My home entertainment system consists of an amplifier, a cable box, an HDTV, a turntable, and two speakers I probably paid too much for — and which sound amazing — but that I don't use when listening to music. Why? Because, like many other people, I use streaming services like Spotify, but my stereo isn't connected to the internet.
Enter the Amazon Echo Input ($35), which brings Alexa's smarts to your home stereo. It's not without its issues, but it will be greatly appreciated by those who don't want to invest in a smart speaker when they already have a way to play music.
The Echo Input looks as if Amazon took a hockey puck and smushed it to half its thickness. At 3.1 inches in diameter, it's bigger than a Chromecast device, but at half an inch tall, it has a low profile, which should make it disappear among your stereo equipment. The top of the Input has two buttons, an action button and a button to mute the device's four microphones.
The side has a micro USB port to deliver power and a 3.5mm jack to deliver audio to your system (you can also connect the Input via Bluetooth). I know Amazon was trying to keep the price and size of the Input down, but optical audio or RCA output would have been welcome. What's more, the Input ships with only a 3.5mm cable, so I had to dig up a 3.5mm-to-RCA adapter, or use an adapter with my receiver's headphone jack. Good thing I have a huge box of random wires.
At least the Input can connect to 5-GHz Wi-Fi routers, for higher-fidelity streams.
I connected the Input to my stereo system, powered up Amazon's device and then set it up in the Alexa app. After that, it was just a matter of asking Alexa what I wanted to hear. The device can stream music from Amazon, Spotify, Audible, Pandora, SiriusXM and, now, Apple Music.
The Input being an Alexa device, I could also ask it anything I could of any other Alexa device, which includes news, weather, sports and more than 50,000 skills, along with control over smart home gadgets.
The Input was able to hear me from 12 feet away, even as I spoke in a low voice.
I found the four far-field microphones on the Input to be plenty sensitive; with music playing through my stereo, the Input could hear me from 12 feet away, even as I spoke in a low voice.
MORE: Best Amazon Alexa Skills
The only issue with using the Input rather than a dedicated Alexa-enabled speaker is that I had to remember to turn my receiver to the proper input, else I wouldn't hear anything. You can ask Alexa to raise and lower the volume, but I found it easier to program my Harmony remote for that purpose.
Amazon's Echo and Echo Dot and every other smart speaker with Alexa built in are great for those who want an all-in-one audio-entertainment device. But what if you already have a stereo system that sounds far better? The Chromecast Audio fills a similar niche for music, but that device lacks a built-in voice assistant. The Echo Input is a device that I and, I suspect, plenty others have been waiting for.
Credit: Tom's Guide