It has been five years since Amazon introduced us to something known as Alexa, the artificially intelligence virtual assistant in a range of smart speakers called Echo. We have had a variety of shapes, sizes and form factors over the years, from the cute little Echo Dot to the brilliant Echo Show smart display. They have been versatile, brought smartness into our homes and become a part of our daily routines. All this while, what has also remained common is the fact that the audio quality of even higher end Echo smart speakers wasn’t something that would appeal to audiophiles. Not to say they sound bad, because they absolutely don’t, but there was that certain sparkle that seemed to have been sacrificed. But that was then. Here and now, Amazon has the new Echo Studio smart speaker, which is by far and away, the best sounding Echo speaker. Also gets very close to the awesomeness of the Bose Home Speaker 500, which also does the Hey Alexa routine very well. And I absolutely love it.
The Echo Studio is priced at Rs 22,999 which makes this the most expensive Echo speaker in the line-up, which also includes the Echo Plus (2nd gen; Rs 14,999) and the Echo (3rd gen; Rs 9,999). But what makes this different? The highlight specs include very powerful audio drivers, advanced audio algorithms that tune the sound according to the layout of your room for immersive sound and the Dolby Atmos capabilities.
For starters, it is the audio hardware on the inside of the Echo Studio which makes a big difference. There are three mid-range speakers (each 2-inch in size) that fire to the left, right and upwards. Then there is a single tweeter (1-inch in size) that is facing your direction and then there is a downward facing 5.25-inch woofer. If you look at the Echo Studio as it sits on the mantlepiece or that side table, there is a cut-out has been carved just below where the subwoofer sits, so that bass can have a proper impact. Even though the Echo Studio has a cylindrical design, this is theoretically not a 360-degree speaker. Not that it is a problem though, because hardly does anyone place a speaker in a central position and that renders at least one of the speakers less effective. In fact, the Echo Studio’s choice gives you all the more flexibility while placing it on a shelf.
Amazon has gone the whole hog with the Echo Studio globally, with a 24-bit DAC (digital-to-analog converter) and an amplifier, which make it high-res lossless audio compatible. Amazon doesn’t yet offer the high-res music services on Amazon Music in India yet, but this may just be a good time to offer the Amazon Music HD tier to subscribers as an option in India. The Echo Studio is also Dolby Atmos capable, which certainly adds to the sound credentials.
To set this up, you place the Echo Studio exactly where you intend to keep it and then start the setup via the Alexa app (free for Android and iOS). This is when the audio-calibration happens—it is the first time we have seen an Amazon Echo speaker do that. This takes just a couple of seconds, so you shouldn’t really get delayed in whatever it is that you were doing. This process quickly analyses the layout of the room in relation to where it is placed to be able to deliver sound that is potentially better than other speakers which do not do this. I wanted to test the pre-calibration and post-calibration sound, but there is no option to do so as the calibration process during the setup cannot be skipped. I did not find an option in the Alexa app that lets us run the calibration again—so what happens in case you decide to shift the Echo Studio to another room? At present, the only workaround I see is to reset the Echo Studio and set it up again. It may only be long before Amazon adds that option in the Alexa app.
For what is a fairly big speaker, the Echo Studio does hide its bulk quite well. The black colour fabric grille is very reminiscent of Echo speakers in general. The very few controls that there are, including the mic mute and volume keys, are on the circular dial at the top. The ring lights up the moment you say “Hey Alexa” and that is pretty much the beginning of a musical journey that surpasses smart speakers made by Amazon themselves all this while.
For the regular music streaming on Amazon Music, the sound does clearly come across as more vibrant and powerful. There is always the risk of bass overpowering the vocals and the mids, but the out-of-the-box tuning of the Amazon Echo Studio actually does anything but that. Chances are, you will head to the Alexa app and turn up the bass level in the sound settings for the Echo Studio. At this point, we tried playing a variety of tracks on Apple Music and JioSaavn, and the sound quality we experienced was matching the Apple HomePod. Irrespective of whichever genre of music you play, the clarity, detailing and depth are unmissable. A lot of that is achieved by the fact that the Echo Studio up-converts the regular stereo tracks with Dolby Atmos, though you can turn this off in settings. However, I would recommend leaving this on for the very fact that it adds a nice dose of space into the music that you are listening to. If you aren’t boxing the Echo Studio in a shelf and leaving it on the top of a nice wide table for instance, the spread of the sound across the room is far and away better than any smart speaker so far. You do feel a genuine “surround” aspect to the sound, and not some fake tuning that many speakers over the years have claimed. That being said, a lot will depend on the way the music that you are listening to has been packaged.
With Dolby Atmos comes the additional advantage that allows you to use this as a home theatre speaker with a Fire TV Stick. All you have to do is ensure that the Echo Studio and the Fire TV Stick are on the same Wi-Fi network, open the Alexa app and select the Set up Audio System option to get this working as a home theatre speaker.
The Alexa capabilities remain as robust as always. The Echo Studio can be a smart home hub to control smart devices including lighting (Philips Hue and TP-Link), smart plugs (Oakter and D-Link) and more—but as long as they are on the Zigbee standard. “Alexa, detect my devices” usually works well enough to get most smart gadgets on board and working. Skills, as always, remain a very critical fixture in the Amazon Echo offering. This is basically where third-party apps plug into your Amazon account, and you can simply use voice commands via the Echo Plus speaker to get stuff done. Book a cab, monitor a smart device at home, order food, get the latest sports scores, control the TV volume and more.
At the time of writing this, I have been able to test the Echo Studio as a standalone speaker, and not a stereo pair. Even then, the sound is most certainly at least two notches above the Echo Plus, and at par with the Apple HomePod. The only one that trumps the Echo Studio is the Bose Home Speaker 500, which sounds heavenly, but also costs a lot more money. And that means the Echo Studio is also significantly better than any smart speaker that the likes of Google sell in India, at the moment. Amazon finally has a smart speaker that well and truly focuses on getting the sound right. And does it in style.