Last updated: 11/16/2017
Our Amazon Echo 2 rating:
TL;DR: The new Echo is great, but if you’ve got a gen 1. Echo then there isn’t much reason to upgrade. There were some problems at launch with audio quality and Spotify Connect, but they seem to be resolved now.
11/16/2017 update [Spotify Connect problem resolved]: our Spotify Connect / Echo 2 connection problem appears to be resolved by updating to the version of the Spotify app released 2 days ago (11/14/2017). The original problem was that our new Echo 2 was not showing as a device that Spotify could connect to, even though our old Echo and our Tap (placed next to it) would show in the list of available devices. We could, however, give Alexa the command to play a playlist from Spotify – the problem seemed to be specific to seeing the Echo 2 device in the Spotify app.
11/10/2017 update [poor audio resolved]: Right after its October 31, 2017 launch, the Echo 2 suffered from audio quality problems that inspired a slew of negative reviews on Amazon.com. These problems were fixed with a software update that did result in a noticeable improvement in the Echo 2’s audio quality. The software version ending in 2320 was the “poor audio” version, and this version was replaced with 2420. It’s not a Bose or a Sonos, but it is a lot better since getting this update.
Our hands-on Echo 2 Review
We’ve had nearly 2 weeks with our Echo 2 and we love it. The audio problems were resolved in an over-the-air patch that we got last weekend and the device works great otherwise. The microphone is noticeably more responsive (especially compared to the Dot, which seems to have a lot of trouble hearing us over background noise) and it’s really quite nice to look at. It takes up less space on my nightstand and blends in beautifully.
The Echo is still the industry standard for what a smart voice-activated assistant can be.
Echo 2 compared to the rest of the Echo family
There are basically two reasons to upgrade to an Echo 2 from a 1st gen. Echo:
- You use your Echo as a music player and would like the improved audio of the Echo 2
- You like the smaller form factor and new body designs
For me, the reason I ordered my Echo 2 was to get the better audio. I use my Echo overnight as a speaker to play soft music while I sleep, and during the day while I work from home. Some days, it’s on for a full 24 hours. The promise of improved audio was enough to get me to buy another one. (It helped that I wanted an Echo for our living room, too – our last room without an Alexa device in it.)
The Echo 2 can get as loud as its predecessor (which is quite loud), with richer bass and clearer quality in the “mid-range” of a song. I’d rank it above the Echo Tap (which I think suffers from an anemic bass response) and just below the lowest-end Bose in terms of richness, clarity, or bass.
In terms of audio quality, from best to worst:
- Echo 2 – best audio of them all
- Echo (1st generation)
- Echo Tap – kind of weak on the bass and overall quality of sound, but it’s portable, so there’s that
- Echo Dot – worst audio, but it’s not really marketed as a standalone speaker anyway
We have not tried the Echo Plus yet. Our understanding is it should be slightly better than the Echo 2, since it has the same Dolby speaker with a 0.8″ tweeter instead of the Echo 2’s 0.6″ tweeter.
What’s new with the Echo 2
Smaller body design
The Echo 2 is noticeably smaller and lighter weight than the 1st gen. Echo. It stands about 3″ shorter but is slightly larger in diameter.
The Echo 2’s physical durability is yet to be determined, but with a toddler running around we’ll probably find out soon enough. I once flipped my original Echo off my desk and it cartwheeled right into a wall, but survived with no physical damage (the wall lost some paint in the scuffle).
At $99, it’s significantly cheaper than the original Echo, as well as Google Home and the Sonos One.
Updates to the Alexa service itself are free (and they happen passively, no need to initiate any actual update process on your end). If this is your first Echo, you’ve picked the best time to get on board.
3.5mm audio jack
The Echo 2 has an “AUX out” 3.5mm jack on the back near the bottom. This is a nice option to have, so that if you acquire a better speaker and want to hook it up to an Echo, you don’t have to buy an Echo Dot (you can use your Echo 2).
The Echo 2 has 7 far-field voice recognition microphones. This helps it hear you over loud music or other noises in the room. I’ve found the Echo 2 to be much better at hearing me than my Echo Dots, and a little better than my 1st gen. Echo.
Now your Echo can be pretty! I can’t wait to see what the third-party Echo cover designers come up with. The cloth cover that came with my Echo 2 feels firm and snug.
The Echo 2 is offered in six different body designs. I really like the Sandstone version, it blends into my nightstand decor much better than the large, black plastic original did. I also like that the speaker holes are invisible on the fabric-covered Echo 2 versions, making one solid, nice-looking body design. (The Echo 2 featured in this review is the Sandstone Fabric variant.)
For future reference, here’s how to change the Echo cover:
What’s missing from the Echo 2?
The 1st gen. Echo’s twist ring is gone.
I liked the twist ring because it was a quiet, easy way to adjust the volume in the dark. It wasn’t very granular, though, and I often found myself twisting it back and forth, trying to figure out if I’d twisted it “one” step or “two”.
The power cord only comes in black.
Unlike the white 1st gen. Echo (which some people call a 2nd generation Echo, but it’s not an Echo 2 – it’s just the white variant of the original Echo) which shipped with a white power cord, the Echo 2 power cord is black, no matter cover design you order.
Here’s the black cord and adapter that came with my “white” cloth Echo 2.
Is it worth upgrading to an Echo 2 from a 1st gen. Echo?
I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have $100 burning a hole in your pocket and a use for the old Echo (even if that use is eBaying it – there’s still a good market for used ones). It’s really quite similar. The noticeable changes are the smaller body and the audio improvements.
If you don’t have any Echo device and want one, though, the Echo 2 is a great choice.
So how do you get the best audio with an Echo right now?
If you really want good audio out of an Alexa-enabled device, though, we think you should hook an Echo Dot up to a high-quality speaker of your choosing.
Our top pick right now is the WiFi enabled Sonos PLAY:5 speaker. Yes, it’s expensive, but it works. It works with virtually any music service and it can mix/match songs across different services in its own Sonos app.
The audio quality is perfect. We used ours for months before we hooked an Echo Dot up to it, and it only made a good thing better. Alexa never sounded so good, and it’s great to issue voice-commands to our Sonos. It’s always “on”, too, so you don’t have to physically walk up to it and press the power button before you can send music to it. Spotify can see it as a speaker and stream to it painlessly.
We love our Sonos – it replaced our Dot + Bose SoundLink Mini II setup, which is more affordable and also offers excellent, room-filling audio, but it falls asleep after 30 minutes of no input. This means you have to walk over to the speaker and press its power button before you can stream music to it. The Dot cannot wake it up. We found this annoying and it’s what ultimately drove us to replace the speaker we had hooked up to our Dot.
They’ve added multi-room play to all Echoes
Some reviews suggest the multi-room play feature is unique to the Echo 2. That is inaccurate – many Echo devices support the new multi-room play feature. This guide from Amazon makes it clear which Echo devices support multi-room play and which services are supported.
At the time of this writing, the supported services are Amazon Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. It will not do do multi-room play with Apple Music, Spotify, or from a Bluetooth connection. This may change in the future. You have to do some setup to get it to work.
What could be improved in the Echo 2
We give the Echo 2 four stars out of five because we think there’s room for improvement, especially in regards to music-related features.
Volume should be more granular. Whether I adjust volume directly (using the Echo 2’s on-unit buttons) or use my phone’s volume up/down buttons, the volume goes up/down in big jumps. Since most of my listening is at a low volume, it feels like there’s really just three volume levels: off, too quiet, and too loud (and those are just the bottom 3 levels).
They should add an equalizer. I was surprised there wasn’t an equalizer in the original Echo – and I’m surprised they still haven’t added one for the Echo 2, which was advertised as being the better Echo for listening to music. On the bright side, Google Home just got an equalizer so maybe that will inspire Amazon to add one.
Spotify support is spotty. Since we use our Echoes primarily for listening to music and since we are firmly entrenched in the Spotify ecosystem, it’s hard to overlook these issues.
As of this writing there is:
- No multi-room play with Spotify
- A bug with Spotify app not being able to keep keep the Echo 2 in its list of available devices for Spotify Connect (11/16/2017 update: this might be fixed, Spotify issued an app update and now I see my Echo 2. I’ll remove this message once I’ve verified that the Echo 2 stays in the list for at least a few days.)
- Only “my” Spotify app can Spotify Connect to the various Echoes we have around the house because the Echoes are linked to my Amazon account, even though my partner and I are in an Amazon household together and on the same Spotify family account. We do not have this problem with our Google Home Mini and Sonos WiFi speakers – both of our Spotify apps can see these devices.
The timer is oddly verbose. Set a timer and then ask Alexa how much time is left on the timer, and you get a long spiel that goes something like “You have one timer, a one minute timer, with about 50 seconds left.” It didn’t used to be this way, back when Alexa only supported one timer. Seems like a minor thing but at least we aren’t the only ones who feel this way.
Google’s got better voice-recognition (and a more natural voice). We added a Google Home and a Google Home Mini to our house this year and we think the Google devices are better at understanding a more conversational tone.
With Google, some commands can be chained which is neat (Try something like, “Hey Google, who is Barack Obama?”, then, “Hey Google, what year was he born in?” and it will understand the subject from the previous question. Then, ask “What else happened that year?” and Google Home will rattle off a bunch of events from 1961.)
Alexa’s voice recognition has trained us to speak to our Echoes in a very stilted, robotic way, but the Google Home seemed to have an easier time understanding our questions and requests. Requests include things like the aforementioned Wikipedia query, changing specific Hue lights in our home blue, dim the lights, and play a playlist with Spotify. (We think Google’s voice is more pleasing overall. And “Hey Google, laugh.” is a real treat.)
The bottom line
If you’ve always wanted an Echo, the Echo ecosystem is a great place to be – go for it. By updating the Echo product line, Amazon’s convinced us that they will continue to invest in Alexa and make periodic improvements to the Echo software. The Echo 2 is an improvement over the Echo 1 in nearly every way (the only thing we miss is the twist ring, but we can live without it).
Given the choice between the Echo 2 and the 1st gen. Echo, we would choose the Echo 2. In fact, we didn’t get the Echo Plus even though we’d love to get rid of some of the hubs we have laying around our home because we prefer the smaller, cloth-body look of the Echo 2.
Keep your expectations reasonable – for $100, it’s a great speaker, but if you want the very best audio with your Echo, this isn’t the device that’ll deliver it: what you want is an Echo Dot and a high quality speaker to plug it in to (we use a Sonos PLAY:5 with our Dot and recommend the entire Sonos line).