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Put Your Ear to the Best Smart Speakers, According to Reviewers

The Boss 93 October 5, 2020
Illustration for article titled Put Your Ear to the Best Smart Speakers Worth Buying, According to Reviewers
Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo

I’m nostalgic for many things old tech. I miss the Game Boy Advance SP’s nifty clamshell design. I long for my Motorola Droid’s slide-out keyboard, despite the fact I’m probably faster at typing on my touch screen at this point.

Far from my list of most missed tech are the days before controlling my speaker from my phone. Having an iPod tied to a home stereo via tattered aux cables was fine, but it meant you couldn’t really move around too much, lest you risk being too far to change the song before everyone hears your most guilty pleasures blasting at 11. Luckily, with new wireless protocols like Bluetooth speakers and AirPlay or Chromecast, your smartphone can control all your favorite bops without the mess of cables. Take it a step further and you’ll wind up with a smart speaker, a voice-controlled jukebox linked to all your music services for maximum tunes.

There’s plenty to choose from, though, and it can be a big investment from both a price and an ecosystem lock-in standpoint, so you really should take the time to make sure you’re getting the one that hits the right marks for you. We did the dirty work and found the best ones you can get right now, according to our friends at Gizmodo, with a little help from Amazon reviews.

By the way, if you’re looking to snag an affordable smart speaker duo for your home, Amazon’s newly-released redesigned Echo Dot speakers are available in a 2-for-$80 bundle, saving you $20 over buying two at the normal price. Just use the promo code DOT2PACK at checkout.

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The All-Star: Sonos One

Sonos One | $200 | Amazon
Sonos One | $200 | Amazon
Photo: Raul Marrero (Gizmodo

If you’re stuck between Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, the second-generation Sonos One comes with both built-in so you don’t have to choose right away. On top of that, it also sounds great. In a 2018 showdown, Gizmodo ranked it among the best sounding smart speakers, praising it for its well-balanced sound capable of filling a room. Marry that to the two best voice assistants on the market, and you’ve got a pretty unbeatable combo. Speaking of combos, you can pair a couple of these speakers together for maximum tuneage.

The Budget Player: Google Nest Audio

Illustration for article titled Put Your Ear to the Best Smart Speakers Worth Buying, According to Reviewers
Image: Gizmodo/Andrew Liszewski

Looking for a capable smart speaker that won’t break your budget? Google’s newly-released Nest Audio is the best you can get for just under $100, delivering a significant aural upgrade over other smart speakers in this price range. It’s not going to beat dedicated bookshelf speakers, but Gizmodo’s Andrew Liszewski says it’s a marked improvement over the earlier Google Home:

“Knowing what’s going on under the hood, I’m still surprised at how good the old Google Home sounds, but the Google Nest Audio does a much better job at pumping out cleaner, crisper, room-filling sound that’s more natural, particularly on the lower end. The clever tricks used to make the Google Home sound as large as it did came with compromises; the bass felt a little artificial and overly boosted. But with the new Google Nest Audio it’s hard to complain about the device’s larger footprint when the dual speakers sound so much better.”

The Google Assistant feels snappier than in past speakers, too, although it still doesn’t play friendly with Apple Music. You can get around that by playing music via Bluetooth from your phone, however. That’s a small concession, though, and the price is certainly right for a great, affordable smart speaker.

The Brainiac: Google Home Max

Google Home Max | $300 | Best Buy
Google Home Max | $300 | Best Buy
Photo: Gizmodo

If you need a speaker that’s as good for controlling your lights and answering trivia as it is for shuffling through your favorite playlists, you should buy a Google Home Max. At $300, it’s not cheap, but for you’re money you’re getting the smartest voice assistant available according to this article last year over at Gizmodo. You can speak to the assistant from any Google device, like an Android phone or a Chromebook. If you want to control your music while you’re strutting about your apartment during your regularly scheduled weekend deep clean, this is the way to do it. And since the Home Max can get pretty loud, it’s good to know you won’t have to shout just to change tracks. Although, Gizmodo notes that this speaker is quite bass-heavy, if that’s a concern.

For those who don’t mind skipping the extra decibels, there’s the Nest Hub, which keeps all the smarts of the Home Max, but trades the high volumes for a big ol’ display you can use for showcasing your best family photos, or showcasing recipes and how-to videos as you work. At $90, it’s a lot cheaper than the Home Max, so it’s just a matter of how loud you like to crank the volume (but please, take care of your ears).

All About the Connections: Amazon Echo Studio

Amazon Echo Studio | $200 | Amazon
Amazon Echo Studio | $200 | Amazon
Image: Amazon

If it were available, this section would be about the regular Amazon Echo, so if you can find it, snag that one instead. Until then, the next step up, the Echo Studio, is still available.

Like the Echo, the Echo Studio comes with Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant, which means you’ll get more capabilities than Apple’s Siri-powered HomePod, but fewer than Google Assistant. That said, Alexa’s integrated with a ton of smart home products, and if you’re already invested in the Amazon ecosystem, it might be more cost-effective to just upgrade your existing speakers. The Studio might be costly, but it’s cheaper than Google’s comparable Home Max. And with five speakers inside, it gets plenty loud.

Fair warning, though: some early reviews noted issues with this speaker’s music playback, and there are valid privacy concerns you may want to into consideration before hitting that buy button.

Music to Your Ears: Apple HomePod

Apple HomePod | $300 | Best Buy
Apple HomePod | $300 | Best Buy
Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo

If you’re absolutely tied to iOS or macOS, and certain you’re going to stay within the Apple ecosystem, you may want to consider the Apple HomePod. According to Adam Clark Estes over at Gizmodo, the HomePod is fine for Apple die-hards, but just isn’t that useful for most people. The Sonos offers better sound, and you’ll get more smarts out of Google Assistant or Alexa.

Still, the HomePod isn’t a bad sounding speaker if you’re serious about your music. In his review, Estes says the HomePod’s sound is comparable to the Sonos One, though Apple’s speaker has a slight advantage in the bass and treble departments, and its mids leave something to be desired. Aside from that, Estes says there isn’t much utility to be found in the HomePod you can’t find elsewhere, so maybe skip this one unless you’re all-in on Apple.