A smart speaker is essentially a regular speaker with expanded functionality. With a non-smart speaker, you would normally have to hook up a speaker to a device like your phone or a CD player to hear audio. A smart speaker, on the other hand, is capable of streaming music itself in response to input from an app, remote, or even voice commands.
Smart speakers represent a diverse group of products. From tiny speakers to huge home theaters with high-end audio, there are options out there to suit most any room and budget.
What makes a good smart speaker?
Perfect Sound Quality – While the smart functionally of these speakers may be useful, sound quality is also extremely important. There are a number of factors that all combine to create that perfect sound. When shopping for a smart speaker, you should take into account the technology and acoustics within to help make an informed decision. There’s honestly no substitute for hearing a speaker in person. However, aspects like the number of internal speakers, amplifiers, tweeters, and woofers can give you a baseline that you can use to compare different options.
Excellent Connectivity – While certain speakers like the Sonos PLAY:5 feature an audio line-in, chances are that you’d like to stream music wirelessly as well. There are multiple options for playing your music through a smart speaker, and some are better than others.
Bluetooth connectivity is standard on many speakers, but the quality can’t quite keep up with a fast WiFi connection. If your wireless network is a little spotty, consider buying a smart speaker with an Ethernet port for a hardwired and more reliable connection.
Streaming Partners – There’s no doubt that audio and connectivity are some primary aspects to keep in mind when buying a speaker. However, booming bass and a flawless WiFi signal are useless if you can’t get access to your favorite music.
Different brands vary wildly in the amount of streaming sites they support, so keep an eye out for supported services before you make a buy. The amount of supported streaming partners can vary from a handful to over 50, and this may be a determining factor in your decision to buy.
Extend to 3.1 or 5.1 – It’s important that your smart speaker has impressive audio on its own, but expandability is a factor worth discussing. Some speakers may not be the best option as a single device, but blow away the competition as part of a 3.1 or 5.1 home theater system. Keep an eye out for products that interface will additional speakers and soundbars.
It may be tempting to overlook cheaper mono speakers due to their single channel setup; but the battle of the smart speakers is a much closer matchup when you consider that products like Sonos PLAY:3 can be paired to form the two parts of a stereo channel. Opting for a product family with expandability will be a big help if you ever decide to take your smart speaker setup to the next level.
Thing to consider before buying a smart speaker:
Space & Placement – In some cases, bigger isn’t always better. While there are some speakers like the PLAY:5 that will blow you away with incredible bass, it’s very large and creates sound that may be overkill for a tiny office. In some cases, the less expensive PLAY:1 may get the job done just fine – saving you money and still delivering top-notch audio. Another consideration to keep in mind is humidity resistance. If you’re looking for a smart speaker for the bathroom or patio, it’s important to go with a speaker that can function in a damp space, like Sonos PLAY:1 or PLAY:5.
Stereo Pair Option – Tying in with the 3.1 and 5.1 expansion section above, it’s worth considering whether a speaker set can pair to provide stereo sound. Two speakers will produce a sound that is better than one in most cases. Being able to take your sound to the next level with dedicated channels on each speaker will make for some mind-blowing music.
Smart Home Integration – Many smart speakers will integrate with voice controls, smart hubs, or other smart home products. They do differ, however, in the types of systems that they support. Ensuring that you have the right voice controller or a compatible smart home system can make the decision easier, as it’s important that a smart speaker integrates seamlessly with the rest of your home.