The Amazon Echo range is best known as Alexa speakers. But a growing number of third-parties including Sonos and Ultimate Ears have the best sound offerings. 

GadgetGuy spent a lot of time with Alexa. You can read Alexa 101 here.

It describes what Alexa can do, setup, privacy and all the things you should know before choosing it or Google Assistant.

Echo Dot

  • .6” speaker upwards firing mono
  • Seven microphones
  • 5mm line out
  • Bluetooth out
  • 32 mm x 84 mm x 84 mm, 163 g
  • USB Power-pack that is too big for a standard power board spacing
Alexa speakers

Its key use is to add Alexa voice control. Cost is $49.99.

It would be unkind to expect a .6” speaker to do anything but voice and its fine for that.

Alexa speakers

It has no bass, limited mid-range and no treble. The best description for a music signature is ‘painful’ with fairly high levels of distortion at a maximum volume of 75dB.

Echo

  • 2.5” woofer and .6” tweeter – 360° firing
  • 3.5mm line Out
  • Bluetooth out
  • 148 mm x 88 mm x 88 mm, 821 g
  • USB Power-pack that is too big for a standard power board spacing
  • Cost is $119
Alexa speakers

Echo also has no real bass despite having a 2.5” woofer. Some bass sneaks in at 100Hz but only becomes serious between 300-500Hz (upper bass). Mid-range is good to 5K but then the treble dives off a high cliff.

Alexa speakers

If it had a little more lower bass, it would be a ‘warm and sweet’ signature for easy listening. Depending on content it verges more on a mid-signature for clear voice. It is not an unpleasant sound, but it is a very long way from audiophile quality.

Maximum volume 80dB with considerable distortion but its more comfortable around 70dB where its clear.

Echo Plus

  • Echo Plus contains a Zigbee based smart home hub.
  • 2.53” woofer and .8” tweeter – 360° firing
  • 3.5mm line Out
  • Bluetooth out
  • 235 mm x 84 mm x 84 mm, 954g
  • USB Power-pack that is too big for a standard power board spacing
  • Cost is $149
Alexa speakers

There were hints of bass at 80Hz building to a solid bass from 150 to 500Hz. Mids were good to 5kHz, and then treble nosedived – although not as seriously as the Echo or Dot.

Alexa speakers

It had a warm and sweet sound signature for easy listening. Maximum volume was 80dB with considerable distortion, but at 70dB (still loud) that disappeared. It provides the best listening experience of the three Echo speakers, but I would not buy it if the music is the object.

Echo Spot

It has a lovely round 2.5” colour LCD screen. It is ‘cute’ and best resembles an alarm clock.

  • 1.4” speaker
  • Front facing camera
  • Can play from Amazon Video (but the 2.5” screen is really too small for that)
  • Wi-Fi N dual band
  • 3.5mm line Out
  • Bluetooth out
  • 104 mm x 97 mm x 91 mm, 419g
  • USB Power-pack
  • Cost is $179
Alexa speakers

For what it is (1.4” speaker) the sound was not too bad. There were hints of bass, good clear mids and even more treble than the Dot or Echo. I suspect it reflects a later design credo.

Alexa speakers

Ultimate Ears Blast (MegaBlast not tested)

Blast is a waterproof 360° speaker

  • 2 x 35mm drivers and two x 81 x 39mm passive radiators
  • Frequency response 90Hz to 20kHz
  • Maximum sound 90dB
  • Wi-Fi N dual band
  • Bluetooth range 45m
  • Wi-Fi N dual band
  • 12-hour rechargeable battery
  • IP67 dust and waterproof
  • Can be used with a charging base
  • USB charger and cable
  • Price is $279.00
Alexa speakers

Now before I comment about treble falling off a cliff (and it does); remember this is a waterproof ‘party’ speaker designed for low distortion and lots of volume at up to 90dB (we achieved 85dB with little distortion).

Alexa speakers

It has bass starting at 100Hz albeit it bit erratic, quite good mids and then drops off from 5kHz. The result is pleasant enough.

I am not sure why Ultimate Ears bothered with Alexa. It’s not the type of speaker you have indoors in the lounge, bedroom or kitchen.

Its Bluetooth app is way more content agnostic and includes YouTube Red, Google Music, Apple music and more. It can also act as a multi-room speaker or ‘part-up’.

I suppose the answer is that it is a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth speaker so why not support Alexa.

Sonos One

Sonos has always gone its own way not concerned at what others are doing. I could ask the same question – Why bother with Alexa. The answer is that in every respect Sonos One (and the Beam soundbar) are great music speakers and Alexa opens more markets. They allegedly will support Google Assistant and already offer Apple AirPlay 2.

Sonos One is $299 – and that is a good price for the quality. Unlike Alexa with five music services, it has 56 extra music services accessible via the Sonos app (including Apple Music). Frankly, that is how to use this speaker, either singly or as a stereo pair.

Alexa speakers

The Sonos Mic was responsive to about 4 metres although we had to raise our voice at higher volumes.

Sound wise it has bass starting at 100Hz and an almost flat response to 15kHz (great). Warm and sweet it is.

Alexa speakers

But place it beside the other Alexa speakers, and you begin to understand what a sound pedigree Sonos has. There was no perceptive distortion at 83dB (maximum) and crystal clear lyrics and reasonable bass notes.

We tested in a stereo pair (not supported by the Alexa app), and the spatial separation was excellent. GadgetGuy’s review is here.

Sonos Beam

The Beam is a soundbar with impeccable sound credentials. It also has HDMI ARC for TV setup.

GadgetGuy’s review is here. We said, “The sound is far better than it should be from such a diminutive device.”

Alexa speakers

Interestingly the review tests the soundbar with content from a TV or the Sonos app. While the frequency response below is similar it is via Alexa music and reflects the fact that it is a highly compressed music stream. So, don’t blame Sonos – blame Alexa.

Alexa speakers

Bass creeps in at 80Hz with good solid response to 500Hz where a very good mid-range takes over. Treble is not bad falling off at 15kHz. Easy listening.

Alexa will get a basic EQ (at present only in the US)

All tests use ‘normal’ settings. In late July Alexa added a basic EQ function to turn up/down bass, mid-range or treble by +/-6dB.

Our experience is that you can’t change a speaker’s native sound signature, only make the music ‘appear’ to have more of one at the expense of another. It will have minimal effect on the Dot, Spot or Echo.

GadgetGuy’s take. Sonos is clearly the superior sounding of all Alexa speakers.

It is unfair to compare the lower cost Echo Dot and Echo with Sonos or Ultimate Ears. The former are really designed to bring Alexa to your home. Just don’t expect good music.

The Echo Plus provides acceptable music albeit with too much distortion at maximum volume. And you are paying for a Zigbee hub that most will not use.

The Ultimate Ears Blast and MegaBlast are party speakers and fit that role well. While not an audiophiles dream they provide heaps of distortion-free sound at copious volume. 

Sonos One is sweet. Everything you need in a room speaker offering huge sound from a small enclosure. Even better when paired for stereo (works only in the Sonos app). Although at that price I would buy the Sonos Beam.

Sonos Beam offers the best music quality so far. At $599 it can hook up to a TV and offer Alexa control. Although you will need an Amazon FireTV stick to get it to do anything with the Telly (review coming).

But you have to ask if you would not be better off buying the multi-room sound system you want and just placing a handful of  Echo Dots around the house.

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