Amazon's original smart speaker is back with a brand-new look and a bit more power. The fourth-generation Echo finds Amazon ditching the speaker's cylindrical origins for a more whimsical spherical design. More importantly, it's phasing out the $150 Echo Plus by putting all of its audio power and additional features, like a built-in smart home hub, into the new Echo. So for just $99.99, the fourth-generation Echo offers better audio performance than ever, the ability to control Zigbee devices, and, of course, Alexa voice assistance. That's more than you'll get from any other smart speaker at this price, easily earning the Echo our Editors' Choice award.
Design and Features
The fourth-generation Echo is a near-sphere, measuring 5.2 inches tall and 5.7 inches wide, available in black, blue, or white. Amazon notes that the fabric and aluminum it uses in its Echo speakers are 100-percent recycled materials. It's a fun new design, and looks similar to Apple's forthcoming HomePod mini.
The light ring has been moved from the top of the speaker to the base, providing a less direct glow that’s still recognizable by lighting up blue when you speak your chosen wake word for Alexa. The top panel holds buttons for Alexa, volume up, volume down, and mic mute. The back is home to the connector for the power adapter and a 3.5mm audio output.
Underneath the fabric sits a 3-inch woofer and dual 0.8-inch front-firing tweeters, through which the Echo supports Dolby audio (but not Dolby Atmos surround sound like the Echo Studio, which features four drivers, including a 5.3-inch woofer). They’re the same size drivers as in the Echo Plus and the third-generation Echo, but with two tweeters instead of one. Also like the Echo Plus, the fourth-gen Echo incorporates a built-in smart home hub. It’s a Zigbee hub, plus it has support for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Amazon Sidewalk, which helps extend the range of low-bandwidth devices.
Of course, the fourth-generation Echo also provides access to Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. After summoning the assistant with the wake word “Alexa” (or a few other options you can choose from), simply ask it to complete your desired task. Alexa can provide general information like sports scores and weather; play music from Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, or SiriusXM; control various smart home devices (including Zigbee devices thanks to the built-in hub); and make voice calls to other Alexa devices in your home, along with phone calls.
The Echo features Amazon’s AZ1 Neural Edge processor, a chip designed for machine learning. According to Amazon, the processor enables new features that run on the edge of the cloud (with some processing on the device, rather than Amazon’s servers), like more responsive speech recognition. This is important, because while Alexa is a capable voice assistant, its natural language recognition is rather stiff and requires very specific syntax for some commands. Hopefully the AZ1 processor will make Alexa easier to talk to over time, though at the moment Google Assistant still offers more flexible language recognition, making it easier to talk to casually. But that doesn't detract from the fact that Alexa is a formidable voice assistant with a larger library of third-party skills than the competition.
While the Echo is physically smaller than the Google Nest Audio, its woofer and tweeters are larger, which means it can put out a bit more power. You won’t get wall-shaking bass from this small speaker, but low frequencies sound nicely rounded and full, as heard in our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout.” The kick drum hits have a good sense of thump that doesn’t reach low enough to be physically palpable, but still avoids sounding overly poppy or punchy.
The improved bass also comes through clearly in Yes’ “Roundabout.” The opening guitar plucks get plenty of lower-frequency resonance to sound warm and full, and the electric bassline stands out in the mix when the rest of the instrumentation kicks in. The Echo doesn’t have quite the same high-frequency finesse offered by the Nest Audio, so the string texture and vocals don’t stand out quite as much, but there is significantly more response in the lows and low-mids.
The Crystal Method’s “Born Too Slow” also sounds very good on the new Echo. The backbeat doesn’t get quite enough low-frequency presence to sound properly ominous (it seldom does on speakers this size), but it provides enough thump to drive the track, while the guitar riffs and vocals stand out in the mix.
The audio performance here easily eclipses what you get with the $50 fourth-generation Echo Dot, which is only a cosmetic upgrade from the previous model and falls far short of the Echo in the bass department. The $200 Echo Studio still offers the strongest audio experience of the bunch, but it also costs the most. For $100, the standard Echo is impressive.
The Best Echo Yet
The fourth-generation Amazon Echo is a strong follow-up to the previous model, with a bit more power and the ability to control Zigbee smart home devices. It isn’t enough of an upgrade to justify throwing out your third-generation Echo, but if you’re looking to upgrade from an Echo Dot, or simply want a new smart speaker to provide room-filling sound in a small package, this is the model to get. We also like Google's Nest Audio for its easier-to-talk-to voice assistant, but the Echo edges past it in sound quality and the ability to control more smart home devices, earning the speaker our Editors’ Choice nod.
The fourth-generation Amazon Echo speaker takes the sound quality and smart home hub capabilities of the Echo Plus and puts it in a new round package.
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