Which Smart Speaker Is Right for You?
Anyone who listens to music, audiobooks, or podcasts around the house should have a speaker that captures the quality of their audio. And it’s even better if that speaker also comes with smart capabilities, like a voice-controlled assistant that can create lists, edit your calendar, and send messages without interrupting your listening experience. With today’s smart speaker technology you can have it all, without spending big money on the most expensive and complex tech on the market.
If you’ve been considering what to gift the podcast enthusiast, audiobook aficionado, or music lover in your life, these feature-rich, easy-to-use smart speakers make a nice upgrade to computer speakers, speakers without smart capabilities, or headphones alone. Check out this guide to find their smart speaker match.
For the multi-tasker: Amazon Echo
The Echo provides users with all the hands-free conveniences of a smart assistant, plus the joys of on-demand audio. Voice controls can change or adjust the music, set timers, make lists, check the weather, call your contacts, and play the news. Meanwhile, the speaker itself produces high-quality sound that Amazon notes can sync with other Echo or Fire TV devices around the house.
At about five inches high and available in charcoal, white, red, or blue, the Echo will blend into any room’s decor. It might not boast as many bells and whistles as other items on this list, but it checks all the essential boxes for a smart speaker, allowing users to enjoy their music and podcasts while getting stuff done. Finally, with its double-digit price tag, the Echo is a rarity in the pricey smart speaker market, making it a great choice for anyone who’s gifting on a budget this year.
For the audiophile: Sonos One
This smart speaker, available in black or white, plays albums, playlists, streaming radio, and podcasts with ultra-crisp clarity. Engineered to capture a song’s complexity at any volume and equipped with spatially-aware tuning technology, it more than earns Sonos’ enduring reputation for stunningly high-quality audio. The Sonos One can be controlled by voice commands, the Sonos app, or Apple AirPlay, and it comes with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant already built in, allowing users to ask questions, set alarms, and check their calendar without missing a beat.
Aside from these conventional smart speaker capabilities, a unique benefit of the Sonos One is its humidity resistance. Whether you like to stream the news during your morning shower or enjoy relaxing tunes from the bath, Sonos says this speaker is designed to hold up in your bathroom setting (and, at about six inches high and less than five inches wide, without taking up much space).
For the bass enthusiast: Amazon Echo Studio
Thanks to its five internal speakers, the Amazon Echo Studio creates a surround-sound effect in one neat package. Its design means it can produce a crystal-clear range of sound, from bumping bass to never-tinny high notes, while cultivating a sense of space and depth. Like the standard Amazon Echo, this device is Alexa-ready and often compatible with major streaming apps like Pandora, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, and SiriusXM. Setting the Echo Studio apart is its ability to stream high-quality, detailed HD, and 3D music from Amazon Music HD.
Because this speaker packs a serious sonic punch, it’s great for linking with your TV audio or for use in large spaces. Echo Studio even analyzes your room’s acoustics and adjusts for optimal sound. You can find similar (and potentially higher caliber, more complex) sound quality from a brand like Sonos, but if you want powerful bass and all-consuming sound, the Echo Studio should be a top contender.
For the apartment-dweller: Google Home Max
No matter your living situation, the Google Home Max will help ensure that your sound quality is optimal for your space. Programmed to intelligently adjust its equalizer settings to fit its surroundings (say, if it’s positioned directly against a wall or in a small space), this speaker saves you the hassle of troubleshooting its placement in your home. Just set it up — horizontally or vertically — and let it play. Without lifting a finger, you can be sure that it’s adapting to provide you with the best listening experience possible.
You can conveniently install and operate Google Home Max via the Google Home app. However, it’s worth noting that this speaker will demand slightly more space than others on this list, as it measures 13 inches by seven inches.
For the aesthetically conscious: Apple Homepod
Between its rich bass, high-definition audio, and compact, streamlined design, this smart speaker looks as good as it sounds. It’s available in sleek color schemes of either dark grey or white and stands a little more than six inches high. The Homepod provides users with a rich listening experience that can be controlled through other Apple devices (including Apple TV) or Siri commands.
While the Homepod is only directly compatible with Apple Music and Pandora at the moment, Apple has teased at integrating Amazon Music and iHeart Radio into its device. Until then, third-party app users can use AirPlay to stream their audio. With that in mind, this is an excellent pick for anyone who’s an Apple loyalist, but it might not be as good a fit for someone who doesn’t already use the rest of Apple’s suite of hardware.
Things to consider as you shop
While familiarity and space are important decision-making factors, also keep in mind that smart speakers connect in different ways, from Bluetooth, to Wi-Fi, to being hardwired into a power outlet, and often a combination of all three. If you’ll be connecting through Wi-Fi, make sure you have fast, reliable internet that’s ready to support a new streaming device so you can listen without interruption.
Product availability and features may have changed and are subject to change. Additional subscription fees are required for music streaming services and other features.
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