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Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

Best Smart Speaker Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best smart speakers you can buy in 2021.

Virtual voice assistant speakers from big-hitters such as Amazon, Apple and Google have never been so full of smarts. Whether you want to know today's weather forecast, how many calories are in a hard-boiled egg (155) or quick, failsafe dinner recipes, Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant can now be found nestled inside certain speakers, waiting patiently for your next request.

Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant aren't just humble fonts of knowledge, either. These speakers play your chosen music over Bluetooth or wi-fi and, depending on the brand, also offer access to a number of different music streaming services, including Apple Music and Spotify.

But what should you look for when choosing a smart speaker? 

The first thing to consider is compatibility. Most smart speakers are platform agnostic, so they'll work with both Android and iOS devices, but the Apple HomePod isn't much use without an Apple mobile device to set it up.

It's also worth thinking about which ecosystem you use most. If you often use Google's services – Calendar, Maps, Gmail – maybe a product with Google Home baked in would be best for you. Love shopping at Amazon? An Amazon Echo might be right up your alley. (While these do both work with other services, they're tightly integrated with those made by their creators, making them much slicker to use.)

Finally: sound quality. This can vary quite a lot between models and manufacturers and spending more doesn't always guarantee a better listening experience. Some of the smaller smart speakers are limited purely because of their dimensions. Be realistic about your budget and what to expect. Luckily, every product here comes with our full fat, unabridged, comprehensively star-rated review attached – and if it didn't get at least a highly-commended four-star review under test conditions, you won't find it on this list. 

From cheap budget options to premium sonic experiences, read on for our pick of the best smart speakers for music and voice features. 

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Apple HomePod Mini

For a great, affordable, durable home smart speaker, you’ll be hard-pushed to find a product that can match JBL’s Link Portable

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 8.4 x 9.8 x 9.8 | Power: 20W | Features: Bluetooth 5.0, Siri, Apple Music, AirPlay 2, music over wi-fi | Connections: None

Reasons to Buy

Sophisticated, engaging sound
Substantial smart skills
Impressive music discovery

Reasons to Avoid

Limited third-party service support
Lacks a full control app

The HomePod Mini really is bijou. At just 8.4cm tall and 9.8cm wide, it’s quite a bit smaller than the similarly spherical new Amazon Echo. In fact, it’s even dwarfed by the new Echo Dot. Get its swirling orb of coloured light up and running (when Siri is listening or processing) though, and you realise you've got a classy performer on your hands. 

Siri is your voice assistant here, and after a short period of learning it'll respond to the phrase “Hey Siri, play something I'll like” not by streaming your most played track of the last few weeks, but by playing something that you may have never listened to before but is a good fit for what you often do listen to. It’s a really powerful way to discover new music, and Alexa is nowhere near as good at it.

It goes loud, too. From the moment we start playing music, it’s clear that the HomePod Mini comfortably outperforms its size and price, quite frankly embarrassing its direct competition with the sophistication and maturity of its sound.

Read the full review: Apple HomePod Mini 

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

(Image credit: JBL)

2. JBL Link Portable

For a great, affordable, durable home smart speaker, you’ll be hard-pushed to find a product that can match JBL’s Link Portable

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 17 x 8.8 x 8.8 | Power: 20W | Features: waterproof, Bluetooth v4.2, Google Assistant built-in, Chromecast, AirPlay 2, music over wi-fi | Connections: 3.5 mm stereo

Reasons to Buy

Expansive sound
Packed with features
Premium design

Reasons to Avoid

No JBL Connect support
Fussy over placement

The JBL Link Portable's neat connectivity features bring a plethora of streaming options to the table – features rarely seen in the sub-£150 speaker category including AirPlay 2, Chromecast and hi-res support. You also get hands-free Google Assistant, a charger cradle and wireless streaming via wi-fi or Bluetooth.

The Link Portable looks and feels like a premium product. For a speaker of this size, it has oodles of detail and an expansive mix with everything present, including bass. While there's no PartyBoost or Connect+ support for daisy-chaining other JBL speakers, the Link Portable makes JBL a serious contender in the category of affordable wireless speakers.

Read the full review: JBL Link Portable

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

(Image credit: Amazon)

3. Amazon Echo (4th generation)

All in all, the Echo Dot with Clock is the best-sounding and most useful such smart speaker Amazon has designed so far

SPECIFICATIONS

Virtual assistant: Alexa | 3.5mm audio out: Yes | Wi-fi: Yes | Dimensions (hwd): 14 x 14 x 13cm | Weight: 970g

Reasons to Buy

Expansive bass in a small design
Lots of smart features
Classy build and finish

Reasons to Avoid

Slightly underwhelming treble
Not fully omnidirectional

Amazon's inaugural smart speaker is back with a whole new look, a built-in Zigbee smart hub, and more potential under its new 100 per cent recycled hood. You don’t need an especially keen eye to realise that Amazon has started from scratch for this fourth-generation Echo.

The cylinder design has gone, in favour of a Magic 8-Ball-esque sphere, and perhaps fittingly you can ask it any question you want – as long as it’s plugged in to power and linked to your wi-fi. There's an impressive selection of third-party support, (once you’ve linked your streaming service accounts, it'll play music from Apple Music, Spotify or Deezer over wi-fi, and even if you don’t link any music-provider subscriptions, the Echo will play from Amazon Music by default – and you’ve always got TuneIn radio) and the pulsating ring of light is relocated to the lopped-off base. 

Alexa feels present and useful but not imposing, the Alexa app support makes placement and multi-room configurations a breeze, and the sound quality, while a step down from superb, easily passes the sound-per-pound value test for a smart home hub of this modest price.

Read the full review: Amazon Echo (4th generation)

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

(Image credit: Bang & Olufsen)

4. Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen)

The weightiest and most refined little speaker we’ve heard in a while

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 4.6 x 13.3 x 13.3cm | Power: 2x30W | Features: Alexa inbuilt, water/dustproof IP67, Bluetooth 5.1, stereo-pairing mode | Connections: USB-C

Reasons to Buy

Expansive sound, weighty bass
Competent Alexa integration
Stunning build and finish

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing at this level

Bang & Olufsen isn’t noted for following the herd. In the Danish electronics specialist’s catalogue you'll find a wheel-shaped wireless speaker, a TV that opens up like a butterfly, and an 8200-watt monolithic speaker comprising 18 drivers. Its output could reasonably be described as "premium" and "innovative" – and the B&O Beosound A1 (2nd Gen) wireless speaker is no exception.

It boasts similar dimensions to a large floury bap, but that's where any comparisons with baked goods end. The new A1 supports Qualcomm’s latest aptX Adaptive Bluetooth 5.1 codec, and of course, Alexa is built-in (in a manner of speaking – it's a Bluetooth-only speaker).

It works a treat, too, delivering a pleasingly comfortable yet authoritative performance that you'd be happy listening to all day. Throw in its classy, well made design, easy to use operation and the bonus of Alexa (as long as your smartphone is nearby and connected to wi-fi), and you're looking at a Bluetooth speaker sequel that has very much been worth the wait. 

Read the full review: Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen) 

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

(Image credit: Future)

5. Amazon Echo Dot with Clock

All in all, the Echo Dot with Clock is the best-sounding and most useful such smart speaker Amazon has designed so far

SPECIFICATIONS

Virtual assistant: Alexa | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Outputs: 3.5mm | Dimensions (hwd): 4.3 x 10 x 10cm | Weight: 300g

Reasons to Buy

Cleaner, airier presentation
Better timing and dynamics
Clock functions are smart

Reasons to Avoid

Sample variation may be an issue

The headline here is that the Echo Dot with Clock is actually the best-sounding Dot that Amazon has produced. The differences between it and the third-gen Echo Dot (listed below) aren’t huge, certainly not proportionate to those between previous generations, but they’re noticeable.

There’s no denying the Echo Dot with Clock is more comfortable keeping a tempo as well as offering more rhythmic drive than previous iterations. It’s almost as if that digital timepiece has had a beneficial effect on the music. Oh, and what if you already have a clock in the room where you want your Echo Dot? Then change the LED display to show the outside temperature or use it as a kitchen timer. 

Read the full review: Amazon Echo Dot with Clock

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

(Image credit: Amazon)

6. Amazon Echo Studio

An Echo smart speaker truly fit for audiophiles is a bold claim – and the Echo Studio almost delivers

SPECIFICATIONS

Virtual assistant: Alexa | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Outputs: 3.5mm, mini optical digital | Dimensions (hwd): 21 x 18 x 18cm | Weight: 3.5kg

Reasons to Buy

Decent spread of sound
Clear, precise midrange
Hi-res audio support

Reasons to Avoid

Overcooked bass hampers timing
Hit and miss 3D audio

Considerably larger than any previous Echo, the Studio manages to dwarf both the Sonos One and Apple Home Pod (listed below). As well as boasting 330W of power and upgraded internals fit for CD-quality and hi-res audio (which are both now available from Amazon's latest incarnation of its streaming service, Amazon Music HD) the Echo Studio also promises to deliver 3D audio via tracks encoded in Sony's 360 Reality Audio and Dolby Atmos. 

Producing immersive, directional audio is always going to be difficult, but doing it from a single speaker source is even more challenging. Nevertheless, it’s an open, airy presentation that suits the 3D environment well. The speaker sits you in the jaws of a tall soundstage, where there's a good amount of detail to percussion and high frequencies. While we're not entirely convinced by the way it handles bass – and we wouldn't exactly call it audiophile quality – for the money, the Echo Studio has a lot going for it.

Read the full review: Amazon Echo Studio

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

(Image credit: Amazon)

7. Amazon Echo Show 5

Alexa gains video to bring a satisfying boost to its abilities.

SPECIFICATIONS

Virtual assistant: Alexa | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Outputs: 3.5mm, micro USB | Dimensions (hwd): 8.6 x 14.8 x 7.3cm | Weight: 410g

Reasons to Buy

Alexa voice-control
Decent sound and video
Nicely put together

Reasons to Avoid

Audio isn't the best

If you want to get fully ensconced with the world of the digital assistant – and by that we mean with both audio and video – this is as a good a starting point as we’ve come across. 

You see, where most Alexa-enabled kit on the market is audio based, concentrated on the Bluetooth speaker market in particular, the Echo Show 5 embraces both sound and video in its abilities to communicate. So, as well as playing music or reading out information, you can access video content on the Echo Show 5's 5.5in LCD touchscreen. 

There’s also an HD camera, allowing the user to make Skype calls (for example), or view images from cameras in other rooms of the house – and elsewhere. 

Although it can be beaten for sound quality, this is an £80 box of tricks that opens up the world of the digital assistant to a whole new audience for both audio and video; and if that’s what you’re after, this is about as good as you’ll get – especially for this kind of money.

Read the full review: Amazon Echo Show 5

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

8. Amazon Echo Dot (3rd generation)

For not a lot of money you get a whole load of smart voice functionality and decent sound.

SPECIFICATIONS

Virtual assistant: Alexa | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Outputs: 3.5mm | Dimensions (hwd): 4.3 x 9.9 x 9.9cm | Weight: 300g

Reasons to Buy

Clear, solid sound
Budget price
Improves Alexa skills

Reasons to Avoid

Alexa intelligence is limited

Perhaps the smartest way to bring Amazon's Alexa voice assistant into your home, the latest generation of the Dot also doubles as a simple (and cheap) wireless speaker. The fabric-covered, puck-shaped device looks smarter then previous versions and it's easy to get up and running, either over wi-fi or Bluetooth. And as a device for playing background music, there really is little to fault, especially at this price.

Read the full review: Amazon Echo Dot 3

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

9. Sonos One

A typically excellent Sonos smart speaker with Alexa and Google voice control.

SPECIFICATIONS

Virtual assistant: Alexa, Google Assistant | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth: No | Outputs: N/A | Dimensions (hwd): 16.1 x 11.7 x 12cm | Weight: 1.85kg

Reasons to Buy

Stylish and unobtrusive
Solid, sophisticated sound
Alexa well integrated

Reasons to Avoid

Lacks full Alexa control
No hi-res audio

Arguably the best all-round smart speaker you can currently buy, the Sonos One sounds superb for the money and has all the functionality you're likely to need. There's Spotify and Tidal integration, the ability to chat with Alexa and Google Assistant, and the option to build a multi-room system around it using other Sonos speakers or AirPlay 2. This is now the best Google speaker on the market.

Read the full review: Sonos One

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

10. Apple HomePod

The best-sounding, most music-centric smart speaker we've heard to date.

SPECIFICATIONS

Virtual assistant: Siri | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth: No | Outputs: N/A | Dimensions (hwd): 17.2 x 14.2 x 14.2cm | Weight: 2.5kg

Reasons to Buy

Compact, solid and stylish
Siri and Apple Music works well
Weighty, authoritative sound

Reasons to Avoid

Over-reliance on voice control
Mid-range a little muddled
Too Apple-centric

Apple was late to the smart speaker market, but the HomePod was well worth the wait. Aimed squarely at Apple users, it helps if Apple Music is your go-to music streaming service, but this is a clever, capable and desirable device. There's multi-room and stereo pairing support, plus a Siri voice assistant that works extremely well in this musical context. Very impressive – and since the arrival of its smaller HomePod Mini sibling, you might even find a few deals on this inaugural model.

Read the full review: Apple Homepod

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

11. Ultimate Ears Megablast

A fun and energetic portable speaker with nicely controlled performance.

SPECIFICATIONS

Virtual assistant: Alexa | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Battery life: 16hrs | Dimensions: 23.7 x 8.8cm | Inputs: Micro USB

Reasons to Buy

Dynamic, detailed sound
Goes really very loud
Excellent build and design

Reasons to Avoid

Presentation is slightly lean
Not fully featured just yet

The Megablast is Ultimate Ears’ loudest and smartest speaker yet. With Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant built in, it can answer your questions as well as play all your favourite tunes.

More crucially, the Megablast joins the brand’s portfolio of five-star Bluetooth speakers that are simply fun to use and listen to. Good-looking and great-sounding, the Megablast is an absolute treat.

Read the full review: Ultimate Ears Megablast

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

12. Audio Pro Addon C5A

A class-leading wireless speaker with Alexa is a winning combination.

SPECIFICATIONS

Virtual assistant: Alexa | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth 4.0: Yes | Inputs: Ethernet, 3.5mm stereo, RCA | Amplifier: 40W digital Class D | Audio formats: MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, Apple Lossless | Dimensions: 13 x 25 x 15cm

Reasons to Buy

Detailed, dynamic sound
Brilliant sense of timing
Alexa voice control

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing at this price

The Audio Pro Addon C5A is almost identical to the Addon C5, which was our wireless speaker Product of the Year in 2017. So adding Alexa voice control to an Award-winning speaker is, frankly, the icing on the cake.

Available for the price of an Addon C5 plus the cost of an Amazon Echo product bolt-on, it brings the whole package into one tidy, easy-to-set-up box. And with that same Award-winning sound, this is the ideal combination for those who want an excellent Alexa wireless speaker that can be expanded into a full-blown multiroom system.

Read the full review: Audio Pro Addon C5A

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

13. LG WK7

A solid start for LG’s venture into smart speakers with audio experts, Meridian

SPECIFICATIONS

Virtual assistant: Google Assistant | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Outputs: N/A | Dimensions (hwd): 21 x 13.5 x 13.5cm | Weight: 1.9kg

Reasons to Buy

Large sound, powerful bass
Good level of detail
Google apps are nice to use

Reasons to Avoid

Bass a little uneven
LG app isn't great

The LG WK7 is LG’s first foray into the smart speaker market and the first product to emerge as part of the new partnership with British audio specialist Meridian. There's nothing special about the design but it looks smart enough and the top features touch-sensitive controls for volume and playback. There's a Google Assistant button, too, and a function button that allows you to switch between wi-fi and Bluetooth.

There are no other connections – no analogue input or 3.5mm connection – but a smart speaker such as this doesn't really need one, especially when there's also Chromecast built-in and Android Things support. 

And it sounds pretty good by smart speaker standards, not least thanks to the support for hi-res audio. A little too much bass is apparent at times and music doesn't sound quite as, well, musical, as on the HomePod, but there's impressive scale, clean and clear vocals, and plenty of punch to drums and bass. The LG WK7 is one of the best Google speakers, especially now it has a healthy discount.

Read the full LG WK7 review

Best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

14. Harman Kardon Citation 100

This bass-heavy smart speaker likes to party

SPECIFICATIONS

Virtual assistant: Google Assistant | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth 4.0: Yes | Inputs: No | Amplifier: 50W | Audio formats: MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, FLAC | Dimensions: 27.5 x 17.2 x 16.3cm (hwd)

Reasons to Buy

Powerful, deep bass
Eye-catching design
Impressive scale

Reasons to Avoid

Bass is unbalanced
No aux input

It looks like your average smart speaker, but the Citation 100 produces bass by the bucket-load and can play extremely loud without strain. It is great for parties, though perhaps not so much for purists. 

This Harman Kardon speaker has a pretty standard, minimalist design, and it keeps connections to a minimum, too, with no aux input. Control comes via the Google Home app and Google Assistant, and commands work well enough, though it seems slightly more prone to wi-fi drop-outs than rivals.

Sonically, while the Harman Kardon Citation 100 isn't exactly balanced, it is otherwise a tasteful-sounding smart speaker with enough scale to fill most rooms. If you don't mind that bassy over-exuberance, there's a lot to like.

Read the full review: Harman Kardon Citation 100

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