Turn Any Bluetooth Speaker Into a Smart Speaker for $30

You can pair a very cheap Amazon Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini smart speaker with a great-sounding wireless model you already own

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Amazon Dot smart speaker seen in a kitchen setting. Photo: Amazon

For all their clever tricks, smart speakers spend most of their time playing music, which presents a problem; many models, especially the inexpensive ones, don’t sound great.

But there’s an easy fix: For as little as $30, you can pair a small, cheap smart speaker with a much better-sounding wireless speaker to create an AI-powered music setup that responds to voice commands.

To add smarts to a conventional speaker, just buy an Amazon Echo Dot or a Google Nest Mini, which both list for $50 but are frequently discounted. The Dot dips to $30 in holiday sales roughly every other month. Even an older or refurbished model will do.

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Alas, for Apple fans, the HomePod mini can’t be paired with a Bluetooth wireless speaker.

“The Amazon Echo Dot and Google Nest Mini are relatively low-cost, entry-level smart speakers,” says Elias Arias, who heads Consumer Reports’ testing programs for smart speakers and wireless speakers. “Connect one of these to a better-sounding nonsmart speaker and you can gain the functionality and convenience that a digital voice assistant offers in a smart speaker.”

The end result is a smart speaker that’s connected to the internet—and other smart devices like smart lightbulbs—by WiFi but uses Bluetooth pairing to send music and podcasts to a separate wireless speaker. If you want state-of-the-art smart speaker sound quality, check out these great-sounding wireless speakers, which our testers found to perform better than even the best-sounding smart speaker from our ratings.

Here’s how to pick speakers to pair and how to pair them.

Which Speakers to Pair?

If you already own a smart speaker and a wireless speaker with good sound, there’s no need to go shopping. Older Amazon and Google smart speakers work just fine for this, and even an older, high-quality wireless speaker with Bluetooth capability makes a fine pairing partner.

If you already have a wireless speaker you really like but wish it were smarter and more versatile, buying an Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini is a no-brainer. They’re small and cheap, and they will control a Bluetooth speaker just as well as the more expensive smart models from Amazon and Google because the actual processing of your voice commands is done in the company’s cloud servers, not in the device itself. Just adding voice control to your music—“Alexa, play ‘Billy, Don’t Be a Hero’”—makes this a worthwhile upgrade.

If you’re looking for the very best sound quality from a speaker, check out our wireless speaker ratings. The top-ranked models, like the Edifier S1000MKII or the Sonos Five, sound even better than the best-sounding smart speaker in our ratings, the Sonos One, and pair easily with a low-cost smart speaker.

Pair Your Amazon Echo Dot

Begin with a Dot (or another Alexa-powered smart speaker) that’s already set up, then make sure that the other wireless speaker is on and that the volume is turned up enough that you can hear when it’s playing.

Disconnect any other Bluetooth devices from the Dot, because it can connect to only one device at a time. Do the same for the wireless speaker, because it might have a tendency to search for other devices, like your smart phone, that it has been paired with previously. (You can pair it again with your phone when you’re done.)

  1. Turn on the pairing mode on your Bluetooth speaker. If you don’t know how to do this, refer to the user guide for your Bluetooth speaker. But pressing the pairing button for a few seconds works for many models.
  2. Open the Alexa app on your smartphone.
  3. Go to the menu at the bottom of the screen and select Devices on the right.
  4. Select the Echo Dot or other Alexa-powered device you’re using.
  5. Select Bluetooth Devices.
  6. Select Pair a New Device.

Your Dot should now enter pairing mode. When the device discovers your Bluetooth speaker, the speaker will appear in the list of available devices in the Alexa app.

After this initial setup, the Dot should automatically pair with the speaker in the future. But if that doesn’t happen at some point, just say “Connect” and your Dot should connect to the last device that it was paired with. When the connection is made, you’ll be able to use Alexa voice commands to control your wireless speaker.

This pairing method works with other Alexa-powered devices, not just the Dot. An older Echo, which doesn’t sound great, will work just as well. If you want to pair a wireless speaker with an Echo device with a screen, such as the less-than-great-sounding second-gen Amazon Echo Show 5, you can do it right from that device’s own touch screen.

If the pairing process doesn’t work, try unpairing the devices, turning them off and on, and starting the process again.

Pair Your Google Home Mini

Pairing a Google Home Mini with a Bluetooth speaker directly is a relatively new function. Previously, you had to pair your devices through a separate Chromecast streaming audio player, which was less convenient.

To get started, make sure that both devices are turned on and unpaired, and that the volume on the speaker is turned up so that you can hear when it has been paired successfully.

  1. Turn on your Bluetooth speaker and make sure it’s in pairing mode. This is often done by pressing the pairing button on your speaker, but otherwise, you should be able to find the directions on the manufacturer’s website or in the user guide.
  2. Open the Google Home app on your smartphone, and in the middle of the screen tap the name of the smart speaker you want to pair.
  3. In the top right corner of the screen for that speaker, tap the icon for Devices, which looks like a gear.
  4. Scroll down to Default Speaker, then tap Pair Bluetooth speaker. Now the Home Mini will start scanning for devices within range.
  5. Tap the speaker you want to pair.
  6. Tap Done.

Once you pair and connect your speaker to a Google smart speaker, it should auto-connect in the future, unless the speaker gets disconnected or turned off.

The speaker can now be controlled by voice commands through the Google Nest Mini. Note that the device can play through only one connected speaker at a time. And remember, this doesn’t work only with the Mini. You can use other Google Home smart speakers as well, like the Nest Audio or the second-gen Nest Hub smart screen.

If this doesn’t work, try unpairing the devices, turning them off and on, and starting the process again.

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.