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Amazon’s new Echo speakers sound better, but do you need to upgrade?

Amazon has new Echo speakers to sell you. And if you’re wondering whether or not to ditch the old ones for these, the answer comes down to two key questions for Alexa, the personal assistant.

This year Amazon is all about being spherical, in the shape of its “The Spheres” corporate headquarters in Seattle. The cylinder can look of the original Echo and the hockey puck shape of the Echo Dot are out, replaced with little round balls and higher price points. The flagship Echo is now $99, and the Dot is $50. Of course, that means little, since Amazon discounts the speakers heavily during the holidays, usually selling the Echo for around $50 and Dot for around $25. Which brings us back to the improved sound and the round ball aesthetic.

Let’s start with a basic fact: Amazon’s best-selling branded product is the Dot, not the Echo, despite having inferior sound to the more expensive speaker. If you take a look at the 640,000 reviews for the product on Amazon, consumers are not saying that music is their No. 1 use case for the speaker. They write about liking it for controlling their smart home, making hands free calls to other Echo devices, listening to news reports and podcasts, following your daily schedule and, eventually, listening to music.

So when Amazon tells consumers that the new top of the line Echo has “premium” sound that has cleared highs, dynamic mid-ranges and deep bass for music, will they care? If they did, the Sonos One would be the best-selling speaker in the world, as it clearly has way better sound that any previous Echo, and also answers to the Alexa personal assistant. Amazon dramatically cut back on its roster of Echo speakers offerings this year, paring it down to just the Dot, a Dot with a clock ($60), a kids edition of the Dot ($60), and the Studio – hands down the best sounding of the speakers – for $199.

The rest of the lineup is devoted to video displays, the Echo Show 5 ($89.99), Echo Show 8 ($129.99) and the teased Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen) which was touted at a press preview in September, for $249. Listed on Amazon’s website just as “coming soon,” the new Echo is aimed at video calls and meetings, with a pedestal that moves the unit when participants move around. The Show 10 and Show 8 are scheduled to connect to Zoom video meetings before the end of the year.

We tested the “All-new” Echo speakers over the past few days, with two plugged in the same room and paired for stereo. The verdict: Yes, they sound better than the old Echo. In fact, they sound good. But they don’t sound insanely great. That’s a subjective answer, because it all depends on the user.

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