The Best Smart Speakers For 2022Smart speakers have only been with us for a few years. Originally any kind of speaker that could do anything beyond playing music was considered to be smart. The big breakthrough came when Amazon launched its Echo in 2014. Suddenly, Alexa became the voice of artificial intelligence for the average consumer and almost achieved the generic descriptive status of hoover. In the years since its launch, the Amazon Echo has been constantly upgraded. From being a speaker that could play music in response to a voice command, it has developed into a device that can be the center of the modern smart home, coordinating all the electronics in a house and connecting with the Internet of Things.
However, although its functionality has transformed the smart speaker market, its rivals are eagerly competing for the top position. Amazon Echo may have been the first but it certainly isn’t alone. Here we’ll take a look at the best choices currently available. Smart speakers can carry out a multitude of tasks these days with the help of proprietary digital assistants and voice control, but as our prime concern is to identify some great sounding speakers, let’s see how this selection measures up for audio quality.
In addition to Alexa, we’re all now familiar with Google Assistant and Siri, the competing devices from Google and Apple. These aren’t the only tech companies who are playing for high stakes in the market, however, because there are some excellent alternatives from brands like Sonos, Bose and Bowers & Wilkins. However, if you want to equip your entire home, you really should pick one and stick with it because different makes and digital assistants are not generally compatible with each other. You’ll find links on our site to all the speakers featured below.
Amazon Echo 4th GenerationInevitably, this is the best Amazon Alexa speaker for smart functions. Its speaker is fitted with a 3-inch woofer and 2 0.8-inch tweeters. It is AC powered and it has touch controls for volume, play/pause and microphone mute although there is no smart display.
The new spherical version is a complete revamp from the original cylinder but it’s not just the shape that has changed, the sound is a huge improvement too. There’s also a built-in Zigbee smart home hub and an AZ1 neural edge processor to increase Alexa’s response time to voice commands. It also supplants the Echo Plus which is being phased out, all of its features being combined into the 4th Gen Echo. We did feel that the new Echo lacks a little volume. It seems noticeably quieter than Google Home Max and Apple HomePod. However, as we’ll see later, this shortcoming doesn’t afflict the Amazon Echo Studio.
Amazon Echo Dot with Clock 4th GenerationThis is Alexa speaker is a very useful variant of the new Echo Dot with a digital clock that makes it ideal for the nightstand or the desk. The volume capability is no better than the clock-free version so you’ll need the larger Echo speaker if you really want to fill the room with sound, but this is a very acceptable, functional choice.
Amazon Echo StudioEquipped with excellent Dolby Atmos-compatible directional audio, this speaker sounds as good as something twice its price. It is Amazon’s biggest and loudest Alexa speaker, representing a significant advance on earlier models. It contains five drivers that deliver both stereo and surround sound, all in one voice-controlled cylinder. It measures 8.1 inches high and 6.9 inches in diameter, weighs 7.7 pounds and with its two open ports at the bottom has the look of a subwoofer. One slight drawback is that although it’s theoretically portable it does need to be plugged into AC power at all times.
It is covered in a light grey fabric with a black plastic ring around the upper surface containing the far-field microphone system as well as the control buttons. Although it’s primarily designed for wireless streaming it does include a 3.5mm combination aux and optical port as well as micro USB port for service and updates.
Naturally, it offers the full Alexa voice assistant function, which you activate by saying the wake word ‘Alexa’ (or whatever you change it to in the app). It will answer all kinds of questions about subjects including the weather, sporting results, world geography, famous people, unit conversions - all kinds of useful snippets. It will also play music from Amazon Music, Apple Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify and Tidal. You can listen to books from Audible, control all your linked wi-fi enabled home devices, make phone calls and a whole lot more. For the best audio you should upgrade your Amazon Music subscription to Amazon Music HD.
As for the sound, its five drivers and 3d audio mixing do an impressive job. It has a 5.25-inch woofer firing downwards, a 1-inch tweeter firing forwards and three 2-inch midrange drivers firing to the left, right and upwards. With a total of 330 watts of power, it’s the equal of most pairs of stereo speakers.
In 2006 the British hi-fi specialist Bowers & Wilkins launched a glorified iPod dock called the Zeppelin because of its resemblance to an airship. Since then, it has been through a series of incarnations and now the latest version has completed the transformation from dock to purely wireless speaker. It may be expensive but it’s also versatile, supporting 24-bit streaming with Spotify Connect, Bluetooth and Apple airPlay2 as well as many more streaming services than previous models. Its companion app gives you a range of EQ controls and it comes with built-in Alexa voice control. It can also serve as a multi-room controller if you connect several B&W speakers.
Once you’ve linked your Amazon Music account using the app, you can play music with simple commands to Alexa. The mic is set to ‘on’ by default although you have the option of muting it.
The Zeppelin speaker sounds exceptional and much better than we might expect from a single speaker. It delivers the bass frequencies extremely well, gives virtually no distortion at the highest volume and remains balanced, bright, powerful and clear. Even at the lowest volumes, the bass register is solid and defined, so if it’s background music you’re after, it doesn’t just dissolve into a deep, low frequency cloud.
The Zeppelin is a wonderful piece of design that also performs very well.
Google Nest AudioThe tech giant finally decided to replace its Google Home after three years, with a device that ranks between the Google Nest Mini and Google Home Max in terms of price and capability. It’s a pretty affordable way of getting the kind of clean, crisp sound that can really fill the room without having to fit a full set of speakers. The Google Assistant is very efficient and offers several connectivity options through Google Cast and Bluetooth. The Google Nest Audio comes in at about twice the price of the Google Nest Mini but the difference is much bigger than that.
The design isn’t the most striking. At first it looks like a plain cylinder but is in fact more elliptically shaped. Its dimensions in inches are 6.9 high, 4.9 wide and 3.1 deep making it nicely compact. There are four colors to choose from: chalk, charcoal, sage and sand. The indicator lights are located under the fabric cover on the front and to the rear is the mute switch for the microphone and a port for the power cord.
The Nest Audio is distinguished from most smart speakers by the absence of distinct physical controls or smart display. Google have made the entire upper surface touch-sensitive, with the center playing music and the left and right sides responsible for increasing and decreasing the volume. For anything else you use the voice assistant and the Google Home app on your phone.
When you use the Nest Audio, you’ll be able to see the difference between the Alexa and Google Assistant features. Google’s natural language recognition is noticeably superior. You can tell it to carry out tasks using a variety of phrases, while Alexa still demands a fairly limited selection or it just won’t understand the instruction.
The audio quality is generally good and you certainly get a big sound although it can be a little light on the bass. This is mainly because the speaker is too small to accommodate the size of drivers you’d need to move enough air. There’s no distortion, but neither is there a hefty thump. As for the middle and upper ranges, we couldn’t really fault the definition and depth.
Incorporating both the Alexa and Google assistant functions, the Sonos Move is a portable, battery-powered multi-room speaker that delivers powerful audio across all the registers. At 9.5 by 6.3 by 5.0 inches it’s big for a portable speaker but this is what makes it so effective in the bass register. It has an IP56 rating which means it can add your outdoor space to its multi-room portfolio - dust and water resistant, it will cope happily outside. At 6.6 pounds it’s heavy so you’re unlikely to take it on trips but it’s easy to move around the house.
It has touch sensitive controls on the upper panel for the elementary function and at the rear you’ll find buttons for power, Bluetooth/Wi-Fi and Join to connect to a Sonos network. There’s also a USB-C port for fast charging.
The Sonos Move is controlled by the Sonos app, which is available for both iOS and Android operating systems. Set up and use are both simple and you’ll automatically receive any updates through the app. Not only can you stream your own music library, but you’ll also be able to access internet radio. There’s even a TruePlay feature which enables the Sonos Move to adapt to its surroundings. If you do decide to take your Sonos Move with you away from home so it’s out of reach of Wi-Fi, you can still use Bluetooth to stream music, although the app will only work with a Wi-Fi connection.
The sound you get is far superior to most mono speakers. It handles the bass very well, and you can adjust this via the app. Vocals, acoustic instruments and percussion also come off very well, with richness, depth and crispness. It’s a great, versatile, multi-function device and our only reservation about it is the price, which really is at the top end of the scale for a smart speaker. If you can do without the portability then the Sonos One (Gen 2) is available at about half the price.
We can argue about whether the Sonos Arc is a soundbar or a smart speaker. Technically it fits the former description, but if you simply consider its functionalities it merits inclusion in a round-up of the best smart speakers. Sonos speakers are generally great sounding and the Sonos Arc combines all the best features of the company’s other soundbars in a single Dolby Atmos-compatible device.
It supports both the Amazon Alexa and Google smart assistant features and can be easily expanded by connecting satellites and a subwoofer. It’s a 45-inch long cylinder looking like a typical soundbar and it includes touch-sensitive controls like those we find on smart speakers. It doesn’t come with its own remote but will respond to your TV remote control.
When you want to play music, you just download the Sonos S2 app, which supports dozens of streaming services including Apple Music, Tidal and Spotify. The Arc also works with AirPlay2. Like all Sonos speakers, the Arc is powerful and accurate. It would benefit from the addition of a Sonos Sub to enhance its bass performance but apart from that, its overall performance is very strong.
Apple Homepod MiniWe couldn’t end without a mention of that other tech giant, Apple. The Apple Homepod Mini is small, round, attractive object at an affordable price. It has the Siri smart assistant rather than the Alexa or Google Assistant of course and it is controlled by the excellent Apple Home app. Frankly we wouldn’t recommend this for audio quality - it’s perfectly adequate, but you can get better for the same kind of money. Where it really excels is in the exceptional range and functionality of Siri.
That concludes our thoughts on the best options for consumers in the ever-changing smart speaker market. If it has inspired you to look into it a little deeper then you’ll find lots of other helpful links on our site. Happy listening!