Amazon Echo Plus: Next Level Speaker?

After checking out the Amazon Echo Sub recently, I thought the sound and features of the new Amazon Echo Plus (2nd generation) deserved a review of its own. It certainly performed admirably when paired with a second Plus and the Echo Sub, but how does it sound as a stand-alone player?

This is the second generation of the Amazon Echo Plus ($150). I wish Amazon would have a better naming protocol – it is hard to keep track of all the different Echo models. This generation looks more like the original Echo than the taller, thinner first-generation Plus. The Plus 2 (for lack of better name) is shorter and wider than the original. This allows for a larger speaker with better sound quality. All in all, that is a good change. Instead of the plastic and metal of the original, the side of the Plus 2 is covered in fabric and available in Heather Grey, Sandstone or Charcoal.

The Plus 2 has a single down-firing 3-inch driver and a 0.8-inch tweeter; the speakers are tuned by Dolby. Instead of the volume ring of earlier Echos, there are volume up/down buttons on the top of the speaker, along with a microphone mute and an activity button. There is the familiar colored LED ring around the top that indicates pairing, listening, errors and more. Towards the bottom is a power port and a 3.5mm AUX line in/out. The function of that jack is selectable via the Amazon Alexa app: line in when you want to use the Plus 2 to play music directly from an external source and line out to feed an external speaker.

The Echo Plus 2 distinguishes itself from the non-Plus Echo by including a Zigbee smart home hub. This lets you control an ever-growing list of products with voice control. It includes the new Alexa local voice control so you can operate devices in your home even if the Internet is out. It currently does not support Z-Wave or some of the advanced Hue features without an intermediate connection. One cool feature of the Plus 2 is a built-in temperature sensor. I’m not sure how often I need to know the temperature in my home; it’s usually pretty close to what the thermostat is set at. But now I can log onto my Alexa app and find out. More practically, I can tell Alexa to start a fan when the temperature hits a certain point.

The sound of the Plus 2 is an improvement over the original Plus. The larger speaker diameter delivers a more solid bass response. Obviously, compared to the Plus 2 paired to the new Echo Sub, the bass is much thinner and less powerful. The EQ can be controlled via the Alexa app, but there is only so much this small driver can do. The lower octaves on most pop tracks disappear. The treble response is smooth and clear, with very little distortion unless the volume is really cranked up. There’s a touch of harshness in the upper ranges of some female vocals, but overall, it is has a pleasant sound for casual background listening. With one speaker, it only supports mono playback.

As more and more devices become controllable, adding smart speakers that are also hubs makes sense. Even better if it has a decent sound. Since I just auditioned a pair of Echo Plus 2 speakers with the Echo Sub, I was obviously disappointed by the non-existent soundstage and lack of deep bass. For serious listening, I have to recommend getting a pair of these along with the subwoofer. For casual listening with the convenience of Alexa, the Echo Plus 2 is a great idea.

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