Amazon invented the smart speaker category with the Echo. But in the years since that speaker arrived, the company has concentrated on value, and has watched other companies make some of the best Alexa speakers that sound far better than the Echo. No more. The Echo Studio ($199) is Amazon's first attempt to go after the premium smart-speaker market, competing most directly with the Sonos One. But while the Amazon Echo Studio is the best-sounding smart speaker for those who want all of Alexa's features, it still comes in a notch below the Sonos One among the best smart speakers for audiophiles.
Echo Studio design
At 8.1 inches tall and 6.9 inches in diameter, the Echo Studio looks like a jacked-up version of the Apple HomePod (6.8 x 5.6 inches) and makes the Sonos One (6.4 x 4.7 x 4.7 inches) look positively dainty.
Aside from the large size, the most defining feature of the Echo Studio is the small horizontal opening an inch or so up from the bottom. This allows audio from the downward-firing woofer to spread out better.
Like on the Echo, a light ring encircles the top of the Studio, and turns blue when Alexa is activated. Also like Amazon's other smart speakers, the Studio has four buttons, two for volume, one to mute the mic and one to activate Alexa.
Inside the Echo Studio, you'll find the aforementioned 5.25-inch woofer, three 2-inch midrange speakers and one 1-inch tweeter.
Unlike the Sonos One, the Echo Studio has a line-in/optical-in port, so you can connect the Studio to your TV and you use the smart speaker in place of a soundbar. You can also connect the Echo Studio via Wi-Fi to a Fire TV Stick 4K, Fire TV (3rd Gen), or a 1st- or 2nd-generation Fire TV Cube, so you have yet another way to get better audio from your TV.
Echo Studio setup
After unboxing the Echo Studio, I plugged it in and placed it on my entertainment console. Then, using the Alexa app (Android and iOS), I connected the Echo Studio to my home network.
During the setup process, the Echo Studio plays several tones, then automatically adjusts its acoustic properties to best fit the room in which it's located. The Sonos One has a similar technology, called Trueplay, but to set this up, you have to walk around the room, waving your phone in the air, for about 45 seconds.
Echo Studio audio performance
The Echo Studio is built to compete against higher-end smart speakers, so I compared it to our current favorite, the Sonos One, by setting up both devices on my entertainment console and connecting them to the same wireless network.
In general, the Echo Studio delivered very good audio, with deeper, more resonant bass than the Sonos One produced. But tracks on the whole sounded less defined with Amazon's speaker.
I first used the Spotify app on my iPhone XR, switching between the two speakers. I started out by playing some classics, such as Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea," Sam Cooke's "What a Wonderful World" and Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man." In all cases, the vocals and higher-end tones were much sharper and much more present on the Sonos One than on the Echo Studio.
However, the larger woofer on the Echo Studio produced a much more resonant bass, which you could feel from across the room and that wanted you to get up and dance. This was all the more evident when I played "1999" by Prince and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" by Whitney Houston. Sadly, though, Whitney's voice wasn't nearly as front and center on the Echo Studio as it was with the Sonos One.
Next, I streamed music to both speakers using Amazon Music. One of the features that Amazon touts with the Echo Studio is the speaker's ability to play Ultra HD music, as well as 3D audio.
The latter term describes songs that have been remastered using Dolby Atmos or Sony 360 Reality Audio technology to add depth and a sense that the instruments are really filling up a room.
Within the Amazon Music app, songs will have an HD or Ultra HD icon next to their names. But when I tested the Echo Studio, there was no way to determine if a song had been remastered in 3D Audio until I played the track. However, Amazon said this will change once the Echo Studio releases to the public.
While Amazon said it is continually adding 3D audio tracks, the company would not say how many it currently has in its catalog. But Amazon did note that it has 50 million songs in high definition and millions of songs in Ultra HD, which the company defines as a bit depth of 24 bits and a sample rate of 192 kHz.
Fortunately, Amazon created a "Best of 3D Audio" playlist in its app, so I didn't have to blindly search for songs. This compilation was a bit of a mixed bag. Ariana Grande's "7 Rings" was much more room-filling on the Echo Studio than on the Sonos One — her voice was present, and bass line was powerful and clear — but "I Want You Back" by The Jackson 5 suffered from the same issues that plagued non-3D tracks. Michael Jackson's voice sounded a bit muted and was less crisp than on the Sonos One.
In order to hear these high-definition tracks, you'll need to subscribe to Amazon Music HD, which costs $12.99 per month for Amazon Prime members and $14.99 per month for everyone else. That's $5 more per month than the standard Amazon Music Unlimited streaming service, which has only songs in standard definition.
For a deeper dive into streaming-music services, here's how Amazon Music Unlimited compares to Amazon Prime Music and how Amazon Prime Music compares to Spotify.
Echo Studio supported music services
Through the Alexa app, the Echo Studio supports Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Pandora, SiriusXM, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. That's a nice mix, but it's far fewer than the hundred-plus stations you can stream through the Sonos app.
Echo Studio Alexa features
The Echo Studio wouldn't be a smart speaker if it didn't have a voice assistant built in; as with Amazon's other devices, you can speak to Alexa through the Echo Studio to control smart home devices, play music and games, look up trivia, make phone calls, and much more. There are currently more than 100,000 skills available for Amazon's assistant; we've gone through a number of them to come up with a list of the best Alexa skills.
Because Amazon makes the Echo Studio, this speaker has a few more Alexa-related features than do third-party Alexa devices, like the Sonos One. For example, you can't make phone calls or use Alexa's Drop-In feature on the Sonos One; then again, the Sonos One also works with Google Assistant.
The Echo Studio is Amazon's best-sounding smart speaker by a wide margin. It produces great room-filling audio and visceral, chest-pounding bass. I also like that you can use this device as a speaker for your HDTV as well as your Amazon Fire TV device. That said, the Sonos One is still the better overall smart speaker, as it simply does a better job with music. While you'll need a subwoofer if you want the same lower-end response as the Echo Studio provides, the Sonos One is much crisper and makes artists' voices sound much clearer. And with the Sonos One, you can use either Alexa or Google Assistant. The Echo Studio is the high-end Alexa smart speaker you've been waiting for, but it might not be the one you want.