Don't Wait for the HomePod

You Have $350 to Spend on a Good Speaker — Which Do You Choose?


July 11, 2017 Tech By

You probably already own a smart speaker. Amazon has a fleet of new Alexa-enabled speakers and has licensed Alexa to third-party speaker manufacturers like Lenovo. (Alexa-enabled devices make up about 70 percent of all voice assistant device sales, according to recent Adobe reports.) Google’s smart speaker, the Google Home, is pretty popular, too.

Apple, meanwhile, is noticeably late to the smart speaker game. The HomePod, arriving this December, is meant to tempt late adopters (and Apple loyalists) with an emphasis on privacy, sending iMessages via voice, and better audio (seven tweeters and a sub!). It’s also designed to compete with Sonos speakers with its AirPlay 2–enabled multi-room speaker control, which will let you turn certain Bose, Devialet, Naim and Bang & Olufsen speakers into Apple HomePod receivers.

Still, $350 for a single smart speaker is a lot, especially when you consider that most people already have a smart speaker —
and, by the time HomePod drops, Alexa and Google Assistant will likely be integrated with Sonos. If you’re prepared to spend $350 and don’t want the HomePod, or even another smart speaker, there are a few great options available.

Peachtree Audio Deepblue2

If You Have an Amazon Echo: The Deepblue2 is a powered Bluetooth speaker that feels more like a home theater system. (Fun fact: It weighs 16 pounds.) Inside, its 440-watt amplifier powers five drivers: one subwoofer, two mid-range speakers, and two tweeters. It supports aptX and it has a 3.5mm analog port if you’re feeling old fashioned. This is simply the best-sounding Bluetooth speaker in this price range. And, like most Bluetooth speakers, you’ll be able to link it up with your Amazon Echo or Echo Dot as long as it’s in range — just follow these instructions on Amazon’s website.

Vizio SmartCast Crave Pro Wireless Speaker

If You Have a Google Home: The Crave Pro is a powerful wi-fi and Bluetooth speaker, with integrated dual drivers and dual subwoofers (40Hz of total bass, 102dB of power). It has Google Chromecast built in, so you can stream audio directly from your phone with Spotify, Pandora and Google Play Music; or, if you pair the speaker with your Google Home, you can simply ask Google to play something. The Crave Pro can sync with other Cast-compatible speakers — like a Google Home, Vizio sound bars, and other Crave Pros — to create “rooms” for wireless multi-room audio; however, you can’t isolate individual channels like you can with a Sonos system, so it’s not ideal for an immersive surround sound experience.

The Google Chromecast Audio ($35) streaming stick is a little puck of magic: it connects to any of your old speakers’ AUX inputs and allows you to stream audio. You can even
cast audio to multiple speakers at the same time, if all speakers are Cast-compatible or connected to individual Chromecast Audio pucks — just like a Sonos system.

Yamaha YAS-207 Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer

Get a Connected Sound Bar: The latest and greatest in home theater technology is DTS’s Virtual:X, which recreates the effect of surround sound — you get the illusion of sound coming from behind and above you without there being rear- and height-channel speakers. The YAS-207 is the world’s first sound bar that fully supports DTS Virtual:X. It can support the latest 4K HDR TVs, 4K Blu-ray players and 4K streaming devices, and it has Bluetooth. Also, it comes with a wireless subwoofer. (Virtual:X will come as a firmware update that will be downloadable this August.)

Bowers & Wilkins T7

The Portable Hi-Fi Option: If you’re looking for a Bluetooth speaker that’s portable and sounds great, you want the B&W T7. The hi-fi speaker is compatible with Bluetooth aptX and is engineered to sound bigger than its kitchen-sponge form factor. It’s built with two 2-inch drivers, two bass radiators and two Class-D amplifiers. Along with superb sound, you get an 18-hour battery and a beautiful design. It’s not rugged, though, so don’t take it to the beach.

Note: The B&W T7 isn’t a smart speaker; it’s a portable Bluetooth speaker. The B&W T7 can be connected to Google Home via a Chromecast Audio streaming stick (same as the above Vizio Crave Pro) or to an Amazon Echo (same as the above Deepblue2 Peachtree Audio); however, because those connections rely on powered speakers, the B&W T7 can’t be smart and portable. The workaround is pairing this B&W T7 with an Amazon Tap ($130), which is a portable Bluetooth speaker. Only then can the B&W T7 be both smart and portable.
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