Any Bluetooth speaker worth its weight in onions these days boasts of some smarts. But Amazon has created something of an ecosystem with its Echo devices that is just more enticing than any other brand out there.
Perhaps it’s just the sheer number of options offered in the Echo range, there’s something for everyone except the audiophile, until now. The Studio is Amazon’s bid to catch the ears of those who have been let down by the promise of brains over brawn.
It aims to fix the fight once and for all. Its form factor reminds you of the Apple HomePod, but the cut-out at the bottom for the bass vent and the traditional blue-LED ring at the top make it look distinctive enough. The top panel gets the basic controls that we are familiar with now. Volume up/down, action and mic mute buttons are all you get. Setting up is a breeze through the Alexa app and you can even pair two of them in a stereo configuration if you really want to up the game.
Packed with five individual drivers inside its chubby, cylindrical body, the Studio is also the first to support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio and Dolby Atmos over the Amazon Music HD service. No, it isn’t available in India yet, so the 3D audio capabilities of the Studio will go unappreciated for now. Taking a page off the HomePod design manual, the Studio looks like an Echo Plus that’s been fed on a McDonald’s diet. Chubby, but with functional fat, its fabric-wrapped girth looks pleasingly upmarket. Lift it up and it also feels reassuringly well-built. Packing in more drivers than a Dakar rally, the Studio’s sound belies its size.
With a downward firing 5.25in bass driver, side and top firing 2in midrange drivers and a front-firing 1in tweeter, the sound, even from a single speaker, has an expansive image and reach. Although it looks like an omnidirectional speaker, it will still sound best when the tweeter is facing the listener. There’s plenty of fun to be had off axis, but if you’re a purist, invest in a pair for optimum effect.
Equipped to play Hi-Res audio files up to 24-bit/192kHz, it’s a pity that Amazon Music HD tier isn’t supported in India yet. But even with 320kbps streaming, Spotify Premium sounds robust with a well-balanced presentation. A subwoofer is unnecessary. A built-in Zigbee smart home hub allows the Studio to talk to compatible devices, and it works as well as you’d hope. Entirely hands-free, you can control your smart lighting, change the temperature, set timers and loads more.
Of course, like every other Echo device, the Studio’s main motive is to get you talking. It can get chatty in English, Hindi or Hinglish, whatever you’re comfortable with for spewing commands to Alexa. The seven far-field mics work well in most conditions, but it does struggle if the music is already playing at a louder-than-normal level.
It takes on the HomePod in terms of form factor and Google Home Max in terms of sound quality, and eventually, might just edge them both out for smarts and performance as an audio gadget. We might just have a winner on our hands...
Amazon took its time but the Studio is a worthy competition to the best smart speakers out there and arguably sounds better than most. It has a rich, engaging tonality that isn’t biased towards a particular spectrum, making it enjoyable over long listening sessions. Add in the Alexa ecosystem and it becomes a no-brainer.