Now that the latest Amazon Echo is just as powerful as the hub-equipped Echo Plus, the door is open for a bigger, louder Echo.
The Echo Studio is Amazon’s biggest, loudest, and most advanced Alexa speaker.
It features five drivers to offer not just stereo sound, but Dolby Atmos-compatible surround sound in a single, voice-controlled package.
It’s as big and as loud as the Apple HomePod and Google Home Max, with more advanced sound processing and better imaging, but at $199.99, it’s far less expensive than either.
It’s truly impressive for its size and price, enough to earn our Editors’ Choice for smart speakers.
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The Echo Studio is bigger than any other speaker we’ve tested, including the Sonos One.
It’s a rounded black cylinder measuring 8.1 inches tall and 6.9 inches across and weighs in at 7.7 pounds.
It isn’t quite subwoofer-sized, but the open ports on the bottom for the downward-firing woofer give the impression of a subwoofer.
The most direct comparison is the Sonos Move, which is slightly taller and narrower than the Echo Studio, and is “portable” in the sense that it has a battery while the Studio must be plugged in at all times.
Fabric wraps around the sides of the Studio, with cutouts in the front and back for the two bass ports.
A black plastic ring on the top holds the far-field microphone array and small buttons for volume up/down, mic mute, and Alexa.
The signature Echo light ring glows along the inner edge of the plastic ring, and inside it is a fabric grille panel that protects the upward-firing driver.
A small recess below the rear bass port holds a connector for the included power adapter, a micro USB port for service, and a 3.5mm combination aux and optical port.
No cables are included, and if you want to use optical, you’ll need to get a 3.5mm-to-TOSLink adapter.
As an Echo speaker, the Studio offers all of the same Alexa voice assistant features as its smaller siblings.
Just say “Alexa,” (or “Amazon,” “Computer,” or “Echo,” if you change the wake word in the Alexa app) and give the speaker a command.
Alexa can answer questions about general information like weather, sports scores, and unit conversions; play music from Amazon Music, Apple Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, and Tidal; read audiobooks from Audible; control smart home devices; make phone calls to most North American phone numbers or Drop-In voice calls to any Alexa user; and access hundreds of third-party skills that range from telling stories to ordering pizza.
Alexa is a very capable voice assistant, and its selections of both compatible smart home devices and third-party skills are unparalleled, but it can be a bit stiff to work with.
Alexa expects fairly precise syntax, especially when you’re controlling your smart home.
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Google Assistant is a bit more flexible with natural language, which more than makes up its slightly smaller home automation compatibility list and fewer third-party functions.
The Echo Studio also features a built-in Zigbee home automation hub, like the Echo Plus, which allows you to use the speaker to control compatible devices.
Five separate drivers hide behind the fabric grille cover of the Echo Studio, arranged in different directions to provide Dolby Atmos-compatible positional audio.
A 5.25-inch woofer fires downward from just above the bass ports, a one-inch tweeter fires directly forward, and three two-inch midrange drivers fire left, right, and directed upward.
The woofer provides the low-end, while the tweeter and three midrange drivers all work in tandem with each other to create a sound field with more precise (and more vertical) imaging than a set of stereo speakers. All five drivers are driven by a peak total of 330 watts.
The Echo Studio tries to do some impressive things with its five drivers and 3D audio mixing.
It doesn’t quite succeed to the extent that an Atmos-compatible soundbar can, or an even more expensive Atmos surround sound system, but at that point, you’ll be spending several times the price of the Studio for the improved audio imaging.
As it stands, the Echo Studio puts out a large sound field with modest but surprising directionality.
If you want to listen to the Echo Studio’s 3D audio at its best, you need to subscribe to Amazon Music HD for access to Amazon’s Ultra HD music format.
This is currently the only streaming service that the Echo Studio fully supports for Dolby Atmos surround sound.
Ultra HD tracks are mixed with Dolby Atmos in mind, and the Echo Studio’s processing and drivers can best put it to use over stereo tracks streamed over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
The Echo Studio can also upmix other music to 3D on its own, but the effect isn’t nearly as prominent or capable. And, of course, there are still limits to what a single speaker can do, even if it has drivers pumping out the sound in all directions.
For 3D-mixed music available in Amazon Music’s Ultra HD format, the Echo Studio brings some strong clarity and imaging.
Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” in Ultra HD is crisp, full, and layered. The guitar plucks and drums sound separate from the vocals, giving the effect that the string plucks float a bit above the singing.
The bass drum is prominent and stands mostly in front of the mix without overcoming the other instruments or vocals.
You won’t mistake the Echo Studio for a sound system with a subwoofer or rear satellites, but it manages to put out big, nuanced sound from a small package.
Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia” in Ultra HD shows off the Echo Studio’s 3D sound even better.
The opening of the track’s theremin sounds properly ghostly, while the chaos of the horseback laser fight gets clear directional imaging, giving the impression of galloping hooves directly in front of you, while blasts and explosions can be heard in the distance, to the forward-right.
Again, it can’t produce a true surround sound field that completely wraps around you, but the Echo Studio offers some impressive stereo imaging and forward-facing verticality that gives the impression of a pair of stereo speakers with additional upward-firing drivers.
At high volumes, the speaker fills the room easily, bringing the exciting thunder of guitar strums and drumrolls while letting Bellamy’s voice come through clearly.
When he sings that no one’s going to take him alive, his voice can be heard directly in the center, while the harmonies can be placed in the distance, to the left and right.
“Lazaretto” by Jack White also shows good directionality, again closer to stereo-with-vertical channels than full surround sound.
White’s vocals stand in the center along with a time-keeping shaker, while the opening bass notes seem to bounce a bit left and right.
The squeaky, shrill guitar riffs come in from the sides of the room, demonstrating how higher frequencies bounce off of surfaces with much more acoustic precision than lower ones.
All of these effects come from 3D audio mixing of Ultra HD tracks on Amazon Music.
The Echo Studio can also mix stereo tracks to 3D itself, which it will do if you stream any non-Ultra HD music to it. Like most upmixing, the effect isn’t nearly as noticeable or good as intentional, professional mixing.
The Crystal Method’s “Born Too Slow” sounds good on the Echo Studio as a stereo track, with generous presence for the bass drum hits and plenty of energy in the driving snares and cymbals.
The vocals and guitar riffs sit slightly behind the percussion on this speaker, but they can still be easily discerned.
However, none of the verticality heard in the Ultra HD tracks can be detected, and the stereo balance is a bit more modest and center-focused rather than trying to produce a sound field that makes the speaker sound bigger than it is.
As for bass, the Echo Studio reproduces our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” with appreciable low-end power.
It doesn’t shake the walls, but it did vibrate the table the speaker was sitting on, and at maximum volume levels, it didn’t distort.
The Studio doesn’t reach quite into sub-bass levels, but you can pair it with an Echo Sub to add full subwoofer power to the mix (and, since deep bass isn’t directional at all, it doesn’t need to be integrated into the Studio’s specifically-aimed-and-calibrated driver setup).
Big Sound for a Small Price
The Amazon Echo Studio is an incredible speaker for its size and price. It looks like Amazon’s take on the Apple HomePod, but with its $200 price and ability to produce surprising directionality thanks to its five drivers, it outdoes the HomePod in nearly every way.
While testing the speaker, I repeatedly had to check its price tag, because it feels and sounds like it’s aiming much higher.
The Echo Studio isn’t a magic surround sound speaker that will make you think instruments and singers are all around you, but it does give a much better sense of stereo and vertical imaging than other speakers its size, while far eclipsing other speakers its price in performance.
You need Amazon Music HD to get the most out of it, and you’re limited to a fairly small collection of Ultra HD tracks if you really want that 3D sound, but even as a Bluetooth speaker mixing from the stereo, it produces a powerful, clear sound.
If you want portability, the Sonos Move is a similarly sized smart speaker you can drag to the beach, and if you want a bit more stereo power in a much more retro design, the Marshall Stanmore II Voice is another excellent, but not a portable, option.
But again, these speakers cost twice as much as the Echo Studio. If you don’t mind a lack of portability and just want surprising power for a very reasonable price, the Studio is the best smart speaker out there, and our Editors’ Choice.