Music in the home is important. And thanks to the popularity of streaming and wireless speakers, there are more ways to play music throughout the home than ever before. There are portable speakers that you can carry from room to room, or out to the pool. There are smart speakers that you can talk to and use to control your smart lights, plugs and thermostats. There are passive speakers you can incorporate into an analog hi-fi system. There are multi-room speakers, too, that can work in tandem to play music throughout the home. All these options can get a bit confusing, admittedly, but the bottom line is the person that you’re gifting should dictate the type of speaker you buy – you want them to use it, after all. To help you decide, and to give you some inspiration, these are our favorite home speakers of 2018.
Google Home Hub
Google’s tiny new smart display wears many hats. It’s a smart speaker, mini tablet and a digital picture frame (works with Google Photos) all rolled into one. For anybody using any of Google’s popular apps and web services, such as Gmail or Google Calendar, the Home Hub will be super helpful. If you just want it to play music, well it can do that too. Plus, since there’s no camera on it, you get the added peace of mind that this smart display isn’t spying on you.
The Sonos One is essentially a better-sounding Amazon Echo that can also be integrated in an multi-room system with other Sonos speakers. Whether its the first Sonos speaker in somebody’s home, or one of many, the Sonos One is undeniably a terrific gift.
KEF LSX Wireless Music System
The KEF LS50 Wirelss are active powered bookshelf speakers that sound simply spectacular — they also cost $2,200. If you can’t quite afford those, KEF just introduced these LSX, which are essentially just smaller and less powerful versions of the LS50 Wirelss. They cost half as much, yet still sound spectacular, and you can stream music (wi-fi or Bluetooth) to them or hook even them up to your TV.
Bose Home 500 Speaker
This is Bose’s first smart speaker and it comes with Amazon’s Alexa built right in. Essentially, it works just like an Echo speaker, but, again, it sounds significantly better. It has two custom drivers that enable it, according to Bose, to produce a “soundstage wider than any other smart speaker.” Another cool feature, which the Apple’s HomePod lacks, is a screen. Here, the Home 500 can show things like the song title and the album artwork.
Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Generation)
The Echo Dot continues to look and sound better with each new iteration — and it also continues to cost just $50 (although you’ll be able to get it for even less during holidays). As with every Echo Dot, it continues to be the easiest and cheapest way to voice control all your smart home devices.
Q Acoustics 3020i Bookshelf Speakers
These are some of our favorite passive bookshelf speakers. They share many of the same acoustic characteristics as the British audio company’s famed Concept 20 speakers ($500), the 3020i are significantly more affordable. For the money, they’re terrific bookshelf speakers that you can integrate into any hi-fi system, or you can hook them up to AV reciever as use them as home theater speakers.
Ultimate Ears Boom 3
This is our pick for “best overall portable speaker of 2018.” It’s cheaper than other comparable Bluetooth speakers by JBL or Bose, and it sounds just as good or better. Additionally, it’s fully waterproof — it actually floats — and comes with play/pause button, which is a first for UE, so you can stop the music or skip tracks without having to touch your smartphone.
McIntosh RS100 Wireless Speaker
For anybody who’s an audiophile or just a design enthusiast, the RS100 is a gorgeous wi-fi speaker. It has the famed glowing-blue power meter and tactile knobs that all McIntosh amplifiers and receivers have become synonomous with. And it’s engineered to sound fantastic; there’s a “Critical Listening” mode that allows native playback of up to 24-bit/192kHz high-resolution files with no down-sampling. The RS100 can be integrated into any DTS Play-Fi multi-room system, so its not limited to working with just its own kind, like Sonos. And it supports Alexa controls, so if they already have an Alexa-enabled speaker, they’ll be able to use voice commands to play music on the RS100.
Amazon Fire TV Cube
The Fire TV Cube combines the best of both worlds: it works as both a Fire TV Stick 4K and as an Echo smart speaker, so you can ask Alexa to play music or control your TV. It hooks up to a TV over HDMI-CEC, so it essentially works as a universal remote, allowing you to control many of your home’s sound system — sound bar, A/V receiver, and cable box — with your voice. With compatible A/V receivers, you’ll even be able to ask Alexa to switch your inputs and change the volume.
Note: the Fire TV Cube doesn’t have all the smart capabilities as an Echo speaker, as it can’t call anybody and it can’t sync with other Bluetooth speakers.
Devialet Phantom Reactor 600
The French audio company’s Phantom line of wireless speakers are super cool. Not only are they bonafide hi-fi speakers, but they also provide a visceral listening experience. Their two huge woofers work in perfect symmetry and look like a pounding heart beat as they pump bass throughout the room. Devialet recently released smaller and less powerful versions of their Phantom speakers, called the Phantom Reactor, which are way more affordable.
HAY Sonos One Limited Edition
The only difference from the Sonos One, the company’s small Alexa-enabled speaker, is that these special edition models are available in more colors than just black or white. There’s yellow, grey, pink, green and red. Even though they’re more expensive (and sound the same), these Sonos One speakers are a neat and fun way to add more flair to your home decor.
Naim Mu-So Qb
In my opinion, this is the best reference quality hi-fi speaker that supports AirPlay 2. The Mu-So Qb supports Bluetooth aptX, Spotify Connect and Tidal, too. It’s a relatively small speaker, about the size of a HomePod, but can deliver 300 watts of beautifully lucid sound. And like other Naim speakers, you get arguably the most tactile and satisfying volume knobs in the business.
For anybody who has an iPhone and an Apple Music subscription, and who is willing to spend $349 on a speaker, the HomePod is going to be your best bet. Here are three reasons why: one, the HomePod automatically calibrates and tunes the sound for the room its in, so it’ll sound really good; two, it can answer a ton of music-related questions, such as who was singing background vocals or when the album was released, which no other smart speaker can do; and, three, you can ask it to send or read out your iMessages, or call your friends. It’s worth reiterating, you need to be an Apple Music subscriber to get the most out of HomePod.
Don’t know what to get the people on your list? We’ve got you covered with our holiday gift guide
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