Let us start by defining what a smart speaker is. Even on sites that are selling them, they seem to get it rather confused at times. And that doesn’t fill you with a whole load of confidence when they don’t even know their products. However, that is another debate.
Tell it what to do…
Simply put, it is a speaker that accesses the internet and responds to your voice commands. It will find your information and stream music. It can control automation in the home and even communicate with similarly equipped devices. However, it doesn’t bring your tea and biscuits, so a human is still better.
There is a growing list of options for this new technology. And it has to be said; some are very impressive speakers. Some are now even acting as a form of central intelligence operation in the home.
Scary as that may sound, it can have huge advantages. So, let’s take a look at what’s on offer with our in-depth roundup of the Best Smart Speakers on the market today…
- 1 Top 8 Best Smart Speakers to Purchase in 2021 Reviews
- 1.1 1 Marshall Uxbridge – Best Alexa Smart Speaker
- 1.2 2 Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4 – Loudest Smart Speaker
- 1.3 3 Bose Home Speaker 500 – Best Bluetooth Smart Speaker
- 1.4 4 Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) – Best Budget Smart Speaker
- 1.5 Manual controls…
- 1.6 5 Marshall Stanmore II Wireless – Best Value for the Money Smart Speaker
- 1.7 6 Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 2nd Gen – Best Waterproof Smart Speaker
- 1.8 7 Amazon Echo Studio – Best High Fidelity Smart Speaker
- 1.9 8 Sonos One (Gen 2) – Best Voice Assistant Smart Speaker
- 2 Best Smart Speakers Buying Guide
- 3 Need Some Great Speakers?
- 4 What are the Best Smart Speakers?
Top 8 Best Smart Speakers to Purchase in 2021 Reviews
1 Marshall Uxbridge – Best Alexa Smart Speaker
Let’s start with a rather well-known name from the musical world. Anybody that knows anything about guitar amps will know the name Marshall. If you don’t, they created amps and cabinets that changed music forever.
“How much is that doggie in the Window” became “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Named after towns close to their original shop in West London, this is the Marshall Uxbridge Home Voice Speaker.
Designed for music…
It certainly is, and you won’t be surprised. It has been designed to do what the amps and cabinets do. Give you a thundering sound with powerful bass and screaming highs. A sound that is typical “Marshall.”
It even resembles something that Pete Townshend once smashed up. Additionally, it is quite compact, measuring 5.04 by 4.84 by 6.61 inches and weighing just three pounds. Therefore, it is one of the best portable smart speakers currently available.
What will it do?
Well, most things. You can ask it to play whatever music you want or even ask it to make suggestions. And it will turn up the volume or, of course, or down with a simple command.
You can get answers and ask it to give you reminders about tasks you need to do. And as we hinted earlier, it can control other smart devices in the home. It will dim the lights, get the latest news, check the weather or what’s on TV. Endless. But it doesn’t make tea.
Some simple sound controls…
You don’t get much because it does it all itself. But you can manually fine-tune the sound to suit you and the room you are in. This is done using the buttons on the top of the speaker.
You can expand its use by creating a multi-room system. Plus, you can play different songs in each room or have them all playing the same. You can start with one speaker then build it up with others over time.
Connections are via WiFi, Bluetooth, Airplay 2, or Spotify. Please note that this is not battery-powered and will need to connect to the mains. It comes with a mains lead, a guide to getting started, and legal information.
A great little speaker with brilliant design and at an attractive price.
- A great design and sound.
- Plenty of options using Alexa.
- Setup is not as easy as it could be.
2 Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4 – Loudest Smart Speaker
If you are looking for a smart speaker that looks a part of its generation, then this from Harman Kardon fits the bill. Looking like it should be pointed out into space searching for extraterrestrial life forms; the styling is impressive.
An iconic design, but…
It has a strong build using an attractive black fabric and robust black plastic. It measures 13 by 12.5 by 8.5 inches and weighs 4.5 pounds, and this is what some might see as a problem.
At that size and weight, it sacrifices its portability for its design. It takes up quite a bit of space, and you won’t be sharing many experiences outside of the house. Not the sort of speaker that is going to live happily being moved around too much.
Yes, it is quite large and is reasonably heavy and a bit awkward to move. But it does have a saving grace and does something very well indeed. And that is the sound. It is loud and has a very impressive quality to it.
As a result, this is one of the best music streaming smart speakers on the market. It is certainly a lot louder than most other speakers of this kind. And it is a very good sound that is going to fill the room.
You can access Siri or Google with a simple push of a button from the speaker. Configuration is via the Harman Kardon app. Although, the controls are another area where they could have done a bit better.
It hasn’t got a remote, and controls on the unit are sparse. Volume and battery levels are checked via your phone through the app. If for some reason, you cannot access the app, then there is no control.
This is another area where the performance level is below what you might hope for. The claim is for eight hours. But when used at any volume at all, it is way below that. The battery, though, is rechargeable. A nice attractive speaker with a great sound. But there are one or two little hassles with it.
- A very nice design and well-built.
- Powerful and clear sound with lots of bottom end.
- Heavy to carry around, and the battery life is not so good.
3 Bose Home Speaker 500 – Best Bluetooth Smart Speaker
Founded in 1964, Bose is a well-known name in the audio world. They build a range of upper-middle-class audio systems that usually incorporates the latest technology.
They are best known for the quality of their sound and their innovative designs. The Bose Home Speaker 500 is one of those designs. If you want one of the best premium smart speakers around, this deserves a closer look.
It is certainly different. Looking down on it from above, it has an oval shape which is an interesting design idea. It measures 4.31 by 6.68 by 8.01 inches and weighs 4.65 pounds.
The grille built into the design extends all around the speaker. This also is an interesting design feature as it gives a stereo-like sound from a single speaker. Placed in the top half of the front, there is a color screen. This offers information on the status of the current status of the speaker.
You can pair your device to this speaker via the Bluetooth connection to play your favorite playlists. You can also use WiFi, Apple AirPlay2, or Spotify Connect.
Alexa and Google assistant are built-in. There is a microphone system inside that will listen in every direction for your voice. With Alexa, you can take or make calls to anyone on your contacts list with hands and phone-free operation.
This is a member of what they call the Bose family. You can hook it up to other Bose speakers or soundbars to improve the listening experience.
Whilst this speaker enjoys voice-activated control; there are two other ways you can issue commands. Firstly through the Bose Music app or secondly, via the preset controls. There are six one-touch controls located on the top of the speaker.
Setup with easy-to-follow prompts is also performed through the Bose app. A good system with a good sound, but a little expensive, some might think.
- A nice attractive design with a color screen.
- Gives a very good stereo-like sound.
- Some might find it expensive.
4 Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) – Best Budget Smart Speaker
Some people are attracted by the good looks of the speaker. Others by performance and some by extra features. It is not often you get a speaker with all three. This one has, which must make it a contender to be one of the Best Smart Speakers.
The 4th Generation…
This version has seen quite a design change from the previous versions. The spherical shape adds a nice style and certainly takes up a lot less space than some. Measuring 3.9 x 3.9 x 3.5 inches and weighing just 12 ounces, it could be called compact.
Besides the great new design, it now has an LED clock display. You can set alarms and timers, and most importantly, it has snooze control.
The icing on the cake for us is the lighting ring at the bottom of the speaker. This goes right around the base and displays some nice pastel shades. Inside there is a 1.6-inch front-firing speaker. This packs quite a punch despite the speaker’s small size. The amount of warm bass and crisp high frequencies is impressive.
You can hook up with Alexa to ask questions. Or play music, check the weather, and just about anything else you would need to know.
Its uses extend to working with other smart products in the home. This could be using your voice to change the room temperature, switch on or dim lights and even lock doors.
Looking after your house…
Using the Alexa app, you can set up Alexa Guard for free. This is a valuable system that will send you alerts if there is a problem at home while you are away. This could be a smoke alarm or even the sound of breaking glass.
A few years ago a novelty, now something that is standard and we accept without thinking. Calls can be made via voice command. For children’s safety, you can set up numbers they are allowed to call. Other requests will be rejected.
These are located on the top of the speaker. There is an operational button, volume up and down and a mic shut off. On the back, a 3.5 aux line out and a power port.
And the best part? The price point. For what you are getting with this speaker, it is great value for money.
- Great looks and design with clock and lighting ring.
- Plenty of manual and voice control activity.
- As with most upgrades, some will prefer the predecessor.
5 Marshall Stanmore II Wireless – Best Value for the Money Smart Speaker
Back we go to Marshall for another speaker. This one was named after another town not far from the original base, Stanmore.
When making their speakers, they have tried to stay close to the design of the amps and cabinets they are famous for. Apart from one or two design aberrations, that is what they are known for. This is a good example of a good strong build, with a black vinyl covering. But also a speaker grille that looks like it could have been designed for one of their cabinets.
But the most significant look is the control panel located on the top. The brushed gold finish, the control knobs, and even the lettering. They indicate it’s a Marshall.
It isn’t small either, measuring 13.78 by 7.68 by 7.28 and weighing ten and a half pounds. There are LED lights on the front and a Mute control, and some strong rubber feet on the bottom. This has also got a 3.55 aux input which is something not all speakers have.
Under the bonnet…
This is a loud one. Two 15 watt class D amps that power the tweeters. A huge 50 watt Class D amp driving the subwoofer. If you want volume, then you’ve got it. This is one of the most powerful smart speakers you can buy.
The Voice assistant can still hear you even when you’re pumping it out. The built-in far-field mics will pick you up wherever you stand. But it’s not only the volume.
The sound is sensational…
The woofer drives out the bottom end while the tweeters take care of the mids and the top end. It gives a frequency response of 50 – 20,000Hz. The result is one of the best bass smart speakers currently out there.
The sound can be set up to your personal preference. You can use either the controls on the top of the speaker or through the Marshall app. It connects to your WiFi.
Control without lifting a finger…
It is easy to set up, and then you can use the app for just about everything. The usual Alexa operations apply, so you can sit back and use your voice to activate what you need. A great little speaker with a sound you won’t believe from a portable speaker, but it isn’t cheap.
Please note. Alexa and Google Assistant are not available on the same speaker. Marshall sells different versions of this speaker depending on which voice assistant you prefer.
- A good solid build with the Marshall look in the design.
- A quality of sound you rarely hear from a portable speaker, and very loud.
- The price will scare some away.
6 Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 2nd Gen – Best Waterproof Smart Speaker
When we were younger, if you had a music system by Bang and Olufsen, then you had to be rich. They were unique, space-age designs with unbelievable sound, and they were very expensive. Not quite the same these days, of course. But the sound is still great from whatever they produce.
An interesting circular, domed design. Measuring just 5.5 across by 1.1-inch high and weighing only ten ounces, it is easy to carry around with you. It is made from brushed aluminum and a double-molded polymer with attractive styling. But it is still strong enough to be used on the move.
Furthermore, it has an IP67 rating which makes it dustproof and waterproof. It can survive being underwater for about half an hour. The fish are gonna love it.
The sound is exceptional for a speaker that is so small. But with B & O, we shouldn’t be surprised. Nice depth to the bass without it being oppressive. The sounds are rich and warm with a clear top end. It has a domed shape which helps with the dispersion of sound.
There is an Alexa voice assistant built-in. The mics are far-field design, so they will pick up your requests easily. There is a three microphone setup that also gives excellent call performance.
This is also one of the first speakers to have “Wake Word” technology. Set a word, and up to three hours after use, you can wake it up with your voice and turn it on.
One big plus for this speaker is the battery life. So often, they can be disappointing but not here. At a normal listening volume, you can expect 18 hours of use; at lower volumes, that can rise to over 40 hours. This makes it one of the best battery life smart speakers on the market. The battery is rechargeable, and you get a USB-A to USB-C cable.
A little confused…
Around the outer edge are some basic controls. No problem with that, good idea. But there is a USB port without a cover of some kind. If this is designed to be safe near water, it is not protected. What happens if water gets in? Just a thought. Getting towards being a little expensive but a great sounding speaker.
- Nice, well-made design.
- Very good sounds and easy-to-use controls.
- The USB port without a flap might be a problem.
7 Amazon Echo Studio – Best High Fidelity Smart Speaker
This is another interesting design idea from Amazon. But if you think this is built just for appearance, you would be wrong.
What is inside?
The built inside is only part of what matters with this speaker. Keep in mind that this speaker is only 8.1 inches high by 6.9 inches wide. In that space, they have packed an array of five, count ’em, five speakers.
There is a two-inch right-firing and a two-inch left-firing speaker, both mid-range. Another two-inch mid-range speaker firing upward and a one-inch forward-firing tweeter. Add on a powerful 5.25-inch downward-firing woofer with a bass aperture. You have certainly got a big sound system.
And if all that is not guaranteed to give you a great sound, it has built-in Dolby Atmos to add extra space and clarity. The sound then is exceptional. But it excels in other areas as well.
This speaker will assess your room and adapt its sound to suit. It will automatically sense the state of the acoustics where you are using it. It will then fine-tune the sound to make sure you get the best it can give. As a result, this is one of the best sounding smart speakers you can buy.
Voice assistant and more…
We have Alexa, of course. So accessing music, getting the latest news, and the answers to just about anything you need is standard. But it does more than that.
It can operate as a hub for your smart devices in your home. Dim the lights, set alarms, get sports updates, and so on. It can even keep everyone in the house informed of what is going on. All using drop-in announcements.
An impressive speaker. Not the cheapest, but with its sound and its features must be considered as one of the Best Smart Speakers.
- Interesting design features and packed with great sound options.
- Plenty of Voice-activated options.
- Quite expensive if all you want is a basic assistant.
8 Sonos One (Gen 2) – Best Voice Assistant Smart Speaker
To finish up, a speaker not dissimilar in design to the last we looked at. It is possible to get a range of smart speakers that have Alexa. Others have Google Assistant. Sometimes you have to choose between them. Not with the Sonos One.
This speaker gives you the option of using which one you want. It is not possible to run them at the same time. But you can switch between them easily. Therefore, it is one of the most versatile smart speakers available.
The voice commands…
Sometimes it can be a problem with some speakers. With the Sonos, the far-field mic array hears your voice. Even from the other side of the room over music or anything else playing at the time. It has a built-in mute system controlled by hardware. When the indicator light for the mic is off, the speaker isn’t listening.
A bit of a drawback…
Unfortunately, this speaker does not feature Bluetooth. That means you cannot take the speaker away from your WiFi at home and use it wirelessly. It also means that Android devices must use the Sonos app. Possibly a minor issue for some.
It remains a good system with support for just about every major music streaming site. And they can all be controlled from the app on your phone, PC, or tablet. And of course, this is a Sonos speaker, so the sound is going to be good.
- Nice design with easy-to-use controls and a good sound.
- A choice of voice assistants.
- No Bluetooth.
Best Smart Speakers Buying Guide
There are a few options to consider when you go to buy your smart speaker. These are important because they may impact what you want to do with it and how you intend to use it.
Which Voice Assistant?
A choice between Alexa and Google Assistant. You may have a preferred assistant. In which case, you can select the speaker with that connection. If you are unsure which to choose, some speakers can connect to both.
Will it be a permanent fixed fixture?
Are you planning to move it from room to room? If so, it needs to be portable and not too large. If not, and used in just one room, then the size is less of an issue.
Do you need an aux input?
There could be an occasion when you might. Some speakers are fitted with an aux input, but it is worth checking first as they don’t all carry one.
Subjective, of course, each person has a different view of what sounds good. But if the sound is important to you, then it is worth spending some time looking at that. If you are going to be playing a lot of music, then a good sound will be important.
We have looked at some speakers that have a great sound, as well as a powerful output with deep bass and crisp highs. Unfortunately, they do tend to cost a little more.
This brings us to the cost. Smart speakers can get quite pricey, so setting yourself a budget is always a good idea. There are some great bargains to be had, but it will depend on what you want from your speaker.
Some Final Thoughts
Your connection will be important. Some have Bluetooth; some don’t. If the speaker you choose has Bluetooth, you do get a certain amount of freedom to take it with you.
No Bluetooth means you are relying on WiFi at home. That won’t be a problem with some people. And finally, some have some nice extras. A clock is always useful so you can set alarms, etc.
Need Some Great Speakers?
Thankfully, we have some awesome speakers to choose from. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best In Ceiling Speakers, the Loudest Portable Bluetooth Speakers, the Best Computer Speakers Under $100, and the Best Wireless TV Speakers you can buy in 2021.
And don’t miss our comprehensive Marshall Stanmore II Wireless Bluetooth Review, our Marshall Stockwell 2 Review, our JBL Flip 3 Review, our Oontz Angle 3 Ultra Review, our Bose SoundLink Color II Review, and our Sennheiser HD1 Free Bluetooth Wireless Review for more amazing items currently available.
What are the Best Smart Speakers?
Plain and simple, with Alexa, but it is the sound that is important, followed by the design. We like a few of these. The Echo Dot is a nice speaker, and it has a clock. The B & O for their simple design and sound.
But, we would choose the…
A big powerful sound out of something that could have been on stage with The Who or dozens of others.
Until next time, happy listening.