The Amazon Echo Studio promises not only to be the best-sounding Echo speaker yet but a smart speaker truly fit for audiophiles.
Not just boasting upgraded internals fit for hi-res audio, which is now available from Amazon's own music streaming service, it also promises to deliver 3D audio courtesy of Sony's 360 Reality Audio and Dolby Atmos.
So can the Echo Studio make Amazon's smart speakers a realistic proposition for those of us who value good sound, and give Sonos, Audio Pro and Apple a run for their money? Our colleagues at Techradar were pleasantly surprised with the quality of the Echo Studio’s sonic performance from a first listen at the Amazon launch event. Read on for our full first impressions.
Price and release date
The Amazon Echo Studio is available for pre-order now, priced at £189.99 ($199.99). The most expensive Echo speaker yet, it remains noticeably cheaper than the Apple HomePod and on par with rival offerings from Google, Sonos and the rest.
Design and features
The Echo Studio continues the same design language of previous Echo speakers, being cylindrical in shape and covered with a fabric mesh. That said, it’s considerably larger than any previous Echo, the beefed-up appearance helping deliver 330 watts or power via three two-inch mid-range speakers, a 1-inch omni-directional tweeter, and a 5.25-inch bass driver, complete with port.
There are volume buttons on the top, along with a mic mute and Alexa-wake button. And yes, the blue ring of light remains so you know when Alexa listening.
The position of the drivers allows the Echo Studio to utilise a new feature of the Amazon Music HD service: a growing library - "hundreds" - of songs mixed in Dolby Atmos. The next-gen object-based audio system has already made its way from movie theatres to home cinemas and now it's coming to music, too.
Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group are offering tracks in the Dolby Atmos Music format, while Sony's 360 Reality Audio is also supported.
How does it work? The mics on the Echo Studio are constantly listening to its output, adapting the sound mix for your environment and the output needed for each track.
You can make a stereo pair of Echo Studio speakers and Amazon says Fire TV devices will wirelessly hook up for Dolby Atmos mixes through this process, but you’ll also be able to get the job done over the speaker’s optical connection.
Elsewhere, the Echo Studio has all the typical features of Echo devices. You can set timers, reminders and alarms; control smart home devices; play back music; get facts and trivia, all by barking questions or orders at Alexa.
Getting directional audio to work and be immersive is difficult. Doing it from a single speaker source is even more challenging. So how does it fare?
The powerful speaker, absolutely booming with bass power and overall volume, comes into its own with a well-tuned Atmos mix. Dolby Atmos mixes of Elton John’s Rocket Man and Gregory Porter’s Mona Lisa showed an interesting challenge the studio faces – the mix of the song will be incredibly important to the audio performance of Atmos music.
Rocket Man sounded great, but its sense of space was a but muted. But when Porter’s Mona Lisa kicked into gear, it was spine-tingling. As its orchestration swelled, there was a real sense of space, depth and height.
Of course, only a fraction of songs are mixed this way, so it's important to note first impressions of stereo tracks were good, too. Destiny’s Child’s Say My Name was punchy on the low end, with a clear vocal cutting through and a good sense of separation from the top-end instruments.
The Studio is also capable of doing a little bit of post-mixing wizardry to add height to stereo mixes – just don’t expect the same jaw-dropping results you’ll get from a well-tuned Atmos mix.
Will it come close to a pair of stereo speakers? Almost certainly not. Will it challenge the excellent, and noticeably more expensive Apple HomePod? We're intrigued to find out.
It's not Dolby Atmos in all its room-filling, multi-speaker glory but it could be the start of something innovative for stereo music. Even if we're sure plenty of people would rather two-channel audio was left that way.
Has Amazon finally nailed its speaker audio? The Amazon Echo Studio may well answer that question.
Amazon's eagerness to push sound quality and its adoption of hi-res audio has to be a good thing, and the Echo Studio looks like a serious contender in the crowded smart speaker market.
The combination of form, function and some fancy new features should set it apart from the crowd, provided the performance lives up to expectations. We just hope people realise that you can do both hi-res audio and Dolby Atmos in better style than a single speaker can offer, provided you have the space and budget.