After focusing its efforts on the Alexa smart assistant, Amazon has finally come to the party with a beefy smart speaker which doesn’t compromise on sound quality.
The hefty $329 Echo Studio can go toe-to-toe with Apple’s HomePod and the Sonos One, though its extra bulk makes it harder to tuck away in places like the kitchen bench.
In return you get a smart speaker with the grunt to rock a decent-sized room or backyard, but which needs some fine-tuning.
A page from Apple’s book
Amazon has taken a leaf from Apple’s book and added automatic calibration, allowing for the acoustics of the room.
While the HomePod recalibrates whenever it’s moved, the Echo Studio is constantly checking so it can even automatically adapt when you rearrange the furniture in your lounge room.
Some cases are better than others
Unfortunately, the Echo Studio makes a poor first impression because Amazon has decided to enable “stereo spatial enhancement” by default.
This basically remixes songs to create virtual 3D sound; it supposedly makes for a more immersive listening experience with a wider soundstage but, in most cases, it simply makes the music sound flat.
But it’s all okay at the end
The effect tends to work best with vocalists backed by a few instruments. Ask Alexa for Come Away With Me by Norah Jones and her voice sounds a bit further away, so it feels like more of a live performance.
Yet call up something like The Rolling Stone’s thumping Jumping Jack Flash and it sounds like you’ve muffled the speaker with a cushion.
Thankfully you can disable stereo spatial enhancement, and the effect is striking, but it’s buried in the advanced settings of the Alexa app. Turning this setting on by default and not bringing it to the listener’s attention seems like a recipe for unhappy customers.