Feel the beat with Amazon's Echo Studio

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Updated Wed November 6, 2019

You'll immediately notice two things when you unbox the Echo Studio. First, it's the largest box for an Echo smart speaker. And second, it's the only echo that has a thin bag with handles wrapped around it. Both of these are due to the nature of the Echo Studio.

It's large and heavy. In fact, it's the largest and heaviest Echo ever.

And it should be, with its position as a high-quality speaker equipped with Dolby Atmos and 3D audio for $199.99. It's definitely designed with music in mind and aims to deliver an immersive experience with five speakers. Don't worry, we counted them and dive into the customizations you can make through an equalizer.

Like any other Echo, you get the power of Alexa. From fun facts to a joke when you're sad and easy access to thousands of skills. It's all here.

So at $199.99, is the Echo Studio worth it? Let's dive in.

It's a robust sound experience

With a device that puts the focus on audio, it makes sense to start with how it sounds. The Echo Studio has five speakers, so let's break them down:

  • A 2-inch upward firing speaker
  • A 2-inch right firing speaker
  • A 2-inch left firing speaker
  • A 1-inch forward firing tweeter
  • A 5.25-inch downward firing woofer

To be precise, it's three speakers, one tweeter and one woofer. When you first plug in the Echo Studio, it gives you a warm-up with a longer startup chime that has a larger amount of bass. And once you set it up via the Alexa app for Android or iOS, you're off to the races. It will start by automatically customizing the sound to the room, and it plays tones — low, mid and high — across the spectrum.

These might be soothing to your ears, but in reality, it's setting up the speakers. It's similar to what Sonos speakers and Apple's HomePod accomplish during setup. It's important to note that the Echo Studio is larger than the HomePod and a Sonos One speaker. It's just over 8 inches tall at 8.1 inches and weighs in at 7.7 pounds. So yes, it's much larger than an Echo Dot, to say the least.

And while those speakers have a fully closed off design, the Echo Studio has an open rim at the bottom of the front and back. Its official name is the bass aperture and it's there to help improve the bass and allow for maximum output, but you can also use it as a handle.

As expected the Echo Studio gets loud.

At just 80%, you can hear it throughout a three-story home. With it turned up at 100%, you're ready for a house party. And when listening to a stream from Amazon Music HD, it's a wide-ranging mix that is free from distortion. With the track "Badlands" by Bruce Springsteen, you can really hear the roar of the bass drum in a fashion that's similar to vinyl. Yes, the version is remastered and is an ultra HD track, but it's vibrant.

You can clearly hear the bass drum with the saxophone, guitar, percussion, piano and vocals overlayed. Even the echoes of the main chorus and Springsteen's vocals are audible throughout. It's quite room-filling and an enjoyable experience. I also found that to truly experience the wide soundstage effect (since it pushes the sound in all directions), you need to have the volume somewhere between 50-70%.

The bigger story with the sound comes between Amazon's partnership with Dolby Atmos and the 3D audio that it delivers. The big point to take away is that tracks need to be designed to take advantage of that. Echo Studio will identify these tracks with a 3D logo in the playback window in the Alexa app and will automatically select the higher quality version of the track. 3D Music also works with Sony 360 Reality Audio, another standard, but Dolby Atmos definitely has a bigger adoption.

It works by analyzing the room, and rather than producing a stereo mix, creates one that counts for other areas of depth. The result is a wider casting of sound that customizes it to the environment. I was skeptical the Echo Studio could deliver on this, but with 3D Music tracks, it makes a noticeable difference. It delivers on an incredibly wide soundstage.

I tested 3D Music with a variety of tracks, many of which are found on the best of 3D music playlist from Amazon Music. With the Jonas Brothers' "Sucker," you can clearly identify the instruments (even if many are electronic). The clapping rhythm is crisp, with the vocals from Joe, Nick and Kevin coming across clearly. Even Nick's higher tone is quite vibrant. The track can get a little reverb-y, though, but it's not the end of the world and might have to do with an increased echo on the mix itself (no pun intended). Most importantly though, there is no distortion.

With a classical track like "Rey's Theme" (from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens") recorded by Anne-Sophie Mutter with the Los Angeles Recording Arts Orchestra, you experience the dynamic range of sounds and tones that the Studio can hit. Both high- and mid-tones from the strings and horns, while the bass comes through clearly with the drums when the range of instruments play together. It's an enjoyable listening experience. The same goes for "Edvard Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46," performed by the Berlin Philharmonic. It's an excellent test of the Echo Studio's sound chops.

And like any good smart speaker, you control it via an equalizer — specifically, the Echo Studio can be customized by bass, midrange and treble. Turning up the bass pushes the 5.25-inch woofer to the limit and lets you test the 330-watt top line of power. You can also feel the bottom pushing out air.

At $199.99, the Echo Studio sounds excellent, and in all honesty, that's half the battle for this smart speaker. I think the improvement in sound is quite evident over that of an Echo Dot or a third-generation Echo. These are basically distortion-free and the Studio does a much better job of reading the room to craft a solid audio experience.

The sound of the Echo Studio can also be combined with other Echos, like another Echo Studio with stereo pairing. We'll report back once we've had the chance to try, but I have a feeling it will be loud.

You can also pair the Echo Studio wirelessly with a Fire TV Cube, Fire TV or a Fire TV Stick 4K. And the smart speaker supports stereo sound with just itself, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Atmos. To experience the last two, you'll need content that supports it.

The Echo Studio will also pair with an Echo Sub, but I haven't had the chance to try this. But the Studio pushes out a lot of bass on its own. With the music side, "Fire" by Springsteen and "Sun is Shining" by Axwell/Ingrosso really pump out the bass at 50%, 75%, but especially at 100%. The first is a UHD track, while the latter is an HD track both streamed from Amazon Music HD.

Music from other streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and TuneIn also sounded good. Keep in mind that for now, only Amazon Music HD supports the 3D Music. I recommend leaving that as the default service or switching it when using the Echo Studio.

It looks like an Echo, just a supersized one

The Echo Studio is a big Echo. It only comes in charcoal and keeps a cylinder shape with the outer shell being wrapped in the fabric mesh. So the Echo design language is in full effect.

The top keeps the classic LED ring, although it's slightly pushed in. And there are four buttons on the top, small circles that line the front of the device on the outer rim. These are microphone mute, volume up, volume down and an action button. The latter will let you call Alexa, but you can also use your voice, thanks to the far-field microphones. You can clearly identify the seven far-field microphones on the top. They do a great job of listening for your voice and recognizing it, even when the volume is at 100% and you're a couple of feet away.

With a large amount of bass the Echo Studio can push out, you don't want it moving around, so the rubber bottom of the Echo Studio lets it rest comfortably on a shelf, table or home entertainment cabinet. It will vibrate the cabinet and it might shake your items on it, but the Studio shouldn't move. I tested it on my nightstand with a Lego BB-8 on it, and the result, if I didn't catch the BB-8, would have been terrible.

On the backside, you'll find the power port, a mini-optical line in and micro-USB port. The last port, aka that micro-USB port, is likely just for service. That optical line-in allows you to connect the Echo Studio with other speakers. And the power port is needed as it provides power to the Echo Studio. Notably, there is no brick, as it's housed inside the Echo Studio, so just a cable is included. It makes setup even easier.

The Echo Studio doesn't make any drastic design changes that will shatter the Echo world. It's basically a super-sized Echo with massively improved audio hardware.

It's the Alexa experience you expect

Alexa is still the capable and intelligent virtual assistant you'd expect on the Echo Studio. She integrates easily with smart home devices with just your voice. You can ask her for pertinent information about your commute or the weather. The Echo Studio can act as a loud alarm clock and it can even tell jokes. The drop-in features work well, although there is no camera, since it's just a smart speaker and not a smart display.

But the Echo Studio takes a page out of the Echo Plus feature set. The Studio has a smart home hub inside, aka antennas and connectivity for Zigbee. And this allows you to set up smart plugs, locks, lights and any Zigbee enabled smart device with ease. It feels like the Echo Studio isn't just a high-quality audio sounding experience across a variety of genres of music, but it also wants to be a central piece to the smart home equation in your home.

Bottom line

I'm quite impressed with the Echo Studio. At $199.99, you're getting a dependable Alexa-enabled smart speaker that can also do double duty as a smart hub for devices. But it also packs an incredibly vibrant, crisp and soulful punch when it comes to audio.

Sure 3D Music isn't available for every track, but Dolby Atmos is supported for a large number of tracks and the Alexa app makes it clear which tracks are 3D enabled. But regular tracks presented in a stereo fashion sound great and have an immersive angle. That goes especially for the UHD and HD tracks on Amazon Music HD. Music from Apple Music, Spotify and other services sound solid, as does music streamed for Bluetooth.

The Echo Studio is a big winner in our book, and will likely be huge this holiday season. I'm just waiting on more 3D tracks from my favorite artists.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.