What Is Alexa (and What’s the Best Alexa Speaker)?

What Is Alexa (and What’s the Best Alexa Speaker)?

Our pick

Amazon Echo (3rd Gen)

Amazon Echo (3rd Gen)

The best basic Alexa speaker

The Amazon Echo—which is always listening via Amazon’s Alexa voice service—lets you play music, order pizza, and get answers to questions, and it can control popular smart-home devices and 10,000-plus other things.

Buying Options

$100 from Amazon

May be out of stock

The third-generation Amazon Echo speaker, released in October 2019, is the one most people should think of when they consider an Alexa voice-controlled speaker, and it’s the best Alexa speaker for people who are new to smart speakers. It’s slightly bigger than the previous version, but that extra size also gives it a volume boost, and the equalizer in the app allows you to adjust the sound. It uses the popular Amazon Alexa assistant for voice control, it’s priced in the middle of Amazon’s speaker line, and it sounds good enough for an office, bedroom, or kitchen (or other rooms, if you’re not seeking high-end audio performance). Its button layout is simple and easy to use, and it can work as a Bluetooth speaker if you want to play something directly from your smartphone. The seven microphones the Echo depends on for listening to commands can usually hear you when music is playing at a moderate level or when you address the device from across the room. Because it’s manufactured by Amazon, the Echo will get all updates, new features, and device compatibility before non-Amazon Alexa devices. Although third-party speakers require multiple smartphone apps for setup, the Echo needs only the Alexa app, which smoothly guides you through the process.

If you’re more interested in a smart speaker with a screen—for searching recipes or making video calls, for example—check out our guide to the best smart displays, which includes both Alexa and Google Nest choices.

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Budget pick

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot

A good Alexa speaker if sound quality isn’t important

If you want to extend Alexa to other parts of your house cheaply and you don’t care about how good the speaker is, the Dot is the way to go.

Buying Options

$30* from Amazon

*At the time of publishing, the price was $50.

The Amazon Echo Dot, now in its third generation, is a mini version of the Echo, and it’s the best Alexa speaker for people who don’t want to spend a lot. It doesn’t sound nearly as good as the Echo, but it’s fine for talk radio and even for music if you’re not looking for a speaker that fills the room. And it includes an audio-out port and Bluetooth, so you can connect it to a Bluetooth speaker or to a larger audio system for better sound. More important, it listens just as well as the full-size Echo. A Dot is a great way to cheaply expand Alexa smart-home control around your house. The newer Echo Dot with Clock is essentially the same but includes a built-in LED clock display and costs $10 more.

Upgrade pick

Sonos One

Sonos One

The best Alexa speaker for whole-house music

The Sonos One sounds great and is easy to use, and it works with both Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as with more music services than any other Wi-Fi speaker.

Buying Options

$200 from Amazon
$200 from Abt

If you want a better-sounding Alexa speaker than the Echo, as well as a much larger selection of music services and easier multiroom setup—and if you don’t mind paying twice the price—the Sonos One is the smart speaker to get. Like the Echo, it has built-in far-field microphones and Alexa support, but it also works on the Sonos platform, which gives you access to a large selection of music services (though only the Alexa-compatible services allow voice control). You can configure two of these speakers to play in stereo for a much better soundstage. In addition to the Amazon assistant, Sonos One also works with Google’s voice platform.

Also great

Ultimate Ears Megablast

Ultimate Ears Megablast

The best Alexa speaker for backyards

This speaker sounds good, is ruggedly built and waterproof, and runs on battery power for 12 hours, but the microphones aren’t the best.

Buying Options

$170* from Amazon
$200 from Best Buy

*At the time of publishing, the price was $130.

If you want to take your Alexa speaker outside without having to search for a place to plug it in, grab yourself an Ultimate Ears Megablast. It sounds great, and it’s IP67 rated for weather resistance, so a shot from a Super Soaker or a quick drop in a pool won’t stop it. The rechargeable battery runs for 12 hours. When you’re out of Wi-Fi range, you can use the Megablast as a regular Bluetooth speaker. The charge port is inconveniently located on the bottom, but you can get a wireless charging base separately. Unfortunately, the Megablast’s built-in microphone isn’t nearly as sensitive as that of the Echo, so you might find yourself reaching for the command button a lot to get the Megablast to pay attention.

Also great

Marshall Stanmore II Voice

Marshall Stanmore II Voice

The best-sounding speaker

It’s got a cool rock ’n’ roll look, it sounds great, and it includes classic volume and control knobs for when voice commands aren’t convenient.

Buying Options

Buy from Amazon
$400 from Best Buy

*At the time of publishing, the price was $400.

If you like the retro look of Marshall guitar amps, you’ll really like the Marshall Stanmore II Voice. It’s the best Alexa speaker for sound quality, with more volume and defined bass than the Sonos One provides, but it lacks support for the Sonos platform. Although this model’s far-field microphones performed decently in our tests, they aren’t as good as those of the Echo speakers at picking up your voice while music is playing. The Marshall also looks great, but it takes up more space on a shelf or counter than any other Alexa speaker we tested.

Everything we recommend

Our pick

Amazon Echo (3rd Gen)

Amazon Echo (3rd Gen)

The best basic Alexa speaker

The Amazon Echo—which is always listening via Amazon’s Alexa voice service—lets you play music, order pizza, and get answers to questions, and it can control popular smart-home devices and 10,000-plus other things.

Buying Options

$100 from Amazon

May be out of stock

Budget pick

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot

A good Alexa speaker if sound quality isn’t important

If you want to extend Alexa to other parts of your house cheaply and you don’t care about how good the speaker is, the Dot is the way to go.

Buying Options

$30* from Amazon

*At the time of publishing, the price was $50.

Upgrade pick

Sonos One

Sonos One

The best Alexa speaker for whole-house music

The Sonos One sounds great and is easy to use, and it works with both Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as with more music services than any other Wi-Fi speaker.

Buying Options

$200 from Amazon
$200 from Abt

Also great

Ultimate Ears Megablast

Ultimate Ears Megablast

The best Alexa speaker for backyards

This speaker sounds good, is ruggedly built and waterproof, and runs on battery power for 12 hours, but the microphones aren’t the best.

Buying Options

$170* from Amazon
$200 from Best Buy

*At the time of publishing, the price was $130.

Also great

Marshall Stanmore II Voice

Marshall Stanmore II Voice

The best-sounding speaker

It’s got a cool rock ’n’ roll look, it sounds great, and it includes classic volume and control knobs for when voice commands aren’t convenient.

Buying Options

Buy from Amazon
$400 from Best Buy

*At the time of publishing, the price was $400.

Source: NY Times – Wirecutter

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