First listen: Amazon Echo Studio takes Alexa high-end at last

A smart speaker that will put the rest of the industry on notice

First listen: Amazon Echo Studio
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Amazon's release cadence for its smart speakers is increasingly aggressive, but one area it's always dragged on is sound quality. With the Echo Studio, it's aiming to fix that.

The Studio is effectively Amazon's answer to the Apple HomePod, the Google Home Max and the higher end of Sonos' range.

However, it's far more than Amazon simply tweaking and prodding drivers and woofers: the Studio produces 3D audio with support for Dolby Atmos and Sony's 360 Reality Audio – and of course, Alexa is built right in.

First look: Amazon Echo Studio takes Alexa high-end at last

But hold up – 3D audio, you say? Don't worry if you don't understand all the ins and outs; it's not something you'll find in any other smart speaker right now.

However, handily, it's exactly what the name suggests: sound that comes at you from all angles.

There are no half measures here, or at least it certainly didn't sound like it during our short demo. We got to hear the Studio in a closed-off living room during Amazon's Seattle event, a much more realistic environment than the bustling media showroom.

It isn't much to look at – a hulking great cylinder that looks like a HomePod on steroids – but it's certainly not ugly. And, yes, it sounds pretty great, too.

Echo Studio
Echo Studio

I only heard a couple of tracks, including Elton John's Rocket Man – one of the tracks that supports 3D audio – and the separation, even at a loud volume, was impressively good, with the 3D sound giving a real feeling of depth to what I was hearing.

And when users aren't making use of 3D audio, the Studio still supports CD-quality lossless 16-bit 44.1kHz audio or in "Ultra HD" 24-bit with sample rates up to 192kHz.

Amazon told us it has a little over 1,000 tracks on its service that support the 3D format, but it's also working with Warner, Sony and Universal to grow that collection.

First look: Amazon Echo Studio takes Alexa high-end at last

So, here's the technical stuff: three 2-inch midrange speakers, a 5.25-inch woofer, and a 1-inch tweeter are packed inside.

This is what lets the Studio produce 3D sound by firing noise both out the side and upwards.

There are seven microphones on top for waking Alexa, but these also let the Studio read the way sound is bouncing around the room and tune itself so it sounds better.

It's the same thing the HomePod and the Sonos Move do.

You’ll also be able to pair one or two Echo Studio speakers with certain Fire TV devices for Dolby Atmos, Dolby Audio 5.1 and stereo sound – but we didn't get to hear this in our brief time with the Studio. No Fire TV? You can use the optical connection instead, don't worry.

Other than Alexa, the Studio also crams in a Zigbee radio, so you can use it as a smart home hub, much as you can the Echo Plus and Echo Show.

Here's what might be the kicker: it costs $200. My immediate thought was to compare this to the Sonos One, but that's a mistake.

The Studio is going up against the heavyweights – think instead of the Sonos Play:5. And, at this point, it should have Sonos worried.

Amazon Echo Studio: Initial verdict

The Studio is a surprisingly thorough attempt to woo audiophiles, with a price tag that makes the Studio a serious threat to Sonos, the HomePod and more.

Combined with Amazon Music's new HD music subscription tier, Amazon isn't only matching its high-end music rivals, but punching above some of them.

Throw in that Zigbee radio and Alexa, and you've got the most impressive Echo speaker yet.

TAGGED    amazon    speakers

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