Updated November 2018
With smart assistant integration becoming more and more prevalent, a slew of new smart speakers have hit the market. These new models from the likes of Bose, Sonos, Amazon, and Marshall have somewhat recontextualized the filed and shaken up our award winners. You can see the full results.
Best Overall Home Wireless Speaker
Bose Home Speaker 500
Smart Home Compatibility
: Alexa built-in | Inputs
: Bluetooth, WiFi, 3.5mm aux
Many connection options
Multi-speaker management leaves a bit to be desired
If you're looking for a single speaker that is sleek, stylish, and can flood your main living areas with rich sound at the touch of a button, the Bose Home Speaker 500 is the best on the block. It eschews the relatively bass-heavy sound profile of most Bose speakers for best-in-class clarity that beautifully renders every single note. It still retains enough bass heft to anchor that clarity in a soundscape that makes pretty much every kind of music sound spectacular. Backing that up with the convenience of Bluetooth and Wifi connectivity and Alexa built-in, and you've got a platform that can easily handle all of your musical needs.
Apart from the high list price, our only real complaint is that the Home Speaker 500 doesn't nest into a multi-speaker system as easily as comparable Sonos models. While this speaker can link to many of the newest offerings form Bose, it's very unlikely it will be able to talk to any Bose products you've purchased outside of the last year. And even if you do have compatible products, we've found the Bose app to be far less intuitive for managing multiple speakers than what Sonos offers. While we wouldn't recommend this speaker if you're looking to build a multi-speaker system, it is our first choice for a living room centerpiece.
Read review: Bose Home Speaker 500
Best Multi-Speaker System Building Block
Smart Home Compatibility
: Alexa | Inputs
: WiFi, Ethernet
Easy to connect/control multiple speakers
No simple Bluetooth connection
Having a speaker in every major room of your house, or multiple speakers in a large room, sounds like a dream come true to many music lovers. If this is your end goal, the Sonos PLAY:1 or its Alexa-bearing sibling, the Sonos ONE, is the perfect place to start. Sonos has certainly cornered the market on multi-speakers management with an incredibly user-friendly app and a full ecosystem of speakers that all play nice with one another. This speaker also sounds great, producing signature Sonos clarity with an impressive amount of bass given its size. Sure, it doesn't sound as full as the Bose Home Speaker 500, but for the same price you can get 2 of these speakers for truly immersive sound. And if you want a more powerful centerpiece for your Sonos system you have multiple options, like the PLAY:5 of one of their soundbars (We've been particularly impressed with the Sonos Beam as of late)
The biggest drawback to this speaker is the lack of any audio ports or a Bluetooth connection, you must stream everything to it over WiFi or ethernet controlled via the Sonos app. This has some benefits, like no more phone calls interrupting your music listening, but also means everything you listen to needs to be compatible with the Sonos app. This includes the majority of music streaming services, with YouTube Premium being the most notable exception. You also can't stream the audio from video sources (like Netflix) to the PLAY:1. The easiest way to rectify this is to get one of the Sonos speakers that has a physical input, with the Beam soundbar currently being the cheapest option. If you're an Apple user the less expensive Sonos ONE is AirPlay compatible, and can thus mimic the experience of a Bluetooth connection.
Read review: Sonos PLAY:1
Best on a Budget
Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4
Smart Home Compatibility
: None | Inputs
: Bluetooth, 3.5mm aux
Relatively inexpensive (street price)
Can be moved from room to room
Sound not quite as high-caliber as other models
We would call the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4 a cross between a home speaker and a portable Bluetooth speaker. While this hybridization results in a device that isn't the best in either category, it does offer a low-cost option for mimicking the functionality of a multi-room speaker system. The Studio 4's 10.5-hour battery life, carrying handle, and 4.5 weight lets you easily move it from room to room with you as you amble about the house throughout the day. Sure, carrying a speaker around with you isn't as elegant as having a speaker in each room, but it's a fraction of the cost. Plus, it sounds good enough to give your daily routine a pleasant soundtrack.
The major thing you sacrifice with the Studio 4 when compared to a wired speaker is sound quality. While the Studio 4 sounds quite good, it just can't match the clarity or bass power of the Bose and Sonos offerings. So if you're looking for a more refined listening experience, the Studio 4 probably isn't for you.
Read review: Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4
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Displaying 8 Products
Analysis and Test Results
The Ubiquity of music streaming services has turned our smartphones into the de facto devices through which we listen to music. This also means we often default to using earbuds or headphones to listen to said music. Home wireless speakers make filling your home with the music being beamed through your phone easy and seamless.
We scored these speakers using four different weighted metrics: overall sound quality, volume, general user friendliness, and how easy they are to connect to the mobile devices through which we consume media. We used each products' performance in all of these categories to award them a score between 0 and 100, which you can see in the table above. Below we go into further detail about all of these tests.
When comparing each speaker's overall performance in our testing to its price, you can see that the Bose Home Theater 500 provides the best performance at a correspondingly high price. If you're looking to fill your home with multiple speakers, the Sonos PLAY:1 is a more reasonably priced building block that still packs a punch. Don't let the absurdly high price of the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4 scare you, it generally sells for around a third of its list price, and is actually quite a bargain for those that want a good sounding speaker that can easily move from room to room.
A small audio sampling from our speakers. Music courtesy of www.bensound.com
The most important aspect of any speaker is how it sounds, which is why sound quality was our most heavily weighted testing metric. Sound quality is an inherently subjective thing, but after testing audio products we've realized that bass and treble quality, dynamic range (the volume difference between loud and soft notes), and overall clarity are the things that most people really respond to when assessing if something sounds good. Our testing thus focuses on listening to a wide range of music on our speakers, one right after another, and judging those four qualities. In the end all of the speakers sounded good, and we think most people would be pleased with even the lowest scoring model. However, if you're willing to pay a bit extra for one of the top scoring models, you can get exceptional sound.
Bose vs. Sonos
Most of you probably aren't surprised to see the top models from Bose and Sonos (the Home Speaker 500 and the PLAY:1, respectively) at the top of our sound quality scoresheet. In fact, many of you probably came to this review specifically trying to decide between Bose and Sonos. While we think both of these brands offer stellar soundboxes, they generally have different sound profiles. Bose products tend to have more powerful bass, resulting in a fuller sound, but can't match the overall clarity and definition of the Sonos offerings. Sonos speakers are usually the kings of clarity, but lack a bit of the low end of the Bose products. The one speaker that bucks this trend a bit is our Editors' Choice winner, the Bose Home Speaker 500, which has slightly better clarity than the Sonos models. It also loses a bit of the Bose bass punch, but still has better low end than comparable Sonos models. This versatile audio skillset makes pretty much anything sound amazing. However, if you tend to like a lot of bass, you might want to get the Bose SoundTouch 20 instead. Its clarity isn't quite a defined as its big sibling, but it has slightly more powerful bass.
The Sonos PLAY:1 falls slightly behind the Bose Home Speaker 500 when it comes to both clarity and bass, but offers better clarity than the Bose SoundTouch 20. The price point of this speaker also more easily allows for buying multiple, which can add a lot to the home listening experience. If you like the multi-speaker management aspect of Sonos, but want a louder and more powerful centerpiece, you can check out the PLAY:5 or one of their soundbars (we've been particularly enjoying the Sonos Beam as of late).
the Bose Home Speaker 500 is the best sounding speaker we tested.
The Best of the Rest
Outside of the high-end Bose and Sonos models we tested, the Amazon Echo Sub Bundle (which includes 2 Echo Plus' and an Echo Sub woofer) was the best sounding speaker system we tested. The subwoofer provides very powerful yet well-defined bass, and the new Echo Plus provides relatively crisp and clear treble. In our opinion, this new line of Amazon speakers have elevated the Echo line into a legitimate contender in the home audio market.
The Marshall Stanmore and Marshall Stanmore II with Alexa inside both sound quite good, but couldn't match the top performers. We scored these speakers even with the Bose SoundTouch 10, but they have very different sound profiles. The Marshall models, true to their heritage, have treble and bass characteristics that are ideal for listening to guitar-heavy music. If you'd mostly like to listen to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix this is a great speaker. However, the Bose SoundTouch 10's sound is a bit more well rounded, and does justice to a wider range of musical styles.
The Marshall Stanmore makes guitars sound great, but lacks some definition when compared to other speakers.
The Lowest scoring speaker in our testing was the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4. This speaker did not sound bad by any means, we think most listeners would be satisfied with its quality. However, when compared side-by-side with the other speakers we tested, it does have some clear downsides. Its bass is on the weak side, and its clarity is the worst of any of our speakers. We would not call its sound muffled or muddled, but the other speakers are noticeably more crisp.
On speaker controls, seen here on the Bose SoundTouch 20, can make connecting devices a bit easier.
While home wireless speakers are generally simple devices, certain touches can make some easier to use than others. This is particularly true if you want to link multiple speakers together. Having a separate remote control can also be helpful if you want to connect the speaker to a smart device like Alexa or Google home. That way you don't have to yell, "Alexa, volume up," twelve times when you're favorite jam starts playing. We tested user friendliness by using, adjusting, tinkering, and playing with all of our speakers side-by-side, paying close attention to how easy it was to complete both basic and more advanced tasks.
Smart Home Compatibility
Any speaker with a physical line in can generally be connected to a smart home device, though you may have to wake the speaker up periodically to make sure it actually makes noise when you talk to your smart home device. The only speakers we tested without physical line ins are the two Sonos Speakers.
All Sonos and Bose speakers offer Alexa skills that allow them to work seamlessly with Alexa devices. The Sonos ONE and our Editors' Choice winner, the Bose Home Speaker 500, also have Alexa built-in.
Marshall, Bose, and of course Amazon, have released a slew of speakers that have Alexa built-in.
Both Sonos and Bose also claim to be in the process of creating Google Home friendly software, but neither company has given a firm date on that release.
The Marshall Stanmore II also has Alexa built-in. You can also plug an Alexa enabled device into the original Marshall Stanmore to turn it into a smart speaker.
As one would expect, all of the Amazon Echo line has Alexa built-in.
Both Bose and Sonos have released Alexa skills, making both their speakers work seamlessly with Alexa deice like the Echo Dot.
Multi-Speaker Systems: Bose vs. Sonos
Bose and Sonos differentiate themselves from other speakers by allowing networking, so you can connect multiple speakers to create true surround sound, or put a speaker in each room of your home and control all of them from a central hub.
If you want to create a multi-speaker system, we think Sonos is the clear way to go. The Sonos app makes managing multiple speakers, playing different music in different rooms, and even connecting speakers to a Sonos soundbar to create 5.1 surround sound, very intuitive. In contrast, the Bose app is fairly well designed, but tends to crash frequently (according to hundreds of online user reviews, we're not the only ones who have experienced this). It was fine for connecting two speakers to play the same thing, but doing anything more complex often involved a frustrating app crash. Also, Bose products have multiple families that are only compatible with one another (for example, you can't connect the Home Speaker 500 to the SoundTouch 20) whereas all of Sonos' products can talk to one another.
The Amazon Echo Line as a Multi-Speaker System
Being what most would consider the original smart speaker, Amazon Echo devices are incredibly intuitive to control with just your voice. You can tell one Echo to play something on a different Echo, and depending on your plan you can even stream different music on different Echos at the same time. Bluetooth connectivity expands the usefulness, allowing you to easily use an Echo as a speaker for your tablet while you watch a movie. Just remember you lose wuite a bit of bass power without the Echo Sub, so if you're using Echo's in multiple rooms you'll lose some sound quality unless you put a subwoofer in each room as well.
Sonos offers a much more streamlined ecosystem for connecting multiple speakers together.
Viewed through the lens of single-speaker systems, we give Bose the user friendliness edge. Only using a single speaker means you don't have to deal with the Bose app. You also get a remote control with all of Bose's speakers. This is great for quickly adjusting volume, switching inputs, and even giving Pandora a thumbs up or a thumbs down. The simple Bluetooth connection also makes it easy to switch between different devices, and to let your guests take over the DJ responsibilities.
The Marshall Stanmore includes on speaker bass and treble adjustments, a rarity for these types of speakers.
The Studio Onyx 4 has an internal battery that makes it easy to move from room to room.
Having to connect via the app means you're always streaming over WiFi, which does have some advantages. The music won't stop if your phone rings, and if you subscribe to HD music streaming services the feed over WiFi will likely be higher quality than over BlueTooth. Sonos also does not provide a remote control with any of its speakers, again relying solely on the app.
Both the Marshall Stanmore and the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4 are fairly bare bones, using simple Bluetooth connections and forgoing any apps. This makes them quite easy to use, but also limits their functionality when compared to more featured speakers. The Onyx Studio 4 has the added functionality of an internal battery that lasted 10.5 hours in our testing. This means you can easily move the speaker from room to room, or even into the backyard, very easily.
The Marshall Stanmore was one of the loudest speakers we tested.
Chances are that you'll want whatever speaker you choose to be able to fill at least an entire room of your home with sound. Spoiler alert: unless you live in a palatial mansion, all of the speakers we tested will be able to do that. However, Some are certainly louder than others. We measured all of our speakers with a decibel meter, but we've found that decibel readings don't really convey how much good sound a speaker can produce. Thus most of our volume was based on the more subjective test of cranking the speakers up as loud as we could get them without degrading the sound quality, and judging how well they could fill up our 600 square foot testing room with sound.
The Bose Home Speaker 500 and the Marshall Stanmore II shared the top spot in our volume testing. Both of these speakers easily filled our large testing room with sound, even when there were a lot of sound-absorbing bodies hanging out. We highly doubt either of these speakers will leave anyone wanting for volume.
The Amazon Echo Sub Bundle, the Bose SoundTouch 20, and the original Marshall Stanmore all shared the second step of our sound quality podium. Here again, we think all of these models will be plenty loud enough for anyone that wants to throw a big dance party, but they lack some of the over-the-top volume of the top scorers.
The new Marshall Stanmore II is louder than its predecessor and was one of the loudest speakers in our volume test.
Next up was the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4. This speaker again filled our testing room with sound, but may get a bit dampened if you were to fill that room with people. Still, it could power a house party, and with its battery you can even take it outside for a barbeque.
At the bottom of our volume scoresheet were the Bose SoundTouch 10 and the Sonos PLAY:1. Both of these speakers can again fill a large room, but put 5-10 people in that room and a noticeable amount of the sound will be absorbed. This problem is largely rectified of you have 2 PLAY:1s.
The more ways you can connect to a speaker, the more versatile it is. Obviously, for wireless speakers a Bluetooth or WiFi connection is paramount. However, it can often be nice to have a physical line in for smart home devices whose software may not play nice with the speaker, or for those days when mysterious atmospheric conditions mess with your wireless networks. Having an app that can communicate with your speaker often allows for more customization of settings.
The Bose Speakers we tested have the most avenues for connections. It offers a standard Bluetooth connection, and the SoundTouch app lets you stream music over your wifi network. However, this app is quite finicky, so unless you're trying to manage a multi-speaker system we would suggest just defaulting to the Bluetooth connection. All of Bose's home wireless speakers have a 3.5mm auxiliary input, and the larger SoundTouch 20 also has an ethernet input. This allows you to stream music directly to the speaker, using the app as a remote control.
An auxiliary audio jack, like this one on the Marshall Stanmore, is nice to have as a backup in case wireless connections are being finicky.
The Amazon Echo Plus can connect to your WiFi, via Bluetooth, and has a 3.5mm aux in/out. The Echo Sub doesn't have any specific input and must be paired with an Echo Plus over your WiFi network. And of course, you can control your setting through the well designed Alexa App.
The Sonos speakers use the company's very reliable app to stream music over WiFi. All of their speakers also have an ethernet port, so you can rely on a wired connection if your WiFi is a bit spotty. However, you can only play things that are compatible with the Sonos app. This includes basically any music streaming services, but notable exceptions are video services like YouTube and Netflix. Sonos speakers do not have Bluetooth capability, and the models we tested do not have any audio input ports. If you upgrade thePLAY:5 there is a 3.5mm auxiliary input.
The Marshall Stanmore has no app. You connect either via Bluetooth or with the 3.5mm and RCA inputs. The Harman Kardon Studio Onyx 3 has only a Bluetooth connection and 3.5mm input jack. The Marshall Stanmore II adds built-in Alexa capability into the equation.
All of the speakers we tested are capable of providing your home with music. However, some offer more features, greater expandability, and better overall sound than others. We hope our testing results have led you to the perfect speaker for your needs and budget.