Amazon Echo Dot in a living room setting
Photo: Amazon

For all of their clever capabilities, most smart speakers are enlisted for very straightforward duty: playing music. There's just one problem with this setup—most smart speakers don't sound all that great.  

There's an easy solution. Even the smallest and most inexpensive smart speakers can be paired with much better-sounding wireless speakers for a great sounding AI-powered portable music setup. The best candidates for adding smarts to a conventional speaker are the Amazon Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini, which both list for just $50 and are frequently discounted.

More on Smart and Wireless Speakers

"The Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home 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 non-smart 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 still connected to the internet—and other smart devices like smart lightbulbs—by WiFi but uses Bluetooth pairing to send music and podcasts to an outboard speaker. 

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

Which Speakers to Pair?

If you 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 as long as they're running the updated software and firmware, and most wireless speakers with Bluetooth capability make a fine pairing partner.

If you have a wireless speaker you like but wish it were smarter, buying an Echo Dot or Google Home Mini is a no-brainer. They're small and cheap, and they will control a Bluetooth speaker just as well as the more expensive models from Amazon and Google. 

If you're looking for the very best sound quality from a wireless speaker, check our wireless speaker ratings. The top-ranked models, like the Edifier S1000DB, $325, sound even better than our top smart speakers. You might also consider models like  the HEOS 7 HS2, $399; and the Sonos Play:5, $499, which add multiroom capability to their superior sound.

Go to Consumer Reports’ 2018 Holiday Central for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more.

Pair Your Amazon Echo Dot

Begin with a Dot (or other Alexa-powered device) that's already set up, and then make sure the speaker is on and the volume is turned up. Disconnect any other Bluetooth devices from the Dot because it can only connect to one device at a time. Do the same for the speaker because it will have a tendency to search for devices, like your phone, it's been previously paired with.

  1. Turn on pairing mode on your Bluetooth speaker. If you don't know how to do this, refer to the user guide for your Bluetooth speaker, although 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 and select Alexa Devices.
  4. Select your device.
  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 appears in the list of available of devices in the Alexa app.

After this initial setup, the Dot should automatically pair with the speaker. However, if that doesn't happen, just say, "Connect" and your Dot connects to the last device that was connected. And when the connection is complete, you'll be able to use Alexa voice commands to control your wireless speaker.

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

This pairing method works with other Alexa-powered devices, not just the Dot. If you want to pair a speaker to an Amazon Echo Show, you can do it right from that device's own touch screen.

Pair Your Google Home Mini

Pairing a Google Home Mini with a bluetooth speaker directly is a relatively new function. Until this spring, you had to pair your devices through a separate Chromecast streaming audio player, but a recent update eliminates that requirement. Make sure both devices are turned on and unpaired, and that the volume on the speaker is turned up so you can hear when it's been paired successfully. 

  1. Turn on your Bluetooth speaker and make sure it’s in pairing mode. This is typically 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.
  3. In the top right corner of the app's Home screen, tap Devices.
  4. In the menu, find the Bluetooth speaker you want the the Google Home to pair with, and tap Settings>Default music speaker>Pair Bluetooth speaker. Now the Home 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 Home, it will auto-connect unless the speaker gets disconnected or turned off.

The speaker can now be controlled by voice commands through the Google Home 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 products, as well.

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