Friday, April 16, 2021

Amazon Echo (4th generation, 2020): a new zenith

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It was a few years since Alexa started listening to me everywhere. After a first honeymoon with an original Echo Dot (a device that I still hold is the best alarm clock ever), I slowly filled my house with Amazon review units. These days, I mostly take out speakers made by Google and Apple for comparison testing. The point is, Amazon’s smart speakers work so well that there’s never been a reason to change my whole system.

In terms of price, compatibility, audio quality and now, thanks to a sleek and round redesign, the new Echo remains one of the the best smart speakers for most people. As long as you don’t mind Alexa, or you don’t Vendetta related to BezosI would go so far as to say this is the best $ 100 speaker on the market.

Round sound

The biggest difference between the new Echo and the older tube-shaped models is the rounded design. It looks like one of those foam hunting balls I used to get pounded in college, but with four rubber buttons on the top and a power cord for a tail.

This new shape is not only an aesthetic change, it also reshapes the way the speaker interacts with acoustic environments. I’ve noticed that the redesigned stereo speaker carries sound throughout a room more evenly than the last-gen Echo, making it much more of a speaker for the whole room than it was. before.

This makes it more usable as gold curls of Amazon’s line of smart speakers, seated between the smaller Echo Dot (which is available in Standard, Kids, and Clock editions) and the larger Echo Studio. Just know that Is have a slightly larger footprint than before.

Photography: Amazon

It looks bigger, better and more balanced than ever. I left my review unit on the kitchen counter – one of the most useful places for a smart speaker as I can set the timers – and it easily filled the kitchen and adjoining living room with enough of her for the quarantined dance parties with my fiancee and our clumsy rescue dogs.

The new Echo has a few things under the hood that allow it to outperform its predecessors. First, a new adaptive EQ engine, which allows the speaker to listen and adjust to the room it is playing in, using information it gleans from onboard mics.

Place it near walls or corners, and it can tame the bass for a bit better sound. It’s not what you hear, it’s what you don’t hear; adaptive sound is designed to make your music sound the same everywhere. I moved it to my bedroom and didn’t notice a huge change in the balance or the soundstage (how “big” the music feels in space), but I did notice it sounded much quieter in tight corners than the last generation.

The new speakers also improve low-end performance, with the 3-inch woofer stretching deep enough into the frequency spectrum for a speaker of this size. It’s also much stronger than competitors like the Google Nest Audio (8/10, recommend WIRED), which I had sat next to on the counter (although the bass gets muddy at full volume).

Then there’s the built-in Zigbee receiver that lets you easily connect a ton of smart home devices, and a Amazon sidewalk receiver, a soon-to-be-launched Amazon service that uses Bluetooth Low Energy to keep devices connected outside but near your home.

Familiar Favorites

As a long-time Spotify user, I’ve always been impressed with how easy it is to set up Echo devices with Spotify Connect, and it was just as easy this time around. I configured it in the Alexa app and I was broadcasting Mariah Carey’s Christmas Hits in no time.

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