Amazon Echo Studio full review
Finally, it’s the Amazon Echo that music lovers have been waiting for. The Studio offers fantastic sound quality and means Amazon now has a smart speaker to compete with the HomePod and Google’s Home Max.
But it goes above and beyond, supporting hi-res audio and 3D sound, both of which you can stream from Amazon Music. Plus, you can pair it with a compatible Amazon Fire TV for Dolby Atmos sound from films and shows which have it.
Amazon Echo Studio: Price & availability
You can buy an Echo Studio from Amazon. It costs £189.99 / $199.99, which makes it the most expensive Amazon smart speaker.
However, this is a remarkably cheap price compared to an Apple HomePod (£279 / $299) and the Google Home Max (£299 / $299). And don’t forget, both of those speakers originally cost even more when they first launched.
It’s also worth remembering the original Amazon Echo cost £149.99 / $179.99, and the Studio offers far better quality for hardly any extra money. (The same also applies if you compare the Studio to the current Echo Plus.)
The Studio can be paired with an Echo Sub which costs £119.99 / $129.99.
So, for a total for £309.98 / $329.98, you can have thundering bass as well. Plus, if you want stereo sound, you can also buy a second Echo Studio and link them in a stereo pair via the Alexa app, in exactly the same way you can with a HomePod, Google Home Max and Sonos Play:5.
Amazon Echo Studio: Features & design
The Echo Studio comes in one colour, Charcoal and has a fairly serious appearance. It’s bigger than a HomePod – as you can see in the comparison below – but roughly the same sort of shape.
The most distinctive feature is the large slot which runs right through the device. It’s not a bass port – the Studio uses a sealed design - but it does allow the bass from the 5.25in woofer to sound out. Amazon calls it a ‘bass aperture’.
On top, it’s great to see the usual quartet of physical buttons for volume, mic mute and ‘action’. The latter has various uses, one of which is to call up Alexa without using the wake word.
Inside the light ring is more charcoal-coloured fabric which hides a 2in upwards-firing speaker. There are two more of these, one facing left and one facing right, plus a 1in front-facing tweeter.
The five-speaker arrangement allows for Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio support: Amazon uses the umbrella term 3D audio for this. What it means is that the Echo Studio can deliver an immersive experience where instruments and vocals seem to come from different places in the room: something its competitors cannot do.
Amazon Music HD
Secondly, the Studio can play what Amazon is calling HD and Ultra HD music. For those that prefer the details, that means either CD quality or better than CD quality, up to 24-bit at 96kHz.
Most music is streamed at lower than CD quality in a compressed format – such as MP3 – and that’s been the case for so long it’s easy to forget what uncompressed audio sounds like. But Amazon has hit the nail on the head with its HD and Ultra HD badges, because that’s the easiest way to understand the difference.
Of course, you will need to upgrade your Amazon Music subscription to be able to stream music in the higher quality formats: a Prime or Unlimited account only gives you access to standard-quality tracks.
The cost of Amazon Music HD will depend on whether you’re a Prime member or not, but assuming you’re not, it’s £14.99/$14.99 per month for an individual account or £5/$5 more for a family plan. You get a £2/$2 discount if you’re a Prime member, but overall it’s not a whole lot more per month than the non-HD streaming services offered by Apple and Spotify.
All 50 million tracks are already available in HD, but a smaller selection – still in the millions, though - is in Ultra HD. You can see which tracks are HD and Ultra HD in the Amazon Music app.
You can, of course, stream your music from other services including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, Pandora, SiriusXM, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. Of those, only Tidal offers hi-res streaming and is slated to add 3D music to its catalogue in 2020.
Microphones automatically assess your room’s acoustics in real-time and optimise the sound accordingly, much like the HomePod. Amazon says the Studio sounds great no matter where you place it, but the truth is that it will sound better if you position it roughly at head height in front of you. Plus, you’ll get better bass if you put it on a side table or something that can vibrate and isn’t solid.
Connectivity & hub
Getting back to the Echo Studio, there’s a 3.5mm line in which doubles as a mini optical Toslink connector, the latter of which you could use to get Dolby Atmos straight from a Blu-ray player or a TV, if it supports it.
As you’d expect, there’s dual-band Wi-Fi, supporting up to 802.11ac, and Bluetooth so you can stream music or audio from your phone or another device to the Studio.
Lastly, there’s a built-in Zigbee hub – the smart home hub you’ll find in several other Echo models including the Echo Plus and Echo Show. This can save you from having to buy one or have one plugged into your router taking up an Ethernet port for devices that use Zigbee such as Philips Hue bulbs.
Of course, the Echo Studio succeeds or fails on its sound quality, but thankfully it is excellent. Previously, you had to use an Echo’s line out or the Echo Input if you wanted to improve the sound quality of an Echo by using your own speakers.
But for the vast majority of people, the Echo Studio solves the problem and offers an all-in-one ‘Alexa box’ which provides top quality sound.
There’s plenty of bass – perhaps not quite on a par with the HomePod – and clear, direct treble from the front-facing tweeter.
Those 2in drivers do a brilliant job of handling mid-range and the combination produces a fantastic sound that’s plenty loud enough to fill even a large room.
You can ask Alexa to “turn up the bass” and various other commands to adjust the equaliser, but you can – as mentioned – pair the Studio with an Echo Sub if you really love your bass. Doing this turns the Echo Studio into a pretty epic sound system, adding real punch to explosions in movies as well as room-shaking bass in tracks such as Ariana Grande’s 7 Rings.
That happens to be one of the tracks available in 3D and is the perfect showcase for the Studio’s capabilities. The synth effects appear to come from the corners of your room, while the backing singers’ voices appear to be high up, behind Ariana’s own vocals.
Try other 3D tracks such as Sucker by Jonas Brothers and Rhianna’s Diamonds and you’ll hear similar effects, but it really depends on the particular track as to where instruments and vocals are positioned and how much of a ‘surround’ effect you get. Amazon says it’s working with various labels to increase the amount of 3D music, and that many are already excitedly remastering tracks.
It’s worth noting that you don’t get lossless quality in 3D: the positioning information uses up the extra bandwidth.
When it comes to HD and Ultra HD music playback, most people should be able to hear a difference from standard quality. As with HD video, everything is clearer and when you listen to tracks you know well, you’ll hear extra details that you didn’t notice when listening to them on standard, compressed streaming services.
There’s also much better separation between instruments, and even in busy tracks such as Fink’s Looking Too Closely the Studio’s sound remains composed and well defined.
Pairing the Studio with the second-generation Fire TV Cube gives your TV an instant and massive audio upgrade. Even with a single Studio, shows such as Amazon’s Jack Ryan sound great.
While it can’t compete with a proper home theatre system – because it only simulates surround sound – it’s still pretty impressive for under £200 / $200. Plus, it’s cheaper and easier to install than a ‘proper’ Dolby Atmos system with its many separate speakers.
If you care about sound quality and you’d prefer to have Alexa as your digital helper instead of the Google Assistant or Siri, buying the Echo Studio is a no-brainer.
Even if you’re undecided or assistant-agnostic, the Echo Studio is better value than Google and Apple’s competing speakers. Given that - for whatever reason - Sonos still doesn’t offer Hi-Res playback even through its top-end Play:5 speaker, the Echo Studio also manages to one-up smart speakers costing over twice the price.
It’s not really aimed at hardcore audiophiles, but it’ll impress everyone else.
Amazon Echo Studio: Specs
- Size: 206 x 175 mm (height x diameter)
- Weight: 3.5 kg
- Speakers: Three 2in (51 mm) midrange speakers, one 1in (25 mm) tweeter, one 5.25in (133 mm) woofer with bass aperture to maximise bass output
- Supported Audio Formats: FLAC, MP3, AAC, Opus, Vorbis, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos, Sony 360 Reality Audio/MPEG-H, includes support for CD Quality (16-bit) and Hi-Res (24-bit)
- Supported music streaming services: Amazon Music (Standard and HD), Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, TuneIn and more
- Audio input: Combination 3.5 mm/mini-optical line in
- Fire TV compatibility: Connects wirelessly as the audio output for Fire TV Cube (2nd generation) and Fire TV Stick 4K
- Wi-Fi connectivity: Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks. WiFi 6 (802.11ax) is not currently supported
- Zigbee connectivity: Built-in Zigbee smart home hub supports Zigbee light bulbs, locks, sensors, plugs and in-wall switches
- Bluetooth: Yes