Amazon Echo (4th generation, 2020) review: A new Zenith

It has been a a few years ago Alexa first started listening to me everywhere. After an initial honeymoon with an original Echo Dot (a device I still maintain is the best alarm clock ever), I have slowly filled my house with Amazon walk-through units. These days, I mostly break Google and Apple-made speakers for comparison testing. The fact is that Amazon’s smart speakers work so well that there has never been a reason to change my entire system.

In terms of price, compatibility, sound quality – and now thanks to a sleek, round redesign, look – the new Echo remains one of the best smart speakers for most people. As long as you do not mind Alexa or do not have a Bezos-related vendetta, I would go so far as to say that this is the best $ 100 speaker around.

Round sound

The biggest difference between the new Echo and older, tubular models is the rounded design. It looks like one of the foam death balls I used to be thrown off in middle school, but with four rubbery buttons on top and a power cord for a tail.

This new form is not only an aesthetic change, it also transforms the way the speaker interacts with acoustic environments. I’ve noticed that the redesigned stereo speaker pushes sound around a room more smoothly than the last-generation Echo, making it much more of a full-room speaker than it used to be.

This makes it more usable as the gold lock in Amazon’s smart speaker series that sits between the smaller Echo Dot (which comes in standard, kids and with-watch versions) and the larger Echo Studio. Just know it do has a slightly larger footprint than before.

Photo: Amazon

It sounds bigger, better and more balanced than ever. I left my review unit on the kitchen table – one of the most useful places for a smart speaker as I can set timers – and it easily filled both the kitchen and my attached living room with enough sound for quarantined dance parties with my fiance and our clumsy rescue dogs.

The new Echo has a few things under the hood that make it possible to best its predecessors. First and foremost is a new adaptive EQ engine that allows the speaker to listen to and adjust to the space it plays in, using information it provides from on-board microphones.

Set it near walls or corners and it can tame the bass to sound a little better. It’s not what you hear, it’s what you do not; the adaptive sound is meant to make it so that your music sounds the same everywhere. I moved it around my room and did not notice a huge change in balance or soundscape (how “great” the music feels in the room), but noticed that it sounded much less boomy in tighter corners than the last generation.

New speaker drivers also increase low-end performance, with the 3-inch subwoofer extending quite deep within the frequency range of a speaker of this size. It’s also much louder than competitors like Google Nest Audio (8/10, WIRED recommends), which I sat next to on the counter (although bass gets muddy at full volume).

Then there’s the built-in Zigbee receiver that lets you easily connect lots of smart home devices and an Amazon Sidewalk receiver, a soon-to-be-launched Amazon service that uses Bluetooth Low Energy to keep devices connected outside , but near your home.

Well-known favorites

As a Spotify user for a long time, I have been consistently impressed with how easy it is to set up Echo devices with Spotify Connect, and it was just as simple this time. I set it up in the Alexa app and I stream Mariah Carey’s Christmas hits in no time.