Smart speakers are now a very normal part of a modern tech home and can be very useful far beyond streaming music with a simple voice command. With Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri options on the market – often more than one – we help you choose the best smart speaker.
Amazon Echo and Google Nest/Home speakers are the obvious choices when these are the companies behind Alexa and the Google Assistant – two of the most popular digital assistants which ‘live’ in the speakers ready to help you at the drop of a voice command.
However, plenty of third-party brands like Sonos, Pure and Marshall make excellent options while Apple fans are likely to want a HomePod, which runs on Siri.
You can see the list of the top 10 smart speakers we’ve tested below along with a buying guide below that.
Best smart speakers 2021
Google Nest Mini – Best Overall
- Good sound
Despite the big name change, the Nest Mini is far from an overhaul of the Home Mini – though you can essentially think of it as the Home Mini 2 that’s now wall-mountable.
Existing owners won’t need to upgrade but it’s a great place to start if you’re buying your first smart speaker. The Nest Mini is compact, cute and comes in a range of colours so can neatly sit almost anywhere in the house.
Let’s not forget that it’s extremely affordable (and often on offer) and despite being so small, sounds very good with more punch than you’d expect.
Read our full Google Nest Mini review
Amazon Echo Studio – Best for HD Audio
This is the Amazon Echo to buy if you care about sound quality. You still need to subscribe to a music streaming service that offers ‘HD’ music and, not coincidentally, Amazon’s own is the current one to go for.
The Studio doesn’t only do hi-res audio: it also supports so-called 3D audio. Currently, it can play Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio, which can be both music and video soundtracks.
Best of all, it’s way cheaper than rivals from Apple and Google.
Read our full Amazon Echo Studio review
Google Nest Audio – Best Value
- Great sound
- Stereo pair possible
- Solid build quality
- Devisive design
- Degrades at high volume
The design is a bit divisive but it’s a grower and should fit in better in most homes than the Google Home. You’ll only have two colours to choose from though unless you live in the US.
More importantly, Google has hit the sweet spot here with an affordable price (lower than when the Home first launched) and you can save money when buying pairs. These can be put in different rooms or you can create a stereo pair.
The Nest Audio provides excellent build and more importantly, sound quality with impressively rich and warm profile and more power than you’d expect for its compact size. Our main complaint is how the quality degrades at high volumes but you shouldn’t need to pump it that high anyway.
Read our full Google Nest Audio review
Amazon Echo 4 – Best Alexa All-rounder
- Fun design
- Powerful processor
- Smart hub
Now with an orb-like design, the Echo 4 looks nothing like the previous models but is the sweet-spot of Amazon’s smart speaker range.
Sound quality is better with improved bass but is still behind the Nest Audio. If you’re already locked into the Alexa ecosystem then get the Echo Studio if you can afford the difference.
An important upgrade is an integrated smart hub, meaning you no longer need the Echo Plus. Despite small downsides, the Echo 4 is a great value-for-money option.
Read our full Amazon Echo (4th-gen) review
Sonos One – Best Multi-room
- High-quality sound
- Great design & build
- Google & Alexa
- More expensive than rivals
The Sonos One is a top-quality smart speaker, essentially a Play:1 with Alexa and Google Assistant voice-control built-in. We’d have liked some Sonos-related voice commands that most people will expect.
It’s more expensive than many other smart speakers but it’s possibly worth the extra – compared to non-Sonos rivals it offers much better build quality and top-quality sound.
The design is stylish with useful touch-sensitive buttons on top and still compact despite the big sound on offer.
The additional lure here is how good Sonos is once you have them in multiple rooms around the house. The firm remains the market-leader in multi-room audio.
Read our full Sonos One review
Apple HomePod mini – Best for Apple Users
- Impressive audio
- Compact size
- Not as smart as rivals
- Only compatible with Apple devices
Measuring in at just over 84mm tall, the HomePod Mini is a smart speaker deserving of its branding, but don’t let its small form fool you – like its bigger sibling, the audio performance is impressive although can’t match the full-size version.
Siri is also getting smarter, with new features like Announce that lets you send voice messages to other HomePods, iPhones and other devices in the home, and it’s better at handling general knowledge requests now, but it’s still a way behind what Google Assistant and Alexa offer.
However, you’ll need an iPhone or iPad for setup and an Apple Music or Pandora subscription if you want Siri to handle music playback and it only supports AirPlay for playback from other devices, ruling out support for Android and Windows devices.
Read our full Apple HomePod mini review
Amazon Echo Dot 4 – Best for Bedsides
- Alexa responds quickly
- Improved bass
- Sound quality not the best
- Light ring easily blocked
Like the Echo 4, the Dot has been given a redesign so is now a sphere with a light around the base.
For a little extra it’s likely worth getting the model with an integrated clock for bedsides and kitchens as it also shows timers.
Either way, you benefit from improved sound quality compared to the 3rd-gen as well as a more powerful processor. It remains the most affordable way of filling your house with Alexa speakers and you can create a stereo pair with two.
Read our full Amazon Echo Dot (4th-gen) review
Sonos Roam – Best Portability
- Excellent sound
- Thoughtful IP67 design
- Lots of smart features
- Wireless charging
- Bluetooth limited to streaming
- Battery life behind Bluetooth rivals
The Sonos Roam is a Bluetooth speaker, Wi-Fi multi-room speaker and smart speaker in one.
It’s the smallest and cheapest Sonos speaker to date and packs amazing sound quality into a tiny body that you will barely notice it’s in your bag. Designed to work in multiple orientations, it’s also durable with IP68 waterproofing.
Various clever bits of tech are on offer including the ability to swap between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi seamlessly. It supports Alexa and Google but you’ll need to be on Wi-Fi for them to be accessible.
Read our full Sonos Roam review
Marshall Uxbridge – Best Style
- Excellent sound
- Supremely stylish
- Bass & treble controls
- No Google Assistant
The Uxbridge, Marshall’s newest and most affordable smart speaker, packs booming bass-rich sound and Alexa connectivity into a compact frame styled after Marshall’s own amps.
Alexa can be slightly slow to respond at times, and occasionally unreliable. You’ll have to speak slowly and clearly.
While the bass is a boon on the Uxbridge, the middle and upper range don’t sound muddled. In fact, the audio is clear and rich and fills the room, despite the speaker being fairly small.
It’s sure to glam up any bookshelf, while also producing equally impressive sound.
Read our full Marshall Uxbridge review
Pure DiscovR – Best for Privacy
- Phycial mic shut-off
- A little expensive
- No Google
- Distortion at high volume
Pure’s first smart speaker is an excellent sounding speaker with a few unique tricks up its sleeve.
Its key advantage lies in its flexibility, with a choice of three modes of listening depending on your situation.
It’s also great if you value privacy, with an option to physically deactivate. It’s held back by a slightly high price and underwhelming set of microphones, but if money is no object you can’t go too far wrong with the DiscovR.
Read our full Pure DiscovR review
What is a smart speaker?
In simple terms, a smart speaker is an audio speaker that you can talk to and interact with as you might already do with your smartphone.
They’re internet-connected virtual assistants – Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and others – which can answer questions, tell you the latest news and weather, play music and control smart home gadgets such as heating, air conditioning, lights and switches.
We list the best Google Home/Nest devices here.
We list the best Amazon Echo devices here.
What should I look for?
Like regular speakers, smart versions come in various shapes, sizes and prices. You should consider how much you want to spend and also where you want to put it in your home. A smaller one, like the Google Nest Mini or Amazon Echo Dot, will fit in more places, for example.
There’s also whether the design fits in with your décor. Some come in a set range of colours while others have interchangeable covers.
Size, of course, will have an impact on audio quality so if you want to play a lot of music then it will be worth spending a bit more on a bigger model. The Sonos One and Apple HomePod are two options.
Which smart speaker you choose should also come down to the AI assistant you prefer – essentially Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant at the moment, with Siri only in the HomePod. Some, like Sonos, will even let you choose.
They both do the same thing so in a similar way so it’s a bit like choosing between an operating system. A big factor here is whether you already use various Amazon and Google services – even shopping on Amazon – particularly for music streaming as you need to be signed up to listen to whatever you want.
There’s also the question of whether you have products that play nicely with the smart speaker. If you have a Google Chromecast then it makes sense to get a device with Google Assistant, for example.
As mentioned earlier, smart speakers can be used to control smart home products like lightbulbs so you’ll also want to check compatibility with anything you have or are thinking about getting. Many, like Philips Hue, are supported by both but you can check out the lists for Google here and Amazon here.
Some smart speakers are beginning to arrive with screens. There are fewer to choose from and the best are made by, you’ve guessed it, Amazon and Google. See our best smart displays chart to see what’s available.
Find out how we test audio.
Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence. Learn more.
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