The idea of talking to a digital assistant was not completely new when Amazon first introduced it. The first step toward making something like a constant presence in your home was taken by Amazon with the introduction of the echo. Since then, Apple and Google have followed suit, and now there are a lot of different smart speakers to choose from.

The drawbacks of having a device that always listens for a wake word have become more apparent as the market exploded. Private recordings can be sent back to the companies to be analyzed. It can be a questionable decision to give more personal information to companies like Apple and Amazon. You can opt out of humans reviewing some of your voice queries, and it's less complicated to manage and erase your history with various digital assistants, as a result of all these companies making it easier to manage how your data is used.

There's never been a better time to buy a smart speaker, especially if you like music. The original Amazon and Google Home devices sounded bad. They made great sounding speakers, but they didn't have any voice controlled smarts.

It's all different now. The latest speakers from the company include support for both Amazon's voice assistant and the internet search engine. The sound quality of recent speakers was vastly improved by Amazon. The lower-end models sound better than they did previously. There are more options now that these speakers are popular. We will walk through the best choices at different prices.

Picking an assistant

The first thing people should do is choose a voice assistant. New features are added at a steady clip as the options continue to evolve. There were more smart home devices a few years ago, but at the moment, any smart device worth buying works with both.

It's a matter of preferences. It makes sense to keep using the Google Assistant on your phone. Even though it isn't as good at answering general knowledge questions, it's still compatible with things like calendars from your Google account. It works with a wide range of smart home devices. If you haven't used either of them before, you can download their apps to your phone and try them out before buying a speaker.

Now that Apple has discontinued the larger HomePod, you will be surprised to know that the only other compatible speaker on the market is Apple's HomePod mini. It has a reputation for not being as smart as other voice assistants, but it is capable of handling common voice queries like answering questions, controlling smart home devices, sending messages, and playing music. It's not hard to find compatible gear if you want to use HomeKit with more than one smart home device. The new Intercom tool is one of the new features that Apple has added. Apple Music is not the only music service that Apple is supporting. Currently, there is only one other option, but Apple has confirmed that Amazon Music will be compatible with the HomePod mini as well.

Best smart speaker under $50: Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot 2020

The entry point into the smart speaker world will be inexpensive. There are two important reasons why you should start with Amazon's fourth-generation echo dot and GOOGLE's nest mini. The cost of the Nest Mini and the Echo Dost is less than $50. They are capable. The speakers are similar to larger and more expensive devices.

Buy Echo Dot at Amazon - $50 Buy Nest Mini at Walmart - $50

The Nest Mini was released in the late 19th century. The best small smart speaker for most people is the echo dot. The audio quality of the Echo line is continually improved. It produces better audio than a $50 speaker would. The Nest Mini is fine for listening in the bedroom while getting ready for the day, but it is not a good all-purpose music listening device.

From a design point of view, Amazon did a great job with the latest echo dot The new dot is shaped like a globe instead of a puck. The larger it is, the more room it has for high-end audio components. The buttons for volume and mute are located on the top of the dot. Physical buttons make it easier to adjust volume and mute the mic in the Dot. If you tap the middle of the device, the music stops.

The 3.5mm audio out jack on the Echo Dot makes it easier to upgrade the audio quality of your speakers. You can ask Amazon to stream music when you do that, and it will output to your speakers. It will help you get more mileage out of the dot. People who want to keep their counter or shelf clear can use the wall mount from the nest mini. If you want a speaker that can be hidden, the Nest Mini is probably the better choice since the Echo Dot is not suited to this.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Nest Mini, even though the Dot is the better choice for most people. If you feel the same as I do, you should get the Nest Mini and use the same method as me. If you plan to listen to audio on a regular basis, you should go with the Dot. Pick your favorite assistant and go from there if you only plan to use it for a short song or a show when you get ready in the morning.

Best smart speaker under $100: Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

Amazon, Apple, and GOOGLE all have $100 smart speakers. All three companies claim superior audio quality, so for lots of people these speakers will be the best choice between smaller speakers like the Nest Mini and larger speakers like the Sonos One.

Buy Echo at Amazon - $100 Buy HomePod mini at B&H - $100 Buy Nest Audio at Walmart - $100

Amazon has punched above its weight before. The new Echo was designed with music in mind. The setup is more advanced than either the Nest Audio or the HomePod mini. The Nest Audio uses a three-inch woofer and only a single 0.75-inch tweeter, while the HomePod mini uses a single full-range driver and two passive radiators.

In practice, this means that the Echo is much louder and better suited to fill a large room than the other two products. Powerful mid-range frequencies are also delivered. My main complaint is that highs aren't crisp enough. The one that sounds more lively is the One and the one that comes off a bit muddy is the echo. The Sonos One is more expensive than the Echo.

Apple's speakers are not bad options if you want a good sound on volume and bass. The quietest of the three speakers is the HomePod mini, but it still sounds great. The bass is not assertive but there is more presence than I would have expected because it is the smallest speaker.

It has a few nice perks if you use an older phone. The U1 chip in the recent iPhones makes it easy to give music from your phone to the speaker. If the speaker isn't currently playing, your phone's lock screen will show music suggestions if the speaker isn't playing at the time. If you bring an Apple device near the speaker, it will start the process.

The audio is pleasant to listen to. It is louder and has better bass than the mini. The speaker for $100 is a well balanced speaker that should serve most people's needs.

If you want more volume or a moreimmersing experience, all three of these speakers can be used. TwoEchoes will fill a large room with high-quality sound and enough bass to power a party. It makes for a great upgrade if you want to listen to music more often. I had a pair of mini speakers on my desk. I like the stereo separation and don't need a lot of volume. Two of those speakers can easily power a larger living space if volume is a priority.

Picking the assistant that works best in your house and with your other gadgets is probably the most important factor, but I think it's the best smart speaker at this price point.

If you have a lot of interest in music, the Echo Dot and Nest Mini aren't going to do you much good. One of the best decisions I've made is spending more money to upgrade to a speaker with audio in mind. For a long time, I didn't have a proper home music solution, but the modest investment has made my life better.

I used to recommend the $219 Sonos One. It hits a sweet spot of size and convenience, and it's a huge upgrade in sound quality over the smaller ones. It supports a huge variety of music services, and can be used with either the Google Assistant or the Amazon voice assistant. If you use the app to tune the speaker to your room, it will sound great. It takes just a few minutes to make the One sound great.

Buy Sonos One at Sonos - $219 Buy Echo Studio at Amazon - $200

The echo studio is a $200 smart speaker that can stand up against the olso one The bang-for-the-buck factor is very high with the Echo Studio, even though it is larger than nearly every other speaker. You can do multi-room playback with other Echo speakers or set up two Studios in a stereo pair if you're into that. If you need a smart home hub, it has a built in one here.

There are a few unique features for music lovers in the echo studio If you sign up for Amazon's hi-def music service, you will be able to play a limited selection of songs in Sony's virtual reality audio format. It may sound great, but the selection is so sparse that we can't recommend it as a reason to buy into the echo studio A speaker like the Sonos One has a more traditional forward-firing design, but the Echo Studio has a five speaker design that gives a more 3D effect.

It is a candidate for a home theater setup, but only works with Amazon's own Fire TV devices. It's weird to use a single speaker for watching movies, but it's not the best experience. We haven't been able to get that setup yet.

The speaker shines when used with a high-definition streaming service like Amazon Music HD or Tidal's Hifi tier. If you want to stick with Apple Music, the Studio still sounds great, even though you'll pay for those.

The studio is comparable to the one in terms of pure audio quality, but it has a few advantages over the one. The One is a speaker that supports voice commands. It's probably the way to go if you're a fan of the search engine. The speakers work with more than one music service. I spend a lot of time comparing the One to the Echo Studio, and I go back and forth on which is better. I know a lot of people who find the opposite to be true, including my colleague Billy Steele who finds the opposite to be true as well.

If you have a small home and don't want to worry about multi-room playing, the Echo studio is a good choice. If you're interested in building out a multi-room setup over time, Sonos has a greater variety of speakers for that purpose. Either way, you will end up with a setup that will make you cringe.

Sonos Play 5

There is only so much you can get out of the speakers. One of the best pure music speakers is the Sonos Five. It sounds better than any other speaker and has all the conveniences of the One. It sounds better than the other two.

Buy Sonos Five at Sonos - $549

Our definition of a smart speaker is stretched because it doesn't have a voice assistant. It's so good at music that it's worth getting one along with an echo dot or nest mini You can use voice commands to control the Five just like you would a dedicated assistant device. It is easier to recommend this speaker because it was refreshed last spring with a new wireless radio and a faster processor. It should work with future software updates for a long time.

Since we're talking about the best, I'm going to recommend that you buy two Five speakers and pair them with a Stereo system. It's the most enjoyable experience I've had listening to music in a long time, I found myself picking up new details while listening to albums I've heard over and over again If you're a music fan, it's worth the money. I did not know what I was missing until I tried the five.

Best portable smart speaker: Sonos Roam

Sonos Roam portable speaker outside, standing vertically on a wooden railing.

Many people will be happy with a few speakers strategically placed throughout their home, but you may want something that works outside as well. It is possible to find speakers that have voice controls and strong music performance. It's hard to beat the Sonos Roam for its flexibility and audio quality.

Buy Sonos Roam at Sonos - $179

The Roam works the same as any other speaker in the house. It's compatible with an existing multi-room Sonos setup. It supports almost all major music services and works with either the Amazon or the Google Assistant. It's small and not as clear as the Sonos One, but it still packs a surprising bass thump and distinct highs.

Since it was designed with on-the-go usage in mind, the Roam has a battery and is able to be used far away from the internet. It's easy to take it around the house and out and about because it's small. You shouldn't worry about taking the speaker to the pool or beach because it is dust and drop resistant.

You can get about 10 hours of battery life on the Roam. If you really want to push the battery, you might be better served by a portable speaker that lasts more time.

The Move is one of the portable options. When you are away from home, it is a full-fledged Sonos speaker and can be used with a wireless device. It is larger and more expensive than the Roam. It is loud and has better audio quality than all the other speakers, but it is not something you can carry with you. I liked having a speaker that I could carry around the house and out to my porch, but the Roam does that in a smaller package. If you want a high-quality speaker for a living room, The Move is a good option.

If we didn't mention all of the solid portable speakers out there that have limited smart features or none at all, we would be missing out on something. Some of our favorites that support smart voice commands come from Bose. The SoundLink Flex has an IP67 design that's roughly the size of a small clutch bag, which makes it a good choice if you're looking for a smart home device. It works well with other speakers for stereo sound.

Since the Bose portable smart speaker can connect to the internet and play music, you can ask your assistant to play music from services like Amazon Music and others. It has an IPX4 design with a convenient carry handle and will last up to 12 hours on a single charge.