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The best smart speakers: Sonos, Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, and more compared

ZDNET tested the top smart speakers to help you decide which option is best for your home's sound and smart systems.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer and  Lena Borrelli, Contributing Writer
Reviewed by Nina Raemont
Sonos Era 100 | Best smart speaker overall
Sonos Era 100
Sonos Era 100
Best smart speaker overall
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Amazon Echo Show 8 | Best smart speaker for Alexa
Amazon Echo Show 8 on kitcken counter
Amazon Echo Show 8
Best smart speaker for Alexa
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Echo Pop Kids | Best smart speaker for Kids
Echo Pop Kids
Echo Pop Kids
Best smart speaker for Kids
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Apple HomePod Mini | Best smart speaker for Siri
HomePod mini turned on with white light
Apple HomePod Mini
Best smart speaker for Siri
View now View at B&H Photo-Video
Amazon Echo (4th Gen) | Best compact smart speaker
Amazon Echo Dot 4th Gen
Amazon Echo (4th Gen)
Best compact smart speaker
View now View at Amazon
Google Nest Hub Max | Best smart speaker display for Google Home
google-nest-hub-max
Google Nest Hub Max
Best smart speaker display for Google Home
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Gone are the days when a speaker's only function was to play music. While there is still an array of quality speakers whose primary purpose is premium sound production, the smart speaker market is stocked with models that can simultaneously boost your mood with booming bass and also be a key piece of your smart home setup, even syncing with other smart home devices, setting reminders, and making calls.

Also: The best smart displays

The best smart speakers integrate voice control, easy Wi-Fi connections, and make a nice addition to your space. In fact, our top choice, the Sonos Era 100 is a sleek bookshelf speaker that our testing proved to deliver fantastic clarity and easy voice control. Read on to see how smart speakers from Apple and Amazon stack up after putting them to the test. 

The best smart speakers of 2024

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Sonos voice, Alexa
  • Streaming services
  • Fantastic clarity
Cons
  • Expensive
  • No Google Voice support
More Details

Sonos Era 100 tech specs: Compatibility: Alexa, Sonos | Tweeters: 2 | Woofers: 1 | Dimensions: 7.22 x 5.19 x 4.72 inches

The Sonos Era 100 is a fantastic bookshelf speaker that wins our vote for the overall best smart speaker thanks to its easy Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity with the option to pair your speaker with other Sonos speakers to create a home theater system with Sonos Arc or Beam. 

Either way, you have the simple convenience of voice control with Amazon Alexa, or you can use Apple AirPlay2 or the Sonos app. This speaker is compatible with 80 streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora. Plus, it's compact enough to go anywhere, thanks to a humidity-resistant design that is even fit for the bathroom. 

Review: Sonos Era 100: The best smart speaker for under $300

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Minimizes background noise
  • Built-in smart home hub
  • Spatial Audio
  • Built-in camera
Cons
  • Stand is sold separately
  • Echo Show 8 Photos Edition requires a monthly subscription to incorporate the photo feature
More Details

Amazon Echo Show 8 tech specs: Compatibility: Alexa, Zigbee, Matter, and Thread | Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.5 x 4.2 inches

The Echo Show 8 is Amazon's latest smart speaker and features extensive upgrades from its 2021 version. It includes a new design with a centered camera, an updated processor for faster display interactions, and a smart home hub feature to control all your smart home devices from one place. 

When it comes to the speaker, the Echo Show 8 offers a broader and more immersive sound experience due to its custom-built spatial audio processing technology. The Echo Show 8 not only includes better sound all throughout but also minimizes background noise and senses the acoustics of a room to adjust the noise level. 

You can pre-order the Echo Show 8 for $150, which will begin shipping on October 25. Keep in mind the adjustable Echo Show 8 stand with USB-C charging port is not included with the smart speaker and must be purchased at an additional cost. 

Also coming this fall is the Echo Show 8 Photos Edition for $160, which includes a six-month PhotosPlus subscription that allows you to make your photos and videos the primary content on your display. 

Echo Pop Kids tech specs: Compatibility: Alexa, Amazon Kids+, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy Mesh, and Matter | Dimensions: 4.0 x 3.4 x 3.6 inches

Designed with kids in mind, the Echo Pop Kids is the ultimate smart speaker for children ages 3 to 12. The Echo Pop Kids speaker includes six months of Amazon Kids+, a digital subscription service giving kids access to a wide range of shows, books, podcasts, and games for guided learning. The smart speaker has age-appropriate content for your kids, and you can always count on hearing the clean versions of their favorite songs or receiving kid-friendly responses to an Alexa query. 

The Echo Pop Kids has two designs: Disney Princess and Marvel's Avengers, and with the new "Hey Disney!" feature, kids can receive responses in some of their favorite Disney character voices, such as Mickey, Olaf, Dory, and more. If desired, parents can view activity reports, set daily time limits, and filter content by age through the Amazon Parent Dashboard. 

Also: The best tablets for kids

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Full-bodied sound
  • Excellent response time
  • Convenience features
Cons
  • Some connectivity issues
  • Restricted to Siri
More Details

Apple HomePod Mini tech specs: Compatibility: Apple HomeKit | Dimensions: 3.3 x 3.9 inches

With the Apple HomePod Mini, you can easily connect to your favorite devices with Siri's built-in help. Siri can recognize the difference in each user's voice to offer greater personalization regarding your favorite apps, tunes, and services. Once you pick your song, this speaker provides 360-degree audio, especially when you pair your speaker with other Homepod Minis. Use the intercom feature to check in with family members in different rooms, an incredibly convenient feature at dinnertime. 

Review: The HomePod mini is for Sirious Apple users only

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Excellent bass
  • Powerful smart home hub
  • Affordable
Cons
  • Odd shape
  • Some Alexa quirks
More Details

Amazon Echo (4th Gen) tech specs: Compatibility: Alexa, Siri, Ring | Tweeters: 2 | Woofer: 1 | Dimensions: 5.7 x 5.7 x 5.2 inches 

The Amazon Echo speaker integrates Alexa into your smart speaker and the Zigbee smart home hub to greatly simplify life. There is also a temperature sensor, plus compatibility with Zigbee and Ring Smart Lighting products. Connect to one of several available services, including Sirius XM, Amazon Music, and Apple Music, and hit play. This speaker can adapt to any room, changing the highs and lows to suit its surroundings.

Also: The best Echo speakers

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Convenient design
  • Welcomes multiple users
  • Phenomenal sound
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Lacks night vision
More Details

Google Nest Hub Max tech specs: Compatibility: Google Assistant, Nest, Arlo, Hue, Wink, Ring, SmartThings | Tweeters: 2 | Woofers: 1 | Dimensions: 7.19 x 9.85 x 3.99 inches

Google Nest Hub Max incorporates a 10-inch HD touchscreen that allows you to do so much more than just listen to your favorite audiobook, thanks to the help of Google Assistant. 

The 6.5MP camera allows you to take photos and make video calls with ease. For hands-free use, choose Duo to create video messages or make video calls. Either way, you do not have to sacrifice sound with this smart speaker that incorporates a 30W subwoofer and dual tweeters.

What is the best smart speaker?

I love the Sonos Era 100 smart speaker for its fantastic performance, clear audio, and smart features. It may be among the more expensive smart speakers, but in this case, you get what you pay for with excellent value and reliability.

Here is an overview of each model to see how the best smart speakers compare.

Smart speaker

ZDNET's take

Price

Compatibility

Sonos Era 100

Best smart speaker overall

$250

Alexa, Sonos voice

Amazon Echo Show 8

Best smart speaker for Alexa

$150

Alexa

Echo Pop Kids

Best smart speaker for kids

$50

Alexa

Apple HomePod mini

Best smart speaker for Siri

$100

Siri

Amazon Echo (4th Gen)

Best compact smart speaker

$100

Alexa

Google Nest Hub Max

Best smart speaker display

$230

Google Home

Which is the right smart speaker for you?

Finding the best smart speaker for your needs is not always so easy. Consider my expert recommendations to help you find the right smart speaker for your home or office.  

Choose this best smart speaker...

If you want...

Sonos Era 100

A smart bookshelf speaker. This option blows the rest out of the water in sound quality, but the price tag reflects that.

Amazon Echo Show 8 

An Alexa smart speaker that offers an interactive display, a smart home hub feature, and an immersive sound experience. 

Amazon Echo Pop Kids

A smart speaker for your kids. The Echo Pop Kids allows your kids to wake up with a Disney Princess song, listen to an Avengers-themed story, or even obtain kid-friendly responses to their never-ending questions. 

Apple HomePod mini

An Apple ecosystem, mainly if you already use Apple HomeKit. The HomePod mini is a great-sounding smart speaker for a reasonable price.

Amazon Echo (4th Gen)

A compact way to have a smart speaker with voice control. Be it so you can command Alexa to turn off your lights or turn up the music, the Echo Pop does both.

Google Nest Hub Max

An intelligent speaker display with Google Home, especially if you prefer using the Google smart home system. If you use Android, this is an excellent choice for a smart display and speaker.

How did we choose these smart speakers?

When searching for the best smart speakers, I considered a number of factors.

  • Integrations: The best smart speakers incorporate voice control, whether it is through Apple's Siri or Google Assistant. 
  • Connectivity: The best speakers offer a wireless connection via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. 
  • Size: Not all speakers are easy for on-the-go listening. If you want something that is easily portable, consider a smart speaker of a smaller size that offers a wireless connection.
  • Budget: We know that not everyone shares the same budget, so we look for smart speakers that suit a number of different pricepoints. 

What is a smart speaker and which brands make the most popular ones?

A smart speaker is a type of audio device that combines the functions of a speaker with a virtual assistant and voice control. The most popular brands that make smart speakers are Amazon, Google, Apple, and Sonos.

Amazon's popular smart speaker line is the Amazon Echo, which comes in a variety of sizes and styles, including the Echo Dot, Echo Show, and Echo Studio. These all have Alexa. Meanwhile, Google offers the Google Nest line of speakers with Google Assistant, and Apple's smart speaker range (HomePod) has Siri. Then there is Sonos, which offers premium sound in conjunction with support for popular voice assistants.

This guide tells you which of these smart speakers are worth buying, and what you'll get for your money.

What can you do with a smart speaker?

A smart speaker works like a traditional speaker in that it plays audio content. But that is far from all it does. Smart speakers also feature integrations like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant, and provide access to your favorite streaming apps. You can also use a smart speaker for voice control, phone calls, and even video messages, depending on the smart speaker you choose.

Which smart speaker has free music?

The best smart speakers offer a wireless connection that allows you to connect to a number of programs. Stream from services like Pandora, Apple Music, and SiriusXM, with the cost all depending on which subscription you have.

How much do the best smart speakers cost?

Smart speakers can range significantly in cost, as seen here. The best smart speakers range in cost from $50 to about $250, depending on the model you choose.

Are there alternative smart speakers worth considering?

In our search, we also found these options that almost made our list of the best smart speakers.

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