Best smart speakers for families?


As a family, we’d been happily using the HK Invokes that I’d had shipped over to the UK for the last few years. The kids enjoyed talking to Cortana, and I enjoyed the Spotify Connect feature built in. It meant that I could go into my “office” in my son’s room and play music on his Invoke, or any of us could all play music on the Kitchen one.

Obviously, as an alumus of Lumia, Band, etc… I didn’t go into this with any great expectations of longevity, but I figured that when Cortana got nerfed, I’d still have a decent speaker with Spotify Connect on it. But, no, the last firmware update nerfed that too.

I did buy a few Echo Flexes a few months ago, figured that I could hook them up to the Invokes using Bluetooth, and then start using Alexa and be able to use that as a Spotify Connect target.

However… firstly, the Bluetooth connection is flakey as hell. I find myself having to disconnect and reconnect a device multiple times a week, as the connection degrades (even though there is clear line of sight between the devices).

Then there’s Spotify Connect; you can only use an Echo Flex as a Spotify Connect target if you are logged in to that Echo Flex, which seems to completely miss the point of Spotify Connect!. And so far, despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to have more than one account on a device. So now, only one person can use a device.

On top of that, there’s the apparent lack of family account functionality. I’ve gone to the Amazon Household page, and added my kids to that, but that doesn’t appear to give them an Amazon account (I think it’s there to give them a profile on Fire devices). I’ve signed my son up for an Amazon account, but there is no way for me to link to that account and manage it, unlike Microsoft’s family features.

So, given all that, is there a better smart speaker ecosystem available with multiple accounts per device?

Alternatively, do speakers like the Sonos ones have Alexa integration but are also independent Spotify Connect devices?

All help gladly accepted!

Comments (17)

17 responses to “Best smart speakers for families?”

  1. ringofvoid

    We've used both Amazon Echo and Google Nest speakers in our house. We've had a better experience with the Google Nest and expanded to 5 of them during the Xmas $20 sales. They are organized as one stereo pair in the family room, a downstairs set, upstairs set and whole home audio. Spotify recognizes all these sets as well as the individual speakers. Google assistant recognizes all family members by voice and plays everyone's Spotify playlists. We're going to add ~3 more on the next good sale for more upstairs coverage .

    Google Assistant is generally better for us in recognizing Spotify playlist names and bands with difficult names like A.R.I.Z.O.N.A. ("Alexa play A dot R dot I dot....." vs "Hey Google play Arizona")

    • manzo

      In reply to ringofvoid:

      Oh, that's interesting, thanks!

      So, anyone can play their Spotify account on any device then, and it recognises each of you by voice? Is that a feature of Google Assistant, rather than the Nest specifically?

      I must admit that when moving from Cortana, I did look into whether Alexa or Google Assistant was the better option for us, and I plumped for Alexa as it had more skills. But, frankly, if GA actually fits my use cases more, I'll happily move to it.

      • ringofvoid

        In reply to manzo:

        Google Assistant is set to recognize us by voice and Spotify is linked in GA. We are frequently in separate rooms simultaneously having GA play for us on that room's devices. We use GA primarily for Spotify but I've also set up some smart plugs on lamps & switches ("Hey google, turn on the kitchen lights"). I'm hoping to add a smart thermostat this year.

        In my experience, neither Alexa or GA are perfect and there are gaps where they don't respond, "something went wrong, please try again," or they happily play the wrong song. My wife has zero patience for this behavior so I've appreciated that GA gets it right more often than not.  I'd recommend setting a different assistant voice for each family member as this makes the experience smoother.

    • skolvikings

      In reply to ringofvoid:

      I just asked mine "Alexa, play music by the artist Arizona" and it worked fine. Whereas, if I ask our Google mini to "Hey Google, play music by the artist Perfume" it still insists on playing some damn song by Brittney Spears. Meanwhile, Alexa has no problems with it.

      • ringofvoid

        In reply to Skolvikings:

        It's bizarre how different the experience is with these for different people. I just tried "Hey Google, play music by the artist Perfume" and got Time Warp by Perfume (It's very catchy). Theoretically, since these are cloud backed services you'd expect the same behavior for every user but that's just not the case.

      • skolvikings

        In reply to Skolvikings:

        Actually it works by asking "Alexa, play songs by Arizona" for the artist. If you had a playlist named "A.R.I.Z.O.N.A" you just say "Alexa, play my ARIZONA playlist" or "Alexa, shuffle songs on my ARIZONA playlist" or similar.

        Anyway, my point is that my experience has been the opposite of yours. I find Alexa much easier to successfully play the music I want (not 100% but pretty good) and found GA to be worse.

  2. earlster

    If it's just about making Spotify connect work, I'm thinking of using a Raspberry PI, hardwire it to the amp inside the Invoke, and then use raspotify. See

    I also find the BT connection from either my phone or laptop to the Invoke to be awful, it constantly drops.

    • Sprtfan

      In reply to earlster:

      Strange work around, but I have an Alexa dot next to my Invoke and have them connected by Bluetooth. Seems to work well for me at least. Every few days I'll need to tell Alexa to connect to Bluetooth but that is about it

    • manzo

      In reply to earlster:

      Ah, I've got 4 Invokes that need updating/replacing! It's sounding like the BT connectivity on the Invoke is just a bit bobbins, isn't it?

  3. darkgrayknight

    The initial setup with Amazon echo devices and Spotify is where things were messed up when I first got Amazon setup. Later, I re-did the devices and connected part of them to my wife's Amazon account and part are on my account, then connected my Spotify account to my Amazon account and then connected her accounts. This finally helped clear up the usage so I can play my song playlist in the basement while she is upstairs playing her playlist.

    Bluetooth seems flaky for long term connections, at least for audio. I still prefer to hardwire where I can.

    • Sprtfan

      In reply to darkgrayknight:

      I tried this a while back but having them under different accounts broke announcements and intercom function that we use a lot. I ended up switching to Amazon Music to get it to work correctly.

  4. manzo

    We've had a Sonos One for a couple of weeks now, and Google Assistant is definitely more suited to a family than Alexa has been. There was a bit of a pfaff where you have to add each spotify account to the Sonos app and Google Assistant, but with that done, three of us can talk to the Sonos and get it to play music on their own Spotify account.

    It's frustrating that Google have to be so Google, and only allow connections to Google Calendar and GMail, rather than Outlook 365, so I guess I'll just pass on mail and calendar integration, but as I never used that with Cortana, it's no biggie.

    At least with the Sonos, if Alexa becomes better than Google Assistant, I can easily swap back to using that.

    Thanks for all the assistance!

  5. jimchamplin

    Plug a Commodore 128 into your old stereo! :D

  6. angusmatheson

    I got a HomePod mini for my birthday. We have Apple Music so it works great. Sorry, I don’t have any Spotify experience with it. It is really only a good device if you are part of the Apple ecosystem. My parents have a few old Echos that now never get used. Those were early models and really terrible speakers. I really liked the google’s idea of putting the speaker and a WIFI mesh device together in one, but I haven’t tried tried them.

  7. Paul Thurrott

    Newer Sonos speakers have both Alexa and Google Assistant integration, and I believe all Sonos speakers can be controlled by Spotify.

    • manzo

      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      Ooh, thanks for that info! Obviously, Sonos is not the cheap option, but I'm happy to pay for quality, especially if it also makes my life easier! May have to get one as a tester, and take it from there!

  8. jasecutler

    Considering your post is most about playing music:

    Sonos works splendidly with Spotify, both with Spotify Connect or within the Sonos app. This experience will make you question why anyone uses Bluetooth to play music afterwards.

    Another perk of going with Sonos is that you can try out the two major Voice assistants, Alexa and Google Assistant, on either one. While I personally don't use either, I appreciate I can switch. And if you ever get into Siri, Sonos are AirPlay 2 targets.

    Contrast this with buying an Echo/Google device: You may save money today, but tomorrow may want to switch voice assistants and/or Spotify integrations break down.