At SafeWise, we tend to focus more on the smart home and home security advantages of smart speakers. But guess what else we’re suckers for? Audio quality. That’s why we chose the Sonos One (Gen 2), which produces rich audio—at both high and low frequencies—that most folks will enjoy.
Sonos One also has a superpower: it uses both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant† voice controls (sadly not at the same time). This means you can choose your preferred voice assistant to manage your smart home. Read our full comparison to see how other smart speaker brands stack up and which tasks suit them best.
There are a ton of options in the smart speaker market, so we needed to narrow down our list before choosing products to review. Ultimately, we chose 12 voice-controlled speakers (down from over 70) with callouts to other models that deserved at least a passing mention.
We saved smart displays for later review, but we might shout out a few where relevant—this cut 13 products and two brands: Facebook and Lenovo.
We also ruled out streaming devices and soundbars—so Roku, TiVo, and NVIDIA aren’t on this list.
Then, we removed all smart speakers over $300, which are mostly upgrades of less expensive speakers from brands like Bose, Harman Kardon, JBL, and Sonos.
Next, we skipped dual-purpose smart speakers like Ecobee thermostats and some Google Nest products.
Finally, we curated representative products that embody each brand’s strengths.
While we tested some of these speakers in-house, we didn’t test them all. We researched customer reviews and online audio communities to fill in the gaps for a more comprehensive perspective. Learn more about our ranking philosophy.
This one’s for the music lovers. We chose the Sonos One (Gen 2) for our audio quality pick thanks to tons of online reviews praising its balanced performance with music. It costs around $200, which is $100 cheaper than similar offerings like the Google Home Max and Apple HomePod (but on par with the Amazon Echo Studio).
Rich, balanced audio performance
Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built in
Apple AirPlay 2 support
Alexa and Google don't work simultaneously
No Bluetooth audio
The Sonos Move (about $400) is essentially a portable version of the Sonos One. Its battery lasts up to 11 hours, it supports Bluetooth audio, and it's weather resistant so you can enjoy music poolside.
Sonos One can also link wirelessly to other Sonos speakers for a whole-home audio system. Now your music doesn’t need to stick to a specific room. In our experience, Sonos does multi-room audio better than Echo and Google. We also like that this speaker works with Apple AirPlay 2, allowing you to play tunes from your favorite Apple devices.
But we absolutely love that you can choose between two major voice assistant platforms: Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. This is the kind of flexibility that defines a standout smart device.
Although the two voice platforms live in the same house on the Sonos One, they don’t speak to each other, so you need to toggle between them in the mobile app if you plan to use both. We recommend trying out both when you first buy the speaker and choosing one that makes sense for your needs.
While the Sonos One includes a Bluetooth radio, it doesn’t stream audio from smartphones like you’d expect. You should plan to use supported mobile apps and services like Spotify, YouTube Music, Amazon Music, and Sonos Radio.
Works with Sonos
Sonos even supports smart home devices independently from Alexa and Google—like Lutron, Alarm.com, Brilliant, and IKEA Home Smart, to name a few.
Amazon Echo smart speakers could dominate this entire list in almost every way. Instead, we chose the attribute that best describes them: value. Nothing screams this more than the Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen), which costs around $50 and is a gateway to the broader Alexa ecosystem.
Best smart home compatibility
Tons of Echo models to choose from
Clunky in-app smart home controls
No portable Echo speaker
Amazon Echo (4th Gen)
The $100 Amazon Echo (4th Gen) is a bit larger than the Echo Dot but sports the same ball-shaped design. That bigger size packs in a 3-inch subwoofer and two 0.8-inch tweeters for great audio performance. It also has a built-in Zigbee smart hub that controls devices like smartbulbs, smart locks, and smart plugs.
This Amazon smart speaker boasts a seriously cute spherical shape (especially the $60 Kids Edition—go Team Panda!). Its front-firing speaker projects sound out into a room rather than at the ceiling like older puck-shaped Echo Dots. The audio quality doesn’t match larger speakers, but it’s more than enough for most folks, especially at this price.
Apart from the new design, Alexa’s smart home compatibility is still the best in the business, with more brands supporting Alexa than Google Assistant or Apple HomeKit (Siri). But if you read our Google vs. Alexa article, you probably know we’re not fans of the Alexa app’s clunky smart home controls.
While Amazon sells a vast selection of smart speakers, it doesn’t really have a portable Alexa speaker you can take on the go (we miss you, Amazon Tap). Overall, we think that Echo smart speakers are the best choices for most folks since they balance price and quality—even if they don’t quite match pricier audiophile brands like Sonos, JBL, and Bose.
The Echo Flex is a lesser-known Echo speaker that costs around $25, making it great for adding Alexa voice controls in rooms. We like that it comes with a 3.5 mm line out if you want to play music on an existing speaker. Plus, it has some cool USB accessories (motion sensor and night light).
In our experience, Google Assistant’s voice controls outperform Alexa because they make it easier to issue multiple commands and offer more accurate answers to questions. That’s why we chose the Nest Audio (about $100) as our favorite smart speaker for voice controls.
Excellent voice controls
Strong audio performance
Intuitive in-app smart home controls
Not a ton of bass
Less smart home compatibility than Alexa
Fewer music services than Alexa
Google Nest Mini
The Google Nest Mini costs around $50, making it a great Echo Dot alternative for folks that prefer Google Assistant. We especially like the wall-mounting notch on the back—you don't need a third-party mounting bracket, unlike the Echo Dot.
Google took four years to replace its Google Home speaker—this new version sports a more attractive design, fabric coverings, and improved sound quality. But it doesn’t pack the bass of premium speakers like Google Home Max and Sonos One.
We love that its app controls for smart home devices are a little easier to use than Alexa’s. But Google Assistant fails to match the smart home selection and compatibility of Amazon Echo, which had a two-year head start into the category.
Google also supports fewer music streaming services than Alexa (more so since discontinuing Google Play Music this year). While it supports popular services like Spotify, TuneIn, and Pandora, it’s missing heavy-hitters like Apple Music and Amazon Music. In any case, we think that Nest Audio is the best smart speaker for voice controls and Google purists.
The Google Nest Hub Max (about $230) is our favorite smart display because it supports so many video streaming services. These include big names not available on Amazon Echo Show smart displays like Netflix (coming to Alexa soon, though), HBO, and YouTube. Plus, its integrated camera works with Nest Aware cloud storage as a security camera.
There’s a fair amount of competition for portable speakers with built-in voice controls, but we think that the JBL Link Portable (about $180) is the cream of the crop. Not only does it use Google Assistant, our favorite digital assistant, but it’s also waterproof and has glowing reviews for audio quality.
Excellent audio performance
Lightweight, compact design
Google Assistant voice controls
Shorter battery life than competition
Less powerful bass than larger portable speakers
Secretly a Samsung smart speaker
Samsung owns Harman International, which manufactures JBL and Harman Kardon products. While we may never see the mystical Samsung Galaxy Home smart speaker with Bixby, Samsung fans certainly have some good options to choose from.
We like that the JBL Link Portable is fully waterproof. If the rain starts falling, just pack up your picnic to some tunes and grab the speaker before you head out. It also has a compact design that isn’t too bulky to throw in a bag and even looks great indoors on a charging dock.
At 1.6 pounds, it’s one of the lightest portable smart speakers we looked at, especially compared to the 6.6-pound Sonos Move and 3.3-pound Sony Extra Bass. Unfortunately, that lightness results in low battery life (just eight playback hours). Most larger smart speakers can last as long as 12 hours.
Because it’s a smaller speaker, you don’t have access to the booming subwoofer that heavier portable speakers offer. Fortunately, this isn’t too big of a deal for folks that want some bass but not enough to rattle windows. In the end, the JBL Link Portable is a worthwhile purchase when you want a Google smart speaker on the go.
JBL Link Music
The JBL Link Music doesn't have the portability of its colleague. But it's an affordable indoor smart speaker with decent sound quality and a chiclet-style design that predates the Nest Audio by a year.
From an audio perspective, the Apple HomePod is probably one of the best smart speakers you can buy. It achieves this rich audio thanks to seven custom tweeters and a four-inch woofer. It also has software that adapts audio settings automatically for ideal performance in any room.
You can use the HomePod as a hub for HomeKit devices like smart locks and security cameras. While we love how convenient the Apple Home app is, HomeKit-compatible devices are among the most expensive you’ll find on the market. It’s light-years behind Alexa and Google in both compatibility and affordability.
Top-tier audio performance
HomeKit smart hub
Siri voice controls
Requires Apple device to use
The Apple HomePod is a bit of a black sheep among smart speakers; not only is it the only speaker with Siri voice controls, but it’s also exclusive to Apple users. You can’t even go through setup unless you have an iPhone or iPad. This isn’t a problem for iPhone users, but HomePod misses a huge swath of the market because Apple is the paragon of incompatibility.
At $300, this is the most expensive smart speaker on our list, making it a tough pill to swallow in addition to the other pricey Apple devices that it requires. Still, if you’re an iPhone user and want one of the best music experiences, it’s hard to go wrong with the HomePod.
Apple HomePod mini
Apple is launching the HomePod mini on November 16 for $100. Its accessible price will make more sense for casual Apple fans unwilling to spend $300 on a speaker that works only with Apple devices (looking at you, HomePod).
The Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (around $230) is a portable Alexa alternative to Google-powered JBL. It’s just as compact but sports an 18-hour battery life and is a bit lighter. It just missed being our top portable pick thanks to a price tag that’s 25% higher than JBL.
The Bose Home Speaker 300 (about $200) is almost as talented as the Sonos One. It can link to other Bose speakers for multi-room audio and includes both Google Assistant and Alexa voice controls. Ultimately, we chose Sonos because it’s much easier to use and set up, but Bose fans won’t regret choosing the Home Speaker 300 instead.
Cavalier Audio is a relatively new brand, with its Maverick (about $180) wireless speaker boasting built-in Alexa. It sports a sleek design and isn’t much bigger than the JBL Link Portable. But user reviews criticize the sound quality and battery life versus more established brands like Bang & Olufsen and Sony.
The Harman Kardon Citation ONE (about $230) is another alternative to the Sonos One topping our list. Like Sonos, it’s part of a suite of premium speakers you can link together for wireless whole-house audio. Most user reviews speak positively to function, but since it only works with Google Assistant, it can’t adapt to different smart home needs like Sonos.
The Polk Assist (about $200) is very similar to the Sonos One but with real Bluetooth audio for playing music from phones and computers without a Wi-Fi connection. It uses Google Assistant for voice commands, so it doesn’t match Sonos’ appeal to Alexa users.
Sony stands out for its identical Extra Bass portable speakers: the XB402M (Amazon Alexa) and the XB402G (Google Assistant)—about $250 each. We like that they’re water resistant, have colorful LED lights, and can last up to 12 hours on a charge. But they’re not something to carry around in a bag. They clock in at 3.3 pounds—twice as heavy as JBL—and aren’t as compact.
Logitech has a strong showing with the Ultimate Ears MEGABLAST (about $200) portable smart speaker. We’re fans of its powerful bass, durable design, and 12-hour battery life but prefer JBL’s smaller and lighter speaker.
We think that the Sonos One is the best smart speaker for most folks since it gives you remarkable audio quality and your choice of voice assistant. If it’s too expensive for your tastes, there’s no shame in choosing the Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) or Google Nest Audio, which are just as worthwhile.
When it comes to building your smart home, smart speakers are the tip of the iceberg. Check out our related articles below to discover your next smart home product you didn’t know you needed.
Smart speaker FAQ
What does a smart speaker do?
The defining attribute of a smart speaker is voice control (and the internet connectivity behind it). This means you can play music, activate smart home devices, and ask for information using the sound of your voice. Smart speakers also have a mobile app, but voice controls are generally more convenient.
How do I choose a smart speaker?
Here are some ways to jumpstart your search:
Voice assistant: Look for a smart speaker that includes your preferred voice assistant. The basic functionality of digital assistants is comparable, but there are subtle differences in compatibility and performance.
Music: If you’re a music connoisseur, most smart speakers that cost $100 or more are great for this. Many cheaper smart speakers work fine for music, but don’t expect a ton of bass or volume.
Smart home: If you’re into smart home controls, focus on compatibility with your favorite smart home devices It’s okay to buy a cheap smart speaker ($50 or less) if music isn’t your primary goal.
Aesthetic: If you’re into interior design, choose a smart speaker to match your style. Most models are available in multiple colors, and there are attractive options for every major smart assistant.
Are smart speakers always listening?
Yes, smart speakers always listen for specific wake words like “Alexa,” Hey Google,” and “Hey Siri” so they know when to act. Fortunately, you can quickly delete recordings and adjust privacy settings using the app for the virtual assistant equipped with your smart speaker. Most speakers also have a physical mute button that turns off voice commands altogether when you don’t need them.
Can smart speakers make phone calls?
Smart speakers can usually make outgoing phone calls, though this feature isn’t available in every country. Alexa supports calls in the US, UK, Canada, and Mexico, while Google Assistant can call numbers in the US and Canada. Siri requires an iPhone to make phone calls.
*Amazon.com list price as of 10/30/2020 at 11:34 a.m. (MT). Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Safewise.com utilizes paid Amazon links.
Certain content that appears on this site comes from Amazon. This content is provided “as is” and is subject to change or removal at any time.
†Google, Google Nest, Google Assistant, and other related marks are trademarks of Google LLC.
Written by John Carlsen
John is a technology journalist with over seven years of experience researching, testing, and reviewing the latest tech. Before joining SafeWise in 2020, John was an editor for Top Ten Reviews specializing in home security and the smart home. Learn more