If a smart home means no more chores, sign me up, stat!
I’ve had an Echo Plus at the heart of my smart home for a while now and it’s amazing how much (home) work it’s taken off my plate. In fact, it’s starting to outperform everyone at home to the extent of making us all look plain lazy. That only means home bots are slowly becoming indispensable so that’s a big win for the tech of today.
Amazon wants the Echo Plus to be a trendy taskmaster that entertains while its Alexa-powered army gets to work. Enter the Echo Plus 2.1 stereo system. It’s a pair of Echo Pluses (Gen 2) along with a brand new subwoofer (Echo Sub) which form a commendable, yet discreet stereo system. Does she sing or croak? Alexa, show me what you got…
Design and build: same looks, better speaker
Slightly shorter (15cm high) and chubbier (10cm diameter) than the device it replaces, the second gen Echo Plus’ combo of plastic and cloth may not be the most tactile in the world but it sure looks stellar atop any desk it dwells on. Personally, I think fabrics are the way forward for personal tech that’s dressed to impress.
On the top plate are four buttons and seven mics. It’s surrounded by the familiar Echo Light Ring which give visual cues as to what Alexa is up to. And at the bottom of the cylinder there’s a mains power port and a 3.5mm analogue audio output. Overall, its exteriors are much friendlier than its industrial-looking predecessor.
The new Echo Sub, meanwhile, utilises a similar mixture of materials in its 20cm high x 21cm diameter enclosure. Its physical connectivity is restricted to mains power and a pairing button. It’s like a stubbier version of Apple’s trash can Mac Pro, so don’t be surprised if you accidentally chuck paper balls at it in a hurry.
Beneath the cloth and plastic, this second generation Echo Plus contains a downward-firing 7.5cm neodymium mid/bass driver above an upward-facing 20mm tweeter. This arrangement, along with some input from Dolby, is intended to result in the Echo Plus giving an impression of 360-degree sound.
Sitting above both drivers inside the cabinet is a Zigbee Smart Home hub. So any Zigbee-compliant wall-switches, light-bulbs, mains sockets or what-have-you can be controlled remotely with no need for them to sit on your main network. Bluetooth and dual-band wi-fi connectivity complete a very satisfying Echo Plus gen 2 feature set.
What makes the Sub a true rebel is it won’t take orders from Alexa. This means it won’t function outside of the Echo ecosystem, mind. Streaming to it strictly involves a smartphone / tablet and an Amazon Music app, for obvious reasons. Why would Amazon build a beautiful ecosystem only for you to leave it for someone else?
Interface: voice control
Setup is straightforward enough: make sure your Echo Pluses are on your network (they’re easily defined as ‘left’ and ‘right’ channels), plug in the Echo Sub and open the Alexa app. You’re now just a couple of prompts away from forming a 2.1 system (the app can only store one system at a time, though).
Alexa’s hearing is sharp as a tack which makes her responsive in all kinds of noisy situations saving you any embarrassment while demonstrating your slick new smart home to wide-eyed guests. Incredibly diverse Indian accents are no problem either and make the overall experience rather effortless.
Performance: depth and height
Even in single speaker mode, the 2nd gen Echo Plus showcases its superiority to its predecessor with ease. A bigger bolder sound comes through with Dolby’s fine-tuning clearly at play. Bass could do with a bit of a boost but it’s nothing to be bummed about. Midrange hits the sweet spot with vocals shining through with detail aplenty.
Add another Echo Plus and the formidable Sub to the mix and the results are simply astonishing. A true stereo setup that delivers a staggering soundstage with enormous depth and height. If the sound isn’t to your taste, you can always tweak Treble, Mid and Bass levels in the Alexa app. Bass is delivered full and with force adding heft to the mix.
Amazon Echo Plus 2.1: Verdict
If the Echo Plus 2.1 is anything to go by, it’s time to sit up and take Amazon’s audio abilities very seriously. This ain’t no cut-price collection of audio bits put together in a hurry. It’s a finely tuned stack of sound that even gets an audiophile’s nod of approval. In fact, as you’ll find out here, it’s an award-winner in the eyes of Stuff. That’s plenty of praise if you ask us.