If there’s one ongoing criticism of the Amazon Echo speaker line, it’s that its audio quality doesn’t always match its smart capabilities. With the all-new Amazon Echo Studio, Amazon is looking to address that balance - and it does so in some style - which could make it one of the best smart speakers of 2019 - if not beyond.
The Echo Studio not only has all the Amazon Alexa smart capabilities of other Echo speakers, it’s also adding a significant audio upgrade in the shape of Dolby Atmos and 360-degree sound support - and it’s surprisingly effective. Read on for our first hands-on thoughts.
- If you're looking for a new Amazon Echo device, then check out our collection of the best deals and sales for Alexa in October 2019. It's also not long now until Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when we can expect plenty of the Echo range to be discounted. Keep an eye on our Amazon Black Friday guide in the run-up to sale season so you don't miss out on a bargain.
Price and availability
The Amazon Echo Studio is available for pre-order now, priced at $199.99 / £189.99 / AU$329. While that makes it the most expensive of the Echo speakers aside from the screen-packing Echo Show devices, it’s a far more palatable price than when the comparable Apple HomePod launched at $349.
- More hands-on reviews: Echo Buds | Echo Frames | Echo Dot with Clock | Amazon Smart Oven | Echo Loop Ring | Echo Flex | Echo Glow
Design and features
We’ve kind of become used to Amazon Echo speakers looking pretty much the same, especially the standard Echo and the Echo Plus. While the Echo Studio continues that same design language, being cylindrical in shape and covered with a fabric mesh, it’s considerably larger than any Echo that’s gone before it – like someone’s zapped a standard Echo with a gamma ray and made it grow to at least twice the size, Hulk-style.
It’s a big unit then, and it offers output to match. The Echo Studio pumps out 330 watts at peak, via two-inch side-mounted mid-range speakers, a 1-inch front-facing tweeter, and a 5.25-inch sealed woofer. Volume buttons sit on the top, along with a mic mute and Alexa-wake button, with the signature blue-light ring also present. You’ll also notice two cut-aways inside the Echo Studio enclosure, allowing air to flow freely to help it pump out songs at high volume.
Its size means you’re going to have to think about where you’re going to place the Echo Studio – it won’t fit quite so discreetly onto a shelf as other Echos have. But there’s another thing to consider here too – its directional sound capabilities.
Tapping into the new Amazon Music HD service, the Echo Studio will have access at launch to a growing library of "hundreds" of songs mixed in Dolby Atmos. The directional audio system, now a mainstay of quality home theater setups, uses object-based soundtracks to put sounds above and around the listener. It’s increasingly being used in music studios too, with the likes of Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group offering tracks in the format. Sony has its own format, Sony 360, which is also being supported by the Echo Studio.
To pull this off, the Echo Studio is bouncing sound around the surfaces of your room, introducing micro-delays to certain parts of a track to make them appear to come from all around you. The mics on the Echo Studio are constantly listening to its output, adapting the sound mix for your environment and the output needed for each track.
Get a pair of Echo Studio speakers and you can make a stereo pair for immersive TV audio mixes. Just set them up in the Alexa app as left and right channels respectively, and you open up a 5.1.4 channel home cinema array. Amazon says Fire TV devices will wirelessly hook up for Dolby Atmos mixes through this process, but you’ll also be able to get the job done over the speaker’s optical connection.
It’s worth noting that the Echo Studio acts as a smart home hub too. Essentially then, this is a replacement for the Echo Plus, Amazon’s previous smartest and ‘best-sounding’ speaker.
As for the rest of the feature set, if an Echo speaker can do it, the Studio can. Set timers, reminders and alarms; control smart home devices; play back music; get facts and trivia, all by asking questions with your voice.
Getting directional audio to work and be immersive is difficult. Doing it from a single speaker source is even more challenging, but we were pleasantly surprised with the quality of the Echo Studio’s sonic performance. It’s a powerful speaker, absolutely booming with bass power and overall volume, and it really comes into its own with a well-tuned Atmos mix.
We were treated to Atmos mixes of Elton John’s Rocket Man and Gregory Porter’s Mona Lisa. It showed an interesting challenge the studio faces – the mix of the song will be incredibly important to the audio performance of 360 songs.
Rocket Man sounded great, but its sense of space was a but muted. But when Porter’s Mona Lisa kicked into gear, it was spine-tingling. As its orchestration swelled, the sense of space was welcomingly overwhelming – it felt as if we were listening to the song in an actual concert hall, with a superb sense of depth and height.
Of course, only a fraction of songs are mixed this way. But from our brief listening session, we’re pleased to report that regular stereo tracks sound great too. Destiny’s Child’s Say My Name was wonderfully punchy on the low end, with a clear vocal cutting through and a good sense of separation from the top-end instruments.
The Studio is also capable of doing a little bit of post-mixing wizardry to add height to stereo mixes – just don’t expect the same jaw-dropping results you’ll get from a well-tuned Atmos mix.
Has Amazon finally nailed its speaker audio? The Amazon Echo Studio may well answer that question.
It’s a bombastic speaker, packed full of not just smart home and assistant tech, but smart audio considerations too. The audiophile community is an eternally picky one, but with the Echo Studio, Amazon has made its best attempt yet at joining the ranks of the audio elite.
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