Although Amazon's Alexa still has some work to do to become the perfect voice-activated smart home assistant, in our books it still holds the title for the most reliable, accessible and versatile. It also works well alongside many third-party connected gadgets and web-reliant services, meaning you can still reap the benefits of Alexa, even if you haven't invested in an Echo device.
And despite the fact Alexa isn't always on top form, if you’ve got a question, 9 times out of 10 the voice assistant will have the answer.
Although there are plenty of third party devices with Alexa built-in, Alexa's abilities really do make buying an Alexa-equipped Amazon Echo speaker a no-brainer for those on the market for a new audio system.
The problem is: what if you already have a classy amp, Bluetooth speaker or Hi-Fi stereo you're perfectly happy with despite the fact it doesn't have smart capabilities?
Well, that's the space in the market the superb Amazon Echo Input hopes to fill. It's a small web connected device built to pair up with your old-school stereo. Once it's synced up, it can do pretty much everything an Echo speaker can – minus being equipped with its own speaker, of course.
[Update: The new Alexa Song ID feature lets your Echo tell you which music track is coming up next – whether you're using the Echo Input reviewed here, or any other Alexa-enabled device. Head to our Alexa skills page for everything else the voice assistant can do.]
Price and availability
Available now, the Amazon Echo Input costs $34.99 / £34.99 from Amazon. That’s $15 / £15 cheaper than the speaker-equipped Echo Dot. It’s nearest competitor would be the similarly priced $35/ £30 Chromecast Audio from Google, which will just as simply get connected audio services hooked up to your stereo system, but lacks any onboard voice assistant, making the Amazon Echo Input the superior choice.
Design and features
The Amazon Echo Input is a dinky little thing. Like a squashed wheel of cheese or an oversized jacket button (but certainly not a hockey puck), it’s a mere 80mm across and 14mm tall. A button on the top surface mutes the four far-field microphones used to pick up your Alexa wake words and voice commands, while another can be used to manually trigger the assistant. A small blue LED in the center lights up when Alexa is active and listening.
With a microUSB power port and a 3.5mm output, it’s about as simple as it can be in terms of cabling – one goes into a power supply, the other into your stereo of choice. Provided you don’t need to play with the buttons very often (thanks to the joys of hands-free voice control, naturally), you could tuck this away and never need know it exists again.
So, plug it into a wall, fire up the Alexa app on your phone to connect the Echo Input to your home Wi-Fi and, voila! With a choice between that 3.5mm jack and a Bluetooth connection, you’ve just brought your stereo into the connected, smart-assistant-equipped world.
From there on in, the Echo Input is capable of doing anything an Amazon Echo speaker can do, from playing back music via streaming services such as Spotify and Amazon Music to answering general knowledge questions and setting alarms and timers. It’ll also control Alexa-compatible smart home devices, too. Your existing Hi-Fi system delivers the audio on its behalf.
It’s simple and effective then – though arguably a little too simple for some users. The lack of an RCA or optical output could be a problem for some systems, but 3.5mm and Bluetooth usually come as standard, and anything else you may require could be retrofitted with whichever niche converter necessary.
The Amazon Echo Input works like a treat. Its four microphones have good range and sensitivity, its dual band (2.4 and 5GHz) Wi-Fi retains a consistent connection, and Alexa is an increasingly capable voice assistant to work with.
The only potential downfalls sit with its Bluetooth connection, and to a lesser extent, the power saving settings on your stereo system of choice (which admittedly Amazon has little control over).
When it comes to Bluetooth, it can prove difficult to make that initial connection to the device, with the Echo Input not always recognizable. Then, when connected over Bluetooth, certain speakers take a few moments to register data from the Echo Input, meaning you occasionally miss a few words from Alexa’s responses. And, when it comes to stereo systems and amps, some have low-power settings that turn them off when no audio is outputted for a set amount of time.
The Echo Input on the other hand remains on and ready to take your Alexa commands, just like an always-on Echo – except, as with the scenario just stated without returning a response, which could lead to unwanted Skills being triggered. The Echo Input will send a notification to your phone if it notices the connected device has been switched off, but that’s not great when Alexa can, for instance, be allowed to make purchases on your behalf.
Some minor gripes aside, it’s hard to argue with the value of the Amazon Echo Input. If you’ve got a great-sounding, older stereo system, it totally revitalizes its usefulness for the modern connected age. For anyone who's considered buying an Amazon Echo Dot purely for connecting to a more sonically-credible system, the Echo Input is the answer to your prayers.
All image credits: TechRadar