Best Smart Speakers For Music 2020: Alexa-Compatible Audiophile Units - Rolling Stone
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The Best Smart Speakers For Audiophiles

Connect to Alexa and other voice assistants without comprising sound quality

Bose Home Speaker 500

Amazon

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Amazon’s “Echo” line of smart Bluetooth speakers has become enormously successful over the past few years thanks in large part to Alexa, the company’s smart assistant.

But while Amazon has won praise for Alexa — an AI (artificial intelligence) platform that lets you control everything from smart-home accessories to music settings with your voice — its speakers haven’t exactly won over the audiophile crowd.

Although Amazon’s first-party speakers work very well, the company has started letting other brands build Alexa into their speakers as well. Today, some of the best audio companies in the world have started releasing Alexa-compatible speakers that will appeal to people who care about sound just as much as smart-home functionality.

What Are the Best Alexa Speakers For Music?

There are many factors to consider when choosing the best audiophile Alexa speaker for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.

Size: Our Alexa speaker recommendations run the gamut from pocket-sized to bookshelf sized. They won’t replace a full home theater system, but they’re perfect for a home office, bedroom, or patio.

Wired vs. Wireless: This guide contains a mix of totally wireless speakers and others that need to be plugged into a wall. Every pick is portable enough that you could take it with you, though.

Battery Life: Our minimum battery life requirement for this guide was 12 hours of playtime per charge, which is enough to get you through a full day.

Durability: An electronic’s resistance to dust and water is measured on the IP (ingress protection) scale. The totally wireless speakers we’re recommending both have an IP67 rating, which means they’re completely dust-proof, and can be submerged in up to 3.3 feet of water for 30 minutes or less.

Multi-Speaker Pairing: Each of the speakers we picked will sound great on our own, but some can be paired with additional speakers to create a stereo pair or extended wireless audio system.

Other Smart Features: Support for Amazon’s Alexa was our primary concern, but some speakers we’re recommending support other smart assistants, like Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri, too.

1. SONOS One (Gen 2)

Sonos One (Gen 2)

Courtesy Amazon

Amazon

Sonos spearheaded the connected speaker revolution several years ago, and its One speaker was the first to have microphones and Alexa support built in. This second-generation version doesn’t change how it sounds, but does have an updated processor inside.

At about 6.3 inches tall and 4.7 inches deep, the Sonos One (Gen 2) is one of the smaller speakers in our guide. It looks like a standard bookshelf speaker because, well, that’s what it’s supposed to replace. This isn’t a totally wireless speaker, so it needs to be plugged into an outlet at all times, but it’s still small enough to move from room to room.

It doesn’t have an IP durability rating because it’s not designed to be used out of the house, and you should avoid spilling water on it, or exposing it to dust and dirt. Unlike other speakers in our guide, the Sonos One (Gen 2) allows you to stream music over WiFi instead of Bluetooth. The advantages are extended range, and support for high-resolution audio.

I’ve tested the first-generation Sonos One pretty extensively, and have liked it a lot. The sound has always been relatively balanced (a little bass heavy sometimes), which makes listening to podcasts and music good. The speaker doesn’t lose any audio quality at loud volumes, either. This is the only smart speaker I’ve bought more than once, which is the highest praise I can give a gadget.

The Sonos One (Gen 2) benefits from the company’s previous efforts to make smart speakers easier to use. It can be paired to another Sonos One (2nd Gen) to create a stereo pair, or any of Sonos’ speakers to create an extended wireless network of speakers. As long as they’re connected to WiFi, you can play the same track from each Sonos speaker in your house simultaneously, or play something different on each one. This process sounds complicated, but Sonos’ app (iOS and Android) makes it pretty easy.

It’s no surprise that the Sonos One (Gen 2) is the smartest choice in our guide. It supports Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and supports AirPlay 2, a wireless standard created by Apple that lets you stream high-resolution audio and video. It doesn’t have support for Siri built in (Apple keeps that locked to its own devices), but the ability to access other smart features from Amazon, Apple, and Google in a single device is very impressive.

If you want an extremely smart speaker that’s versatile and sounds great, this is your best choice.

2. Bang & Olufsen A1 (2nd Gen)

Bang & Olufsen A1 2nd Gen

Courtesy Amazon

Amazon

Bang & Olufsen just released the second-generation of its A1 portable Bluetooth speaker, and this time it’s got Alexa inside.

At 1.83 inches tall and 5.2 inches deep, the A1 (2nd Gen) is the smallest speaker in our guide. It’s totally wireless, and uses the cutting-edge Bluetooth 5.1 standard, which is a lot more power-efficient than previous versions. Bang & Olufsen says the A1 (2nd Gen) gets up to 18 hours per charge when listening at “typical listening volumes,” which is no small feat for a speaker this size.

Bang & Olufsen has designed this speaker to maximize its audio performance. Its domed-shape allows the A1 (2nd Gen) to send sound in multiple directions, so you don’t have to position it in a particular position and find a “sweet spot.”

The company has managed to fit two drivers (the part of a speaker that produces sound) into the unit: a 3.5 inch woofer to handle bass and midrange frequencies, and a 0.6 inch tweeter to take care of the treble. Having multiple drivers helps speakers deliver clearer, more accurate sound by intelligently sending certain sounds to each driver. While the A1 (2nd Gen) is an excellent choice on its own, it can be paired with an additional A1 (2nd Gen) to create a stereo pair.

It may not have any additional smart features, but Bang & Olufsen’s A1 (2nd Gen) holds its own against larger competition. If you want an excellent, advanced-sounding smart speaker you can take anywhere, this is our pick.

3. Sony XB402M

Sony XB402M Smart Speaker

Courtesy Amazon

Amazon

Sony’s XB402M is a mid-sized, party-ready smart speaker you can take with you anywhere.

It measures 11.56 inches tall and roughly 6.3 inches deep, which makes it the largest speaker in our guide. Sony declines to mention which version of Bluetooth it uses, but the speaker was released in 2020, so this shouldn’t be much of an issue. The XB402M is totally wireless, and Sony says it gets up to 12 hours of playtime per charge.

The battery life-to-size ratio may sound a little off at first (our smallest speaker gets 18 hours and is roughly one quarter the size) but Sony built a lot of audio hardware into the XB402M. It has two, full-sized woofers and a pair of passive radiators under the hood, which should allow the speaker to sound good and get really loud.

This speaker is part of Sony’s XB (Xtra Bass) line, so you should expect a lot of emphasis on low frequencies out of the box. I’ve tried other Sony XB speakers and headphones, and found the bass to be amplified, but not to the point of being distracting.

That said, you can completely customize the EQ through Sony’s Music Center app (iOS and Android), and tune the XB402M to your liking. By making these adjustments easy to access, Sony has let every listener define “audiophile sound” for themselves. The only audio fumble is that this speaker can’t be connected to other Sony speakers.

The XB402M was designed as a “party” speaker, which means it’s a pretty big speaker that can deliver really loud sound. It also means the company built LED strips into the speaker to create a more fun, visual experience. The lights can be controlled by pushing a button, or through the Fiestable app (iOS and Android). Finally, this speaker doesn’t have any other smart features beyond working with Amazon’s Alexa.

If you want a smart, powerful speaker to take with you to backyard cookouts, the beach, or other large gatherings, Sony’s XB402M is the right choice.

4. Bose Home 500

Bose Home Speaker 500

Courtesy Amazon

Amazon

If you want a smart speaker for your home office, Bose’s Home Speaker 500 is our pick.

The modern-looking speaker stands eight inches tall, and roughly 6.7 inches deep. It’s not totally wireless, and is a little bigger than the Sonos One (Gen 2), but this is still a bookshelf speaker you can move without too much trouble. It may be “landlocked” to an outlet, but the speaker’s audio and smart features more than make up for it.

This speaker can be paired with another Bose Home Speaker 500, but you may not need to. This is the only option in our guide to feature full stereo sound on its own, without needing to be paired with another speaker. Bose says it’s positioned two custom drivers at such an angle that the sound will bounce off the walls in your room to create a full-sounding stereo image. At the very least, you’ll be able to hear music closer to the way the artist intended.

Beyond stereo sound, the Home Speaker 500 is also the only speaker in our guide to feature an LCD screen, which displays the album artwork related to the track you’re currently listening to. It’s a nice touch that gives you another way to identify a song or artist if you’re listening to a new playlist.

Like the Sonos One (Gen 2), the Bose Home Speaker 500 works with Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and supports AirPlay 2. It also supports both Bluetooth (Bose doesn’t mention which version) and WiFi streaming. The bottom line is that this is a well-rounded smart speaker with audio hardware to match its intelligence.

As its name suggests, the Bose Home Speaker 500 is designed to be used inside the house. It won’t hold up well if it’s exposed to water or a lot of dust, so you’ll probably want to keep it on a high shelf, bedside table, or vanity.

If you don’t need a totally wireless speaker, and want one with advanced audio hardware and wide smart assistant support, look no further.

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