Is Alexa Having Trouble Understanding You? Solve These Common Amazon Echo Issues

Try these troubleshooting tips for the most common Amazon device issues.

Katie Teague Writer II
Katie is a writer covering all things how-to at CNET, with a focus on Social Security and notable events. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing in golf scrambles, practicing yoga and spending time on the lake.
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Katie Teague
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Several Amazon Echo devices in a living room

If Alexa is experiencing Wi-Fi connectivity issues, try unplugging your Amazon Echo.

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If you have an Amazon Echo device, you've probably heard this phrase a lot -- "I'm having trouble understanding right now." It's Alexa's way of letting you know that it cannot follow your voice commands for some particular reason. And sometimes, it will even perform a different action than what you asked. For instance, my Echo Show will play the latest news instead of lullabies. 

You might expect Alexa to perform your voice commands without any hiccups, but that's not always the case in the world of smart tech and voice assistants, like Alexa. But we're here to help save time and energy -- and headaches -- figuring out what's wrong. 

So don't reset your Amazon Echo speaker yet. We'll tell you what the different ring light colors mean, why your music randomly stops and other common problems we've noticed. We even found some quick and easy fixes to the most common Amazon Echo problems.

Read also: The Real Cost of Setting Up an Amazon Alexa Smart Home

The 15 coolest things you can do with your Amazon Echo

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What Echo's light ring colors mean

Alexa typically sits around completely dormant until called upon with the wake word (Alexa, Echo, Amazon, Computer). But sometimes the LED ring around the top of the Echo and Echo Dot, or a light bar on your Echo Show screen, lights up even when you're not actively using the smart speaker. 

In this case, the colored light could alert you to a problem. Here are a few of the colors you may have encountered if you're having issues with your speaker.

  • Spinning violet. Indicates that there was a problem during Wi-Fi setup (addressed below). 
  • Spinning orange. The device is currently connecting to your network.
  • Solid red. The microphone has been turned off and Alexa is not actively listening for your commands. Push the microphone button to turn it back on.

The light ring can also tell you if someone is calling you, if your Amazon order is out for delivery, the volume of the speaker and more.

Watch this: Alexa gets new features to make it a better listener

The music randomly cuts out on your Amazon Echo speaker

When you're listening to music on your Amazon Echo, it can be frustrating when the song cuts out for a few seconds at a time. If this happens, the issue could be Wi-Fi related. Try unplugging your Amazon Echo from the wall and rebooting your router. Wait 20 seconds and plug both devices back into the wall. For better results, connect your Echo device to your router's 5GHz channel. 

Amazon also suggests keeping your smart speaker away from metal objects, microwaves , baby monitors and anything else that could cause interference with your Wi-Fi connection.

Alexa can't connect to your smart home devices

Amazon Echos support a long list of smart home appliances. The growing list includes devices like the Ecobee3 and lines from companies such as Honeywell , Insteon, Lifx, Nest , Philips Hue and Wink. Even more devices and services have added official Alexa support by way of skills that help make that service or device take your verbal commands (e.g., "Alexa, tell Philips Hue to turn on the kitchen light").

To add a new device, open the Alexa app and tap Devices > Add Device > select the device you'd like to add (like a smart switch or plug) and follow the instructions in the app. 

Even if the devices aren't natively supported and don't have skills, you're not entirely out of luck. Alexa has an official IFTTT channel and also integrates with Yonomi, both of which have an extensive list of supported smart home devices.

If you've already added your devices but Alexa can't seem to connect to them, there are a couple of solutions. Check the command you're using, aka your invocation. The commands vary between different devices, skills and connected services, like IFTTT. They can be oddly specific commands, and small differences in the phrasing or names of the devices can throw Alexa for a loop.

A smart blub and an Amazon Echo device next to each other

If Alexa can't find your smart home device, try powering down the devices.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Some smart home devices have trouble staying connected due to software problems, crowded networks, being always on or other issues. Powering down the connected devices and turning them back on again will usually fix any connectivity problems you're having.

If that doesn't fix the issue, try rebooting the speaker by unplugging it and removing the device that's acting up and adding it back once more.

Alexa is disconnected from your Wi-Fi

If your Echo speaker isn't staying connected to your network consistently enough, there are a few ways to fix connection issues.

First, power-cycle everything -- the router, modem and Alexa speaker. After that, try streaming audio for a few minutes to see if the issue arises again. If so, attempt to move the speaker away from other devices, preferably closer to the router, and try switching the speaker to a 5GHz channel to decrease interference.

Alexa doesn't understand your voice commands

"I'm sorry, I didn't quite get that" is a phrase often spoken by Alexa. It happens when the voice assistant didn't comprehend what you said. Fortunately, Amazon added a feature last year that allows you to ask Alexa what it just heard. You can say "Alexa, tell me what you heard" to find out what it thought you said.

You'll also want to make sure the Echo is positioned in an open space away from noisy household items like the TV, washer, dryer and dishwasher. It may hear you better, then.

You can also use Voice Training, a tool in the Your Profile settings in the Alexa app. You'll read 25 phrases aloud in a "typical voice from a typical distance" so Alexa can get a baseline understanding of your pronunciation and cadence. This helps you to customize your Alexa experience.

Echo Dot with Clock

"I'm sorry, I didn't quite get that" is a phrase often spoken by Alexa.

Dale Smith/CNET

Accidental Amazon Alexa activation

Whether it's commercials or shows talking about Alexa on TV or you said a word that sounded similar to "Alexa," your speaker just activated and you're confused. Luckily, there are four things you can do to minimize this:

  • Say "Alexa, why did you do that?" -- This feature gives you more insight as to why Alexa performed an action.
  • Move the speaker farther from the television.
  • Press the mute button on top while watching TV.
  • Change the wake word from the default "Alexa" to either "Computer" or "Amazon."
Front view of an Amazon Echo Show 15

Alarms and timers too loud? Here's how to fix that. 

Molly Price/CNET

Alarms and notifications are too loud

You may have noticed when timers or alarms go off, the sound is much louder (or maybe quieter) than the playback volume of Alexa. That's because alarm and timer volume is controlled separately within the Alexa app.

To set the alarm, timer and notification volume, open the Alexa app on Android or iOS and go to Devices > [your device name] > Sounds and drag the slider to the volume level you want.

Issues streaming music with Spotify

Amazon's Alexa speakers are capable of streaming music from third-party services like Spotify, iHeartRadio , TuneIn and Pandora. Of those, Spotify seems to have more hiccups than the other services, with music randomly stopping midstream for no good reason and sometimes not playing at all.

There is no definitive fix for the errors, but a good start to troubleshooting the problem is to reboot the speaker. Then unlink your Spotify account and sign in again. 

To unlink Spotify, open the Amazon Alexa app and go to Settings > Music > Spotify. Tap Disable Skill and confirm by tapping Disable. Next, tap Enable to use and follow the instructions to log in to your account again.

Aerial shot of an Amazon Echo Plus

If you're having trouble streaming Spotify through your Echo, try unlinking the Skill in the Alexa app.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Trouble playing music on the proper speaker

Using Multi-Room Audio, you can control music playback on Echo speakers with a different Echo. The feature works with the Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Show, and it lets you play music throughout the house.

However, if you don't have your Echo devices properly named, you'll run into an issue when trying to play music on other speakers. While you can name the speakers whatever you like, it will be easier to queue up music and remember which speaker is where if you name each speaker after the room it's in or its location in the house.

For example, if you have one Echo speaker named Katie's Echo Dot, you'll have to say, "Alexa, play Queen on Katie's Echo Dot." While that's not very difficult to say, it's certainly easier and more natural to say, "Alexa, play Queen in the kitchen."

Having other issues with your Amazon Echo that we didn't address? Let us know in the comments. Also, check out these three irritating Amazon Echo pet peeves and how to fix themsix Amazon Echo settings you won't regret changing and four top Amazon Echo features to perfect and improve now.

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