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Smart speakers add convenience to your life, and these are the best right now

The Riva Concert is the best smart speaker you can buy. It’s got Alexa built-in, some of the best sound we’ve ever heard out of a speaker this small, plus it can do multiroom audio with your choice of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections. Like a Swiss army knife, there’s almost nothing this speaker can’t do.

Our team has been reviewing smart speakers since the category emerged with Amazon’s Echo, and since then, we’ve developed a keen sense of what to look for in one of these products. After hundreds of hours of listening to music, controlling smart home accessories, playing trivia games, and generally getting the various voice assistants to do our bidding, we’re confident the Riva Concert will be ideal for most people. Still, it’s a crowded field, with lots of great products. If the Concert isn’t for you, we have five alternative smart speakers that offer specific strengths in several categories. Check ’em out, they’re all excellent options.

Editor’s note: There’s one smart speaker for Microsoft’s Cortana A.I. (the Harman Kardon Invoke), and given Cortana’s lack of popularity, it didn’t warrant a spot on our list. However, Microsoft’s latest strategy appears to revolve around adding Cortana to existing smart speaker platforms, with Amazon Alexa as the first test bed.  Samsung has announced that will soon be launching its Galaxy Home, a smart speaker equipped with Bixby, its proprietary A.I. Once we get a chance to check it out, we’ll update this list again.

Best smart speakers at a glance: The best smart speaker: Riva Concert Riva Concert Best Speaker 2018Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It sounds incredible, has Alexa built-in, and offers wide support of multiple streaming services.

Who it’s for: Everyone.

Why we picked the Riva Concert:

With gorgeous sound, a small footprint, and Amazon Alexa built-in, the Riva Concert goes head-to-head with our previous favorite smart speaker, the Sonos: One.

But there are a few awesome features that help the Riva Concert beat the Sonos option. First and foremost, it’s that the Concert offers true stereophonic sound — something the compact Sonos speaker doesn’t offer. This means a wide stereo image and a beautiful soundstage, allowing the speaker to reproduce your favorite tunes with ease.

The splash-proof Riva Concert also features Bluetooth (another thing Sonos lacks), and the option to add-on an external battery, meaning it can be a great portable speaker, should you need one.

The Concert supports Spotify Connect and AirPlay, and is extremely easy to set up via the company’s Riva app, making it an absolute no-brainer regardless of which of the most popular streaming services you use.

Read our full Riva Concert review

The best cheap smart speaker: Amazon Echo Dot best tech gifts under 50 echo dot 3rd gen image

Why you should buy this: It’s affordable, controls your home, and can route sound through bigger speakers.

Who it’s for: Those in need of an Alexa voice-control hub.

Why we picked the Amazon Echo Dot:

Alexa is the first Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) assistant that comes to mind for most people, and Amazon’s Echo has followed suit, becoming the signature smart speaker line. Typically, the Echo series — comprising the Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Spot, Echo Plus, and Echo Show (not to mention auxiliary items like the Echo Buttons and Echo Connect) — prioritizes smart control over audio quality, but the Dot’s got a unique solution for that concession.

At just $50, the Echo Dot offers all the Alexa-based powers you’d get from the full-size version and adds an awesome touch: An auxiliary output port, which allows you to route playback through a bigger (and presumably better-sounding) speaker, as long as that speaker has an aux-in jack.

Like the Echo, the Dot’s microphone will recognize your voice individually, so everyone can quickly get the info they need, and it’ll offer full command over all your Alexa-compatible smart devices. Plus, of course, it can tell you jokes and help with homework.

Read our full Amazon Echo Dot review

The best smart speaker for Google Assistant: Google Home Mini Google Home Mini vs Amazon Echo Dot audio outputDan Baker/Digital TrendsDan Baker/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s cheap and surprisingly powerful.

Who it’s for: Those in need of an affordable Google Assistant voice-control hub.

Why we picked the Google Home Mini:

When Amazon introduced the Echo Dot, Google must have taken it personally, because it went out and designed a speaker that’s basically the exact same thing, except it sounds better. The Home Mini doesn’t have an aux-out port for sending your tunes to a bigger speaker, but it’s a damn good option nonetheless.

If you prefer Google Assistant to Alexa, the Home Mini is pretty much a no-brainer (unless you want to shell out some more cash for something with more oomph). There are tons of gizmos and gadgets that work with Assistant, it’s got individual voice matching, and it’ll make phone calls hands-free.

Compared with the Dot, the Mini is a tad taller and has a much stronger sound overall. It’s not going to blow your mind with clarity and detail, but it won’t make you cringe either.

Read our full Google Home Mini review

The best smart speaker for Apple Music: Apple HomePod Apple HomepodGreg Mombert/Digital TrendsGreg Mombert/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: You’re willing to pay for great sound, and you’re an Apple fanatic.

Who it’s for: Strictly those with an iPhone and an Apple Music subscription.

Why we picked the Apple HomePod:

First of all, we don’t want to mislead anyone. The HomePod is not currently a very effective smart speaker. It only plays nice with iPhones, doesn’t currently offer multiroom audio support, and might stain your wood furniture (though, some say Sonos and Echo will too). Still reading? Well, good, because the HomePod does happen to do one thing very well: Play music.

Assuming you’re an iPhone user subscribed to Apple Music, the HomePod is an excellent choice. Its A8 processing chip constantly scans the speaker’s environment to optimize audio quality, and it works impressively well.

No matter where you place the HomePod, it sounds great, thanks in part to seven (!) tweeters surrounding a four-inch driver, each equipped with its own amplifier. Bass is big, midrange performance is warm and velvety, and treble is clearer than we’d ever hoped for upon the speaker’s initial announcement. If you’re flush with cash and don’t mind spending extra time chatting with Siri, this is an awesome-sounding speaker.

Read our full Apple HomePod review

The best smart speaker for TV: Sonos Beam Sonos Beam sound bar deal

Why you should buy this: You want much better sound for your TV, with sophisticated voice control too.

Who it’s for: Those with a TV in a smaller room like a bedroom or kitchen

Why we picked the Sonos Beam:

Even the newest TVs typically have lousy sound quality due to their tiny built-in speakers. This makes soundbars an attractive option for many. However, soundbars tend to be large, and clunky affairs despite their overall simplicity. This where the Sonos Beam comes in: Very compact, it can easily fit under the smallest of TVs on either a surface or wall-mounted using the optional bracket. Like every Sonos product, it has superb sound quality for its size and can become part of a much larger multiroom audio system. The Sonos app lets you stream from virtually every music service on the planet and it does an excellent job managing your private music collection too. But the reason we’ve chosen it for this roundup is its smart speaker chops. With the ability to run either Google Assistant or Alexa as its voice assistant, it can serve as the hub for a host of home automation commands.

What we really like about the Beam is that it can translate spoken commands for Google Assistant or Alexa into signals that control your TV. “Alexa, turn on Bedroom TV,” will do just that. Other commands, like “Alexa, turn the volume up on Bedroom TV,” “Alexa, mute Bedroom TV,” or “Alexa, unmute Bedroom TV,” and ”Alexa, next channel on Bedroom TV” all work too, as will similar commands for Google Assistant.

These voice commands are so effective, they almost entirely eliminate the need for a physical remote. But don’t worry, the Sonos Beam also plays nicely with traditional infrared TV remotes too.

Read our full Sonos Beam review

The best smart speaker for the bathroom: JBL Link 20 JBL Link 20 reviewBill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: You want a smart speaker in your bathroom that could actually survive an accidental dunk in the tub.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants the capabilities of a smart speaker in a portable and waterproof package.

Why we picked the JBL Link 20:

If you want to put a smart speaker in a bathroom, we think it needs to do three things really well. First, it needs to survive an unintended encounter with water. Yes, we know that some smart speakers market themselves as humidity-resistant, but that’s not going to cut it if it should happen to get knocked over into a full tub of water (not to mention the electrocution hazard). Second, it needs to get loud, without distortion. After all, you’ll be showering, brushing your teeth, and flushing the toilet in there, all of which can be pretty noisy, so being able to overcome these acoustic impediments is a must. Third, it needs a far-field microphone array that’s sensitive enough to handle those same obstructions to hearing a shouted voice command. There’s no point in having a smart speaker that can’t understand you when you yell “turn up the volume!” from the shower.

The JBL Link 20 satisfies all of these considerations and then some. Its IPX7 rating will keep it from damage when and if that dunking occurs, it gets impressively loud for its small size, and we found it had no problem hearing our commands even in very noisy environments. With Bluetooth for those times when Wi-Fi isn’t available, and a built-in battery, you can use it anywhere you want to go, though voice commands only work over Wi-Fi.

The sound quality is good, though not up there with some of the other speakers on our list, and the JBL Link 20 is only compatible with Google Assistant. But these small caveats aside, we think it’s a great smart speaker.

Read our full JBL Link 20 review

Research and buying tips

Should I buy an Alexa smart speaker or Google smart speaker?

That depends on which ecosystem you like most. Both have their benefits and drawbacks, and both allow you to use the most popular streaming services out there.

What about Apple’s HomePod?

If you’re an Apple devotee, this could be a decent speaker for you. That said, because it only works with iOS devices, it is probably not a great choice if you don’t exclusively use Apple devices — or you want your non-Apple loving friends and family to be able to pick out tunes.

Do smart speakers help the visually impaired?

Yes. Because they have a lot of functionality that doesn’t require buttons, smart speakers can be great for visually impaired people.

Do smart speakers have an aux input?

Some smart speakers, like the Riva Concert, have 3.5mm inputs. If you desire an AUX input, we recommend checking to make sure the speaker has one before purchasing.

Can I use smart speakers to listen to FM radio?

No, most smart speakers do not have an FM tuner. If you want to listen to the radio, your best bet is using internet radio on these speakers.

Do smart speakers usually have a battery?

Some do and some don’t. If you want to take your smart speaker with you on the go, we recommend making sure it has a built-in or add-on battery (like the Riva Concert or JBL Link 20).

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