This year, befitting its Echo speakers' primary function as purveyors of music, Amazon is releasing a whole bunch of new audio gear. The lineup includes a beefed-up Echo Plus speaker, an Alexa amp, a strange pre-amp... thing, a Dot without the speaker and more. But if you already own an Echo and want to get better sound out of it, the new Echo Sub is the most intriguing.
At $130 (£120, AU$199) the Amazon Echo Sub sits between the Echo and Echo Plus in price, and it upgrades the sound of Amazon's smart, skinny towers with actual deep bass. Is it an essential upgrade to the Echo line? No, but if you've ever been frustrated by the Echo's lack of sonic heft, it could be for you.
The Sub is also available as part of an bundle with two second-gen Echo devices for $250 (£240), which is a viable system for only a little more money than a single Sonos One. I tested the Sub mainly with the Echo Plus, however, and that combo makes less financial sense due to the added cost of the Plus' onboard hub.
Once out of the packaging, the Echo Sub looks like someone left an Echo-shaped sponge in water overnight. It's a cloth-covered pill box with a matte plastic top and it measures 8 inches high and 8.3 inches in diameter (20.2 by 21 cm). The subwoofer is sealed and down-firing, powered by a 100-watt amplifier pushing a 6-inch woofer. The speaker is rated from 200 Hz down to 30Hz (-6dB), with the Alexa app handling the crossover, depending on which device you pair it with.
At the moment the Sub is only officially compatible with the second-generation Echo and Echo Plus, but according to Amazon it will be compatible with most Echo products, as described below. I tried to pair the Sub with a third-gen Echo Dot and it failed, but other Echo devices I tried worked well. I've reached out to Amazon for clarification.
|Smart speaker||Sub pair||Stereo pair|
|Echo (1st Generation)||x|
|Echo (2nd Generation)||x||x|
|Echo Dot (3rd Generation)||x||x|
|Echo Plus (1st Generation)||x||x|
|Echo Plus (2nd Generation)||x||x|
|Echo Show (1st Generation)||x (music only)|
|Echo Show (2nd Generation)||x (music only)|
There's only one input -- the internet (via 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi) -- and a single button for initiating setup on the back. A separate audio input on the back (like the one found on a Dot) would make the speaker more useful, but without a crossover or volume control you can see why Amazon didn't: keep it simple, subwoofer.
Setup is designed to be as simple as possible, but I had issues at first. I eventually figured out that if you've already set up a stereo pair of Echos and want to add the Sub, you have to start from scratch. After that it worked fine, and setting up the stereo pair itself was simple too.
Once working, the Echo Sub does what it claims: it adds more bass. But the amount of bass you need depends on your favorite genre of music. In my tests the Sub sounded best with rock and dance, but I missed having more control of the bass even with deep, stunt-y stuff like James Blake. There are no subwoofer EQ or volume controls within the app or via Alexa, only a vague "turn down the bass" voice command.
When I first turned it on, and used it to support a pair of Echo Pluses, I found that Life by Beta Band was overwhelmed by the notes of the song's bassy outro. The descending scale swallowed up all of the oxygen in the room. Asking Alexa to "turn down the bass" helped a little, but I'd really have preferred a finer level of adjustment.
Depending on the music I found that the Sub drew attention to itself and its position in the room, but with a bit of trial and error I was able to get it to provide an excellent bass complement. Where you place a subwoofer make a big difference in the sound, as always. With the Echo Sub in the right position all genres of music sounded better in the stereo pair of Echo Pluses. The Sub also improved the output of a single Echo, adding much more heft.
The Amazon Echo Sub works, and it's a lot better than I expected, but it seems like a niche product. Do people really want to build a 2.1 system out of a pair of Echos?
Wireless subwoofers are a mainstay of traditional sound bars, whether as part of the package or available as an accessory, but few wireless subs are designed strictly for music. The Echo Sub doesn't work as a home theater speaker (there's no audio input on the Echo Plus, only an output) and the Echo Plus on its own generates enough bass for music listening.
In the end your money will be better spent adding a second Echo speaker in a stereo pair. It will make for more intensive music listening, with a wider image and better bass control. Adding a Sub is the last step in creating an Echo system, but if you already have the pair going and want it to sound even better, it's a step worth taking.