I’m going to cut right to the chase: the new Echo Dot smart speaker is so much better than its predecessor that it would not be totally out of line to replace a whole houseful of old Echo Dots with new ones. The new Echo Dot looks better, works better, and, most importantly, sounds much better than the prior model. And it still costs the same $49.99.
Amazon has upgraded the sound quality on all of its new Echo devices coming out this year, but the improvements are most noticeable on the Dot simply because of how deficient the prior model was. It’s not often that there’s this much of a leap from one generation of a product to the next — most improvements are incremental — but the new Echo Dot sounds like a completely different speaker than its predecessor. It’s not perfect, but it’s easily the best cheap smart speaker you can buy right now.
The reason the new Echo Dot is so much better comes down to its new design. It’s noticeably larger, which means that Amazon was able to put a larger, louder, more powerful speaker inside of it. Where the last Echo Dot sounded like a can of tuna filled with angry bees, the new model is surprisingly loud, full, and clear. Whether you’re listening to Alexa read out the latest weather report, an audiobook, or cranking a Spotify playlist at full volume, everything sounds better on the new Dot. Not only is the new Dot far better than the old Dot, but it’s markedly better than Google’s Home Mini as well. It’s richer, fuller, and just more pleasant to listen to.
The new Dot has a 1.6-inch speaker, which is a half-inch larger than the prior model. It’s also significantly more powerful: the old Dot used a small 9-watt power adapter and a Micro USB cable; the new one has a beefy 15-watt power brick with a proprietary barrel connector. That’s a little annoying since the power brick takes up much more room on a wall outlet and you can’t just use a phone charger (or in-wall USB port) to power the new Dot, but the increase in audio power makes up for the nuisance.
The old Dot was excellent for getting access to Alexa in every room of your home with little effort, but I’d never have recommended it for listening to music. (However, based on the fact that Amazon has sold many millions of Dots and music listening is the number one thing people do with smart speakers, that’s exactly what most people use it for.) The new Dot is a different beast: it actually does justice to the music you’re listening to. It’s clear, crisp, never gets muddy, and doesn’t distort, even at full volume.
For a bigger room, you’ll want to take advantage of the ability to pair the new Dot with a second unit to create a true stereo pair. Do this, and you can easily fill a medium to large room with sound. Amazon will even give you a discount if you buy two Echo Dots at the same time. Two Echo Dots in stereo don’t have the same amount of punch as a Sonos One, but they aren’t far off. They have true stereo separation and cost significantly less.
You can now adjust the bass, midrange, and treble of the speaker with voice commands, but the difference in the sound when you do is hard to notice. Bass is what’s missing the most: though the Echo Dot’s new speaker is much larger, it’s still relatively small and it just can’t handle low frequencies that well. To get the bass back, you can add Amazon’s new $129.99 Echo Sub to the mix, which will restore all the missing thump the Dot lacks. But while I’d totally recommend getting two Echo Dots for a stereo pair, I don’t think the Sub is worth the price or hassle for most people who purchase the Dot. Still, two Echo Dots and an Echo Sub can produce some impressive output for not much more money than a single, mono Sonos One sells for.
It’s still possible to output the Dot’s audio to a larger speaker, either over Bluetooth or through a 3.5mm audio cable. But given how much better the new Dot sounds on its own, I don’t think most people will find the need to do so. Amazon’s new Echo Input is a better device for that purpose since it’s cheaper and doesn’t even bother with a speaker of its own.
Amazon swapped out the old Dot’s seven-microphone array for a simpler four-mic system to hear your voice commands, but I haven’t noticed any difference in performance as a result. The new Dot can hear my voice commands just as easily as the older one, whether I’m close to the device or standing on the other side of the room. When the Dot is playing music at volume, I do have to raise my voice to trigger voice control, but that’s not unusual for smart speakers. The voice controls still work when you pair two Dots in stereo, though only one will respond to your queries (whichever one is closer to you).
Along with the increase in size and larger speaker, Amazon also traded the old Dot’s shiny plastic finish for a fabric cover that looks much nicer. You can get the new Dot in charcoal, heather gray, or sandstone, which are all basically different levels of gray. It’s a little boring, but all the color options are understated and nice looking. You won’t find any Google Home Mini-like fun colors here, nor is Amazon selling covers for the new Dot like you were able to get for the old model. But, on the plus side, the giant Amazon logo on the front has also been jettisoned.
Aside from the new ability to pair two Dots in stereo and adjust the equalizer, the new Dot doesn’t necessarily do anything more than the old model. It’s still the cheapest and most convenient way for most people to access Alexa, which can be used for timers, weather reports, smart home control, audiobooks, music, podcasts, alarms, and countless other things. The new Dot doesn’t add to the experience; it just improves some key aspects of it.
It may seem like I’m overstating the new Dot’s sound quality, but that’s largely because the prior model set such a low bar. The new Dot is not at the same level as a high-end bookshelf speaker, but it’s certainly good enough for most people. A single Dot is also not as loud or full-sounding as a larger Echo or Google smart speaker, but it’s close enough that most people will be happy saving the money or putting the cost difference toward buying more than one Dot for multiple rooms.
Amazon did the obvious thing here: the old Dot sounded like crap, and the number one thing smart speakers are used for is to listen to music, so improving the sound quality was the right move. And when you factor in the Dot’s price, which will likely dip even lower during holiday promotions, it’s hard to find fault with Amazon’s new entry-level Echo speaker.
Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge
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