Amazon takes aim at Sonos with Alexa-powered Echo multi-room range

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At a surprise event in Seattle HQ this evening, Amazon has announced - deep breath - a new Echo Dot, a second-gen Echo Plus, a next-gen Echo Show, the Echo Link Amp stereo amplifier, the Echo Link stereo receiver (pictured top), the Echo Sub, the Echo Input add-on audio device, the FireTV Recast, the AmazonBasics Microwave, the Echo Wall Clock, the Ring Stick Up camera and the Smart Plug. Phew.

Earlier this week, rumours had suggested Amazon would announce eight new smart devices, including a speaker amplifier, receiver and subwoofer (not to mention a microwave) - all powered by Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, of course. And it seems the report was bang on the money. 

Amazon also took the opportunity to shed light on new Alexa skills and features available to third-party devices, as well as announcing that it would add broadcasting capabilities to the Echo Show, Fire TV and Alexa app later this year.

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Naturally our interest is particularly piqued by the new audio products which see Amazon’s entrance into ‘hi-fi’, notably with the Amazon Echo Link Amp and Amazon Echo Link. These see Amazon following where Sonos has led, launching its take on the Sonos Amp and Connect.

While the company has been behind some of the most commercially successful audio products in recent years thanks to its Echo smart speaker range, they’ve been less convincing in the sound department compared to the likes of the Sonos One and Apple HomePod. We look forward to finding out if these products change that.

So, the finer details…

The all-new Echo Dot sticks with the £50 price tag

The all-new Echo Dot sticks with the £50 price tag

The new Echo Dot boasts a larger driver - it’s now 1.6in, up from 1.1in - driven by more power for a device that supposedly goes 70 per cent louder. It’s also been gifted a new mic array for better voice detection. The best news? It’s the same price as the original Echo Dot - £49.99, then.

A new (second-gen) Echo Plus is also on the horizon. It supposedly has a more powerful sound, and bass and treble can be adjusted to suit user tastes - old school. Audio aside, it also integrates a temperature sensor so you can trigger routines based on how hot or cold your room is. 

And Amazon has made some of its cloud-based controls local to the Echo Plus, meaning lights can be controlled even when your internet is down. The Echo Plus, priced £139.99, can be pre-ordered today, with shipping expected to start next month. 

The latest Echo Show has been ‘completely redesigned’ with dual side-firing 2in Neodymium drivers and a passive bass radiator promising improved sound quality. There’s also Dolby processing, a larger (10in) display, Firefox and Amazon’s Silk browser, and an eight-mic array - Amazon’s most powerful mics yet. The all-new Echo Show is £219.99.

Now moving onto the more unfamiliar, the most interesting of which might be the Echo Input: the first Echo device without a speaker. So how does it make a sound? Well, it doesn’t. 

The 12.5cm-tall Echo Input simply connects to an existing speaker via a 3.5mm jack or Bluetooth to gift it voice functionality. Think of it as an Alexa-flavoured Chromecast Audio, then. It has a four-microphone array for voice detection and is priced £34.99.

The 100-watt Echo Sub can be wirelessly paired with one Echo speaker for a 1.1 configuration, or with two of the same Echo speakers for a 2.1 set-up, aiming to bring more grunt to a stereo pair through its down-firing 6in woofer. It's £119.99.

The Echo Link Amp is a 60-watt stereo amplifier with both digital and analogue connectivity, and lets users control music selection, volume and multi-room playback via an Echo or the Alexa app. It will be available ‘soon’. The Echo Link, meanwhile, is the receiver version - no amplifier - designed to connect to a receiver or amplifier for similar control via the Alexa ecosystem.

Moving away from hi-fi and more into home cinema, we have the Fire TV Recast, a companion DVR device that lets you watch, record and replay free over-the-air programming to any Fire TV, Echo Show, and compatible Fire tablet and smartphones.

You can record up to four shows at once, stream on multiple devices at a time, and use Alexa to search for shows, change channels, schedule and delete recordings and control playback using your own voice. 

Lest we forget, there's also the Amazon Smart Plug, yours for £24.99, which can control lights, fans, coffee makers and more. And that's your hardware lot. 

However, Amazon was keen to talk about some improved Alexa functionality, and how it's making the voice assistant more inclusive to third-party hardware brands - after all, a growing number of them, 3,500 apparently, now utilise the Alexa platform. 

To that end, Alexa’s does-what-it-says-on-the-tin Multi-Room Music feature will soon be available to all device makers, such as Bose and Sonos, as Amazon was keen to name-drop.

Amazon has also boosted Alexa’s short-term memory so that follow-up questions no longer require a wake word. For example, you can ask Alexa what the weather is like in Seattle, and it’ll remember you’re talking about Seattle if you then ask for a restaurant recommendation nearby.

And it’s expanded its skillset in relation to streaming services, so you can, for example, ask Alexa to follow certain artists and you'll be notified when they release new music.

That enough? We think so. The dust is just settling on the product announcements, so we look forward to finding out more details, and getting our hands on the products, in the coming weeks and months.

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