The Sonos Move is one of the best smart speakers of 2021.
Sonos Move
Photo: Sonos

There are now around 50 smart speakers in Consumer Reports' ratings, with a variety of designs, features, and prices. It's great to have a lot of choices, but picking a speaker is more confusing than it was in the days when you had to consider only a few Amazon Echo models and the Google Home.

Below you'll find the best smart speakers of 2021, whether you're looking for the finest-sounding speaker, a versatile portable, or the smartest low-cost option. They were all tested extensively in our labs on factors including 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.)

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 rankings. 

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 playing super-deep.

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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. 

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Sonos One (Gen 2)

Price: $200

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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 in a beach bag.

As with the company's other models, the Move can sit at the heart of a WiFi-powered multiroom system that will allow you to listen to the “Reply All” podcast in the kitchen while your significant other streams Al Green soul music on Spotify upstairs. The Move also integrates with other Sonos speakers, most of which have done very well in our testing.

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.

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Sonos Move

Price: $400

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Best Speaker for Apple Fans

If you’re all about Apple, the HomePod Mini is currently the company's only smart speaker option. (The better-sounding-but-more-expensive HomePod has been discontinued; you might be able to still find one at some retailers, though.)

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 your vehicle. For instance, you could ask the speaker for driving directions while making coffee in the morning, then send your chosen route to your car before leaving. 

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. 

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Apple HomePod Mini

Price: $95

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Best Smart Speaker With a Screen

The second-generation Amazon Echo Show illustrates how truly useful a touch screen can be on a smart speaker.

The large, 10-inch display makes the second-gen Show supremely easy to set up and use. The device is great for reading a recipe or watching a quick how-to video, tasks that you might otherwise consign to a phone or tablet.

But the Show is better because it can sit on the counter at an easy viewing angle, and the voice commands mean that there's no need to touch it with messy or busy hands.

The sound is much improved from the first-generation model's—it's now impressive, if not quite category-leading. (The smaller and less expensive Show 8 offers less satisfying sonics.)

Note that Amazon has introduced the Show 10, which we'll test soon. It features a motorized touch screen that can pivot to follow you around the room. In the meantime, look for significant discounts on the second-gen Show. 

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Amazon Echo Show (2nd Generation)

Price: $230

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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 “Bohemian Rhapsody,” 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 be 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.

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Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen)

Price: $50

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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.