One quarter of Americans now own smart speakers, here are our top picks for 2018

According to research from Nielsen, 24% of American households have a smart speaker and 40% of those users have more than one. Earlier this month Adobe released a similar study indicating that in fact 32% of US consumers had smart speakers and that figure will likely reach 50% by the end of the year.

Devices such as Amazon’s ‘Echo’, Google’s ‘Home speaker’, Apple’s ‘HomePod’, and Sonos ‘One’ have skyrocketed in popularity over the last couple years and this trend appears to be the rise. Nielsen’s research claims that 62% of smart speaker owners obtained their devices within the last 6 months and 45% of them plan to purchase them for their home.

As expected, the vast majority of users have purchased these devices for the purpose of a more sophisticated sound experience while listening to music. However, the smart speakers’ other functions have also garnered a lot of attention from owners. According to the data released by Nielsen, users seem especially intrigued with the smart speaker for its voiceover feature, with 68% of them claiming they use it “for fun”. As expected, smart speaker usage is at its highest during the weekend with 75 minutes of usage per day, but with only a slight dip to 65 minutes per day during the week.

With the rise in popularity of these devices, it may be useful to recognize the distinctions between the various options available.

Here are five of the best smart speakers in the market:

1. Amazon-2nd Generation Echo

This voice controlled smart speaker fits a lot into a compact design. It can easily connect with other speakers for a true surround sound. It also has a big bass that pairs with tweeter for crystal clear mids and treble.

Perhaps its greatest asset is Amazon’s revolutionary voice activation function, Alexa, who can perform a variety of tasks ranging from answering your questions, organizing your playlists, and simple chit chat.

However, one negative aspect of the Echo is its distortion of sound if the volume is turned up loud. This can be somewhat off-putting for users who use the service mainly for music. 



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2. Apple-HomePod

The Apple smart speaker is perfect for those who are full-blown Apple users and are integrated into their product system. The HomePod has great integration with iOS and high-quality sound for even the most avid audiophile. It combines this with an exceptional aesthetic that can be matched by few others.

However, while HomePod integrated well with Apple’s paid music streaming service, Apple Music, it has no native support for any third-party music services and can be rather limiting for users who want to use streaming services such as Spotify.

The HomePod smart speaker is also far more expensive (USD$349) than other models, which can be a major drawback for many consumers.



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3. Sonos-One

Sonos’ new model combines their defining Play:1 speaker with the revolutionary native support from Amazon’s smart assistant Alexa. This speaker has by far the best sound quality for any speaker in its price range and supports Sonos’ multiroom audio feature and multiple audio streaming services like Pandora.

However, there are some negative aspects such as the lack of support for Bluetooth on a 3.5mm cable connection. In addition, voice recognition is not as consistent with other devices as it is with Amazon devices and they don’t have Google Assistant or Alexa voice recognition features. 



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4. Amazon-COWIN DiDa

Although not one of the mainstream models, this smart speaker is a great addition to your home sound system with its stylish, contemporary, model. It has a compact speaker filled with 7.5 acoustic drivers that have a frequency response of 50 Hz-20Hz, providing exceptional sound and high levels of volume.  

You can access full wireless control through the Cowin app and also use it as a Bluetooth speaker and connect it to Alexa if there is a stable Wi-Fi connection.

One possible drawback is that unlike the Sonos One, this model does not offer Pandora streaming services.



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5. Google-Google Home

This is likely the most convenient smart speaker module for the average user. It is easy to set up through the Google Home App and can be controlled by your smartphone by the mere sound of your voice. In addition, their Google Assistant feature will perform your requested tasks and answer any question you may have.  

One downside however is that your music choices are sorely limited unless you are willing to pay a subscription to one of Google’s compatible streaming services.



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However, due to the sheer universality of Google, it is often the most convenient choice for many users, even if it may not offer the best quality of sound.