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Amazon Echo (2019) review: middle child syndrome

Amazon & # 39; s Echo smart speaker was the origin cave for the company's almost ubiquitous Alexa virtual assistant when it was first announced in the fall of 2014. Since then, Alexa has spread across countless devices, including many other models of Echo speakers within Amazon's own product line.

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That makes the new $ 99.99 third-generation Echo speaker a curious beast. It's not the best-sounding Alexa speaker from Amazon (that would be the upcoming Echo Studio), nor is it the cheapest Echo speaker (that's the Echo Dot). It is also not the most capable Echo speaker (both the Echo Plus and the Echo Dot with clock do more technically).

However, it is a relatively inexpensive smart speaker that sounds better than the small, hockey-puck-like Echo Dot or Google's Nest Home Mini, but does not occupy as much space (or as much of your budget) as the Echo Studio. For a daily smart speaker that you can use to listen to music, receive weather reports, manage smart home devices and add things to a shopping list, the latest Echo is more than suitable.

In terms of design, the latest Echo is in fact exactly the same as the Echo Plus that was released last year. It is a little less than six inches long, about four inches in diameter, and has a three-inch woofer and 0.8-inch tweeter in it. Put it next to the Echo Plus and you can't keep them apart visually – the only difference between them is the Plus's ability to act as a hub for smart home devices, thanks to the built-in Zigbee radio.

That difference is $ 50 lower than the price and brings the new Echo in line with the price of the 2nd-gen model that came out in 2017. But the newer model has a better sound and improved aesthetic, with a fabric wrap that matches the aesthetic of the Echo Dot. (The only thing you lose is the ability to change the appearance of the speaker with customizable shells, although I feel that few people have actually used it and that's why Amazon dropped it.)

Just like the Echo Plus, the new Echo sounds remarkably good, especially when you consider where Amazon was five years ago with the original model. It becomes loud enough to fill a medium-sized room with sound, the bass has an audible punch that was completely missing in earlier models, and it has the ability to work in stereo with a second unit. It also has an excellent microphone array that hears my voice commands without having to raise my voice, even when music is playing. It is remarkable how far the Echo products from Amazon have come in terms of design and performance in just a few short years.


The seven mic array on the Echo is very good at recording voice commands

The new Echo doesn't sound as good as a Sonos One, but it's half the price (and you can probably pay it for even less, considering how often Amazon runs promotions on Echo hardware). It lacks the clarity and sharpness of a more expensive speaker, with midtones being lost in the mix. And the bass voice does not match what the Sonos offers. But I don't think most people who pay less than $ 100 for a smart speaker have a problem with the sound, and it sounds considerably better than the more expensive Google home speaker.

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If you own one of the first-generation Echo speakers, you'll notice that it sounds considerably better, with a much better bass response. However, compared to a 2nd gene model, the difference is less noticeable and probably not worth the upgrade.

The other thing to consider is the Echo Dot, which is half the price of the Echo and takes up even less space on a shelf. The Echo Dot sounds remarkably good for its size and price, but the larger Echo has a better bass response and a louder top volume. There is something that you get when you spend more.

All these things make the Echo a bit of a mediocre child in the Amazon line-up. If you are looking for a competent smart speaker that sounds good for almost everything you need, but doesn't want to spend more than a Benjamin, this might be the best option currently available.

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