Beginner smart home setups are easily controlled via smartphone, but having a central smart speaker means you won't have to pick up your device to talk to Alexa or Google Assistant. While there's not a huge selection of speakers with voice control baked into the device itself, we've seen some excellent models in the last few years — and some especially great releases over the last 12 months.
Of course, you're limited somewhat by your choice between Amazon and Google's smart technology ecosystems. But within each of those, you'll find a selection of simple smart speakers that are great for taking commands, plus some high-end models that play music fantastically.
Our favorite speakers for smart home voice control
Google Nest Audio
Responds quickly and sounds great
Google really dialed in the efficiency with its most recent smart speaker, the Nest Audio. While it looks small and unassuming, its sound is anything but, and it's even more impressive when you join two for stereo mode. And it gets right to work once it hears, "Hey, Google."
- Sounds surprisingly good
- Understated design won't stick out
- Quite reasonably priced
- Above-average Bluetooth latency
- No audio input jack
Its streamlined design doesn't scream "speaker," but rest assured that it punches well above its weight class in terms of sound quality and performance. Larger, completely reengineered drivers (compared to its predecessor, Google Home) and precise digital and acoustic tuning throughout the speaker actually make it sound a lot bigger than it is. And if you pick up two, you can easily pair them for an impressive stereo experience or multiroom playback.
Sound quality is only half the battle with smart speakers. In terms of design and performance, this one's even easier to recommend. In our hands-on Nest Audio review, the mics picked up basically everything we said, with no need to shout or repeat ourselves, even when playing music at a high volume. It responds almost instantly to commands (depending somewhat on your internet connection), and the Bluetooth connectivity is as good as any Android device we've used. If you look hard, there's a disappointing lack of a line-in audio plug, but that's really the only noticeable issue. If you're a Google Assistant user, this is the one for you.
Sonos Era 300
Pricey but worth it
While costly, the Sonos Era 300 has been one of the best-sounding standalone wireless speakers worth investing in over the last few years. It's visually interesting but not dorky-looking; it also delivers an impressive punch and atmosphere thanks to high-end spatial audio and Dolby Atmos streaming support.
- Nearly unbeatable sound
- Spatial audio simulates surround sound
- USB-C and optional audio in or Ethernet jack
- You need a pair for true surround sound
- It's relatively big
Some of today's great speakers have been around a while, but some new faces, like the Sonos Era 300, are really raising the bar. Granted, it's a bit of a tough sell for everybody, thanks to a $450 price tag. But you can safely consider it more of a high-end speaker with smart technology than simply a portal for issuing voice commands to your smart home devices. The audio geniuses at Sonos carefully developed its hardware and physical shape to not only make the most of a bookshelf-size speaker, but also make some music sound better than ever.
Case in point, if you use Apple Music, Tidal, or Amazon Music, its Dolby Atmos support gives you access to spatial audio playback, which simulates surround sound using a little bit of tech wizardry. And, should you have the cheddar to pick up a pair, you can use them together for immersive, real surround sound, which is extremely rare among smart speakers. If sound quality is important to you, it doesn't get better than the Sonos Era 300.
Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen)
Simple, effective, and affordable
Typically one of the smallest Alexa-enabled speakers on the market, the latest Amazon Echo Dot continues the trend while adding temperature and tap sensors and even an Eero Wi-Fi extender. Music playback is nothing to write home about, but it's great for talking to Alexa.
- Small stature and price
- Great microphone performance
- Better sound than the 4th gen
- Not great for playing music
- No longer has an audio output jack
If you just need something that can get you quick access to Alexa and all your smart home routines, it's hard to do better than the Amazon Echo Dot. It's not exactly groundbreaking and does a poor job at playing most music, but it does a great job at what it's meant for. It hears commands consistently, responds quickly, and costs less than any other current speaker with Alexa built in.
It doesn't look much different from the previous generation, but there are some interesting upgrades under the hood. The temperature sensor helps keep fan routines running, a new tap sensor lets you control audio playback with a touch if you're standing nearby, and Eero mesh Wi-Fi users will appreciate its integrated Eero extender. For just $50, it's hard to top.
Sonos Era 100
Great audio and smart features at a cost
Unlike some smart speakers, the Sonos Era 100 was designed to play music every bit as effectively as it helps you control your smart home. And, despite offering impressive sound quality, it's not nearly as expensive as other high-end options from big-name audio manufacturers.
- Relatively small footprint
- Clean and spacious audio
- Good bass output
- Not exactly cheap
Like its more costly sibling, the Sonos Era 100 is very much a music-first speaker that also features Alexa built in. But at $200 less than the Era 300, it's a lot more palatable to most people. Despite its size, it boasts a stereo configuration, in addition to a room correction feature that listens to the space around it (once, during setup through your Android or iOS device's mic) and adjusts the audio accordingly. While it could be a tiny bit louder, it still makes more noise than most other smart speakers.
Realistically, it's such a good choice that we strongly considered giving it the Premium Pick since it's cheaper than the Era 300 but sounds similarly great. Even though it doesn't quite match up to that one, it's still a great high-end choice for a lot of folks.
Amazon Echo (4th Gen)
Great for Alexa; OK for music
The latest evolution of Amazon's original game-changing smart speaker, the Echo Dot (4th Gen), improved significantly on the 3rd-gen model and is one of the most versatile Alexa speakers out there. Its drivers make it pretty good for your favorite tunes and, much like the last one, it also looks neat.
- Sounds great for its size
- Rapidly processes Alexa commands
- Has a 3.5mm audio out jack
- Questionable bass response
- Uses a proprietary power cable
The big advantage the 4th-generation Amazon Echo has over its smaller relative is the size and speaker driver construction. It's significantly louder and more clear than the Echo Dot, and actually reproduces your favorite music respectably. It also has a 3.5mm audio output jack, so you can route it through a larger, wired speaker setup if you want. For the 4th generation, Amazon also improved the hardware, which majorly reduced the amount of time you have to wait around for a response from Alexa (the 3rd gen wasn't exactly slow, but every little bit helps).
If you want something that looks great, sounds good, and works perfectly, but you don't want to spend over $100, the Death Star-evoking Echo is worth a look. But if your favorite genres include a lot of drums or low-end, consider looking for something more entertainment-focused.
Apple HomePod mini
Works best with access to an iPad or iPhone
If anybody in your household uses an iPhone or iPad regularly, the relatively recent Apple HomePod Mini is the best way for them to access Siri without using their phone. However, you can't set it up with an Android device and need an iOS, iPadOS, or MacOS device to use most features.
- The only HomePod that connects to Android
- Compact and good-looking
- The perfect HomeKit controller
- Most features reserved for Apple devices
- No native Spotify support
Taking clear design cues from its top Alexa-based competitor, the Apple HomePod Mini sports a spherical design, but puts touch controls more to the front of the unit compared to the Amazon Echo's top-mounted touch control. But that's just a design difference. The real separation comes from the fact that Apple's HomePod requires an Apple device (tablet, smartphone, or computer) to configure initially and to set up most apps. While it connects to Android devices, unlike the full-size HomePods, your Google Pixel will still miss out on many of its features.
With that in mind, this one's best for mixed-device households that use Apple HomeKit smart devices but have access to both Android and Apple handsets. If that describes your situation, the HomePod Mini is a good choice that sounds especially good when you pair two in stereo.
Google Nest Mini (2nd gen)
Offering ultra-compact Google Assistant access
They don't get any smaller or more affordable than the most recent Nest Mini, which sports improved processing hardware and an additional microphone that significantly improve answer speed and accuracy compared to its predecessor, the Google Home.
- Takes up very little space
- Enhanced microphone performance
- Automatic volume adjustment
- Doesn't get very loud
A direct answer to the Echo Dot, the second-generation Google Nest Mini is a tiny little guy meant for receiving voice commands, answering questions, and playing some music casually. It's clear from the size that you won't get high-fidelity playback or booming bass (quite the opposite), but it's loud enough to use voice commands and listen to the responses from across the room. Speaking of loudness, you'll rarely have to adjust the volume, as the Nest Mini does that for itself, detecting how noisy the room is and adjusting itself automatically.
Given the Echo Dot's size and cost, it's no surprise that this it is the best choice for people who want quick access to Google-based voice assistance without grabbing their smartphone or tablet.
Ideal for smart entertainment centers
In contrast to some other smart soundbars, the Yamaha ATS-2090 doesn't cost a fortune, yet sounds great. It's as compact as you'd expect from a midrange 36-inch soundbar, and the subwoofer's latency-free wireless connectivity makes it a breeze to install.
- Excellent for movies and TV
- Supports always-on functionality
- Above-average bass output
- Not everybody needs a soundbar
- Other soundbars are better for music
Clearly a different beast than the rest, the Yamaha ATS-2090 is what happens when you combine the convenience of a 2.1-channel wireless soundbar with smart voice control. Its built-in Alexa capabilities let you get a single device that can control your smart appliances and massively improve your TV and movie viewing experience. While it doesn't quite match other (often more expensive) soundbars in terms of music quality, it sounds a lot better than most purpose-built smart speakers.
Aside from the convenience and moderate price, considering it's a full-fledged speaker setup with a subwoofer, a few novel features help it stand out. For one, it lets you disable the automatic shutoff function, so it's always on and waiting for Alexa commands. That, plus other small features like HDMI pass-through with audio return channel capability, make this a great budget-friendly smart soundbar.
Getting the right smart speaker for you
Start by going after the ones that support your preferred ecosystem, whether it's Google, Amazon, or Apple. Then consider whether you want music to sound great or just need simplified, smartphone-free voice control.
The Google Nest Audio is our top pick because Google's smart control is excellent and the speaker's performance is, too. It's also worth considering getting a pair of them for high-quality stereo sound. However, if you're more into Alexa and want great music, go for the Sonos Era 100 or 300, depending on which you can afford. But if all you need is Alexa voice support, the Echo Dot is your most affordable choice.
Google Nest Audio
Straightforward, user-friendly, and effective
It's compact and reasonably priced, but the Nest Audio sounds better than both might indicate, and it performs smart features better than any other Google-enabled speaker. We highly recommend getting a pair for stereo or multiroom playback.