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Surprising speaker brands topping our tests: are you paying too much for big brands?

Surprise successes and disappointing flops have been revealed in our recent months of audio testing. Plus some remarkable trends have developed, with some lesser-known and unheard-of brands excelling in our expert lab tests while duds from the big-brand competition have become more prevalent. 

Our latest speaker tests include models from Audio Pro, Marley, Bluesound and Fresh ‘n Rebel, including two stylish portable speakers that look ideal for using out and about, and two home Alexa speakers for controlling with your voice.

When choosing the perfect smart speakers with voice control, there are two leading voice assistants – Alexa and Google Assistant. With these assistants now being able to control various elements in your home, such as lighting, the choice of voice assistant is becoming more important.

We compare our Alexa and Google Assistant speaker scores to see which voice assistant is currently built in to the best products.

Want to know which are the best-sounding speakers on the market? See our list of top-scoring Best Buy wirelesss and Bluetooth speakers.

Audio Pro A10, £179

Audio Pro is a brand aimed at audiophile hi-fi enthusiasts, but the Audio Pro A10 is remarkably reasonably priced. It’s a smart speaker available in light and dark grey with Alexa voice control. It follows the usual cylindrical smart speaker design like the Amazon Echo, but also has the option of wall-mounting so it doesn’t take up space in your home.

You can also connect two together for stereo sound and set up a multi-room setup with other speakers in Audio Pro’s extensive range.

But is Audio Pro really a brand you can rely on for great sound quality? Why isn’t it better known? Our professional listening panel give their definitive verdict of this speaker in our Audio Pro A10 review.

Bose Home Speaker 500, £349

One of the biggest brands in speakers alongside Sonos, the high-end Bose Home Speaker with Alexa voice control promises ‘the widest sound of any smart speaker’ with ‘wall-to-wall sound’.

Unusually, it sports stereo speakers, and features a display on its front for interacting with the speaker. Music streaming services supported include Spotify, TuneIn radio, Amazon Music and Deezer.

So is it worth the premium price? Find out in our expert Bose Home Speaker 500 review.

Marley No Bounds (EM-JA015), £60

The Marley No Bounds is a small Bluetooth speaker that looks perfect for attaching to your bag or clothes using the detachable carabiner clip. It’s even fully water- and dust-proof (IP67), so you don’t need to worry about it surviving if you get caught out in the rain.

Marley also touts the ‘mindfully sourced’ materials this speaker is made from, including recycled cork, which also means this speaker is buoyant if you accidentally drop it in the pool.

We’ve found remarkable Best Buy speakers of a similar size before. Does this brand punch above its weight? We put it to the test in our extensive House of Marley No Bounds (EM-JA015) review.

Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i, £299

Like Audio Pro, Bluesound products are typically found in audio independent stores and dent a huge hole in your wallet. However, the sleekly-minimalist Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i is one of its more affordable options.

It features Alexa so you can control it hands-free with only your voice. It also offers full multi-room support so you can connect two of these speakers together for stereo sound, connect it to other speakers in the Bluesound range and even use it as part of a surround sound system for home entertainment with your TV.

So does Bluesound deliver standout sound quality that leaves big-name brands in the dust? Find out what our discerning professionals thought in our comprehensive Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i review.

Google Home Max, £399

With the Google Home Max, Google set out to raise the standards for smart speaker audio. However, at a considerable price premium over competitors, are you paying extra just for the brand?

It’s a stereo sound smart speaker with Google Assistant voice control, and also Chromecast, so you’re able to connect it up to other speakers that support Chromecast from rival brands. And if you have a big budget, you can also connect two of these speakers together for true stereo like a traditional hi-fi.

A huge range of radio and music streaming services are supported (may require subscriptions), and the Home Max even has a Smart Sound feature which analyses the size of the room the speaker’s in to optimise the sound for its environment.

A speaker can have all the technical wizardry in the world, but ultimately does the sound quality deliver, is it easy to use and how does it compare with rivals? Find all this out and more in our definitive Google Home Max review.

Fresh ‘n Rebel Rockbox Slice, £40

Fresh ‘n Rebel may sound like the kind of brand offering style over substance, but we’ve been surprised by brands like this before. The Rockbox Slice features what many would consider the ideal shape for a portable Bluetooth speaker – it fits perfectly in your back pocket, even when wearing skinny jeans.

It sports an exposed bass radiator at its back which aims to deliver more powerful bass despite its compact size. There’s even a handy 3.5mm aux-in socket and 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable supplied, if you want to connect it to devices such as an MP3 player.

Does this look like the ideal speaker for you? See whether it performs above its weight in our full Fresh ‘n Rebel Rockbox Slice review.

Other lesser-known brand speakers to check out

Be sure to also check out the following reviews of lesser-known speaker brands we’ve reviewed recently, to see whether these speakers could be a surprise find:

Alexa vs Google Assistant speakers: which have the best sound quality?

We’ve now reviewed well over 30 smart speakers with voice control currently on the market. Some support Alexa, and some Google Assistant. So how do you choose? It’s especially important if you’re planning to buy other devices that are only compatible with one, or are looking to combine multiple speakers together into a multi-room setup.

Below we’ve analysed the scores of all Alexa and Google Assistant speakers we’ve tested to find out whether Alexa or Google Assistant speakers are the best to go for. We’ve found that while the best Alexa and Google Assistant speakers have similar scores, the average quality of Google Assistant speakers in our tests are considerably higher.

Google Assistant speakers also support Chromecast, which means you can connect multiple speakers from rival brands together if you want to buy more over time. Just look for whether the speaker has Chromecast built-in.

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