Amazon was the first company to popularize the smart speaker with the release of thefive years ago. There was just one problem however: It sounded like a clock radio wedged in a length of pipe. have tweaked both the design and, more importantly, the sound quality — which brings us to the Echo Studio.
This is Amazon’s best-sounding and most feature-packed speaker yet, complete withplayback. It’s a big speaker that sounds even bigger, thanks to its array of multiple drivers and ability to bounce sound off the walls. Yes, music lacked the distinct placement of a true stereo system but it still filled my listening room well, with more bass than any previous Echo. Movies and streaming content sounded massive for just a single speaker, even if it doesn’t deliver the pinpoint accuracy of a multispeaker rig. Read about .
At this price there’s another excellent option: Sonos One ($199 at Amazon). It’s smaller than the Echo Studio, and while both sound very good, I preferred listening to music on the One. It had a richer, more intimate sound that I found easier to listen to in the long run. The One also beats Amazon in flexibility — with Google Assistant support in addition to Alexa, as well as Sonos’ superior multiroom system.
That said, if you have a lot of Echo speakers already and want improved sonics, the Studio is a great step up: it sounds more expansive than any of the others. Despite the device’s pretensions it’s not “hi-fi” and not really “home theater” either. It’s simply the biggest-sounding Echo speaker you can buy.
Alexa, you’re bloody huge
If you’re used to the original water-bottle-size Echo, the sheer bulk of the Echo Studio may come as a surprise. It’s larger than most smart speakers and looks a lot like the company’s own Echo Sub ($130 at Amazon). About two-thirds the size of the sub — at 8.1 inches tall and 6.9 inches in diameter — the Studio manages to look even more subwooferlike with its peek-a-boo bass port.
It’s that exposed 5.25-inch bass driver which dictates the proportions of the Studio, and the remaining drivers necessitate design changes in other ways. In addition to a single forward-facing tweeter the speaker offers three 2-inch midrange speakers — two each firing to the left and right, and one mesh-covered driver pointed directly at the roof. It’s this particular driver that enables the speaker to translate (with varying degrees of success) immersive audio effects.
The Amazon Echo Studio is the first smart speaker to offer Dolby Atmos — for music and movies — as well as Sony’s own 360 Reality Audio. While both Atmos music and 360 Reality Audio will work with just a Wi-Fi connection, the Alexa voice assistant and ($90 at eBay) (first or second gen), Fire TV Stick 4K ($35 at Amazon), or Fire TV (third gen) for Dolby Atmos movies. To set it up you’ll use the “add a Home Theater” option in the Alexa app.($13 per month), you will need a Fire TV Cube
The device also offers the ability to stereo pair with another Echo, as well as to add the Echo Sub. Sadly, I only had one Studio unit to test with, and the subwoofer pairing will only work after launch. I’ll test those features and update the review when I get the chance. Other connections include a Micro-USB port (not currently used), a combined optical/3.5mm audio jack and Bluetooth (A2DP).
With its unusual complement of drivers and its sheer size, placement can be an issue. It’s too big for most kitchens, and it needs walls from which to bounce sound. The word “credenza” comes instantly to mind, as well as “kitchen island.” You could even place the Studio on a side table if you have the room.
No shouting required
Amazon Alexa offers compatibility with the widest number of devices — from speakers to TVs to microwaves — and the Echo Studio works with them all. You can ask it for the weather report or to play a song, or, if you really want to take advantage of its capabilities, to “play the best of 3D Audio playlist.”
The Echo Studio’s array of seven microphones sets it apart. In my tests they were quite sensitive and worked great at picking up my voice. Even at maximum volume (90db or so, versus the Echo Plus ($150 at Best Buy)‘ 80db), I found I could speak in a normal voice from a distance of 6 feet and the speaker would still hear me. That’s pretty impressive.
I was less impressed with Alexa’s ability to understand me. Fairly frequently I found it wouldn’t correctly interpret my commands. This wasn’t unique to the Echo Studio either — I’ve had this issue with almost every Echo. It’s much less of a problem for me with Google Home ($99 at Walmart) speakers I’ve used. My theory is that it’s a combination of my Australian accent and a lack of AI smarts when compared to the current “machine learning” champ, Google. Your mileage may vary.
There were other miscommunications too. For instance, I couldn’t get Alexa to play Tom Waits’ song Rain Dogs at all — no matter what I asked the speaker, it wanted to play the album, not the single song. Even “play the title track from Rain Dogs” resulted in Alexa’s hilarious (to me) response: “to listen to Tidal link your skills in the Alexa app”. In comparison, Google Assistant on the Sonos One understood the command “play the song Rain Dogs” and played it straight away.
Theater (and music) in the surround
The Amazon Echo Studio aims to deliver both surround music and surround home theater, but they’re different animals. Surround music such as 360 Reality Audio or Atmos Music are designed to engulf you with instruments set in a very clear soundstage. You should be able to distinctly hear and place that cowbell hovering behind your left shoulder, for example. On the other hand most home theater surround effects are intended to be vague because If you’re turning around to track the sound, you’re no longer looking at the screen.