Hands-on: Amazon Echo Sub and Stereo System

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When reviews landed for last year’s first version of the Echo Plus, the consensus was that it was a good speaker, with good enough sound reproduction but that it had lacklustre bass. In an odd omission, you couldn’t stereo pair two of them, either. The design was also a little bit 80s, shall we say. But with the smart connectivity and Zigbee inclusion it was a more than decent stab at a home audio product.

Echo

Now Amazon has seemingly taken a great deal of this criticism on board and come back with a much improved design, more features including stereo pairing, better sound and a subwoofer to silence those carping about lack of low frequencies. We spent some time with the new 2.1 system, dubbed the Echo Stereo System, to see how the latest kit performs.

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Design

Gone are those 80s stylings and in comes the fashion for soft, rounded edges and cloth covering. With it’s new fabric outer, the second iteration of the Echo Plus looks like the lovechild of the original and Apple’s HomePod.

The finishing is nowhere near the quality of Apple’s smart speaker, though, as the plastic top and bottom of the Echo Plus and the thin cloth round the body instantly show why this speaker is half the price of the HomePod. But that’s only if you look closely. From a distance the Echo Plus V2 is a nice-looking piece of kit.

It’s also surprisingly lightweight. Turn it around and apart from the familiar Echo button on the top, the only ports you see are the power and auxiliary sockets at the base on the rear. The light ring is almost hidden between the top controls and where that fabric jacket, available in charcoal, heather grey and sandstone, begins.

Set-up

Amazon has concentrated on trying to make the set-up of the 2.1 system of a pair of Echo Pluses and a Sub as simple and hassle-free as possible. That being said, unlike a few of the other devices unveiled this week, the speakers have to be set up as a system via the app. The initial set-up of one Echo is simplicity itself. If you already have an Echo, it auto discovers the new speaker and passes the relevant Wi-Fi info. And that’s it.

However, to then create a stereo pair this must be done via the app. Amazon says it could technically be done all via voice but there would be too much friction in the process as they have to be compatible speakers and checks must be done to make sure all are on the same network. As a result the decision was made to do it manually on the app, but it’s not a chore.

One feature the Echo Plus does not have is spatial checking – if you set it as a left or right speaker for stereo, then move it, it won’t automatically know it has been moved. This must be done manually. This ability to do stereo separation is new to the speaker, of course.

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Performance

With its built-in Zigbee smart-home hub, setting up smart devices should be simple. It will automatically discover compatible lights, locks, plugs, switches, etc. A new embedded temperature sensor means you can get temperature readings in individual rooms and then set up routines to adjust things accordingly – such as not let a baby’s room get below a certain setting, or if too hot Alexa could turn on a fan connected to a smart plug.

Inside the Echo Plus is a 3 inch neodymium woofer and increased back volume so that the bass from the unit itself is stronger than before. The mids and highs are also improved a little. The Sub adds impressive low end and it’s only when you play a stereo pair plus the Sub that you get the full experience from the speakers. The Echo Plus at £140 is not cheap, and there are many competitors at this price point, and you are not too far off the superb Sonos One here. But the £120 Sub represents great value. In the short demo we had it was very impressive – especially when you consider the Sonos sub is costs over £600.