$49 on Google
Google Nest Mini (2nd generation)
The best budget smart speaker
What is the best smart speaker?
Amazon Echo speakers are among the most affordable and easy-to-set-up smart speakers on the market. That’s why the fourth-generation Amazon Echo is our pick for the best smart speaker overall. It probably best meets the needs of most households. Although it’s a few years old, the device boasts improved sound quality over the previous generation, is compatible with a range of smart devices, and comes in at the relatively low price of $100 (and can often be found on sale).
However, the fourth generation Echo may not be the best choice for your particular home. almost any intelligent speaker lets you control lights, play music, ask questions, set reminders and more with simple voice commands. The decision may simply come down to which brand you’ve already invested in. If you have an affinity for a particular company’s products, whether you’re an Amazon assistant obsessed with Apple or a Google Stan, choosing a speaker is easy.
For people who are agnostic to the platform, the array of choices can seem overwhelming at first. We here at CNET have been testing voice control devices and smart speakers since they first hit the scene. We covered all the important features of the smart device, from the sound quality to the easy installation of multiple speakers. Besides the fourth-generation Amazon Echo, our top picks are the second-generation Google Nest Mini, the second-generation Apple HomePod Mini, and the second-generation Sonos One. Find out why below.
The best smart speakers of 2023
We’re giving the smart home edge in the best Amazon smart speakers category thanks to Alexa and the $100 fourth-generation Amazon Echo.
The latest Echo (not to be confused with the 5th generation Echo Dots) combines the usual Alexa smarts with a great-sounding speaker and also has a built-in Zigbee radio.
This is a nice inclusion that will allow you to connect Zigbee lights, locks, sensors and other devices to your setup without the need for a separate hub device.
Echo is even useful while you’re away, as Alexa can send alerts if your smart speaker’s microphones pick up the sound of breaking glass or a smoke alarm.
Read our Amazon Echo (4th generation) review.
Google has done an admirable job of catching up to Amazon in the smart speaker race. At this point, choosing between the two companies’ lowest-priced smart speaker devices comes down to a split.
Google Assistant now has nearly as many capabilities as Alexa, making the $50 Google Nest Mini a solid alternative to the Amazon Echo Dot if Google Assistant is your preference. Also, according to our tests, Google Assistant is slightly smarter than Alexa.
It responds more flexibly to voice commands if you can’t remember the exact name of your smart home devices, and Google’s grouped commands, called routines, work with more types of smart devices than similar routines on Amazon.
Google Assistant can recognize multiple voices, so it will give you and your spouse different answers if you each ask about your calendars, although Alexa can do that now, too.
Overall, Google still has the smarts edge, and the Google Nest Mini is a great, inexpensive way to take advantage of those smarts.
Read our Google Nest Mini review.
Apple’s tiny Siri-enabled smart speaker bridges the gap between its $100 competitors, like Google’s Nest Audio and Amazon’s Echo, and other, cheaper speakers that come in small packages like the Nest Mini and Echo Dot.
Features like intercom, audio streaming and stereo pairing make this little smart speaker quite practical. Looks good and sounds great.
As for the smart home, Siri and HomePod Mini are limited to devices that work with Apple’s smart home platform, HomeKit.
There are fewer HomeKit-compatible devices than there are devices that work with Alexa or Google Assistant, but that could soon change once the universal Matter smart home standard arrives later this year.
If you like Apple—and if Siri is your smart assistant of choice, or if HomeKit is your smart home platform of choice—you’ll love Apple’s smart speaker.
For those who already use an iPhone, Apple TV, or an original HomePod, adding this smart speaker to the collection just makes sense.
Read our Apple HomePod Mini review.
The Sonos One lets you pair two devices to play stereo sound or multiroom audio, but even a single speaker sounds great playing a wide variety of music genres.
Even better, the Sonos One has both Alexa and Google Assistant built in – just choose which one you want to use for your voice commands during setup.
Plus, Sonos has Apple’s AirPlay 2, so you can control it with any Siri-enabled device, including your iPhone.
Add it all up and the Sonos One is a great-sounding premium smart speaker at a reasonable price that can fit into households with smart hubs based on Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri. This is a tough field to beat.
Read our Sonos One review.
Other smart speaker options
These smart speakers are our favorites, but you still have plenty of other options if you’re looking for something specific in audio performance.
Read our breakdown of Alexa vs. Google Assistant vs. Siri if you want to learn the pros and cons of each and choose a smart home device by platform.
Note that neither the original Amazon Echo nor Nest Audio appeared above because you can get the same capabilities for less with the smaller (Dot and Mini) versions. However, if you want a smart speaker that splits the difference between affordability and premium sound, both are still solid options.
If you like the idea of always-listening help but want something more visual, check out our list of the best smart displays. Smart displays essentially combine a smart speaker with a touchscreen, so you can watch YouTube videos, make video calls, scroll through photos, and control your smart home touch widgets. Amazon and Google have several options worth checking out in the category.
Read more: The best smart displays of 2023
Figure out what platform or features you want and you should quickly narrow down your options and find the best smart speaker for you and your family.
The best smart speakers FAQ
Are there stereo smart speakers?
Almost any Amazon Echo smart speaker can be stereo-paired with another Echo speaker. The list is quite long, so take a look at Amazon’s stereo compatibility page. You’ll find a list of which speakers can pair with each other for stereo sound.
All Google smart speakers can be stereo paired as long as they are identical models. Google’s Nest Audio speaker is your best bet for a stereo pairing, and a two-pack of these speakers often fetches a discount from the MSRP of $99 per speaker.
You’ll be able to set up the speakers in your Google Home app and tell Google which speaker is right and which is left. Bass and treble settings are also adjusted from the Home app.
Apple’s HomePod Mini (the only smart speaker Apple currently makes) can be paired with another HomePod Mini for left and right channel stereo listening. You can also pair your HomePod Minis with your Apple TV for surround sound theater. These smaller speakers won’t blow you away, but it’s a nice added feature.
If theater surround sound for your TV is your top smart speaker priority, Sonos offers the best audio quality in our opinion. Two Sonos speakers (of the same model) can be stereo paired.
If you are interested in connecting your speakers to a larger system, the following smart speakers are equipped with an additional jack:
Who is the smartest voice assistant?
Today, the race is extremely close between Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. Apple’s Siri is on board, but a solid third when it comes to reliability, familiarity and understanding of human requests.
Overall, we give the edge to Google Assistant for its superior cadence, naturalistic tone, and ability to understand (and answer) questions and consistently follow through on requests.
That said, it’s close enough that you can safely invest in either Google Assistant or Alexa based on other preferences like speaker style, devices, and compatibility with other popular smart home products.
Alexa is almost as good as Google Assistant, so you really can’t go wrong no matter which assistant you choose. You will learn its features and how to interact with your assistant to get the best answers and useful information.
For fun, here’s our deep dive into each assistant’s “personality.”
Which smart speaker is the loudest?
In our testing of Apple, Amazon and Google smart speakers, we think the Amazon Echo (4th generation) offers the most when it comes to volume. Nest Audio is close behind and with powerful sound.
However, the Sonos One (2nd generation) is our current pick for best sound quality, especially if you’re considering using your speaker in a stereo pair or as a theater system for watching TV.
Read our Amazon Echo (4th generation) and Nest Audio reviews to learn more about the sound quality of these two flagship models.
Which smart speaker is best for free music?
Amazon’s smart speakers can play music from free or paid subscription tiers of Pandora, Spotify and other popular music streaming platforms. Additionally, if you have an Amazon Prime account, you can play music from Prime Music’s huge catalog.
Google’s smart speakers have similar music streaming options, but while Amazon requires a paid Prime subscription for ad-free listening through Prime Music, Google includes YouTube Music Premium for free – a $10 per month value, which also offers a wide variety of ads – free choice of music.