After an initial boom, the amount of new smart speakers hitting the market has slowed down somewhat. Still, they are extremely useful pieces of tech that can genuinely make your life easier and there are loads of great models to choose from.
Amazon Echo and Google Nest/Home speakers are the obvious choices when these are the companies behind Alex and the Google Assistant – two of the most popular digital assistants which ‘live’ in the speakers ready to help you at the drop of a voice command.
However, plenty of third-party brands like Sonos, Pure and Marshall make excellent options while Apple fans are likely to want the HomePod, which runs on Siri.
You can see the list of the top 10 smart speakers we’ve tested below along with a buying guide below that.
Best smart speakers 2020
1. Google Nest Mini – Best Overall
Despite the big name change, the Nest Mini is far from an overhaul of the Home Mini – though you can essentially think of it as the Home Mini 2.
If your house is already kitted out with the originals there’s no real reason to swap them out. Audio has improved a lot though if you want to use it as a standalone speaker, while a machine learning chip makes basic commands quicker to use.
The design is essentially unchanged, aside from a new Sky colour, but there is one welcome tweak: a small indentation on the back for wall-mounting.
Anyone looking to add Google to more rooms, or get the Google Assistant into their home for the first time, the Nest Mini is the new best, and cheapest, way to do it.
Read our full Google Nest Mini review
2. Amazon Echo Studio – Best for HD Audio
This is the Amazon Echo to buy if you care about sound quality. You still need to subscribe to a music streaming service that offers ‘HD’ music and, not coincidentally, Amazon’s own is the current one to go for.
The Studio doesn’t only do hi-res audio: it also supports so-called 3D audio. Currently, it can play Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio, which can be both music and video soundtracks.
Best of all, it’s way cheaper than rivals from Apple and Google.
Read our full Amazon Echo Studio review
3. Google Nest Audio – Best Value
The design is a bit divisive but it’s a grower and should fit in better in most homes than the Google Home. You’ll only have two colours to choose from though unless you live in the US.
More importantly, Google has hit the sweet spot here with an affordable price (lower than when the Home first launched) and you can save money when buying pairs. These can be put in different rooms or you can create a stereo pair.
The Nest Audio provides excellent build and more importantly, sound quality with impressively rich and warm profile and more power than you’d expect for its compact size. Our main complaint is how the quality degrades at high volumes but you shouldn’t need to pump it that high anyway.
Read our full Google Nest Audio review
4. Sonos One – Best Multi-room
The Sonos One is a top-quality smart speaker, essentially a Play:1 with Alexa and Google Assistant voice-control built-in. We’d have liked some Sonos-related voice commands that most people will expect.
It’s more expensive than many other smart speakers but it’s possibly worth the extra – compared to non-Sonos rivals it offers much better build quality and top-quality sound.
The design is stylish with useful touch-sensitive buttons on top and still compact despite the big sound on offer.
The additional lure here is how good Sonos is once you have them in multiple rooms around the house. The firm remains the market-leader in multi-room audio.
Read our full Sonos One review
5. Amazon Echo Dot with Clock – Best for Bedsides
The Echo Dot with Clock is a great alternative to the regular Echo Dot 3, especially if you plan to use it on your nightstand.
It’s a relatively minor change but it’s genuinely helpful to be able to see the time and how long is left on a timer.
So if those are two features you like the sound of, the Dot with Clock is well worth the extra money.
Read our full Amazon Echo Dot with Clock review
6. Marshall Uxbridge – Best Style
The Uxbridge, Marshall’s newest and most affordable smart speaker, packs booming bass-rich sound and Alexa connectivity into a compact frame styled after Marshall’s own amps.
Alexa can be slightly slow to respond at times, and occasionally unreliable. You’ll have to speak slowly and clearly.
While the bass is a boon on the Uxbridge, the middle and upper range don’t sound muddled. In fact, the audio is clear and rich and fills the room, despite the speaker being fairly small.
It’s sure to glam up any bookshelf, while also producing equally impressive sound.
Read our full Marshall Uxbridge review
7. Pure DiscovR – Best for Privacy
Pure’s first smart speaker is an excellent sounding speaker with a few unique tricks up its sleeve.
Its key advantage lies in its flexibility, with a choice of three modes of listening depending on your situation.
It’s also great if you value privacy, with an option to physically deactivate. It’s held back by a slightly high price and underwhelming set of microphones, but if money is no object you can’t go too far wrong with the DiscovR.
Read our full Pure DiscovR review
8. Amazon Echo 3 – Best Alexa All-rounder
The Amazon Echo 3 is a great improvement on the Echo 2 not only in terms of design but audio output too.
It’s very similar to the second-gen Echo Plus, featuring the same 3in subwoofer and 0.8in tweeter that provides crisp vocals and booming bass, but you miss out on the smart hub and thermometer functionality.
Still, for a very affordable price, it’s a great-sounding smart speaker that’ll be able to answer almost any query you throw at it – just make sure you’ve got the appropriate Skill enabled first.
Read our full Amazon Echo (3rd-gen) review
9. Google Home Max – Best for Big Sound
If you’re looking for a smart speaker with the biggest sound, the Google Home Max delivers in bucket loads. This is a huge speaker with more power than you’ll know what to do with.
It’s perfectly capable of fueling a house party on its own, never mind getting two for a stereo pair. It’s on a similar level to the Sonos Five, but with the addition of smart functionality through Google Assistant.
The Max also has a rare 3.5mm audio input making it a great choice for connecting something like a turntable.
It’s big and it’s expensive compared to other smart speakers, albeit now less expensive than previously. If you’re looking for a cheaper option that’s almost as big on sound consider the Play One.
Read our full Google Home Max review
10. Apple HomePod – Best for Siri users
You might not like the price (even reduced), but the HomePod sounds impressive and works well. It’s one of the most stylish and well-made speakers on the market, too.
However, it’s not very flexible, so only consider it if your household is well kitted out with Apple or HomeKit devices.
If not, it’s still a good choice if you simply want to use Apple Music, but it’s features are limited beyond that.
Read our full Apple HomePod review
What is a smart speaker?
In simple terms as smart speaker is an audio speaker that you can talk to and interact with like you might already do with your smartphone.
They’re internet-connected virtual assistants – just like Siri, Cortana and others – which can answer questions, tell you the latest news and weather, play music and control smart home gadgets such as heating, air conditioning, lights and switches.
We list the best Google Home/Nest devices here.
We list the best Amazon Echo devices here.
What should I look for?
Like regular speakers, smart versions come in various shapes, sizes and prices. You should consider how much you want to spend and also where you want to put it in your home. A smaller one, like the Google Nest Mini or Amazon Echo Dot will fit in more places, for example.
There’s also whether the design fits in with your décor. Some come in a set range of colours while others have interchangeable covers.
Size, of course, will have an impact on audio quality so if you want to play a lot of music then it will be worth spending a bit more on a bigger model. The Sonos One and Apple HomePod are two options.
Which smart speaker you choose should also come down to the AI assistant you prefer – essentially Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant at the moment, with Siri only in the HomePod. Some, like Sonos, will even let you choose.
They both do the same thing so in a similar way so it’s a bit like choosing between an operating system. A big factor here is whether you already use various Amazon and Google services – even shopping on Amazon – particularly for music streaming as you need to be signed up to listen to whatever you want.
There’s also the question of whether you have products that play nicely with the smart speaker. If you have a Google Chromecast then it makes sense to get a device with Google Assistant, for example.
As mentioned earlier, smart speakers can be used to control smart home products like lightbulbs so you’ll also want to check compatibility with anything you have or are thinking about getting. Many, like Philips Hue, are supported by both but you can check out the lists for Google here and Amazon here.
Some smart speakers are beginning to arrive with screens. There are fewer to choose from and the best are made by, you’ve guessed it, Amazon and Google. See our best smart displays chart to see what’s available.
Find out how we test audio.
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