The company’s existing smart speakers have proven their use, but the thought of one that delivers sound able to rival Apple’s HomePod is a truly tantalising prospect
I’ve been lucky enough to preview the Echo Studio ahead of its launch next month and can confirm it delivers a sound that belies its small size, while offering several features that Apple’s similarly dustbin-shaped smart speaker is crying out for. What follows are my first impressions of the Studio, along with all its key specs and features.
Important specs, price and release date
- 206mm x 175mm
- Includes three 2in midrange speakers, one 1in tweeter, one 5.25in (133 mm) woofer with bass aperture
- Automatic room adaptation – analyses room’s acoustics and adjusts sound accordingly
- 3.5mm/mini-optical input
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Compatible audio formats: FLAC, MP3, AAC, Opus, Vorbis, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos, Sony 360 Reality Audio/MPEG-H
- Supports CD Quality (16-bit) and Hi-Res (24-bit) audio
- Compatible streaming services: Amazon Music (Standard and HD), Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, TuneIn
- Can be paired with a second Echo Studio speaker and Echo Sub
- UK release date: Pre-order now, ships 7th November
- UK price: £190
Design, key features and first impressions
Whether the Echo Studio can go toe-to-toe with the HomePod in the audio quality stakes remains to be seen – I’ll need to hear more than a couple of tracks before coming to a definitive conclusion. But that’s just one part of the equation with a smart speaker. When it comes to smarts, and indeed features and connectivity, the new Echo Studio certainly appears to have the HomePod beaten.
For starters, along with offering instant music streaming via Amazon’s smart assistant Alexa, you can pair the Studio with any Bluetooth-compatible device. That means you can be up and running, streaming music from any service and indeed practically any device within a matter of seconds – something that’s simply not possible with Apple’s smart speaker. On top of that, there’s also a mini-optical/3.5mm input that you can use to connect your TV or another device to the Echo Studio for a bigger sound.
The Echo Studio’s home-cinema credentials don’t end there. If you own a Fire TV Cube or Fire TV Stick 4K, the Echo Studio can be selected as the audio output, instantly upgrading your TV’s acoustic capabilities without the need to connect a single wire. It’s also compatible with Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio, enabling it to deliver what Amazon calls a “multidimensional audio experience”.
On paper, a £190 speaker delivering surround sound sounds impressive, but we’ll need to put the Echo Studio through its paces properly before we can confirm how it compares to a dedicated soundbar or home cinema speaker setup. After all, just how good can one speaker be?
Which brings me to my next point. Although you can pair the speaker with an additional Echo Studio and Echo Sub, Amazon’s keen to point out that you shouldn’t have to. Central to the Studio’s ability to offer a “multi-dimensional” sound is the fact it has a five-speaker arrangement hidden within each unit. This design is what makes it the first smart speaker to support Amazon’s new “3D Audio” format.
As the name suggests, these tracks – which are available to stream with a Music HD subscription – have been “mastered in 3D” to offer a more spacious and immersive sound. Sadly, I’m not sure that I could really hear the difference between the aforementioned “3D” tracks and regular hi-res songs from my seat in the demonstration room, but it’s great to see Amazon investing in delivering a high-fidelity audio experience. Indeed, as well as its new 3D format, a Music HD subscription enables you to stream both 16-bit (CD quality) and 24-bit (hi-res) audio files on the Echo Studio.
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So how good does the Echo Studio sound? From where I was sitting – around five metres from the speaker – I was impressed by the scale of the sound it delivered but it’s difficult to come to any real conclusions beyond that just yet. Indeed, to my ears, where some tracks sounded balanced and detailed, others were a little too boomy and bass-heavy for my liking and lacked detail in the vocal ranges.
The fact the sound drastically improved as I got closer to the speaker suggests that my distance, rather than the speaker itself, is the main factor to blame here. Indeed, having listened to another track from much closer to the speaker, I can say that it sounded very good indeed. What’s more, like the HomePod and the Sonos Move, the Echo Studio analyses the acoustics of its surroundings and then adjusts its sound accordingly, so in theory, this is a speaker that should work just as well in your living room and as a small kitchen.
Although it’s too soon to say whether the Echo Studio is a HomePod killer just yet, then, it shows about as much promise as you could hope for. As well as offering all the Alexa-smarts you normally get from an Echo device, it delivers great sound quality, heaps of connectivity options and can also double up as a TV speaker (if you have an Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K or Fire TV Cube).
When you consider the Echo Studio does all this at just £190, it’s difficult not to see it being top of many people’s shopping lists this Christmas. For a definitive verdict, though, check back to see our full review in a few weeks.
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