Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
ExpertiseTy has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast.Credentials
Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
David Anders is a senior writer for CNET covering broadband providers, smart home devices and security products. Prior to joining CNET, David built his industry expertise writing for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. In his 5 plus years covering broadband, David's work has been referenced by a variety of sources including ArcGIS, DIRECTV and more. David is from and currently resides in the Charlotte area with his wife, son and two cats.
ExpertiseBroadband providers, Home internet, Security Cameras
While most phones allow you to control a basic smart home setup, adding a smart speaker is a great way to take things to the next level. Smart speakers are affordable and versatile. You'll not only be able to listen to your favorite tracks and podcasts, but you can also control your compatible devices with nothing but your voice. These devices allow you to give commands and ask questions via a smart assistant, without having to press a button. Before you get started, you'll need to find the best smart speaker for you.
Folks looking for the right smart speaker might be intimidated by all the options. Here at CNET, we've been testing voice control devices and smart speakers since they first hit the scene. We've considered all the important smart device features, from sound quality to the ease of installing multiple speakers. Lots of products are available to choose from, but these are the ones we found to be the best.
What's the best smart speaker?
Amazon Echo speakers are among the most affordable and easy-to-set-up smart speakers out there. That's why the fourth-generation Amazon Echo is our pick for the top smart speaker overall. It's likely to best meet the needs of most households. Although it's a few years old, the device features improved sound quality over the previous generation, is compatible with an assortment of smart devices and goes for the relatively affordable price of $100 (although it can often be found on sale for $80 or less).
That said, the fourth-generation Echo might not be the best pick for your particular home. Almost every smart speaker allows you to control the lights, play music, ask questions, set reminders and much more with simple voice commands. The decision may simply come down to which brand you're already invested in. If you have an affinity for a particular company's products, whether you're devoted to Amazon, Apple or Google, picking a speaker is easy.
For platform-neutral folks (or those looking to switch things up), our top picks aside from the fourth-gen Amazon Echo, are the second-gen Google Nest Mini, the Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen), the Apple HomePod Mini, and the new Sonos Era 100. Find out why below.
We give the smart home edge in the best smart speaker category to Amazon, thanks to Alexa and the $100, fourth-generation Amazon Echo.
The latest Echo (not to be confused with the fifth-gen Echo Dot or Echo Pop) combines the usual Alexa smarts with a speaker that sounds great and has a built-in Zigbee radio. That's a nice inclusion that'll let you connect Zigbee lights, locks, sensors and other devices to your setup without the need for a separate hub device.
The Echo is even useful while you're away, as Alexa can send alerts if your smart speaker's microphones detect the sound of glass breaking or a smoke alarm.
What really helps the Echo clinch first place is its sound quality: This speaker offers loud, room-filling sound with plenty of clarity and bass control. While there are even better-sounding speakers, such as the Sonos Era 100 and the Echo Studio, neither can beat the price of the Echo.
If you're in the market for a budget smart speaker, they don't come any more feature-packed than the Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen). It offers a wealth of capabilities including a temperature sensor, an Eero mesh extender and the ability to tap it like an alarm clock.
The Echo Dot (5th Gen) also sounds better than other speakers at the price, including the Echo Pop and Google's Nest Mini, with plenty of vocal clarity and decent bass weight. Its microphones are sensitive enough to hear you from across the room, even with another speaker playing.
While Google's Nest Mini is a little more sophisticated in terms of its responses, the Amazon Echo Dot is better in every other respect and is the best smart speaker for under $50.
Google has done an admirable job of catching up to Amazon in the smart speaker race. At this point, picking between the lowest-price smart speaker devices from the two companies comes down to splitting hairs.
It responds more flexibly to voice commands if you can't remember the exact name of your smart home devices, and Google's grouped commands, called routines, work with more types of smart devices than Amazon's similar routines.
Google Assistant can recognize multiple voices, so it'll give you and your spouse different answers if you each ask about your calendars, (although Alexa can do this now, too).
Overall, Google still has the intelligence edge, and the Google Nest Mini is a great, low-cost way to take advantage of those smarts.
Apple's small, Siri-enabled smart speaker bridges a strange gap between its competitors with a $100 price tag like Google's Nest Audio and the Amazon Echo, and other, cheaper speakers that come in small packages like the Nest Mini and Echo Dot.
Features like intercom, audio handoff and stereo pairing make this little smart speaker quite practical. It looks good and sounds great.
When it comes to the smart home, Siri and HomePod Mini are limited to devices that work with Apple's smart home platform, HomeKit.
It was going to be a tough job replacing the Sonos One, but the company has managed to not only make the Era 100 sound better but give it a bit more functionality as well.
In addition to Apple AirPlay 2 and Sonos' own multiroom system, the Era 100 now features Bluetooth, and this brings it in line with the Roam and Move portable speakers.
The Era 100's only drawback is that the speaker no longer offers a choice between Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. While adding a Nest Mini might seem to defeat the purpose of a speaker like this, it should solve this problem for people who are in the Google ecosystem. The issue is reportedly with a change to Google's rules, so maybe there's hope the Assistant can be added in the future.
Either way, the Era 100 sounds great and Alexa fans in particular should love it.
The smart speakers above are our current favorites, but you still have lots of other options if you're looking for something specific in audio performance. Read our breakdown of Alexa versus Google Assistant versus Siri if you'd like to learn the pros and cons of each and decide on a smart home device based on its platform.
In the past year or so, we have seen several new smart speakers (namely the Apple HomePod, Amazon Echo Pop, the Sonos Era 100 and the Era 300), but most of the models out there have been available for much longer. The Era 100 is the pick of these new speakers, and although the $40 Pop is interesting in its way, the Dot (5th Gen) offers more features for only $10 more.
If you like the idea of ready-to-listen tech but want something more visual, check out our list of the best smart displays. Smart displays essentially combine a smart speaker with a touchscreen so you can watch videos on YouTube, make video calls, scroll through pictures and control your smart home gadgets with a touch. Amazon and Google both have several options worth considering in the category.
Figure out what platform or features you'd like, and you should be able to quickly narrow down your options and find the best smart speaker for you and your family.
Smart speaker FAQs
Are there any stereo smart speakers?
Nearly every Amazon Echo smart speaker can stereo pair with another Echo speaker. The list is quite long, so take a look at Amazon's stereo device compatibility page. You'll find a list of which speakers can pair with each other for stereo sound.
All of Google's smart speakers can be stereo-paired, as long as they're identical models. Google's Nest Audio speaker is the best bet for stereo pairing, and a two-pack of these speakers often provides a discount off the $99-per-speaker MSRP.
You'll be able to set up the speakers in your Google Home app and tell Google which speaker is right and which is left. Bass and treble settings are also adjustable from the Home app.
Apple's HomePod and HomePod Mini can be paired with identical speakers for left and right-channel stereo listening. You can also pair your HomePods with your Apple TV for surround sound theater. The smaller speakers won't blow you away, but it's a nice extra feature.
If theater surround sound for your TV is your biggest smart speaker priority, Sonos offers the best audio quality, in our opinion. Two Sonos speakers (of the same model) can be stereo-paired, or you could trade up for its excellent selection of smart soundbars (Beam or Arc).
Who is the smartest voice assistant?
Today, the race is extremely close between Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa. Apple's Siri is on the board but in a solid third place when it comes to reliability, knowledge and comprehension of human requests.
Overall, we give the edge to Google Assistant for its superior cadence, naturalistic tone and ability to understand (and answer) questions and follow-up queries consistently.
That said, it's close enough that you can safely invest in either Google Assistant or Alexa based on other preferences like speaker style, devices and compatibility with other popular smart home products.
Alexa is nearly as good as Google Assistant, so you really can't go wrong no matter which assistant you choose. You'll learn its quirks and how to interact with your assistant to coax the best responses and helpful information.
In our testing of Apple, Amazon and Google smart speakers, we think the Amazon Echo Studio offers the most when it comes to sheer volume. The Sonos Era 100 is close behind with powerful sound, and it's also our current pick for best sound quality. Especially if you're considering using your speaker in a stereo pair or as a theater system for watching TV.
Which smart speaker is best for free music?
Amazon smart speakers can play music from free or paid subscription tiers on Pandora, Spotify and other popular music streaming platforms. In addition, if you have an Amazon Prime account, you can play music from the vast Prime Music catalog.