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The Amazon Echo Studio's big update makes it one of the best smart speakers
Usually, whatever you first hear is what you get when you buy a smart speaker. Software updates may add refinements and support for new formats and services, but overall sound quality tends to remain unchanged. After all, why would you put out anything less than what your speaker is capable of when you’re trying to impress buyers?
We liked the Echo Studio when Amazon first launched it in 2019. Towards the end of 2022, however, the company began rolling out a firmware update with big promises: better midrange clarity, deeper bass, and improved separation in the soundstage, even for music without spatial audio support.
To be honest, that initially sounded like a poor excuse for not releasing a second-generation Studio alongside the Echo Dot (5th gen). But having finally got my hands on a Studio with the new firmware, I’m convinced that the first-generation model is now one of the best smart speakers in the entire market — at least for what it’s aiming to do.
Update, May 2023: Noted upgrades over the Sonos One made in the Sonos Era lineup.
How good does the Amazon Echo Studio sound after the update?
It’s not a night-and-day difference after the update, but the Echo Studio did have initial issues keeping it from challenging other high-end speakers like the Sonos One. Perhaps the biggest was an overall lack of separation. Vocals, for instance, sometimes blended into the rest of the soundstage, because mids would drown out treble. Bass meanwhile was “bloated and muddy,” as we said in our original Amazon Echo Studio review. Don’t get me wrong — the Studio was pleasing to listen to, but for $200, you might’ve expected higher quality.
What’s crazy is that Amazon seems to have fixed essential problems and then some. Sound is better balanced after the 2022 update, making it a joy to listen to ambient music or film soundtracks as much as metal, EDM, or rap (if you’re into those). Vocals and instruments stand out in the mix, and bass is both deeper and more precise, even if you’d still technically do better with a dedicated subwoofer (the wireless Echo Sub being your only option in this case).
The Amazon Echo Studio is one of the best sounding smart speakers you can buy.
Let’s talk about bass a little more. For most purposes the Studio’s 5.25-inch woofer delivers enormous output, enough to rattle a desk with even modest lows, never mind hard bass hits. You might conceivably want more for a large party space or a Fire TV home theater system (more on that later), but the average person will have no complaints post-update.
My favorite addition is actually Amazon’s enhancement of conventional stereo mixes. For music that doesn’t already support spatial audio in the form of Dolby Atmos or Sony’s 360 Reality Audio, Amazon uses custom processing tech to widen the soundstage and create a facsimile. While there’s still a difference versus the real deal, the results are impressive — I found myself queuing up old favorites on Spotify just to hear a new dimension to them. Don’t expect any such miracles with mono mixes, unfortunately.
How does the Amazon Echo Studio compare with the Sonos One and Google Nest Audio?
The most direct rival to the Echo Studio is the Sonos One, which is similarly priced. Both speakers are also loud, high-fidelity products that support automatic room tuning.
Differences grow pretty quickly, however. You need an iOS device to get Sonos’ room tuning working (unless you upgrade to an Era speaker), whereas the Studio tunes itself on the fly. The Echo Studio has always delivered more bass, and it’s the only one of the two to support spatial audio. The Sonos One holds its own mostly by supporting both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, and producing ultra-clear sound, which matters if you prioritize fidelity. The Studio is exclusively Alexa-focused, even incorporating a Zigbee hub for pairing things like smart bulbs with the platform.
The Echo Studio is best suited to any space devoted to 'serious' listening.
After its software update, I think I genuinely prefer the Echo Studio to the Sonos One. I wouldn’t complain if I were forced to swap to Sonos permanently, but it’s hard to ignore the impact of superior bass and spatial processing. It blows away the Nest Audio I’d otherwise use for work listening, and sometimes the HyperX Cloud II Wireless headset I use for gaming and meetings.
Ironically, the Studio’s biggest threat may be the 4th gen Echo. Both the Sonos One and Echo Studio have it beat in terms of specs — the standard Echo lacks spatial audio or any mid-range drivers, for example — but it’s an Alexa speaker that’s half the price and still sounds excellent in places like a bedroom or kitchen. It punches above its price tag, which makes me wonder if part of the incentive for the Studio’s update was improving perceived value.
Where the Studio justifies itself is in any space devoted to “serious” listening. A single unit can dominate a room, and if you’ve got the money, you have the option of pairing with a second Studio for true stereo panning and overwhelming volume. Introducing an Echo Sub could make for a killer home audio package.
Is the Amazon Echo Studio still missing anything?
Yes, mainly in the home theater arena. While you can use 3.5mm or mini-TOSLINK for a physical connection, there’s no HDMI port for ARC or eARC, and you’re still just connecting a single speaker. The only way of using two Studios with a TV is by creating a wireless Home Theater group in the Alexa app, then pairing that with a Fire TV device like the Stick 4K Max or an Omni TV. You’re out of luck if you have something like a Chromecast or Apple TV 4K.
Musically, spatial audio is mostly reserved for Amazon Music Unlimited. That’s a shame, given that most streamers are subscribed to either Spotify or Apple Music. To make matters worse, you don’t automatically get Unlimited with a Prime subscription, and relatively few songs are Atmos-enhanced. Just a sliver of people will get to hear a Studio in its full glory.
Amazon Echo Studio 2023 review: The verdict
Amazon’s speaker and display products seem to be in a holding pattern. The company didn’t announce any major new hardware during its fall 2022 event, unless you count the 5th gen Echo Dot. Reportedly there were thousands of layoffs from its Worldwide Digital division a few months later, an attempt to staunch billions of dollars in losses blamed mostly on Alexa. It seems safe to say we shouldn’t expect an Echo Studio 2nd gen model anytime soon, which could be the main reason we got a software update. As well as the new Glacier White color option, which makes the Echo Studio look like the 2018 HomePod.
There are a few things I’d like Amazon to do with the Echo Studio, whether through further software updates or a sequel product. It’d be great if the company could figure out how to expand spatial audio support, for instance adding Apple Music’s format. I’m not holding my breath, as much because of Apple’s obsession with proprietary formats as anything.
The Echo Studio's big update has given Amazon's top smart speaker a new lease on life.
Amazon should also expand TV connectivity with more and better port options, and possibly think about enhanced PC/Mac support. My testing mostly involved app- or voice-controlled listening in my office, and I eventually found myself wondering what it would be like to connect directly to my laptop and enjoy spatial audio in games and other desktop apps. You can already connect directly, to be clear, but that involves a single speaker, using Bluetooth or a compatible cable, and no support for desktop-specific surround formats.
Overall though, I have to hand Amazon kudos for giving the Studio a new lease on life. Whether or not a future model gets any of the upgrades I’m crossing my fingers for, the one we have right now is a fantastic speaker within the scope of music, Alexa smart home control, and pairing with Fire TV devices.