Best Smart Speakers for 2024: We Tested Alexa, Google, Apple and Sonos

Best Smart Speakers for 2024: We Tested Alexa, Google, Apple and Sonosapple-homepod-mini-3.jpg

$25 at Amazon

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Prime Day

Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen)

Best budget smart speaker

$42 at Walmart

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Google Nest Mini (2nd gen)

Best Google Assistant speaker

Finding the best smart speaker can be daunting; there are many things to consider, such as the best-sounding, easiest to set up or the most affordable speakers. Smart speakers are a fun and convenient aspect of having a smart home, whether you’re using these tiny hubs to set timers, make lists or control other aspects of your home, such as lights or other routines.

This guide was put together to help you through the sea of options when it comes to finding the best smart speaker. It’s important to consider the multitude of key smart device features, including the ease of installing multiple speakers as well as sound quality. This guide is backed by CNET’s years of research and testing of voice control devices and smart speakers, starting back when they first hit the scene. Read on to see our favorite smart speakers, and snag some sweet savings with Prime Day sales. We’ve also put together a list of the best Prime Day deals on Amazon devices if that’s your preferred ecosystem.

What’s the best smart speaker?

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Julie Snyder

Amazon Echo speakers are among the most affordable and easy-to-set-up smart speakers out there. That’s why the fourth-generation Amazon Echo is our pick for the top smart speaker overall. It’s likely to best meet the needs of most households. Although it’s a few years old, the device features improved sound quality over the previous generation is compatible with an assortment of smart devices and goes for the relatively affordable price of $100 (although it can often be found on sale for $80 or less).

The fourth-generation Echo might not be the best pick for your particular home. Almost every smart speaker allows you to control the lights, play music, ask questions, set reminders and much more with simple voice commands. The decision may simply come down to which brand you’re already invested in. If you have an affinity for a particular company’s products, whether you’re devoted to Amazon, Apple or Google, picking a speaker is easy. 

For platform-neutral folks (or those looking to switch things up), our top picks aside from the fourth-gen Amazon Echo, are the second-gen Google Nest Mini, the Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen), the Apple HomePod Mini and the new Sonos Era 100. Find out why below.

Best smart speakers of 2024

Best Smart Speakers for 2024: We Tested Alexa, Google, Apple and Sonos Best Smart Speakers for 2024: We Tested Alexa, Google, Apple and Sonosamazon-echo-2020-2
Chris Monroe/CNET

We give the smart home edge in the best smart speaker category to Amazon, thanks to Alexa and the $100, fourth-generation Amazon Echo. 

The latest Echo (not to be confused with the fifth-gen Echo Dot or Echo Pop) combines the usual Alexa smarts with a speaker that sounds great and has a built-in Zigbee radio. That’s a nice inclusion that’ll let you connect Zigbee lights, locks, sensors and other devices to your setup without the need for a separate hub device. 

The Echo is even useful while you’re away, as Alexa can send alerts if your smart speaker’s microphones detect the sound of glass breaking or a smoke alarm.

What helps the Echo clinch first place is its sound quality: This speaker offers loud, room-filling sound with plenty of clarity and bass control. While there are even better-sounding speakers, such as the Sonos Era 100 and the Echo Studio, neither can beat the price of the Echo.

Read our Amazon Echo (4th gen) review.

Best Smart Speakers for 2024: We Tested Alexa, Google, Apple and Sonos Best Smart Speakers for 2024: We Tested Alexa, Google, Apple and Sonos5th-gen-echo-dot-by-tycnet-1

If you’re in the market for a budget smart speaker, they don’t come any more feature-packed than the Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen). It offers a wealth of capabilities including a temperature sensor, an Eero mesh extender and the ability to tap it like an alarm clock. 

The Echo Dot (5th Gen) also sounds better than other speakers at the price, including the Echo Pop and Google’s Nest Mini, with plenty of vocal clarity and decent bass weight. Its microphones are sensitive enough to hear you from across the room, even with another speaker playing.

While Google’s Nest Mini is a little more sophisticated in terms of its responses, the Amazon Echo Dot is better in every other respect and is the best smart speaker for under $50.

Best Smart Speakers for 2024: We Tested Alexa, Google, Apple and Sonos Best Smart Speakers for 2024: We Tested Alexa, Google, Apple and Sonosgoogle-home-nest-mini-1496
James Martin/CNET

Google has done an admirable job of catching up to Amazon in the smart speaker race. At this point, picking between the lowest-price smart speaker devices from the two companies comes down to splitting hairs. 

Google Assistant now has almost 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. Plus, per 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 Amazon’s similar routines. 

Google Assistant can recognize multiple voices, so it’ll give you and your spouse different answers if you each ask about your calendars, (although Alexa can do this now, too). 

Overall, Google still has the intelligence edge, and the Google Nest Mini is a great, low-cost way to take advantage of those smarts.

Read our Google Nest Mini review.

Best Smart Speakers for 2024: We Tested Alexa, Google, Apple and Sonos Best Smart Speakers for 2024: We Tested Alexa, Google, Apple and Sonosscreen-shot-2021-10-18-at-1-07-53-pm-2
Apple

Apple’s small, Siri-enabled smart speaker bridges a strange gap between its competitors with a $100 price tag like Google’s Nest Audio and the Amazon Echo, and cheaper speakers that come in small packages like the Nest Mini and Echo Dot. 

Features like intercom, audio handoff and stereo pairing make this little smart speaker quite practical. It looks good and sounds great. 

When it comes to the smart home, Siri and HomePod Mini are limited to devices that work with Apple’s smart home platform, HomeKit. 

Fewer HomeKit-compatible devices are available than are devices that work with Alexa or Google Assistant.

If you like Apple (and if Siri is your smart assistant of choice), or if HomeKit is your preferred smart home platform, you’re going to love Apple’s smart speaker. 

For those who already use an iPhone, Apple TV or original HomePod, adding this smart speaker to the collection just makes sense.

Read our Apple HomePod Mini review.

Best Smart Speakers for 2024: We Tested Alexa, Google, Apple and Sonos Best Smart Speakers for 2024: We Tested Alexa, Google, Apple and Sonossonos-era-100-2

It was going to be a tough job replacing the Sonos One, but the company has managed to not only make the Era 100 sound better but give it a bit more functionality as well. 

In addition to Apple AirPlay 2 and Sonos’ own multiroom system, the Era 100 now features Bluetooth, and this brings it in line with the Roam and Move portable speakers.

The Era 100’s only drawback is that the speaker no longer offers a choice between Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. While adding a Nest Mini might seem to defeat the purpose of a speaker like this, it should solve this problem for people who are in the Google ecosystem. The issue is reportedly with a change to Google’s rules, so maybe there’s hope the Assistant can be added in the future.

Either way, the Era 100 sounds great and Alexa fans in particular should love it.

Read our Sonos Era 100 review.

Other smart speaker options

The smart speakers above are our current favorites, but you still have lots of other options if you’re looking for something specific in audio performance. Read our breakdown of Alexa versus Google Assistant versus Siri if you’d like to learn the pros and cons of each and decide on a smart home device based on its platform.

In the past year or so, we have seen several new smart speakers (namely the Apple HomePod, Amazon Echo Pop, the Sonos Era 100 and the Era 300), but most of the models out there have been available for much longer. The Era 100 is the pick of these new speakers, and although the $40 Pop is interesting in its way, the Dot (5th Gen) offers more features for only $10 more.

If you like the idea of ready-to-listen tech 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 videos on YouTube, make video calls, scroll through pictures and control your smart home gadgets with a touch. Amazon and Google both have several options worth considering in the category.

Read more: Best Smart Displays for 2024

Figure out what platform or features you’d like, and you should be able to quickly narrow down your options and find the best smart speaker for you and your family.

Smart speaker FAQs

Are there any stereo smart speakers?

Yes; nearly every Amazon Echo smart speaker can stereo pair with another Echo speaker. The list is quite long, so take a look at Amazon’s stereo device compatibility page. You’ll find a list of which speakers can pair with each other for stereo sound. 

All of Google’s smart speakers can be stereo-paired, as long as they’re identical models. Google’s Nest Audio speaker is the best bet for stereo pairing, and a two-pack of these speakers often provides a discount off the $99-per-speaker MSRP. 

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 adjustable from the Home app. 

Apple’s HomePod and HomePod Mini can be paired with identical speakers for left and right-channel stereo listening. You can also pair your HomePods with your Apple TV for surround sound theater. The smaller speakers won’t blow you away, but it’s a nice extra feature. 

If theater surround sound for your TV is your biggest smart speaker priority, Sonos offers the best audio quality, in our opinion. Two Sonos speakers (of the same model) can be stereo-paired, or you could trade up for its excellent selection of smart soundbars (Beam or Arc). 

What is the smartest voice assistant?

Today, the race is extremely close between Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. Apple’s Siri is on the board but in a solid third place when it comes to reliability, knowledge and comprehension 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 follow-up queries consistently. 

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 nearly as good as Google Assistant, so you really can’t go wrong no matter which assistant you choose. You’ll learn its quirks and how to interact with your assistant to coax the best responses and helpful information. 

For fun, here’s our deep dive into each assistant’s “personality.”

Which smart speaker is loudest?

In our testing of Apple, Amazon and Google smart speakers, we think the Amazon Echo Studio offers the most when it comes to sheer volume. The Sonos Era 100 is close behind with powerful sound, and it’s also 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. 

Which smart speaker is best for free music?

Amazon smart speakers can play music from free or paid subscription tiers on Pandora, Spotify and other popular music streaming platforms. In addition, if you have an Amazon Prime account, you can play music from the vast Prime Music catalog.

Google smart speakers have similar music streaming options, but while Amazon requires a paid Prime subscription for ad-free listening via Prime Music, Google includes a cut-down YouTube Music subscription for free with its smart speakers.

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