Amazon’s new mid-range speaker performs standard smart functions and produces great sounding, loud, room filling audio with impressive bass.
At $99.99, Amazon’s new Echo sits between the similarly shaped new Echo Dot for $50 and Echo Studio for $200 in size and price. Its price is exactly inline with Google’s new Nest Audio and Apple’s new HomePod mini.
The new Amazon Echo features a radically new design from the cylindrical shape of Echo’s before it or puck of previous Echo Dot’s. The ball shaped Echo measures in at 5.7 x 5.7 x 5.2-inches with a flat bottom to stop it from rolling away. This gives it a physically deeper size than the Nest Audio, while being not quite as tall. For comparison Nest Audio measures 4.89 x 3.07 x 6.89-inches. Amazon claim the shape improves the speakers performance and allows for improved internals. Fabric covers half of the otherwise plastic speaker. An LED light ring circles the bottom of the speaker and shines when Alexa is listening, volume is changed, muted or for notifications. Four buttons atop the speaker are the same as previous models, with an Action button for activating Alexa, volume up, volume down and mic off to electronically disconnect the microphones. A 3.5mm line in/out and Bluetooth allows you to connect to other speakers or play music from any source.
Amazon Echo provides all the same smart capabilities as other Alexa devices such as Echo Dot, but with significantly improved audio, suitable for everyday music listening. Quickly control smart home devices, set timers, ask questions, add to your shopping list, add calendar events, set reminders, ask for traffic/weather/news reports and so much more. Play music from streaming services, radio stations, podcast platforms, with compatibility for Apple Music, Spotify, SiriusXM, Audible and many more. The notable except is of course Google’s own YouTube Music.
Built-in Zigbee smart home hub allows you to easily set up Zigbee smart devices without a need for a secondary hub. Simply ask “Alexa, discover my devices.” A temperature sensor means you can automatically trigger routines such as turning on a fan or air conditioner when it’s too hot or cold. Set up Guard to get mobile alerts when Echo detects sounds such as a smoke alarm or glass breaking while you’re out. Pair two Echos into stereo for a very capable setup with greater stereo separation, though most will find one enough for most rooms. A stereo pair is a great home theatre solution for pairing with a Fire TV.
Echo features a 3.0-inch woofer and dual front-firing 0.8-inch tweeters. The smart speaker produces very impressive sound quality. Room filling full sound, that turns up to levels as high as the twice as expensive Sonos One. You can really feel the deeper bass despite its relatively small size, along with a good level of treble. While the speaker can sound overly “processed” at times and lack warmth in the midtones, this is to be expected from a speaker of its size and price. The wide soundstage, good stereo and instrument separation fill large rooms thanks to the two tweeter. Vocal content such as podcasts and audiobooks also sounds clear. Unlike the previous generations of Echos, the new Echo is designed for placement in the corner of a room or against a wall, with a more directional sound than the 360 speakers before. Amazon recommends sitting ten feet away and no closer than six feet for optimum listening. For any smaller rooms, the Echo Dot will be a better choice. In almost all areas, the Amazon Echo outperforms the Nest Audio.
The microphones do a good job of picking up “Alexa” even over loud music. The new AZ1 Neural Edge processor is designed for faster voice recognition and will be enabled later this year. Echo is already faster in this area than Nest Audio.
The speakers adapt to the room by using microphones to listen to the room and continuously determine the size and shape, adjusting the output as necessary. We’ve seen this tech before on speakers from Sonos, Apple and Google, but never at this price. The feature is missing from Nest Audio and HomePod mini. It’s hard to know how effective this is, as you can’t turn it off. The smart speaker features Dolby Audio, but no 3D Atmos as on the more expensive Echo Studio.
- New look, new sound – Echo delivers clear highs, dynamic mids, and deep bass for rich, detailed sound that automatically adapts to any room.
- Voice control your entertainment – Stream songs from Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, SiriusXM, and more. Plus listen to radio stations, podcasts, and Audible audiobooks.
- Ready to help – Ask Alexa to play music, answer questions, play the news, check the weather, set alarms, control compatible smart home devices, and more.
- Smart home made simple – With the built-in hub, easily set up compatible Zigbee devices or Ring Smart Lighting products (coming soon) to voice control lights, locks, and sensors.
- Fill your home with sound – With multi-room music, play synchronized music across Echo devices in different rooms. Or pair your Echo with compatible Fire TV devices to feel scenes come to life with home theater audio.
- Connect with others – Call almost anyone hands-free. Instantly drop in on other rooms or announce to the whole house that dinner’s ready.
- Designed to protect your privacy – Built with multiple layers of privacy protections and controls, including a microphone off button that electronically disconnects the microphones.
Until the HomePod mini comes out and gets into customers hands, this is the best money can buy in its price range. Echo does a decent job even against speakers twice its price such as Sonos One or Echo Studio. Not to say you’ll be disappointed with a Nest Audio. Nest Audio is the obvious choice for customers already in the Google Assistant eco-system with another Assistant-enabled device or Pixel phone. Whether you decide to pick up the Echo or Nest Audio, you will have a great sounding speaker with smart capabilites
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