It’s probably true that many of us get our daily music fix through our phones – either on their own – not ideal, let's face it – or with a decent set of headphones or wired or wireless earbuds. However, when it comes to getting the most from your music and sharing it with others – no, not the neighbours – there’s really only one choice… a cracking smart speaker or two.
No longer is it a pain carting speakers between rooms, with the range from companies including Apple, Amazon and Sonos offering the ultimate in flexibility and the best portable sounds.
But with a wide selection of smart speakers on the market, what should you go for? We’ve hand-picked a selection of our favourites which will hopefully help you find exactly what you’re looking for this summer.
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No matter what you choose, you'll find a voice-assisted speaker extremely useful. It is, after all, a do-it-all gadget that can answer questions, play music (and video), check the weather, control your smart home, manage your daily schedule, make calls and much more besides.
Best smart speakers: The Louder Choice
OK, let's cut to the chase: If you want the best smart speaker on the market right now, we think the Amazon Echo Studio is where it's at. It boats fab sound – which is reflected in the higher price – but it's worth bearing in mind that it comes with the Amazon Alexa right out of the box, and it represents the smart speaker finding a new level of sophistication and power.
If you find yourself leaning more towards Google's ecosystem rather than Amazon's, then take a look at the Google Nest Hub Max. It doesn't offer quite the same sound quality as the Amazon Echo Studio, but it does have a rather nifty screen – and Google Assistant is arguably just ahead of Amazon Echo in terms of understanding and intelligence. A comfortable second place from us.
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How to choose the best smart speaker for you
At the heart of a smart speaker is a digital assistant – Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple's Siri – which is able to respond to voice commands. You can ask it just about anything you like: From what the weather is going to be like next week, what the latest news headlines are, or when the next full moon is etc. Hook up your services, and you can then have them play your favourite music and podcasts, or – if there's a display attached – movies and TV shows.
Choosing the right smart speaker really comes down to which ecosystem you're most heavily invested in: Amazon, Google or Apple. If you're an Amazon Prime subscriber, it really does makes sense to get an Amazon Echo speaker. If all the hardware in your home is made by Apple, then the HomePod is the obvious choice. If you already own Nest cameras and a Nest thermostat, they're going to work best with a smart speaker also made by Google.
That's not to say you can't have several smart speakers dotted around the home featuring different digital assistants – but sticking with Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri will make for the most harmonious smart home.
Once you've decided on that, you can start weighing up other factors such as sound quality, price, and more technical features like audio inputs.
Here are today's best smart speakers
One of the newest entries in the increasingly huge Amazon Echo range, the Echo Studio is aimed at people who want some seriously good sound from their smart speaker – it has five separate speakers built into it, as well as support for Dolby Atmos and music mastered in immersive 3D.
The Amazon Echo Studio is able to adapt its audio output to the room it finds itself in too, making this very much Amazon's HomePod. Add in the magic of Alexa, the always-ready, always-improving digital assistant, and the ability to act as a smart home hub, and it's an excellent all-round package.
The Google Nest Hub Max isn't for everyone, but it's the best smart speaker with Google Assistant on board at the time of writing. That 10-inch display means you can bring up videos, weather forecasts, news bulletins, music playlists and more, besides everything the Assistant does with audio only.
You can cast audio and video to the display from your phone using the Chromecast protocol, and the device even doubles up as a Nest camera (so you can check up on what's happening at home while you're out for your daily walk). The sound quality is very good for a speaker this size, although it's not the best on the market.
The Google Home Max hasn't changed at all since its introduction in October 2017 – unless you count the new features that are regularly added to the Google Assistant software – and we hope Google hasn't forgotten about this speaker. It offers the best sound fidelity of all the speakers with Google Assistant on board.
It's versatile too, with a 3.5 mm line-in port and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as the ability to play songs from your phone over your Wi-Fi network. Google Assistant really impresses, as does the room-filling audio, which is tweaked via machine learning to match your room's acoustics.
If Alexa is the smart assistant for you, and you don't need a display, then get the Amazon Echo Plus. It hits the sweet spot between price, sound quality, and functionality, and is more aesthetically pleasing than ever – yours in charcoal, heather, or sandstone fabric.
Any Echo can control various smart home devices through Alexa and the power of your voice commands over Wi-Fi. What the Echo Plus does is double as a smart home hub running the popular Zigbee protocol, so on top of the Alexa control, you can do away with separate home hubs for Zigbee-compatible kit and just use the Echo Plus instead.
We haven't included the standard Echo in our list as it's so similar to the Echo Plus. If you want to save some money and don't have any other smart hubs to replace, then get the normal Echo instead.
As with pretty much everything made by Apple, the HomePod is a great choice as a smart speaker if you exclusively use Apple hardware and software. However, it's not the best choice if you use anything running Windows or Android – or think you might in the future. That's the way the Apple ecosystem works, so check this works with your existing kit before taking the plunge.
The audio produced by the HomePod is unquestionably fantastic, but Siri isn't quite up to the same standard as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant at the moment. The only 'native' music service you can use – as in, "Hey Siri, play some rock" – is Apple Music: if you want to play anything else such as Spotify, you need to stream it across using AirPlay, which is only available on Apple devices, of course. It works well, though, meaning your library of music will sound fab thanks to the HomePod's top-notch sound quality.
Sonos has long been setting the standard for wireless audio speakers, and the Sonos One speaker introduces support for both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. You can take your pick when it comes to which digital assistant you want to make friends with, and control your tunes with your voice.
All the usual Sonos goodness is here too – powerful, crisp sound, support for a whole host of streaming music services – and Apple's AirPlay 2 standard as well – and simple setup and operation. The perfect choice if you don't want to commit to Amazon or Google or Apple.
Amazon's Echos-with-displays speakers are called Echo Shows – you can get them with 5.5-inch, 8-inch and 10.1-inch screens, so we're going for the middle one here. The bigger and smaller ones offer you slightly more and slightly less screen space respectively, of course, plus slightly worse and slightly better sound.
The Echo Show 8 could well be the sweet spot for most people: You get all the power of Alexa, plus that screen, which can be used for viewing Amazon Prime Video and making video calls to friends and family. The sound is impressive, though other entries in this list beat it in that department.
A smart speaker boiled down to its very essence, the Google Nest Mini brings you all the power of the Google Assistant in a small, perfectly crafted form factor – and four very nice colour options too. If you just want the smarts and are less bothered about the speaker, this is definitely worth considering.
That said, the audio packs more of a punch than you might think: It's fine for listening to a couple of tracks or a podcast while you munch your breakfast or lunch, and it can fill a small room satisfactorily. It's not the smart speaker to pick if you want great audio fidelity, obviously, but it's not going to let you down if you ramp up the volume. Also, for the price, it's hard to beat.
The Echo Dot is Amazon's equivalent of the Google Nest Mini – if you want to get access to everything Alexa can do at the cheapest price point, this is the smart speaker for you. It's affordable enough for you to kit out every room in the house with one, too.
Now in its third-generation, and with the option of an integrated LED clock if you want to pay a little extra, you can rely on the Echo Dot to answer your questions, tell you the weather, play you some music, and much more. It's the least impressive smart speaker in our list in terms of audio oomph, but it's by no means a disaster if you want to quickly listen to podcasts or a couple of songs.