Chances are, you spent more time inside your home during 2020 than ever before. And if that was the case, there’s a chance you found yourself wishing you had a better audio setup for your music, movies and podcasts than your laptop or phone speakers. If that has you wondering about how you might upgrade your speaker situation, you’re in luck: we have the best speakers of every size, shape and scenario that you can buy right now.
Given that many of these speakers exist in categories of their own, it’s hard to have a singular criterion for what you should look for in the best speakers, but in general, there are a few things you want:
- Audio Quality: This is a given, and all of these speakers sound good relative to their price, but when it comes to audio quality in the best speakers, you ideally want detailed sound reproduction, a wide soundstage and a balanced spectrum of highs, lows and mids.
- Design: These are speakers, so you can’t hide these things (unless you want to muffle the sound coming out of them). Instead, you should be looking for something that is contemporary, but unassuming. And you definitely want a design that doesn’t compromise the physics, engineering and sound coming off the speaker.
- Connectivity: For non-Bluetooth speakers, you definitely want something that can connect to as many devices, apps and services as possible. Obviously, there are some picks on this list that are limited (or outright incapable) when it comes to connectivity, but for the most part, the more inputs, wireless options and compatibility with apps a speaker has, the more use you’re going to get out of it.
- Ease of Use: The best smart and wireless speakers should make it dead simple to connect to other devices and configure the settings to your liking. Furthermore, these speakers should have you listening to your favorite songs in a matter of seconds. Anything longer than that, and you have to question how functional the software actually is.
So whether you’re looking to step up your home theater situation, find the best pair of speakers for a dance party, or simply need something you can take to the park, we have some amazing picks from the likes of Apple, Bose, Google, Amazon, Sonos and more.
1. The Best All-Around Speaker
While many Bluetooth and WiFi-enabled speakers have some sort of multiroom audio feature built into their software, nobody does it better than Sonos, who was one of the first to offer up this type of consumer-ready product back in 2002. While Sonos offers a few excellent options capable of providing multiroom audio, we love the WiFi-enabled Sonos One for its combination of value, performance and flexibility.
At $199 it’s not the out-and-out cheapest speaker, but given the audio quality of this thing, it’s arguably a steal. And as you add more around the house, they all become elegantly interconnected through Sonos’ own wireless platform, which integrates with all your favorite streaming music services. Plus, if you want to combine a couple of Sonos One speakers with a Sonos soundbar and subwoofer, you can have yourself a quality Dolby Atmos system setup in your home with minimal effort.
2. The Best Google Assistant Speaker
When it comes to a versatile, fully-featured speaker that’s reasonably priced and features Google Assistant, the Nest Audio is the best speaker you can buy. In addition to its quality sound and attractive design, you can use this speaker to control your entire smart home and even pair it with a second Nest Audio to step up to stereo sound. Eventually, you’ll even be able to pair this with a Chromecast to pipe your TV audio through it. If we were getting a smart Google speaker to handle more than just voice commands, this would be the one.
Google Nest Audio
Google Nest Audio
3. The Best Amazon Alexa Speaker
The Amazon Echo is basically the Alexa version of the Nest Audio, with both speakers offering comparable levels of audio quality and overall functionality. The one that will be best for you comes down to whichever ecosystem you’re more entrenched in, but the Echo does have two unique facets that could make it the right smart speaker for you: First, it has an integrated Zigbee hub, which means it’s better equipped to interface with a wider spectrum of smart home gear you may end up purchasing. Secondly, it’s deeply integrated with the Amazon storefront, which makes it easy to quickly use your voice to make a purchase from Amazon or any of its other brands, such as Whole Foods.
4. The Best Siri Speaker
Given that Siri isn’t quite as robust as Google Assistant or Alexa at the moment, we think that if you’re going to buy a HomePod in 2021, you might as well splurge and go with the one offering the best audio quality, because that is the biggest selling point of Apple’s smart speakers. Yes, the HomePod works with a wide range of connected home devices and Siri is certainly functional, but you won’t find another WiFi smart speaker around that sounds anywhere near as good as the HomePod, which has the ability to sense the acoustics of the room it’s in and custom tune its audio to sound as good as possible.
5. The Best Soundbar
It wasn’t that long ago that surround sound on a soundbar was more of a gimmick than a feature, but in 2021 we now have soundbars that can not only reproduce the surround sound experience in a pretty convincing fashion but can even offer up Dolby Atmos (which provides surround sound in vertically, as well as horizontally). The Sonos Arc is one of those soundbars, and you can make a strong argument that it is the best all-around soundbar you can buy thanks not only to its Dolby Atmos capabilities, but also its wireless streaming prowess and ability to connect to Alexa and Google Assistant. Will a soundbar ever be more immersive than a set of dedicated speakers? Definitely not. But ones like the Sonos Arc are improving to the point where 90 percent of the population might not care one way or the other.
6. The Best Small Bluetooth Speaker
When it comes to a speaker that can easily fit into a bag or supply enough volume to bring a small living room gathering to life, the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2 checks all the boxes. This little grenade-shaped noisemaker has a pair of 40mm drivers to go with dual passive radiators (for extra bass), IP67 weather resistance (making it dust- and waterproof), and 13 hours of battery life. And if you’re looking for power in numbers, you can pair the Wonderboom 2 with a second Wonderboom 2 to serve up bigger, louder, more immersive stereo sound.
Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2
Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2
7. The Best Shower Speaker
The Nest Mini isn’t really intended to be a speaker for the shower or bathroom, but there are three reasons why it works perfectly in this context. First, it can be entirely voice-controlled, so if you have wet hands, or are in the middle of doing something like brushing your teeth, or shaving, you can load up the exact song you want without missing a beat. Second, it’s wall-mountable, which means it doesn’t take up valuable counter space and can avoid splashes. Third, you can typically pick one up for less than $30, so even though it isn’t rated to be water-resistant, it can be easily replaced should it suffer an unfortunate demise. That said, do not actually try to put this thing in the shower. Mount it to the wall outside your shower.
Google Nest Mini
Google Nest Mini
8. The Best Powered Speakers
If you care more about having speakers for music than TV or movies, but still want something that has the versatility to do it all, look no further than the KEF LSX powered speakers. These may cost more than you’re used to, but considering that you’re paying for a premium pair of speakers that don’t require an amplifier, receiver or a streaming dongle, this isn’t the worst value around by any means.
Equipped with a 4.5-inch woofer and 0.75-inch tweeter, each of the compact LSX speakers can pump out 100 watts of crystal-clear audio which can be streamed wirelessly from services like Spotify, thanks to its WiFi and Ethernet connections, or from your local collection, thanks to a 3.5mm input. But if you also want to try these out with Netflix, there’s also an optical audio input that will provide you with amazing digital stereo audio. Simply put, if you’ve ever wanted to dip your toes into the world of audiophile-grade audio gear, this is a great place to start.
KEF LSX Wireless Speakers
9. The Best Large Bluetooth Speaker
For bigger gatherings outside the house that might require more sound than a small Bluetooth speaker can provide, the Ultimate Ears Hyperboom is the way to go. Think of this thing as a Bluetooth speaker on steroids, capable of delivering big, detailed sound into environments that are large and noisy. Is this the speaker you want for listening to classical music or watching the Mandalorian? Probably not. But when you want to crank up the tunes in your backyard with a handful of friends, this is the speaker you’ll be thankful you have in your arsenal.
Ultimate Ears Hyperboom
10. The Best Bookshelf Speakers
Bookshelf speakers might not be as popular as they once were due to the fact that they require additional hardware to power them and feed them audio content, but if you want the absolute best audio quality, building your own system from individual components is definitely the way to go. The Elac Uni-Fi UB5 speakers are worthy contenders here, equally at home functioning as a pair for detailed music playback, or as part of a surround setup in a home theater. And in a world where high-end speakers can run you into the thousands when it comes to price, the Uni-Fi UB5 start at $598 for a pair, which is not bad at all for the performance you’ll receive in return.
Elac Uni-Fi UB5
Elac Uni-Fi UB5
11. The Best Computer Speakers
Those looking for a pair of no-frills and affordable computer speakers that still sound great for the money should stop at the Bose Companion 2. Capable of filling a small room with sound, the Companion 2 speakers can connect to two audio sources via 3.5mm input while also providing a volume control and headphone jack to serve all your desk/workspace listening needs. Beyond that, there’s not much else to these speakers, but the simplicity is the beautiful thing here. They do one thing, and do it really, really well.