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Best Smart Speakers Under $200

These inexpensive models from Amazon, Google, JBL, iHome, UE, and Sonos provide performance that belies their price

An illustration of a person speaking to a smart speaker.
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Want to know a secret about smart speakers? The speaker itself doesn’t have to be all that smart.

When you ask your speaker to play the latest Bruno Mars song or tell you the capital of Bolivia, that artificial intelligence magic happens on the company’s servers rather than inside the box sitting on your kitchen counter or family room shelf.

Outsourcing these functions to the cloud allows an inexpensive smart speaker to perform most smart functions just as well as a pricier top-of-the-line model.

But research shows that most smart speakers spend most of their time simply playing music, which is why our testers place heavy emphasis on sound quality when testing these devices.

Here are seven modestly priced models that offer a great balance of value and smart speaker performance, with a sound quality that ranges from acceptable to darned good. 

To learn more about these high-tech devices, check out these 21 smart speaker superpowers and how to set up your smart speakers for privacy.

1
A Better-Sounding Echo
Amazon Echo Plus (2nd Generation)
Amazon Echo Plus (2nd Generation)

    Amazon Echo Plus (2nd Generation)

    Amazon’s latest-generation Echo Plus pulls off a pretty neat trick. It’s smaller than its predecessor, but in a world where bigger generally means better sound quality, the newer, more petite Plus  sounds significantly better.

    Some of the sonic improvement can be attributed to the new tone controls that allow you to tweak the speaker to match your listening room. But even if you’re a set it and forget it type, the Echo Plus is Amazon’s best-sounding screenless smart speaker, according to our testers.

    However, while the new Plus represents a big step forward in sound quality, it still lags behind top-performing (and pricier) smart speakers such as the Google Home Max and Sonos One.

    2
    Amazon's Inexpensive Dot
    Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Generation)
    Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Generation)

      Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Generation)

      The latest Dot is smaller and sleeker than its predecessor, with a fashionable fabric covering and, more important, significantly better sound. The list price is $50, but it’s frequently discounted well below that, making the tiny Dot the cheapest way into the Amazon ecosystem.

      The Dot can also serve as an inexpensive way to add smart speakers throughout your home or to add smart functionality to a Bluetooth speaker you already own. The sound quality of the newest Dot still isn’t great, but our testers found it much improved from that of the previous Dot, which sounded a lot like a bad telephone connection.

      Note that there’s also an Echo Dot Kids Edition. But consumer groups have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission arguing that the product violates the federal privacy law that governs data collection on children under 13.

      3
      Google Bargain Play
      Google Home Mini
      Google Home Mini

        Google Home Mini

        If you’re looking for a cheap way into the smart speaker world—or an inexpensive gift—the Google Home Mini could be the ticket. For only $25, the Mini gives you access to Google Assistant, which some users find a bit more intuitive than Amazon’s Alexa. Google Assistant features strong search capabilities, although it supports fewer third-party skills than Alexa and its shopping functions are less robust.

        One place where the cost trade-offs are quite apparent with the Home Mini is sound quality. While the tiny speaker is fine for spoken-word content such as podcasts, our testers found that it’s not really good enough for enjoyable music listening. One option: You can impart smart speaker functionality to an existing wireless speaker by pairing it with a Home Mini. 

        4
        A Smarter Clock Radio
        iHome AVS16
        iHome AVS16

          iHome AVS16

          From a privacy point of view, there are legitimate reasons to think twice about having a smart speaker in your bedroom, especially if it's always on and listening for a wake word that sounds remarkably similar to the name of your pet schnauzer.

          But if you aren't, um, alarmed by that, the iHome AVS16 is a legitimate alternative to a conventional clock radio. You can set alarms by voice command and, if you've got smart bulbs and outlets, you can begin your day by turning the lights on and jump-starting the coffee maker on command. It also has a dedicated switch to turn off the speaker's microphone for those times when you'd like additional privacy. 

          Our testers found the iHome's sound to be decent, at least by alarm clock standards. The highs and lows weren't exceptional, but the all-important midrange—which is where most of the music resides—is the AVS16's sonic strong suit.

          5
          Bring Google to the Pool
          JBL Link 20
          JBL Link 20

            JBL Link 20

            If you want a smart speaker to use poolside, the JBL Link 20 may be just the new toy you're looking for.

            Most smart speakers, regardless of their size or price, are designed for indoor use and need to be plugged into an AC outlet. Not the Link 20.

            This JBL takes its styling and engineering cues from the company’s wireless speakers, combining a rechargeable battery and the ability to survive a shallow-water dunk with Google Assistant smart speaker technology.

            Note, however, that the Link 20 needs WiFi to power its smart speaker functions. If you just need some tunes, the Link 20 can also pair with your smartphone via Bluetooth. 

            6
            Versatility, Thy Name Is Sonos
            Sonos One (Gen 2)
            Sonos One (Gen 2)

              Sonos One (Gen 2)

              If you value versatility above all else, look no further than the Sonos One. The company’s first smart speaker is platform-agnostic. It’s compatible with Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and even Apple’s Siri.

              Just as important, the Sonos One has a clean and articulate sound that allows you to hear details in a recording, from the shimmer of a cymbal to a singer taking a breath between verses.

              The Sonos One also integrates seamlessly with the company’s highly rated nonsmart speakers to make a truly flexible multiroom system with voice command capability.  If you want to listen to the latest episode of that true-crime podcast in the kitchen while the kids stream Ariana Grande on Spotify upstairs, all you need to do is ask.

              The second-generation version of the Sonos One has more processing power than the previous generation, although our testers found that it performed almost identically to its predecessor.

              7
              Alexa Made Waterproof
              Ultimate Ears MEGABLAST
              Ultimate Ears MEGABLAST

                Ultimate Ears MEGABLAST

                Most smart speakers are house pets, so to speak. They're designed to play indoors and need to be plugged into an AC outlet and connected to WiFi. The UE Megablast is a notable exception.

                 

                The design and feature set owes more to a conventional wireless speaker that you find at a patio, park, or pool. The device is waterproof (at least according to UE's claims.) It's powered by a rechargeable battery. And it can also stream music via Bluetooth or WiFi.

                 

                Our testers like the Megablast's sound quality, with its strong bass and enough volume for even a large room. Its Alexa-powered smart features worked as you'd expect them to, allowing voice commands for common functions like finding a playlist, skipping a track, or adjusting the volume, at least when the Megablast is hooked up to WiFi.

                 

                While UE's list price for the versatile Megablast is $250, the speaker can often be found for $200 or less.

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                Smart Speakers Rated
                Access Ratings
                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.