as if that digital timepiece has had a beneficial effect on the music. Oh, and what if you already have a clock in the room where you want your Echo Dot? Then change the LED display to show the outside temperature or use it as a kitchen timer.
Read the full review: Amazon Echo Dot with Clock
Considerably larger than any previous Echo, the Studio manages to dwarf both the Sonos One and Apple Home Pod (listed below). As well as boasting 330W of power and upgraded internals fit for CD-quality and hi-res audio (which are both now available from Amazon’s latest incarnation of its streaming service, Amazon Music HD) the Echo Studio also promises to deliver 3D audio via tracks encoded in Sony’s 360 Reality Audio and Dolby Atmos.
Producing immersive, directional audio is always going to be difficult, but doing it from a single speaker source is even more challenging. Nevertheless, it’s an open, airy presentation that suits the 3D environment well. The speaker sits you in the jaws of a tall soundstage, where there’s a good amount of detail to percussion and high frequencies. While we’re not entirely convinced by the way it handles bass – and we wouldn’t exactly call it audiophile quality – for the money, the Echo Studio has a lot going for it.
Read the full review: Amazon Echo Studio
If you want to get fully ensconced with the world of the digital assistant – and by that we mean with both audio and video – this is as a good a starting point as we’ve come across.
See, where most Alexa-enabled kit on the market is audio based, concentrated on the Bluetooth speaker market in particular, the Echo Show 5 embraces both sound and video in its abilities to communicate. So, as well as playing music or reading out information, you can access video content on the Echo Show 5’s 5.5in LCD touchscreen.
There’s also an HD camera, allowing the user to make Skype calls (for example), or view images from cameras in other rooms of the house – and elsewhere.
Although it can be beaten for sound quality, this is an £80 box of tricks that opens up the world of the digital assistant to a whole new audience for both audio and video; and if that’s what you’re after, this is about as good as you’ll get – especially for this kind of money.
Read the full review: Amazon Echo Show 5
Perhaps the smartest way to bring Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant into your home, the latest generation of the Dot also doubles as a simple (and cheap) wireless speaker. The fabric-covered, puck-shaped device looks smarter then previous versions and it’s easy to get up and running, either over wi-fi or Bluetooth. And as a device for playing background music, there really is little to fault, especially at this price.
Read the full review: Amazon Echo Dot 3
Moving up a size (and price category), the Amazon Echo 2 does everything you’d reasonably expect of smart speaker at this level and is the best Alexa speaker for sound quality. There are lots of smart features you can play with, plus the speaker goes loud enough and sounds capable enough to fill small or medium-sized rooms without much fuss.
Read the full review: Amazon Echo 2
Arguably the best all-round smart speaker you can currently buy, the Sonos One sounds superb for the money and has all the functionality you’re likely to need. There’s Spotify and Tidal integration, the ability to chat with Alexa and Google Assistant, and the option to build a multi-room system around it using other Sonos speakers or AirPlay 2. This is now the best Google speaker on the market.
Read the full review: Sonos One
Apple was late to the smart speaker market, but the HomePod was well worth the wait. Aimed squarely at Apple users, it helps if Apple Music is your go-to music streaming service, but this is a clever, capable and desirable device. There’s multi-room and stereo pairing support, plus a Siri voice assistant that works extremely well in this musical context. Very impressive.
Read the full review: Apple Homepod
The Megablast is Ultimate Ears’ loudest and smartest speaker yet. With Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant built in, it can answer your questions as well as play all your favourite tunes.
More crucially, the Megablast joins the brand’s portfolio of five-star Bluetooth speakers that are simply fun to use and listen to. Good-looking and great-sounding, the Megablast is an absolute treat.
Read the full review: Ultimate Ears Megablast
The Audio Pro Addon C5A is almost identical to the Addon C5, which was our wireless speaker Product of the Year in 2017. So adding Alexa voice control to an Award-winning speaker is the icing on the cake.
Available for the price of an Addon C5 plus the cost of an Amazon Echo product bolt-on, it brings the whole package into one tidy, easy-to-set-up box. And with that same Award-winning sound, this is the ideal combination for those who want an excellent Alexa wireless speaker that can be expanded into a full-blown multiroom system.
Read the full review: Audio Pro Addon C5A
The LG WK7 is LG’s first foray into the smart speaker market and the first product to emerge as part of the new partnership with British audio specialist Meridian. There’s nothing special about the design but it looks smart enough and the top features touch-sensitive controls for volume and playback. There’s a Google Assistant button, too, and a function button that allows you to switch between wi-fi and Bluetooth.
There are no other connections – no analogue input or 3.5mm connection – but a smart speaker such as this doesn’t really need one, especially when there’s also Chromecast built-in and Android Things support.
And it sounds pretty good by smart speaker standards, not least thanks to the support for hi-res audio. A little too much bass is apparent at times and music doesn’t sound quite as, well, musical, as on the HomePod, but there’s impressive scale, clean and clear vocals, and plenty of punch to drums and bass. The LG WK7 is one of the best Google speakers, especially now it has a healthy discount.
Read the full LG WK7 review
It looks like your average smart speaker, but the Citation 100 produces bass by the bucket-load and can play extremely loud without strain. It is great for parties, though perhaps not so much for purists.
This Harman Kardon speaker has a pretty standard, minimalist design, and it keeps connections to a minimum, too, with no aux input. Control comes via the Google Home app and Google Assistant, and commands work well enough, though it seems slightly more prone to wi-fi drop-outs than rivals.
Sonically, while the Harman Kardon Citation 100 isn’t exactly balanced, it is otherwise a tasteful-sounding smart speaker with enough scale to fill most rooms. If you don’t mind that bassy over-exuberance, there’s a lot to like.
Read the full review: Harman Kardon Citation 100