Thoughts on Amazon’s New Echo Speakers

In this week’s episode of The Next Track podcast, Chris Connaker, Doug Adams, and I discussed the odd idea of Amazon announcing a lossless and high-resolution music streaming service. We mocked the idea of listening to this music on an Amazon Echo, but, somehow, none of us thought that this improved audio quality was the prelude to new Amazon Echo speakers.

Yesterday, Amazon announced an All-new Amazon Echo (3rd Generation), a $100 speaker with “premium sound.” And they also announced the $200 Echo Studio, with “Immersive sound – 5 speakers produce powerful bass, dynamic midrange, and crisp highs. Dolby Atmos technology adds space, clarity, and depth.” Like Apple’s HomePod, the Echo Studio “Adapts to any room – Automatically senses the acoustics of your space, fine-tuning playback for optimal sound.”

Echo studioAmazon is pricing this to compete with the Sonos One, and to undercut the HomePod. Amazon says:

Dolby Atmos technology turns stereo tracks into a multidimensional audio experience, adding space, clarity, and depth. Echo Studio also plays new music formats that have been mastered in 3D.

Given the setup of the speaker, it’s possible that this does produce stereo sound, with left and right tweeters, unlike the HomePod, which is a mono speaker. It has a front, whereas the HomePod is designed to work regardless of which way it points. (Oddly, that slot looks like it’s designed to hold a CD, but it is just a vent for the bass to flow from the speaker.)

One positive point is that both of these speakers have a 3.5mm / optical line-in jack, which the HomePod and the Sonos one do not have.

On the podcast, we discussed how audiophiles probably would not see Amazon as an appropriate source for music, and that there are other alternatives, though not that many offering lossless streaming. But these new speakers are an attempt by Amazon to elevate their Echo line from the tinny speakers they have long had, and it’s great for consumers to have more competition in this area.

I would expect Apple to release a less expensive HomePod in the near future, in order to compete with Sonos and Amazon, and the many other hi-fi companies selling standalone speakers of this kind. This is clearly a growth market for audio, as fewer people own stereo separates, and as the idea of listening to music without a lot of gear has become the norm.