Price (RRP): $329
Obviously, the quality of music you’re going to get from a tiny Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker is, well, limited. But there’s now a big Echo bruiser in the Amazon family, the Amazon Echo Studio.
Echo Studio features
The $329 speaker Echo Studio is still fairly compact. It’s a 175mm diameter cylinder standing on an end. Its height is 206mm and it weighs 3.5 kilograms. Inside are five drivers. A 25mm driver fires directly forwards. There are three 50mm midrange drivers, one firing directly left, one directly right and one directly upwards. And there’s a 133mm woofer which fires downwards. Two “apertures” or horizontal slots in the casing, one on the front and one on the back, allow the sound from that out.
On top is the customary Alexa light ring. This glows in response to your verbal commands. And there are four buttons: volume up and down, microphone mute and action (that is, a “listen to me” button).
Of course, you can talk to Alexa through the Echo Studio, and Alexa can talk back. It connects to your Wi-Fi via 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands. There is no Ethernet socket. The Echo Studio also supports the Zigbee low power wireless system, This allows smart control of various light bulbs, sensors, switches and other things. Lots of things can be controlled via Alexa “Skills”.
The Echo Studio also has a 3.5mm input which can accept analogue or optical digital audio. And it can connect by Bluetooth to other speakers, or to a source device such as a phone.
It apparently supports Dolby Atmos … whatever that means. Atmos is a clear way of steering sound around a room using audio “objects”. You need audio which is Atmos encoded. I have no idea where you get that from. Or is Atmos now some kind of branding for “better”?
Setting up the Echo Studio
Since I’ve already set up a few Echos, I had the Alexa app on my phone and I’d previously given it permission to keep an eye out for Alexa-compatible devices. So, for me, setting up was extremely simple: plug the Echo Studio into power, fire up the app and tap “Continue” when, after a few seconds, it detected the Echo Studio.
After that, I tapped the Wi-Fi network I wanted to use. Amazon already had the password so it fed that to the Echo Studio. Note, I’d previously given permission for Amazon to retain the password. If this is your first Echo, you’ll have to key in the password and then, if memory serves correctly, you’ll have the opportunity to allow Amazon to use it in the future for additional devices. That’s up to you.
After that, the Echo Studio announced that it was going to tune itself for the location and ran some fairly musical tests. Then, it said, it was ready.
Meanwhile, the app had a couple more steps. For example, it wanted to know which room the Echo Studio was in so it could be grouped.
I’ll jump ahead briefly. I also have an Echo Dot in the office, and I found that when I asked Alexa to play music, it was coming from the diminutive Dot rather than from the higher quality Echo Studio. You need to switch which speaker plays music in the app. It was far from obvious where to do that, but some googling revealed the answer.
Echo Studio firmware updates
All that done, I waited for the Echo Studio to announce that it was going to update its firmware (Amazon calls it software). It didn’t. Googling around indicated that Echos update their firmware overnight to avoid interfering with one’s daytime activities. So, how to force it to update straight away? More Googling suggested that you could simply mute the device – that is, switch off the microphone – for an hour or so, and then it would update itself. So I did that.
And then, my eye lit upon a comment on one of those sites. I unmuted the microphone and did what the comment suggested. “Alexa,” I said, “update your firmware.” She doubled checked that I really wanted to, and off she went and did it. It only took about ten minutes.
The sound produced by the Echo Studio was about as good as I think you can get from a speaker of its size. Which is to say, it is unbelievably good compared to the speakers of a decade ago. There are a lot of smarts packed into these smart speakers. Audio smarts, that is.
But, first things first. The Echo Studio could easily deliver room-filling levels in my 5.5 by 6.5 metre office. At the top couple of notches things got a little harsh, but apparently no damage was done.