Amazon Echo (2019) review: More bass in the baseline

Amazon’s flagship speaker is still going strong

Amazon Echo (2019)
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Amongst the rabble of flashy, whirring new devices announced at Amazon’s big September event, you may have missed the new Echo.

And that’s fine, because Amazon’s OG speaker, which has been refreshed for 2019, is really just chugging along, doing its thing while newer, more interesting Alexa devices spring up around it.

Read this: The best Alexa smart speakers

And as the Echo Dot steadily improves and the range of third-party Alexa speakers gradually expands Amazon's baseline speaker may soon find itself squeezed out. (It's notable that Google has never updated its equivalent Home speaker, suggesting it sees less hunger for the middle child of its lineup).

But for now, the Echo is still an excellent entry into the Alexa family for newcomers, and in 2019 it gets some very welcome updates.

Here's our full review of the new Echo smart speakers.

Amazon Echo (2019) review: More bass in the baseline

Amazon Echo (2019): Design and setup

The new Echo looks like the innards of the older model crawled out and housed themselves in an Echo Plus, and indeed Amazon has copied and pasted the design of the Plus 2nd Gen speaker here.

That means rounder edges and an overall “softer” look than the previous Echo, but slightly wider too. Net gain: it's an overall improvement.

The new Echo comes in gray, white, black and – new for the third generation – a "twilight blue", the last of which may be Amazon’s answer to Google’s new Sky color. Or vice versa. Either way, blue is very in this year.

On top, it’s strictly button business: two for controlling volume, one for actioning Alexa and one for muting it. Gone are the days of the twisty ring to adjust that volume, and while we kind of miss it the buttons do feel more sensible. No risk of blasting up the volume should you pick the speaker up (yes, we did it plenty back in the day).

Amazon Echo (2019) review: More bass in the baseline

The all-too-familiar Alexa ring still adorns the top of the speaker, of course, and is perfectly visible even in broad daylight, igniting any time you talk to Alexa.

Spin it around and you’ll see the 3.5mm audio jack on the back. Top marks to Amazon here, as it’s something we’ve lamented missing on the new Google Nest Mini.

Amazon seems dedicated to keeping a line-out option on its Echo speakers, which can be handy for anyone who wants to hook it up to an older audio system. After all, the sound quality on the Echo won’t be replacing your Bose speakers just yet. More on that shortly.

Amazon Echo (2019) review: More bass in the baseline

Amazon Echo (2019): Features

The new Echo may be doing its best impression of the Echo Plus, but it does not bring the same features. The big difference is that the Zigbee radio for controlling smart home devices isn’t built into the Echo 3rd Gen.

Amazon wasn’t forthcoming when asked why, but it presumably wanted to keep the cost below $100 and didn’t see Zigbee as essential enough. Zigbee turns the Plus into a more capable smart home hub, as it can connect directly to certain devices that would otherwise require a bridge.

The 3rd Gen Echo also lacks the Plus’ temperature sensor, if that matters to you. We don't think it will be a dealbreaker for most.

But the good news is that the Echo Plus can still be yours for $150, should you want the conveniences it affords.

Otherwise, the Echo is a perfectly competent smart home controller, and still has the advantage over Google that Alexa is compatible with more third-party devices.

While Amazon hasn't boasted about any major processor improvements, we're happy to report Alexa on the new Echo is zippy fast at responding and executing commands – faster than Google Assistant on the Nest Hub that we tested it against.

Amazon's assistant is getting smarter all the time, and the new voice profiles feature lets the Echo determine who's talking to it, and will deliver results customized to that person. Google also has this feature on its smart speakers.

Amazon Echo (2019) review: More bass in the baseline

Amazon Echo (2019): Audio and mic quality

The new Echo takes the exact same audio architecture from the Plus: inside is a 3-inch neodymium woofer and a 0.8-inch tweeter, which is an upgrade on the previous model.

The resulting boost makes the new Echo better for listening to music, and pitted against the Sonos One the biggest change we noticed was in that bass, which feels fuller and more prominent here, along with improved highs – but the mids still get murky at higher volumes, particularly in more complex arrangements.

So no, it’s not going to replace that Sonos, and unlikely your other dedicated speakers, but it’s no insult to the ears either. For those who do want something more, Amazon’s new Echo Studio should do just the trick (and has Alexa inside).

Amazon Echo (2019) review: More bass in the baseline

As we’ve already pointed out, you’ve got the option of a 3.5mm input/output too so you can connect the Echo to audio equipment, but if this is your master plan, we’d suggest getting an Echo Dot instead and saving yourself $50.

Mic pickup, never a guarantee with smart speakers, is excellent on the new Echo, which when combined with Alexa’s speedy processing power makes us feel that little bit closer to the promised ambient future.


Amazon Echo (2019)
It's hard to ignore that the flagship Echo feels less essential to Amazon's lineup, but this is still a great speaker, especially for anyone who's new to the smart home. Despite mimicking the Plus there's no Zigbee, but you do get a boost in sound quality and a price that's not unreasonable. The biggest question we have is: Will this replace the Echo Plus?
PROS
  • Better sound
  • Improved design
  • Line in/out option
CONS
  • Feels less essential
  • No Zigbee
  • We expected a bigger audio boost

TAGGED    speakers    amazon

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