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Best smart speakers 2021: The best voice assistant speakers

There are numerous smart speakers to choose from with efforts from Apple, Amazon, Google and Sonos offering plenty of choice in the market.

Smart speakers offer the ability to quiz voice assistants such as Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant about the weather, reminders for what you need to do, integration with other smart products and much more. They’re designed to be helpful, feeding you with relevant info to help you get on with what you need to do.

Each speaker generally belongs to its own ecosystem, and that’ll informs which products can work with it so it pays to know what speaker does what, and whether it fits into an existing set-up. With multi-room functionality, you can daisy chain multiple speakers within that ecosystem to create a whole house full of sound.

Here to make sure you make a smart decision, we’ve created this guide detailing the best smart speakers we’ve reviewed that are still on the market.

Related: Best smart home devices – How to build a smart home


Amazon Echo (4th Generation) Light Ring

Best-value smart speaker for music

Pros:

  • Improved sound
  • Same price as the previous model
  • Zigbee hub
  • Looks fantastic

Cons:

  • Zigbee hub not compatible with all devices

Th 2020 Amazon Echo (4th Generation) isn’t just an iterative update. It features a new design, better audio and an integrated Zigbee smart home hub. Impressively, the new model costs the same as the old one.

With a new, funky spherical design, this Echo finally looks as though it’s been designed to sit in your home. With a bit more room inside, Amazon has managed to squeeze in an extra tweeter for two 0.8in tweeters and a 3in woofer. It gives audio that little boost and makes the Echo (4th Generation) a decent choice for music: you have to spend considerably more to get better audio.

This model also has the Zigbee hub, which used to command a £50 premium for the Plus model. It lets you connect some devices directly to the Echo without using a hub, such as Philips Hue bulbs. Not all Zigbee devices are compatible and you sometimes get fewer features, but this hub is there if you want it.

Pound-for-pound, then, the Amazon Echo (4th Generation) is the best smart speaker that you can get.

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Sonos One

Smart and with great sound

Pros:

  • Great sound
  • Small and convenient
  • Proper Alexa integration
  • Supports Google Assistant

Cons:

  • Alexa not fully compatible with Spotify at launch

The One slots neatly into an existing Sonos set up, offering multi-room capabilities and support for voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant.

Diminutive in size but big in sound, the One generates a full-range sound without missing a beat. If you’re after a discreet unit that will fit easily into any room, one that offers all the smarts without scrimping on audio quality, then the Sonos One is the full package.

The best-sounding Echo speaker

Pros:

  • Weighty bass and big sound
  • Alexa is terrific
  • Dolby Atmos 3D
  • Synergy with other Echo/Fire TV products
  • Good value for the price

Cons:

  • Not as nuanced in the mid-range or treble
  • Bass can be overpowering
  • Weighs a tonne

The Echo Studio can play Dolby Atmos music and Hi-Res Audio. The focus on a premium sound experience at an affordable price makes it the best-sounding Echo speaker yet – but it isn’t flawless.

For one, there isn’t a huge amount of 3D audio for the Echo Studio to take advantage of, nor does all of it work well in 3D. Factor in its bassy sound and the Echo Studio can sound overcooked. But the Dolby Atmos 3D does work, and the number of features and versatility it offers (you can use it as a TV speaker) make for a good speaker.

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Amazon Echo Dot with Clock (4th Generation) alarm set

A cooler, better-sounding speaker

Pros:

  • Looks fantastic
  • New controls are easier to reach
  • Forward-firing speaker is clearer

Cons:

  • Low power mode has big restrictions
  • Not ideal for music

Amazon has gone all spherical on us, with the new Echo Dot (4th Gen) like a smaller version of the big Echo. The new design is lovely and a step up from the old hockey-puck design of the previous model.

The new design puts the controls on the top, where they’re both easier to reach for but blend better into the smart speaker’s design.

Thanks to extra space inside, Amazon has managed to point the 1.6-inch speaker forwards, rather than upwards. Although this speaker is the same size as the prior model, the 4th gen Echo Dot is clearer and louder. It’s great for voice responses or podcasts, and you can listen to the occasional music track, but it’s still not as good as a traditional music speaker.

Spend £10 more and you can get the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock (4th Generation), which sticks an LCD screen into the front to show you the time, making it a great bedside companion. Otherwise, the Clock and Dot models are the same.

If you want a well-priced smart speaker predominantly for smart home control, this is the one to buy.

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Marshall Stanmore II Voice

Well-designed, well-made and well-balanced

Pros:

  • Big, meaty sound
  • Excellent bass performance
  • Great build quality
  • Iconic design
  • Decent connectivity

Cons:

  • App is a bit basic
  • Doesn’t support AirPlay

£350 for a smart speaker is not cheap, and while the Stanmore II Voice isn’t as versatile as a Sonos speaker, when it’s in full flow it’s a thrilling speaker to listen to.

It is big and bulky, and the design may be ostentatious to some, but at least makes it stand out. This speaker’s selling point is its power. If you truly want to shake the foundations and irritate your neighbours, this speaker enough in its locker to make a din with a big, bassy performance.

Detailed, room-filling sound

Pros:

  • Big, room-filling sound
  • Precise and detailed delivery
  • Effective smart app

Cons:

  • Pricey

The Samsung AKG VL5 is a fantastic-looking speaker, with an aluminium body that’s complemented by a wood finish. Control of the unit is easy: it’s operated through the Moving Dial, which you can detach from the speaker and carry with you.

It delivers a big, open soundstage, with a precise and detailed delivery. Our main complaint at the time of review was its hefty £600 price tag, but it’s currently available for less than £200.

An extravagant smart speaker

Pros:

  • Extravagant design
  • Big room-filling sound
  • Google Assistant smarts
  • Plenty of app customisation

Cons:

  • Extravagant price
  • Compromised Tidal Masters performance with Chromecast
  • Not the most dynamic performance

The Beosound Balance is another ode to Scandinavian design; minimalist, attractive and quietly extravagant.

The look has been laid on by the gurus of London-based Layer design, meaning it not only looks good but feels nice to touch. It offers a big room-filling sound that can go pretty loud, as well as plenty of clarity and definition to render your music library in a convincing manner.

It’s expensive – affordable doesn’t appear to be in B&O’s dictionary – but if you can afford this marriage of design and sound, there’s much to like with the Beosound Balance.

Apple HomePod hero

An Apple-centric speaker

Pros:

  • Excellent audio quality
  • Well priced
  • Comparatively small

Cons:

  • Apple centric
  • No audio inputs
  • Captive power cable

If you’re fully immersed in the iOS ecosystem and value great audio then the HomePod is second to none. It’s less expensive than it was before, but it’s Apple-centric approach is a stumbling block. To add to that, Siri is relatively un-smart and while HomeKit is pretty good, it suffers from a lack of support.

Nevertheless, it’s the best-sounding smart speaker out there, with a warm, expansive sound that’s clear as well as revealing plenty of detail. This is one for Apple lovers.

The best Google Assistant speaker

Pros:

  • Improved sound
  • Discrete design
  • Easy setup

Cons:

  • Buggy

The Nest Audio takes over from Google Home sitting between the dinky Nest Mini and enormous Home Max.

As smart speakers go it’s one of the more discrete looking, featuring an unassuming woven body that’s made out of 70% recycled plastic. It has the same smarts as the Nest Mini, and the tech makes it quick and easy to create multi-room setups with other Google speakers. It’s also compatible with third party products from big-name brands including Philips Hue and TP-Link.

For those that want an actual speaker, then the Nest Audio is fairly decent sounding with its sizable 75mm woofer and 19 mm tweeter. The combo makes it one of the loudest smart speakers at its size, and an ideal choice for people locked into Google ecosystem.

Google Home Max lights

Bigger is better

Pros:

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Top voice assistant
  • Looks great

Cons:

  • Multi-room lacks finesse
  • Comparatively expensive

If you’re after the best experience that Google’s own-brand smart speakers can offer – look no further than the Home Max. With the option to be sat upright or on its side, the Home Max can easily adapt to whatever environment you place it in, plus its incredible loud volume range means its presence is hard to ignore as you move from room-to-room.

At its original RRP of £399, the Google Home Max was a tough sell for buyers on a budget. But in the years since, the speaker has dropped to as little as £199. If you can catch the Google Home Max during a sale, you won’t be disappointed.

Compact size, big sound

Pros:

  • Big, energetic sound
  • Distinctive looks
  • Plenty of connectivity options

Cons:

  • Small soundstage
  • Not the most nuanced of performers

The Uxbridge is another laudable speaker from the iconic audio brand, that like other entries in Marshall’s speaker range, produces a prodigious sound from its small frame.

There are better-sounding alternatives around (just look higher up on this list), but if energy and bass is what you’re looking for in a speaker that doesn’t take up much space, the Uxbridge ought to be considered for the shopping list. More nuanced audio and features can be had from other speakers, but like the rest of Marshall speaker lineage, it offers plenty of fun.

Netgear Orbi Voice hero

Wi-Fi extender, Alexa and speaker in one

Pros:

  • Excellent combination of Wi-Fi and smart speaker
  • Great Wi-Fi performance
  • High-quality audio

Cons:

  • Alexa has placed limitations on this system

The Netgear Orbi Voice is likely to be the unfamiliar unit in this list. It serves a dual purposes, with it mesh Wi-Fi technology extending Wi-Fi in the home, it also bundles Alexa voice control and a sound system by Harman Kardon.

All this works out to be a potent combination. The Orbi Voice is a speaker that’s easy to listen to, offers plenty of bass, and can fill a good-sized room with ease. The main issue with the Orbi Voice is one that’s out of its control: Amazon’s treatment of third-party devices means you can’t use Alexa to voice-call nor set up the unit within a group of speakers.


How we test the best smart speakers

We play a lot of music, and we play it loud. We make sure that the smart features actually work, as why else would you buy it?

We test functionality with all the listed smart speakers, which means we regularly have conversations with the likes of Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri. How responsive are they? And are the features wide-ranging or limited in scope? We take all of this into account.

Of course, it always comes back to the music. Speakers are tested by reviewers who have a love of music, a knowledge of sound quality, as well as a context of the market. We’ll listen to smart speakers alongside similarly priced rivals, so when we recommend a particular model, it’s among the best you can buy for the money.

Obviously, we know not everyone has the same taste in music, so we won’t only test with the same perfectly mastered album, but with a variety of genres and file qualities, from MP3 to Hi-Res FLAC.

Is a smart speaker not your thing. Well, we also test a variety of other wireless speakers:

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