Smart Speaker Reviews

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Leslie Shapiro  |  Nov 12, 2018  |  0 comments
After checking out the Amazon Echo Sub recently, I thought the sound and features of the new Amazon Echo Plus (2nd generation) deserved a review of its own. It certainly performed admirably when paired with a second Plus and the Echo Sub, but how does it sound as a stand-alone player?

Leslie Shapiro  |  Oct 15, 2018  |  0 comments
It’s about freaking time. Amazon has just released the Echo Sub’ a subwoofer that pairs with a single or stereo pair of Echo smart speakers to finally address the bottom line. It’s a fact: small speakers can’t produce impactful bass, so the Echo Sub does the job. The past few years have seen an influx of small smart speakers that are certainly convenient, but not a single one had a decent bass response. Finally, Amazon has addressed the problem, and in my opinion, hit it out of the park.

Leslie Shapiro  |  Sep 10, 2018  |  0 comments
The Maverick from Cavalier Audio is a WiFi/Bluetooth speaker featuring Amazon’s Alexa voice control that seamlessly transitions from the home to portable with an elegant charging base. Alexa, pack your bags. We’re heading outside.

Rob Sabin  |  Apr 11, 2018  |  4 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $349

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Superb sonics with extraordinary bass
Great build quality
AirPlay capable
Easy setup
Minus
Integrated music streaming restricted to Apple Music
No bluetooth
More limited smarts versus competition
No wired input for TV viewing

THE VERDICT
Apple has created the best-sounding small speaker we’ve heard to date, but its Apple-centricity and immaturity as a smart device may deter some buyers.

From conception through launch, the Apple HomePod speaker was six years in development. That’s a long time to bring to fruition something as ubiquitous and seemingly simplistic as a wireless tabletop speaker. If we account for the many poor examples of the breed, we can acknowledge that a truly excellent wireless speaker might require some extra time to create...but six years? The HomePod was so long in coming that the “smart speaker” with builtin voice assistant that it eventually became hadn’t yet been invented (by rival Amazon) when the project was begun. Which, I’m certain, delayed it even further.

Rob Sabin  |  Dec 29, 2017  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Typical Sonos build and sound quality
Alexa voice control
Minus
No Bluetooth
No hi-res audio

THE VERDICT
Sonos was slow to deliver a voice-controlled smart speaker, but with integrated Alexa (and Google Assistant arriving soon) in what amounts to a redesigned Play:1, they've created a nearly irresistible, low-cost intro to their wireless ecosystem.

The full impact of the home-based voice-actuated assistant, invented first by Amazon in the guise of Alexa, then followed by Google and now Apple with its Siri-driven HomePod, has yet to be felt. The category has loosely evolved into what we are now calling the "smart speaker," though it is not the speaker, but the microphone (or mic array) in conjunction with a network connection that imbues these devices with their extraordinary power. Sure, the speaker plays music, perhaps the simplest of its voice-controlled functions and (according to a recent study by NPR/Edison Research, the activity a smart speaker is still most frequently used for). But the opportunity presented by an artificially intelligent device that can respond to human language and trigger any number of events in our environment possesses extraordinary potential for transforming our lives. The fact that the most sophisticated of these voice interfaces to date, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, are offered in open, licensed platforms and being constantly advanced and promoted by two of the world's richest tech giants, suggests that we are on the verge of an explosion of innovation. The best is yet to come.

Leslie Shapiro  |  Nov 06, 2017  |  0 comments
Voice-activated speakers are hitting the market hot and heavy with everyone vying to be the only system you’ll invest in. Amazon is hoping you’ll pick Alexa, and Cortana is hoping to get some traction in the market. Once you’re a Google family, odds are you’ll stay there. To that end, JBL just released a new line of Google Assistant voice-activated speakers, and the LINK 20 is the perfect balance of features, sound quality, and portability. Yup — that’s right — a voice-assistant that’s not only portable, it’s waterproof too so it can go anywhere.

Leslie Shapiro  |  Oct 23, 2017  |  0 comments
When a company known for making very good speakers and receivers comes out with the first Cortana-based smart speaker, it better sound good. Did it? Nope — it sounded great!

Barb Gonzalez  |  Jul 15, 2015  |  3 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $180

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Speaker and remote respond to plain English
Voice control initiates music, weather, traffic, and more
Voice-command access to music by artist, song, or radio station
Shopping list and reminders transfer to companion mobile app
Minus
Best used with Amazon Prime membership
Tendency to push Amazon products

THE VERDICT
The most useful gadget since the invention of the remote control.

When Amazon first made the Echo available to a limited number of Amazon Prime users, it seemed like a novelty device possibly destined to end up in the Land of Forgotten Gadgets. Instead, this voice-controlled Bluetooth speaker has become the device I wouldn’t want to live without.

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