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Best smart speakers 2020: Smarten up your home

Best Smart Speakers 2020: If you’re looking to give your home a 21st century upgrade then a smart speaker is the ideal place to start, and we’ve rounded up the best of them.

Long gone are the days of Amazon’s monopoly on the smart speaker market. The success of the Amazon Echo has led to countless rival efforts from Apple, Google, Sonos and Bang and Olufsen. And while all that competition has spurred innovation, it does mean that there’s plenty of options to consider.

However, given that we’ve tested the major smart speakers and then some, we’ve taken the hassle out of the buying process by rounding up the top 12 smart speakers out there. Covering a range of budgets, styles and smart assistants, our ranking has made it easier than ever to find the smart speaker that’s right for you.

  • Best Alexa speaker: Amazon Echo 3rd Gen
  • Best smart speaker: Sonos One
  • Best cheap smart speaker: Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)
  • Best sounding Echo speaker: Amazon Echo Studio
  • Best smart speaker for bass: Marshall Stanmore II Voice
  • Best looking smart speaker: Samsung AKG VL5
  • Best bedroom smart speaker: Amazon Echo Dot with Clock
  • Best high-end smart speaker: B&O Beosound Balance
  • Best AirPlay 2 speaker: Apple HomePod
  • Best Google Home speaker: Google Home Max
  • Best desktop smart speaker: Marshall Uxbridge Voice
  • Best smart Wi-Fi speaker: Netgear Orbi Voice

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


Amazon Echo 3rd Gen close up

1. Amazon Echo 3rd Gen

Best-value smart speaker for music

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

Pros:

  • Improved sound
  • Same price as the previous model
  • Great colour choices

Cons:

  • The cheaper Echo Dot may meet your needs

While the second gen Amazon Echo was more of a design overhaul, the latest (and best) Echo is an upgrade that counts. Boasting a more robust sound courtesy of a 0.8in tweeter and 3in subwoofer, the Amazon Echo 3rd gen is a solid smart speaker for music.

Although there are undoubtedly better sounding smart speakers on the market, it’s hard to argue with the Echo’s incredibly affordable price. The lack of an integrated Zigbee hub means that some buyers may prefer the all-in-one package offered by the Amazon Echo Plus, but for everyone else, this is the one to beat.

Sonos One

2. Sonos One

Smart and with great sound

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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.

3. Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)

Much improved over previous versions

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Pros:

  • Clear and loud audio
  • 3.5mm and Bluetooth audio outputs
  • Same price as old model
  • Improved design

Cons:

  • No longer USB-powered
  • Not ideal for music

For the longest time, the Amazon Echo Dot provided a super affordable means of getting into the Alexa ecosystem, but at great expense to sound quality. Well, the third time’s a charm as the saying goes, and Amazon has nailed it with the Echo Dot 3rd gen.

Taking on a sleeker aesthetic to rival the Google Home Mini, the new Echo Dot also managed to surpass its rival with an improved speaker performance. Sure, it’s the last thing you’d want to be delivering the sound at a party, but for personal listening, the Echo Dot does the job just fine.

4. Amazon Echo Studio

The best-sounding Echo speaker

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

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.

Marshall Stanmore II Voice

5. Marshall Stanmore II Voice

Well-designed, well-made and well-balanced

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

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.

6. Samsung AKG VL5

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.

Amazon Echo Dot with Clock clock

7. Amazon Echo Dot with Clock

Best value smart speaker for the bedroom

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Pros:

  • Useful clock display
  • Loud and clear audio for speech
  • Looks great

Cons:

  • Not ideal for music
  • Display doesn’t show notifications

With the Clock you get the benefits of the current Echo Dot, which offers neat looks and powerful audio for speech, alongside the convenience of the clock on the front, it’s an ideal bedside companion.

For an audio speaker you can do better, but for its size, the Echo Dot with Clock’s sound quality is impressively loud and clear. If you’re looking to get a smart system up and running, the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock is a great way to integrate Alexa into your home.

8. B&O Beosound Balance

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

9. Apple HomePod

An Apple-centric speaker

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

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.

Google Home Max lights

10. Google Home Max

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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.

11. Marshall Uxbridge Voice

Compact size, big sound

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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

12. Netgear Orbi Voice

Wi-Fi extender, Alexa and speaker in one

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

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:

Unlike other sites, we thoroughly review everything we recommend, using industry standard tests to evaluate products. We’ll always tell you what we find. We may get a commission if you buy via our price links. Tell us what you think – email the Editor

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