The market in smart speakers was popularized by the first Amazon Echo that worked with Alexa, a short five years ago. Back then, it sounded like a clock radio that had been wedged in a gutter pipe. Amazon has duly worked on the product and improvements have been forthcoming and well-received, both in the design and, importantly, the sound quality. This process has finally culminated in the Echo Studio; the best, although by no means perfect, a smart speaker from Amazon to date.
We’re going to take a look at the details, cover the specs, and share some of the thoughts of tech expert Ty Pendlebury. Let’s do this…
What we like
- The sound that the Amazon Echo Studio is capable of producing could give a dragon a run for its money – it’s going to work wonders with your action movies or classical music, and anything else that takes your fancy.
- It’s Dolby Atmos compatible and easily hooks up through Fire TV, and it’s reasonably easy on your wallet too.
- The microphones, for chatting with Alexa or making calls, are pretty sensitive, which is always useful.
What’s not perfect
- As loud as it is, sometimes the sound loses clarity which means it’s not ideal for really getting to grips with 3D music or Atmos. If you want to add it to a multiroom array that you’re building, the support for getting it set up isn’t up to scratch when compared with Sono and the Apply AirPlay.
- Plus, you need to have a Fire TV device; it’s not going to work as a standalone device with your TV.
How’s it sounding?
Surround home theatre and surround music are different beasts, yet the Amazon Echo studio aims to master them both. Ty Pendlebury reckons the Studio falls short on the music front but is decent for watching movies considering you’re paying just shy of $200. You get an effect akin to a bubble of sound rather than the true surround sound effect that you’d get with a full surround sound kit, and things aren’t quite as amazing as Amazon, Sony, and Dolby would have you believe, but it’s still a solid speaker for the price.
Out of all the speakers that Amazon has come out with, undoubtedly the Echo Studio is the best, as well as the biggest, they’ve made. Now, let’s get into the details.
The dimensions come it at 8.1 inches tall with a diameter of 6.9 inches, making it look more like a subwoofer since it’s got a peek-a-boo bass port. If you’ve got the original Echo, you’ll be comfortable with the water-bottle sized, unintrusive size. By comparison, the Echo Studio is surprisingly bulky, even when pitched up against the overall smart-speaker market it’s up there with the biggest of them. It’s not dissimilar in looks to the Echo Sub, to give you an idea of the style, that you can pick up for $130.
The dimensions are definitely driven by the 5.25-inch bass driver, and the other drivers have also pushed the design in specific directions. There’s a forward-facing tweeter that’s flying solo, and an array of three 2-inch midrange speakers that fire off to the left, right, and straight up to the ceiling. This roof-facing speaker is the one that allows the Studio to translate immersive audio effects, although how successfully is up for debate.
The way the drivers are configured in the Studio, as well as the sheer size of it, means it’s not so easy to find a comfortable place for it in your home. It’ll be too big for most kitchens, and it definitely needs to be in a space with walls so it can do its thing bouncing sounds off them. If you’re thinking “credenza” or “kitchen island” you’re along the right lines, and you could even stand it on a side table if you’ve got the space to spare.
Dolby Atmos is featured on a smart speaker for the first time in the Amazon Echo Studio, included boosting music and movie listening, along with Sony’s 360 Reality Audio.
The Sony tech inside hooks up to any WiFi connection as well as Alexa voice assistant and your Amazon Music HD ($13 monthly), you’re going to need to invest in more kit to get the Dolby Atmos working. Pick up a first or second-generation Fire TV Cube for $97, a Fire TV Stick 4K which costs $40, or a third-generation Fire TV coming in at $39. Once you’ve got your Echo Studio and your extra hardware, head to the “add a Home Theater” option using the Alexa app.
If you’ve got other Echos around your home, you can stereo pair it with the Studio, and the Echo Sub can connect up as well. To set it up with the Echo Sub, you need to wait until the Studio is launched, so Ty wasn’t able to report back on it yet. For wired connections, there’s a Micro-USB port and optical/3.5mm audio jack, and extra wireless connectivity is covered with A2DP Bluetooth.
Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, is compatible with seemingly everything, from speakers to TVs, and even your microwave. Besides, the Echo Studio adds to the list of stuff that you can use Alexa to control things with. You can get a song played, call up the weather report, or to get the best out of it you can even ask for Alexa to “play the best of 3D Audio playlist”.
Seven microphones are included in the Echo Studio, and they definitely set it apart. When Ty Pendlebury tested it they were quite sensitive and there were no issues with his voice being picked up. When playing at maximum volume – around 90db compared to 80db from the Echo Plus which is $120 – he was impressed at the ability to speak at a normal volume at 6 feet away and still have his voice picked up.
The big picture
All that being said, the Echo Studio is Amazon’s best-sounding speaker to date and it’s got loads of cool features. It’s a comparatively hefty piece of kit, and the sound you get out of it matches the size of it; this is all down to the array of multiple drivers and it is able to bounce sounds off the walls of the room.
It’s not going to be replacing your full stereo system just yet, the Echo Studio is lacking the distinct placement of a true stereo system, but Ty Pendlebury reckoned it could more than fill a decent sized room and the bass is bigger than in any other Echo. When streaming content on the TV, the sound produced is massive, you wouldn’t think it was a single speaker producing all that sound, although it’s still not a match for the accuracy of a multi-speaker set up.