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Best smart speakers: Which deliver the best combination of digital assistant and audio performance?

With models based on Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, and others to come, we’ll help you find just the right model for you.

best smart speaker Rob Schultz / IDG

You don’t need to live in a smart home to benefit from a Wi-Fi-connected smart speaker. Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, and other digital assistants can help you in dozens of ways, and you don’t have to lift a finger to summon them—just speak their names. If you already know you want a smart speaker, scroll down for our top recommendations

But consider your decision carefully. In a perfect world, these devices would be interoperable, so you could buy one brand because it’s better for music, another brand because it’s the best for smart home control, and a third because it’s superior for retrieving general information from the internet. That’s not how it works in the real world. Once you commit to one platform, you’ll want to stick with it.

On the upside, choosing one brand of smart speaker over another generally won’t tie you into that brand’s entire ecosystem. Buying an Amazon Echo, for instance, won’t limit you to subscribing to Amazon’s music services—you can also use it with Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM radio, and several other services. And even if you have a smart home system from one company, you can control smart home products that would be otherwise incompatible with that system with voice commands—provided they’re compatible with your digital assistant of choice.

sonos beam with samsung q7f smart tv Michael Brown / IDG

An increasing number of soundbars double as smart speakers. The Sonos Beam is powered by Amazon's Alexa now, but the company promises to add Google Assistant support before the end of 2018.

That said, if you’re wedded to Google Play Music, streaming music from your account to an Amazon Echo is not perfectly seamless (the same goes for streaming music from Amazon’s services to a Google Home). And there are some major coexistence exceptions: Google is currently blocking its YouTube videos from appearing on the Echo Show and Echo Spot devices, for instance (although you can get there using a web browser on the second-generation Echo Show), and it looks as though Apple’s HomePod will stream music only from Apple Music. If you plan to mix and match third-party products with your smart speaker, do the research to make sure they’ll work together.

If you want to know more about what smart speakers can do in general before you pick one, skip down to the “What can smart speakers do?” section.

Updated on October 22 to add our take on the new Google Home Hub. Google Assistant is as powerful as ever here, but the smallish display, the inability to operate as a true hub for anything except Wi-Fi and Bluetooth smart home devices, and the lack of a camera—which Google is heavily pushing as a benefit, versus a missing feature—prevent it from displacing the second-generation Amazon Echo Show as our top recommendation in its category. Thanks in large measure to its $149 price tag, however, the Google Home Hub did knock the Lenovo Smart Display out of the runner-up slot.

Best all-around smart speaker

The Echo line is the most widely adopted by consumers, and it’s the one most widely supported by third-party products and services. While you could save $30 and buy the displayless Echo (2nd generation), the Echo Spot’s touchscreen is well worth the extra cash. And once you become accustomed to an Echo with a display, you’ll want them in all the places you’d otherwise put an Echo Dot (or you would if the Spot didn’t cost $80 more than the Dot).

Runner-up 

After getting off to a slow start, Google is now giving Amazon a run for its money. The original Google Home sounds great, and it’s far better when it comes to asking for general information. Google is aggressively adding support for third-party products and services should achieve parity soon. Google Home is also a good choice for people who are deep into the Chromecast ecosystem and who subscribe to Google’s streaming services: YouTube and YouTube Music.

Best smart speaker for music

It’s no contest on this score, Google Home Max is the best-sounding smart speaker we’ve heard, although Apple’s HomePod comes close. Four Class D amplifiers drive two 4.5-inch aluminum cone, high-excursion woofers with dual voice coils. Two more amps are dedicated to a pair of 0.7-inch polyester dome tweeters. The amps have integrated DACs capable of supporting up to 24-bit/192kHz bit streams, although Google says it’s only tested sampling rates up to 48kHz. This speaker will fill even larger rooms with sound, but if you find that one just isn’t enough, you can pair two for stereo.

Runner-up

If the Google Home Max is beyond your budget, give the Sonos One a listen. It’s currently compatible only with Amazon’s Alexa, but the company promises to add Google Assistant capabilities this spring. It’s about the same size as the older Sonos Play:1, but it sounds even better. Despite the similarity in appearance, Sonos designed its smart speaker from scratch. Sonos is the king of multi-room audio, and no other brand supports more music services. What’s more, once you have a Sonos One on your network, you can control all your other Sonos speakers with voice commands, too—and from any Alexa-compatible speaker. The newer Sonos Beam offers the same voice-control features in a smallish soundbar form factor..

Best smart speaker if you use another speaker for music

No matter which smart speaker you buy, none of them will sound as good as many of the dumb powered speakers on the market today. Guess what? You don’t have to compromise! If you only want a smart speaker for its brains and not its audio performance, Amazon’s Echo Dot has both a Bluetooth radio and a 3.5mm analog line-level output so you can pair or plug in your favorite outboard speakers and really rock the house.

Runner-up 

The Google Home Mini is prettier than Amazon’s Echo Dot, but it takes the runner-up spot here not only for the same reasons the Google Home does in its category, but because it doesn’t have a line-level output. Google did change course and allow you to connect a Bluetooth speaker to the Mini, or you can pair it with an external Chromecast speaker a Chromecast Audio dongle connected to some other type of speaker.

Best smart speaker with a large display

Amazon regains the top spot in this category with its all-new Amazon Echo Show (2nd Gen). The new speaker has a bigger, higher-resolution display, much improved audio performance, and Amazon has significantly improved the touchscreen-based user interface (especially when you’re browsing Amazon’s own entertainment offerings). Amazon also added a ZigBee-based smart home hub that allows you to control things like Philips Hue smart bulbs without need of the Hue Bridge.

The Echo Show retains all the great features we loved in the first generation, including the ability to make video calls to people on your contact list (it can also function as a video intercom within your home). And Amazon has made important improvements to its Alexa digital assistant. You can add multiple items to your shopping list, for example, without having to repeat the Alexa wake word: Say “Alexa, add cheese, vegetables, coffee, and ice cream to my shopping list,” for instance, and each of those grocery items will appear as discrete items on your list that you can remove with a swipe of your finger when you buy them.