Review: Amazon Echo Studio, Is It Still Worth It Without Amazon HD?
The Amazon Echo Studio has landed in Australia, promising to bring high fidelity audio to its Alexa speaker lineup, with 3D music capabilities thanks to Sony 360-Degree Reality Audio.
Unfortunately, Australian consumers will only be able to experience half of that as the Amazon HD music streaming service, which contains 3D music, is US exclusive.
So let’s find out if the Amazon Echo Studio is still worth it without Amazon HD?
When it comes to smart speakers, there truly is a myriad of choices to select from, including high-end networked audio from the likes of Sonos to the small and compact speakers from Google and Amazon.
The brand new Amazon Echo Studio takes both of these concepts and combines them into one hi-fi powerhouse with the smarts to back it up.
Standing toe to toe with the likes of the Google Home Max and the Apple HomePod, the Amazon Echo Studio certainly takes the cake when it comes to big three.
Starting off with the general aesthetics of the Echo Studio which goes well beyond the friendly design of the Echo lineup, as Amazon moves away from the light grey and blue trimming for black, lots of blacks.
Sporting a cylindrical design covered in charcoal-coloured fabric mesh, the Amazon Echo Studio maintains that premium feeling, beyond anything that has come before it in the Echo line up.
Sitting atop the Amazon Echo Studio are four physical buttons for volume control, mic mute and the Alexa wake button.
The high-fidelity speaker stands at 206 mm tall and 175 mm wide, making it much taller than both the HomePod and Google Max, but definitely not as wide as the Max at 336.6 mm.
An opening on both sides of the speaker, which I think looks remarkably like the Amazon smile, helps to improve bass output.
On the rear of the device, you will find a 3.5mm digital optical audio jack, a micro-USB port and the power connector.
If you want to use the optical jack you will need a 3.5mm-to-TOSlink adapter.
Housing three 2-inch midrange speakers, a single 1-inch tweeter alongside a downward-firing 5.25-inch woofer, the Amazon Echo Studio is capable of outputting 3D audio tracks encoded in both Dolby Atmos and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio standard.
Inside the speaker is a 24-bit digital to analog converter and an amplifier to help improve its ability to handle lossless content and 360-degree audio.
While the Echo Studio speaker is supposed to take full advantage of Amazon Music HD, the hundreds of 24-bit audio track and 3D encoded audio are currently US exclusive.
In the fine print of the free trial offer for Amazon HD, it states, ‘Digital content and services may only be available to customers located in the US’.
Despite the launch, Amazon has essentially barred users outside the US from getting the full potential of their Echo Studio.
As with all Alexa products, the blue light will remain on to inform you that the voice assistant is listening, and will glow orange when muted.
The added ZigBee hub also allows thousands of different smart devices to connect directly to your Echo Studio as the centre for your connected home.
Alexa will automatically greet you upon first setting up the device, before playing an orchestral tone piece, similar almost to the soundscape you hear upon launching the classic PlayStation 2.
Alexa will then fine-tune the Echo Studio to its surroundings to best match the acoustics of the room by firing out a range of different test tones.
While it would have been an interesting experiment to test the speaker out pre-calibration, the process is entirely automated.
The whole process takes less than a minute to complete, but if the speaker will require recalibration if moved.
Users should ensure that the speaker has at least six inches of clearance on either side and preferably nothing above it for optimum audio output.
While this review isn’t meant to focus too heavily on the Alexa side of things, the set up was extremely straightforward, and I very much appreciate the layout of the Alexa app.
Comparing it to the Google Home app, while it can be a bit menu heavy, the Alexa app has far better media integration with a much cleaner layout.
I did find, however, that in both cases for the Echo Studio and Home Max that post-processing was required to get optimal sound quality from the speaker.
Fortunately, there wasn’t too much fine-tuning to be done in the app for the treble and bass response of the Amazon Echo Studio, as out of the box the 360-degree audio sounded superb.
One benefit of the post-processing features is being able to tell Alexa to turn up the bass, or improve the treble response, making on the fly EQ adjustments a breeze.
Thanks to the positioning of the drivers inside the speaker, the Dolby Atmos Music audio format is supposed to take greater control over the different audio elements.
While I was not able to test the speaker pairing functionality announced for the Fire TV, the Amazon Echo Studio is pairable with two other speakers to create a 2.1 set up.
On its own, however, the Amazon Echo Studio truly stands out as a high-end speaker, despite the manufacturer name.
Coming from producing just smart speakers with ‘acceptable’ audio output to manufacturing a true high-fidelity is a marvel that shows in its sound reproduction.
In my testing, I switched playback between the Amazon Studio Echo and the Google Home Max, which was utterly outclassed.
While the Google Home Max certainly has the bass-heavy chops to bring down a tree, it lacks the sophistication and vibrancy of the Echo Studio.
Playing Hotel California by The Eagles gave me the chills when the solo hit, with the Echo Studio riding the highs without any signs of clipping.
Switching to the live version from their concert DVD Hell Freezes Over, the opening bongo drum line could be felt all over the living room, reverberating even in my chest.
However, much like any all-in-one speaker, it does not handle the bass as well as a standalone subwoofer, with its impediment tending to overpower vocals from time to time.
Luckily for an extra $100 you could add the Echo Sub to the mix, Amazon’s dedicated subwoofer with a 4L sealed chamber that holds a 6-inch downward-firing woofer with a 100W Class D amplifier.
Amazon has undoubtedly achieved its goal of producing a high-fidelity premium speaker with the smarts to back it up.
Combining Alexa and Hi-Fi quality audio in the same package is an exciting option for those who want both an intelligent voice assistant and great sound when they say, ‘Alexa, play some music’.
It’s just a shame that this product has been released in Australia without the content to back it up.
Not rolling out Amazon Music HD in alongside the Echo Studio will most certainly stain the speakers’ ability to gain traction against the likes of Google and Apple.
Despite the superior audio quality overall, without 3D encoded music, you’re basically only getting half the product, severely affecting the overall value of the speaker.
At $329 you would hope to get the entire package.
Sadly this is not meant to be.