• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). Come here to have fun, be ready to be teased and not take online life too seriously. We now measure and review equipment for free! Click here for details.

Best voice activated smart speaker

JJB70

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 17, 2018
Messages
2,021
Likes
4,096
Location
Milton Keynes, England
#1
My boy wants a smart speaker for Xmas and I am thinking of also buying one for the kitchen. I am a bit of a luddite when it comes to things like Siri and Alexa (I never use it), looking around the three options appear to be Siri, Google or Alexa. These are not for me and the boy and my wife are probably more interested in the digital assistant functionality than audio performance. With that in mind are there any real differences between Google, Siri and Alexa? Do they all work pretty much as well as each other? The Apple homepod is an excellent little speaker but I honestly have no idea about how good the voice stuff is.
 

napilopez

Active Member
Joined
Oct 17, 2018
Messages
276
Likes
643
#2
My boy wants a smart speaker for Xmas and I am thinking of also buying one for the kitchen. I am a bit of a luddite when it comes to things like Siri and Alexa (I never use it), looking around the three options appear to be Siri, Google or Alexa. These are not for me and the boy and my wife are probably more interested in the digital assistant functionality than audio performance. With that in mind are there any real differences between Google, Siri and Alexa? Do they all work pretty much as well as each other? The Apple homepod is an excellent little speaker but I honestly have no idea about how good the voice stuff is.
They all do basically the same things, but Siri is in general behind the curve compared to Google and Alexa. I personally prefer Google for being more reliable and overall smartest in its responses and jives really nicely with Android and Google services, but Alexa integrates works with more products (although most everything I've tried is supported by both).

I'd opt for a Sonos One, which actually supports both Google and Alexa, or the newer Sonos Move if you have a bigger budget. That way you can see which one you prefer, and you can build out a Sonos system if you'd like. Bonus: the few Sonos measurements I've seen are actually quite good.
 

JJB70

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 17, 2018
Messages
2,021
Likes
4,096
Location
Milton Keynes, England
#3
Thanks for that, I like the audio performance of Sonos products, if they support Google and Alexa they're probably a pretty safe bet on the smart side of things.
 

napilopez

Active Member
Joined
Oct 17, 2018
Messages
276
Likes
643
#4
Thanks for that, I like the audio performance of Sonos products, if they support Google and Alexa they're probably a pretty safe bet on the smart side of things.
Definitely, plus Sonos has a good reputation for longevity and keeping its speakers updated. Keep in mind only the Sonos One and Move have voice control, although other speakers in the family can be controlled by those two.
 

Cahudson42

Active Member
Joined
Sep 21, 2019
Messages
251
Likes
243
#5
There is a $15 way (right now on Amazon Prime) to get your feet wet with Alexa:
Echo Input - Bring Alexa to your own speaker- Black https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BFRHZLB/

Or, for just a few $ more ($22)
Echo Dot (3rd Gen) - Smart speaker with Alexa - Charcoal https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FZ8S74R/

Both have a stereo 3.5mm output, so you can drive an old "sitting around" stereo receiver with CD/line in. They both also will Bluetooth connect to inexpensive bt speakers.

Alternately, you can drive an inexpensive $25 or so Lepai with a pair of inexpensive bookshelf speakers like the Dayton B652 from Parts Express (makes a decent "sound bar" alternate as well)

While Alexa is pretty simple and cheap to setup, IMO Google Assistant/Google Home Mini replys with better and more complete answers when given "encyclopedia' type questions.

They really inexpensive enough to try both - perhaps initially in just their 'hocky puck' versions: Echo Dot, Google Home Mini.. (Google Home Mini currently $20 at Best Buy)
 
Last edited:

JJB70

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 17, 2018
Messages
2,021
Likes
4,096
Location
Milton Keynes, England
#6
Although I have never paid attention to the digital assistant stuff the Apple Homepod and some of the Sonos and Bose wireless speakers are very impressive for what they are. Although the Sonos stuff does get pretty expensive.
 

Sir Sanders Zingmore

Active Member
Forum Donor
Joined
May 20, 2018
Messages
268
Likes
394
Location
Melbourne, Australia
#7
Don’t forget to consider the quality of the listening microphone. You don’t want those apple or amazon employees to have trouble listening in on your conversations :p

I am only half joking, maybe a topic for another thread, but does anyone else have concerns about voluntarily placing a “bug” in your own home?
 

ernestcarl

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 4, 2019
Messages
359
Likes
185
#10
Don’t forget to consider the quality of the listening microphone. You don’t want those apple or amazon employees to have trouble listening in on your conversations :p

I am only half joking, maybe a topic for another thread, but does anyone else have concerns about voluntarily placing a “bug” in your own home?
I put one in the bathroom to listen to podcasts while doing the morning “beauty” regime. I am fully aware though that amazon employees could potentially listen to snippets for whatever reason — usually to improve its voice recognition. The risks are always there; I don’t trust Amazon, but I am also willing to make the compromise — for now.

*There are settings you can change to improve privacy. As well as delete history... kind of like a web browser.
 
Joined
Jun 19, 2019
Messages
76
Likes
195
Location
Seoul Republic of KOREA
#11
If you want the best voice recognition rate, HomePod is best choice. The key to speech recognition is to recognize the human voice while the smart speaker is making a sound. It's called "Bargin" technology. To increase bargin performance, the distortion of the speaker's microphone and speaker unit must be extremely low. In addition, multiple microphones must also be able to form the proper beamforming.

And HomePod also offers very good sound quality based on very good speaker performance.
 

watchnerd

Major Contributor
Beer Hero
Joined
Dec 8, 2016
Messages
6,375
Likes
3,251
Location
Seattle Area, USA
#12
Apple Home pod for sure.

I've heard Google and Amazon and the best I can say is they're not offensive, whereas the Homepods are surprisingly good sounding for what they are and how little they cost.

We have 2 at home in our tertiary listening locations that are too distant from the main living room or studio systems. I don't use them for serious listening, but for casual listening for when I'm busy doing something else, or for parties, they're awesome.
 

napilopez

Active Member
Joined
Oct 17, 2018
Messages
276
Likes
643
#13
For some relevant measurements, Sausalito measured both the HomePod and the older Sonos Play:One. Note sure how the new Sonos One compares to its predecessor, but it appears to have the same basic design.

Not fully comparable as the HomePod is quasi-omnidirectional vs the standard two-way of the Sonos, but interesting to see the different design approaches nonetheless.
 

Cahudson42

Active Member
Joined
Sep 21, 2019
Messages
251
Likes
243
#14
Maybe it's best to think of Echo and Home Mini not as 'Smart Speakers' but 'Speaking Digital Assistants' - that way you don't gen up your expectations on how they should sound - like speakers - when in fact they sound like c**p.

When my wife or daughter starts playing music on one of our Echos - I cringe. I start thinking about building a complete new 'hifi' system for it that somehow is going to have to fit in 6" of kitchen counter space - hopeless really.

Best to just accept that their function is separate and different. Our 'hifi' systems for enjoying music. 'Speaking Digital Assistants' - for that. Trying to get them to do both simultaneously is a guaranteed exercise in frustration, IMO

Thinking this way let's you concentrate on which system functions best as a digital assistant - rather than on how they sound..
 
Last edited:

ernestcarl

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 4, 2019
Messages
359
Likes
185
#15
Maybe it's best to think of Echo and Home Mini not as 'Smart Speakers' but 'Speaking Digital Assistants' - that way you don't gen up your expectations on how they should sound - like speakers - when in fact they sound like c**p.

When my wife or daughter starts playing music on one of our Echos - I cringe. I start thinking about building a complete new 'hifi' system for it that somehow is going to have to fit in 6" of kitchen counter space - hopeless really.

Best to just accept that their function is separate and different. Our 'hifi' systems for enjoying music. 'Speaking Digital Assistants' - for that. Trying to get them to do both simultaneously is a guaranteed exercise in frustration, IMO
There’s a 3.5mm lineout in the back (far as I know for the Echo Dot) that you can hook up to your $50,000 stereo system if you want to... granted there’s only about an 80dB SNR, but I think it’s good enough for most domestic use case scenarios.

Posted this elsewhere...

Amazon Echo Dot tip: You can combine the 3.5mm analog outs of the Dot with another DAC’s RCA output using a Y-splitter. This allows you to play audio on your dumb TV/receiver and still use the Dot for Spotify music, general inquiries, alarms et al. When you call it’s name, external DAC’s audio out will automatically lower (almost muting) itself, allowing you to hear clearly the assistant’s voice. It’s possible that this may cause some ground loop issue, but luckily not in my case. In other words, no need to replace your older equipment or to use a physical switch to share audio outs from ~$30.00 Echo device and TV/receiver to external stereo speakers. Huge savings.
 
Last edited:

Ilkless

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 26, 2019
Messages
321
Likes
426
Location
Singapore
#16
For some relevant measurements, Sausalito measured both the HomePod and the older Sonos Play:One. Note sure how the new Sonos One compares to its predecessor, but it appears to have the same basic design.

Not fully comparable as the HomePod is quasi-omnidirectional vs the standard two-way of the Sonos, but interesting to see the different design approaches nonetheless.
Thanks for showing those measurements again. Both measure much better than one might expect.

I recently found out the Play:One was designed by Dan Wiggins of XBL^2 fame, and it is no wonder that it measures (and by several accounts, sound) much better than one might expect it to. He has such a good grasp of transducer engineering and speaker design. It shows in his ability to relate measurements to the foundational physics of transducers. He interprets them beyond the superficial by considering how the elements of the transducer interact as a system. One of the best audio-related posts I ever read was his contribution to this thread on Parts-Express Tech Talk, where he talks about using a voice coil offset to linearise inductance from 250-8kHz for a midrange driver he developed, resulting in exceptionally-low odd-order distortion in the same range at the expense of odd Klippel results.
 

Webninja

Member
Forum Donor
Joined
Oct 8, 2018
Messages
77
Likes
75
Location
Los Angeles
#17
I have all the voice assistants, Alexa, Google, Siri and Cortana.

For conversational flow Google is far beyond the rest. Same for answering questions.

For integration, Alexa works with a lot is smart devices, and had many add on skills.

Cortana is better than Alexa for answering questions, but not as good as Google. But almost no integration.

Siri can change the song and volume on the Homepod, most of the time.

I've built skills for Google and Alexa, both were more cumbersome to use than useful, but it's still early days in voice.

I don't like the privacy issues, but for now, needed these for work.
 

JJB70

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 17, 2018
Messages
2,021
Likes
4,096
Location
Milton Keynes, England
#18
Thanks for all the comments! In this case I want something that is listenable but neither the boy or Mrs JJB are audiophile types (my wife is absolutely not one of those ladies who is able to discern differences between audio components from the kitchen.......) and the digital assistant stuff is probably more important.
I have gone ahead and bought a pair of Sonos one speakers. Audio quality is good, potentially there is an upgrade path if the boy gets more into AV and it offers both Google and Alexa. And it is cheaper than the Homepod. Out of the wireless speaker systems I think Sonos do it extremely well. My only criticism is that there systems can get rather expensive and at the upper end are competing against some very good more traditional speakers.
 

Mitchie23

New Member
Joined
Dec 15, 2019
Messages
1
Likes
1
Location
Canada
#19
Hi There, Amazon's Alexa is quite impressive no doubt. I've been using it, really smart and responsive. Amazon is really leading the way into the world of home technology with its series of smart devices. Based on some reviews, there are new versions such as Echo Dot and Tap. Tap is quite expensive though but the quality of sound is much superb. Check out this review might help :) - thewiredshopper.com/amazon-echo-vs-echo-dot-vs-tap-which-one-should-you-buy
 

JJB70

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 17, 2018
Messages
2,021
Likes
4,096
Location
Milton Keynes, England
#20
Well, I can report both the boy and Mrs JJB are very happy with their Sonos One speakers, interestingly both have settled on the Google assistant option in preference to Alexa. For what they are the sound quality is very acceptable, neither of them are audiophiles and both were more interested in the smart speaker digital assistant type functionality than SQ but the sound quality is very decent given it is such a small monaural speaker.
 
Top Bottom