Other than adding convenience to smart home hardware one of the core uses I have found for the Echo is simply as a speaker for music, going through Cambridge Audios suggested speaker test track list, I’m surprised at how well such an unassuming device handles audio. Granted it won’t be able to compete with much higher end hardware such as speakers made by Meridian, Keff, Cambridge Audio and others, but then it doesn’t have to. This isn’t a device designed purely for listening to music and is certainly not even in the same ballpark as devices provided by those manufacturers. I’d opted to leave the volume around the 4 mark since it was most suited for the room size, my distance from the speaker (~3-foot distance) and personal comfort levels.
Running through the basic test tracks provided by Steely Dan, Daft Punk and Crooked Still, all clean well recorded songs that provide a fundamental baseline for speaker quality, the Echo doesn’t disappoint handling them all with relative ease, allowing the character of each track to really shine through.
Into slightly more sonically broad offerings from Radiohead/Noordpool Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed and Winterplay, again here the Echo seems to hold its own reasonably well for a device of its type and class. Allowing for a reasonable amount of spacing between each instrument used, though it did start to get slightly muddy towards the lower register at around the 5-minute mark of ‘Weird Fishes’ and sadly some distortion was also present at the lower end when listening to Walk On the Wild Side. Similarly, on the higher end some clipping and distortion was obvious when listening to Dido & Aeneas, Act 3: But Death Alas.
Thankfully while still broad tracks neither Tin Pan Alley, Melody or Billie Jean suffered from these issues, suggesting the problems lie more within the extreme ranges of pitch. Melody in particular was well represented on the Echo, with me finding myself lost in the track on more than one occasion.
Next up is the bass test, while the Echo is quite punchy and responsive in this area distortion and muddiness observed previously with Weird Fishes and Walk On the Wild Side have me apprehensive of the devices performance here. Tracks by Beck, The Hills, Bella Fleck, CeeLo Green and finally the Beastie Boys were used here. Morning by Beck was fairly well represented here with its dulcet bass lines and low tuned kit, not to mention Beck’s vocals. The Weekend came over well with a good, solid thumping kick pattern thanks to just how punchy the sub actually is. The tone of the bass in this did have me wary of distortion coming through again but thankfully none was noticed, again suggesting that the more extreme ranges of frequency that cause the Echo’s speakers to distort. This said, the rolling bass lines of Flight of the Cosmic Hippo were also rather pleasing when listened to with the Echo, including some of the lower running segments, suggesting the distortion may not simply be caused by extreme frequency ranges so much as the Echo’s speaker perhaps trying to push too hard in one direction while playing frequencies from the other.
Bright Lights Bigger City is another similarly wide ranging track with a lot going on and honestly was a pleasure to listen to on the Echo with no real muddiness or oddities heard and the sub really doing a bang up job of keeping up with the demands the track put on it. Finally, Brass Monkey by the Beastie Boys, a song that always brings out weakness in bass in my experience seemed to show the Echo in a similarly positive light.
Cambridge Audios final test tracks consist of offerings from The Foo Fighters, Moloko, Alabama Shakes and AC/DC. All complex beasts that can quickly show the weaknesses in any speaker setup and leave you feeling dissatisfied on poorer equipment. These tracks while all generally sounding fine, if a tad empty at times show the Echo for what it is, a reasonably versatile 360-degree speaker system in a tiny package, which while sounding better than expected is limited by the simple fact of its size, form factor and the simple fact that for all Amazons talk of it being a 360-degree speaker set up, it’s still effectively a mono speaker set up.
That’s not to say it’s a bad sounding device. It actually surprised me with just how versatile it was and would certainly more than do the job asked of it, barring the distortion present at the extremes of range. The other thing I noticed was an increase in treble as the volume was increased while the bass remained reasonably punchy, at a certain point distortion did start to become a problem however. But again these are fairly small drivers in use here so this is to be expected. Overall the Echo seems to have clean, precise and unfussy, if sometimes empty sound, which suffers with slight muddiness and distortion in certain scenarios.
One thing I did want to try in addition to just seeing how good the device sounded was also seeing how good the Echo was at hearing you and responding when it was playing music at varying levels. At anything up to about 6 or 7 out of 10, there were no real problems with it hearing my instructions and carrying them out. However, the higher this got the louder and louder I had to say things until finally I was literally shouting at it to get it to stop playing songs. This said, this isn’t an issue regarding the voice recognition or even the mics, so much as the simple fact that ultimately in a high volume situation there is just no way for the Echo to actually hear you over its own speakers, so maybe I was speaking a bit too soon when I said I didn’t miss the remote the US market also receives, though I honestly can’t see me cranking it this high in the future, purely because this thing is actually pretty loud at higher volumes.
The Echo is at its core a convenience, the complete hands off approach to control means that you don’t even need to have line of sight to the device to get it to carry out your wishes, provided it can hear you. Ultimately the question needed to be asked prior to buying one is if you have a need for the kind of convenience it offers. Skills go a significant way to helping establish this, which sadly can leave the Echo’s true usefulness falling to third party developers and manufacturers. Overall the device is reasonably intuitive to use and dare I say even at times fun. Its integration with smart home hardware makes this one of those devices that you honestly don’t know you want and don’t think you need until you try it, at which point it completely changes how you start interacting with your home.
While I would never recommend this over a dedicated speaker set up, if you lack space, aren’t too fussed about high levels of audio fidelity or want a secondary device it’s certainly not a bad purchase for a simple music player either.
The Echo is certainly a worthy addition to any home, to the point where I am seriously debating adding in a few Echo Dots and a second Echo for the kitchen. It can only improve over time too, particularly as you add more and more smart home devices to your set up. Used alone and the Echo could be left feeling like a bit of a gimmick, with no real use beyond being a highly convenient audio system.
Ease of Use9.5/10
- Smart Home intergration
- Good quality voice recognition
- Ability to learn and adapt over time, meaning natural improvements with prolonged use
- Speakers while OK could be better
- Occaisional oddities with user experience