Smart Speakers to Try this Holiday Season

Smart speakers are hot gifts this holiday season, and with good reason. These voice-activated, internet-connected speakers have amazing capabilities that can take your listening to a new level, and now is a great time to purchase. The technology has had a few years to develop, and there’s a wide variety of equipment and price points. But where should you start?

If you don’t have a smartphone or tablet, you might want to stop reading here. All of these speakers require a smartphone or tablet to set up. They’re also tailored to work best with a smartphone, so you will miss out on key functionality if you don’t have a smartphone or tablet.

For this post, we wanted to get the perspective of someone who spends a lot of time listening to audio, both music and audiobooks. We couldn’t think of anyone more qualified than Richie Romaniello, audio engineer. Richie tested three smart speakers this month, and here is his comparison:


Amazon Echo Dot

The Echo Dot can be set up via phone or computer, which makes for a quick and convenient experience. It was easier to set up than expected, certainly easier than setting up a conventional stereo system. The Echo Dot features Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant, which can play music, set alarms, and make purchases through Amazon.

The audio speaker is tiny, more like a phone speaker than something you’d typically use for listening to audiobooks or music. However the Echo Dot connects to other speakers via its headphone jack, so if you have a set of speakers you already like, you can connect to them to get greater volume and take further advantage of Alexa voice commands.

Final Verdict: If you already have an expensive stereo setup that you like, the Echo Dot is a strong option. It gives you access to the Alexa virtual assistant without having to get an entirely new speaker system. However, if you’re looking for a speaker that can fill an entire room with sound, you might want to consider another option.


Amazon Echo

Like the Echo Dot, the Echo can be set up via phone or computer. Alexa support is the same as that for the Echo Dot, and everything mentioned above about Alexa applies here.

The Echo is much larger than the Echo Dot, and this translates to cleaner audio quality, along with a higher price. At a normal volume, the Google Home (see below) sounds slightly more natural, but the Echo sounds better at higher volumes.

Final Verdict: The Echo is the perfect smart speaker to set up in your kitchen or any room without an existing stereo. It is more capable at high volumes than the Echo Dot and the Google Home, so if you’re planning a house party and looking to pipe music into a room inexpensively, the Echo might be the best choice.


Google Home

Like the two speakers above, the Google Home is a breeze to set up. It can only be set up via phone or tablet, but the process is straightforward. The Home has access to Google’s voice assistant, which answers to “Ok Google” and has almost all of the same features as Alexa.

The sound quality of the Google Home is good and similar to that of the Echo. The Google Home sounds a bit more natural at normal volume, however there is some distortion when the volume is increased.

Final Verdict: The Google Home is great for listeners who love the Google ecosystem. If you want to control your home thermostats or lights with voice commands, you’ll appreciate its synergy with other products. And if you just like to listen to audiobooks or music in one room at a relatively low volume, the sound quality of the Google Home is a bit better than that of the Amazon Echo.

Interested in what audiobooks might make great gifts alongside these speakers? Take a look at our Holiday Gift Guide.