All about that bass: The best smart speakers for music

Get ready to rock out with these smart speakers

The best smart speakers for music

If music be the food of love, why do so many of the top smart speakers out there sound so crap? Time and time again we read that music is one of the primary reasons people are using their smart speakers, yet the likes of the Echo Dot and Google Home Mini still disappoint.

But now premium audio brands are getting in on the smart speaker game, and there are now options that are capable of with deep, rich audio and crisp details at loud volumes - while still enjoying the benefits of smart assistants.

It's for that reason we've pulled together this list. From our extensive smart speaker reviews we've pulled out the ones we'd trust to power our next party. Read on for our picks.

Smart speakers for music: Things to consider

There are two things you need to consider when you're looking for a smart speaker catered toward music. The first one is going to be what music streaming services it offers. You likely already have a music streaming service that fits your lifestyle the best, so you'll want to be sure your choice of speaker supports it. For instance, if you love Spotify, you're not going to get the best experience by getting a HomePod.

Thus, you're going to have to look at devices that support your music streaming service. Similarly, you're going to have to look out for which assistants these smart speakers play nicely with. If you don't have a smart speaker already, this matters a little less.

However, if you have a home that's built for Alexa then you may want to also get a speaker that has Alexa support. If you're big into Apple and HomeKit, you may want to give the HomePod a long glance.

Finally, there's price. Most smart speakers that focus on quality audio experiences are going to be pretty pricey, at least compared to the likes of the Echo Dot and Google Home Mini. There is a range of price points, but you're not going to get something in impulse-buy territory.

Best smart speakers for music

All about that bass: The best smart speakers for music

Apple HomePod

$349, apple.com

Apple was late to the smart speaker game with the HomePod, and it's clearly decided to focus more on the speaker part than the smart part. The HomePod is one of the best sounding speakers you can get.

It's better sounding than some speakers double the price, and a lot of that is down to Apple pumping this thing with a whole bunch of good audio technology. There are seven beam-forming tweeters plus a four-inch, upwards-facing, high-excursion woofer.

There's also Apple's A8 chip, which is the real star of the show. It powers advanced algorithms that dynamically and continually analyze the music you're listening to and tuning the frequencies and adapting the acoustics.

It also uses its six microphones that listen to reflections in the music as it bounces off the walls, your books, your furniture and anything else in its way. It puts all of this together in order to customize the sound experience, making it better for the environment you put the HomePod in.

For example, if you put the HomePod on a shelf up against the wall it'll beam out important sounds like the vocals and loud instruments directly to the room. It'll then bounce things like reverb and backup vocals off the wall for better dispersion.

If you put the HomePod in the middle of the room, it'll do 360-degree sound that evenly splits in every direction. It does this automatically, so if you move it it'll re-organize itself - unlike Sonos, which needs to be re-tuned whenever you reposition it. Also, there's both multi-room and stereo features.

Where the HomePod suffers is the smart part of the equation. Siri is not at the same level as either Google Assistant or Alexa, and if you'd prefer to use those assistants you're out of luck here. Siri is more robotic than its competitors, and it can't do as much as either. It can do the basics, like weather and news, but it's not as good for information. As for HomeKit, Siri works about as well as it does on your phone for that stuff.

Even worse, the HomePod is limited in the services you can use on it. If you're an Apple Music listener, everything works great. Siri is a great DJ assistant, and can even tell you who plays the drums in the band you're listening to. If you're a Spotify listener, you're going to have a hard time as there's no native support.

There is a workaround that'll let you use Spotify and other services with HomePod, but it's not as easy as using Apple Music. The HomePod, right now, is designed to live in Apple's music world, and no one else is invited.

the ambient verdict
Apple HomePod
Apple's HomePod is a great looking and slick looking speaker, but it only reaches its top potential if you're in Apple's walled garden, using iPhones and Apple Music. Otherwise, it doesn't play as well with services like Spotify. Siri also pales in comparison to Alexa and Google Assistant.
PROS
  • Fantastic audio quality
  • Nice design
  • Apple Music integration is great
CONS
  • Siri is lacking
  • Spotify and co. are an afterthought
  • Apple walled garden


All about that bass: The best smart speakers for music

Bose Home Speaker 500

$399.99, Amazon | bose.com

Bose is one of the biggest names in consumer audio, so naturally it was going to jump into the smart speaker race. The Home Speaker 500 is its first speaker, though it only comes with Alexa. There's no Google Assistant support here, at least not yet.

Of all the speakers on this list, Bose makes the biggest changes to the formula. There's 2.3-inch x 1.3-inch display on the front that'll show you album art as well as the artist and song you're playing. On the top, where the touch controls are, you also have six presets you can use to play specific playlists.

These are cool little features that aren't so significant, but are nice to have. Bose has made a strong, good-looking speaker, which shouldn't be too much of a surprise. It's also got eight microphones to listen to your Alexa request, and performance in this regard is damned good. You'll also get the Alexa you know and love, save for the Echo-exclusive features, natch.

As for audio quality, it's excellent. We never did test it at full volume because it got way too loud at just 70%, but it didn't distort. The sound is comparable to the HomePod, but it's not as good at filling the room. Instead of AI, the Home Speaker 500 relies on two custom drivers pointing left and right to bounce sound off the surroundings. It works well, but not as smartly as Apple's option.

the ambient verdict
Bose Home Speaker 500
Bose's first smart speaker is a good debut. While it doesn't fill the room as much as a HomePod, it's got great sound and a sturdy, classy design with some quirks that help it stand out. It is quite expensive and the mini-screen doesn't do too much, but it's a good experience.
PROS
  • Top-tier audio quality
  • Sturdy, classy design
  • Bose Music app is neat
CONS
  • Grossly expensive
  • Limited mini-screen
  • Mild Alexa hiccups


All about that bass: The best smart speakers for music

Sonos One

$199, Amazon | sonos.com

Sonos is one of the best known names in the world of speakers, a heavyweight that originated the multi-room music system. The Sonos One was its first stab at a smart speaker, and a damn fine debut.

The Sonos One comes with Alexa support, but Google Assistant support is on the way at some point this year. With Alexa, you can use voice commands for both Spotify and Amazon Music, but the speaker itself is compatible with a whole host of music subscription services. It's unclear which services will work with the upcoming Google Assistant integration.

Otherwise, Alexa has the same features as it does on an Echo device. You won't get some of the exclusive Echo support, like Alexa Calling and Messaging, but you can control your smart home and get your flash briefings and weather reports just fine. However, as it doesn't have the same far-field mic setup that you get on the Echo, Alexa can be a bit hard of hearing.

Where the Sonos One excels is sound quality. You're getting a balanced, punchy sound that doesn't dominate. It's not too bass-y, either, and it can fill a room with 360 sound. You can also use Sonos' Trueplay to optimize the sound quality for the room acoustics. If you need even better sound, you can also pair it up with a Sonos Amp to give it a little more oomph.

The Sonos One's big advantage is versatility. It's compatible with every service, and eventually you'll be able to switch between Alexa and Google Assistant. Plus, there's Sonos' excellent multi-room powers. If you get other Sonos devices, like a Beam, you can link them all together.

the ambient verdict
Sonos One
Sound quality is Sonos' territory and it shows with the One, particularly with Trueplay. While Alexa isn't as responsive as we'd like, the whole package forms, hands down, one of the best smart speakers out there right now. And it's only going to get better with Google Assistant.
PROS
  • That sound
  • Looks sleek
  • Ecosystem agnostic
CONS
  • Alexa a bit deaf
  • Voice control limited
  • Some Alexa features missing


All about that bass: The best smart speakers for music

Marshall Stanmore II Voice

$399, Amazon | marshallheadphones.com

Among hardcore audiophiles, the Marshall name carries significant weight. Its Stanmore II Voice smart speaker is a big deal, bringing Marshall's know-how into 2019. There are actually two versions, one for Alexa and one for Google Assistant. You're not going to be able to switch between the two systems on the same speaker, like you will be able to do with the Sonos One (eventually) - worth bearing in mind.

First, the Stanmore II Voice is gorgeous. It's a big, beautiful device that utilizes Marshall's classic, iconic design. In that way, it doesn't look like a smart speaker. It looks like a classic speaker, which can make it appealing for the nostalgic, or for those who just don't want too much tech being obviously displayed in their home.

The voice assistant powers here are fairly standard. Save for Alexa and Google Assistant's exclusive features, you're getting the assistants you know and love. So get ready to control your smart home and get your news. You can also get them to connect your phone via Bluetooth so that you can stream music, and there's a 3.5mm jack and an old RCA connector should you want to wire up.

As for audio quality, there's a trio of amplifiers: a 50-watt one powers a 13cm woofer and two 15-watt for two 19cm tweeters. All of that with its size means it can push out some seriously good sound, even at half volume. Anything over seven might get the neighbors knocking on your door.

It's loud, it's got texture, it's got the right amount of bass, it's fun to listen to, and there's no distortion at loud volumes. It's got big, bold sound. If you want great music, especially from bands, the Stanmore II Voice delivers it.

the ambient verdict
Marshall Stanmore II Voice
Marshall's Stanmore II Voice has big, bold sound paired with old school, iconic looks. Alexa and Google Assistant versions bring some smarts, but smarts is kind of an afterthought here, with a simplistic app and alright voice recognition.
PROS
  • Big, bold sound
  • Great looks
  • Excellent build quality
CONS
  • No multiroom
  • Voice recognition could be better
  • Simplistic app


All about that bass: The best smart speakers for music

Google Home Max

$299, store.google.com

Amazon has an extensive fleet of Echo speakers. but none of them are built specifically for music. Google, on the other hand, has the Home Max. It's a Google Assistant smart speaker that is all about giving you the best music experience possible while on Google's turf.

The Home Max is probably the least interesting looking speaker on this list. It... just looks like a speaker. It's also very big, and heavy, and something you're not going to want to move around too much. Getting this thing on a shelf was a struggle.

Inside, you have two 4.5-inch woofers and two 0.7-inch tweeters, producing a sound that is deep, bassy and clean. Also, it's incredibly loud. It's so loud that we were too scared to test it out on the loudest volume - but unlike the regular Google Home, you won't hear the distortion at those higher volumes. There's also Bluetooth and a 3.5mm jack should you want to wire up.

We tested the Home Max up against the Sonos One, and it's a close fight until you get to the high volumes, where the Home Max wins out on volume. However, where the Home Max suffers is that its music is directional. You're not going to get as good sound if you want to put it in the middle of the room. Google also has something called Smart Sound, which analyzes the room and tries to provide the best sound possible - but Sonos has a head start in this department, and it shows.

As for streaming support, there's Spotify, Google Play Music, YouTube Music, and Pandora. Apple Music support is on the way, too. So not everything is here, but most of the big names.

the ambient verdict
Google Home Max
Google's Home Max provides rich, powerful sound paired with the full Google Assistant experience. While it was expensive, Google has discounted the speaker and keeps offering deals on the device. Directional audio and meh design are negatives, but it's got great sound to make up for it.
PROS
  • Rich, powerful sound
  • Google Assistant outsmarts Alexa
  • Bluetooth support
CONS
  • Alexa wins on smart home control
  • Directional audio
  • Design is a bit meh

TAGGED   speakers   smart home

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