Best Smart Speakers of 2021

Models from Amazon, Apple, and Sonos deliver sound quality, value, and in one case, a convenient screen

When you shop through retailer links on our site, we may earn affiliate commissions. 100% of the fees we collect are used to support our nonprofit mission. Learn more.

sonos move lifestyle
Sonos Move
sonos

The world of smart speakers has expanded well beyond the original Amazon Echo, giving consumers a wealth of truly great options, but that makes choosing the right design, features, and price for your family more of a challenge.

Below we’ve done our part to make life easier for you by selecting the best smart speakers of 2021, whether you’re looking for great audio, a screen, portability, or the smartest low-cost option. The models were all tested extensively in our labs for ease of use, versatility, and most of all, sound quality.

All Consumer Reports’ test samples are purchased at retail—no freebies for us.

If you know you want an Amazon speaker to get the widely used Alexa digital assistant into your life, read this guide to the entire Amazon Echo lineup. Amazon also recently introduced a new model, the Echo Show 15, but please note that this roundup includes only models we’ve tested. We’ll have more to say about the Show 15 as soon as we can buy it and get it into our labs.

Best-Sounding Smart Speaker

With the departure of Google’s great-sounding Home Max, the latest iteration of the Sonos One inherits the title of the best-sounding smart speaker in our ratings.

Our testers find the Sonos One’s sound to be clear and detailed, so you can hear nuances like a singer breathing or a pianist creaking the pedals. The bass is tight and impactful in a way that’s likely to get your foot tapping (or other body parts shaking), though the speaker’s modest size prevents it from delivering bass that’s super-deep.

More on Smart Speakers

And two Sonos Ones are better than one, our testers report. Because the speaker is monophonic, the sense that the musicians are in the room with you improves a lot when the model is stereo-paired with a second one.

The second-generation model features an improved processor, but our testers say there’s no meaningful change in sonic performance over the earlier model.

The Sonos One is also one of the few smart speakers that offers multiple options for digital assistants. It’s compatible with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, but not Apple’s Siri. You can stream music to the device via Apple’s AirPlay, though. And, of course, the model can be incorporated in a versatile multiroom system with other Sonos speakers, working compatibly with the company’s recent non-smart wireless speakers.

If you’re looking for the best possible smart speaker sound, another option is to pair a cheap smart speaker like the Echo Dot (below) or Google’s Nest Mini with a top-rated Bluetooth speaker such as the Edifier S1000MkII. That’s an easy way to add AI power to a great-sounding music setup for relatively little money.

Best Portable Smart Speaker

The Sonos Move features a rechargeable battery and a recessed handle on the back for easier carrying.

And it’s the first Sonos speaker that doesn’t need WiFi, because it’s Bluetooth-compatible, which allows easy streaming from a smartphone. However, the large size and 6.6-pound weight make it better suited to a trip from the family room to the patio than a ride to the shore in your beach bag.

As with the company’s other models, the Move can sit at the heart of a WiFi-powered multiroom system that allows you to listen to the “Talking Sopranos” podcast in the kitchen while your significant other streams Bob Marley upstairs. The Move can even add Bluetooth pairing to an existing Sonos system.

Like the Sonos One, the Move works with either Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. You can also stream music to it through Apple AirPlay, but there’s no built-in support for Siri.

Best Speaker for Apple Fans

If you’re all about Apple, the HomePod Mini is the only smart speaker option now that the better-sounding-but-more-expensive HomePod has been discontinued.

The Mini has sleek, spherical styling and is a solid option for controlling Apple HomeKit smart home products and services such as Apple Music. The Mini also offers voice control of other music services, including Pandora and iHeart Radio, and can integrate with Apple CarPlay.

In terms of sound quality, our testers find the HomePod Mini to be nasal and congested with tubby bass. The performance is close to much-less-expensive smart speakers like the Echo Dot and Google Nest Mini. That means the Mini is okay for podcasts or background music in a small room, but it leaves much to be desired when playing your favorite tunes. And unlike those other inexpensive smart speakers, the Mini can’t be paired via Bluetooth with a better-sounding wireless speaker.

Best Smart Speaker With a Screen

Amazon’s Echo Show 10 features a large, 10-inch touch-screen display that uses motion-sensing technology and a silent electric motor hidden in its base to follow you as you move around your kitchen. It’s great for reading a recipe or watching a quick how-to video, tasks that you might otherwise consign to a phone or tablet, but with the Show 10 there’s no need to touch the screen with messy hands.

Our testers found the model to be super-easy to set up and use, and quite versatile. The sound quality was fine, but it fell a little short of the previous generation Show, largely because of a slight plastick-y distortion in the midrange.

Before you buy it, though, make sure you have the counter space to safely set up the Show 10. The instructions advise you to map out an area roughly the size of a beach ball and keep it clear. We discovered that if items—like a metal travel mug or a large bottle of oil—are placed too close to the Show 10’s screen, the powerful motor can knock them over, which could pose a safety hazard.

For some, the specter of a screen with a camera that tracks your movements in the kitchen may also be a little unnerving, although there’s always the option to turn off the device when it’s not in use.

If you’re wary about the rotating screen feature, you can also consider the previous generation Echo Show, which is still available and a solid choice, especially when you find it on sale.

Best Really Cheap Smart Speaker

One thing to know about smart speakers is that the speaker itself doesn’t have to be all that smart. Most of the artificial intelligence magic happens on the company’s servers rather than inside the speaker itself.

That’s one reason a small and very inexpensive speaker like the Amazon Echo Dot can perform most smart speaker functions just as well as a top-of-the-line model.

The latest Echo Dot is easy to recognize, with a new globelike styling that replaces the hockey-puck design of the previous generations.

The sound quality has improved with this update. The speaker provides more extended treble and deeper bass than its less-than-great-sounding predecessor.

It’s still not an ideal choice for cranking out “Since U Been Gone,” but it’s fine for listening to podcasts or maybe some background tunes while you do the dishes. If you plan to play a lot of music, you might consider the larger and better-sounding fourth-generation Echo or the even-better-sounding Echo Studio.

The Echo Dot can also provide an inexpensive way to add smart speaker functionality to a better-sounding wireless Bluetooth speaker you already own. You can do the same thing with Google’s Nest Mini, which is similarly inexpensive but sounds worse on its own than the new Dot does.

What Makes a Great Speaker?

Do you know the difference between good speakers and excellent speakers? On the "Consumer 101" TV show, a Consumer Reports expert, Elias Arias, explains to host Jack Rico the art of identifying quality devices.


Allen St. John

I believe that technology has the power to change our lives—for better or for worse. That's why I’ve spent my life reporting and writing about it for outlets of all sorts, from newspapers (such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times) to magazines (Popular Mechanics and Rolling Stone) and even my own books ("Newton’s Football" and "Clapton’s Guitar"). For me, there's no better way to spend a day than talking to a bunch of experts about an important subject and then writing a story that'll help others be smarter and better informed.