Amazon Echo Dot: When Sound Quality Just Doesn't Matter

I crossed my fingers. I carried a rabbit's foot. I went out in the backyard and found a four-leaf clover. I started eating Lucky Charms for breakfast. I rearranged the furniture in my home theater according to feng shui (good for luck, not so good for sound). I did everything I could. But now I see that I have failed. People like the Amazon Echo Dot. They like it a lot.

I had hoped, admittedly against my better judgment, that the sales tsunami of voice-recognition speakers would lead to a resurgence in home audio which in turn would lead to a renewed interest in sound quality. I hoped that when people bought voice-recognition speakers, they would step up and invest in something that sounded better than their typical phone, soundbar, or Bluetooth speaker.

But, at least so far, that's not the case. People are buying voice speakers that are at the lower end of the sound quality spectrum. In fact, they are buying the lowest one — the Amazon Echo Dot. My hopes were raised when Google's somewhat better-sounding Home initially outsold both Amazon Echo and Echo Dot during the 2016 holiday season, but in the first quarter of the new year, the Dot took over the sales lead as consumers increasingly preferred the budget Dot. The Home leads in terms of revenue, but it's the Dot that leads in unit sales — swallowing up over half of the voice speaker market.

Apparently, people still don't care about sound quality. They want the functionality, and are apparently not willing to pay a little more for a sonic upgrade. To wit, the Google Home lists for $130, the Echo lists for $180, and the "best selling" Dot can be had for 50 bucks — or even less when it's on sale. The technical spec on the Echo says it has a "2.0-inch tweeter" and a separate "2.5-inch woofer" assisted by a bass reflex port. The technical spec on the Dot advises that it has a "built-in speaker." Ouch.

The apparent lack of interest in sound quality may be potentially bad news for Apple because it is loudly touting the sound quality of their upcoming HomePod, probably as a way to deflect attention from the relative shortcomings of its raison d'etre, Siri. If the HomePod sounds good and does well, there might be hope for decent-sounding voice speakers. If the HomePod does poorly, it might be game over for any hope of fidelity from this new and fast-growing market.

The Amazon Echo Dot. Hmmmm. Well, the whole voice recognition thing is only just beginning. Maybe the market will still evolve toward speakers with better sound quality. Maybe the Dot just got lucky. Beginner's luck. Yeah — that's it.

freality's picture

Contrary to this blog post's point, the Amazon Echo Dot is the only Echo that allows you to UPGRADE your sound quality via 3.5 mm stereo analog output (or via Bluetooth).

It is the audiophile's preferred Echo option, by far!

dommyluc's picture

I was just reading about this. The Dot does have a 3.5mm stereo output that allows it to be connect to any receiver with analog inputs. I have always wondered why all of these products didn't have connections to use for higher-quality sound and this is the first one I remember seeing, although I could be wrong. I never thought about buying a product like this because I really don't like the sound of amplified tin cans, but the ability to hook it up to my Onkyo network receiver and use voice control on Pandora, Amazon Music, and other music and music cloud services makes me rethink my aversion to it, especially when I can expand the sound using Dolby Pro-Logic IIx Music Mode, which already does a great job when I use the NET setting on my Onkyo.
Sounds like a plan!

javanp's picture

As others have already pointed out that the Dot has a 3.5mm audio output, it can also control harmony remote systems. I don't tell Alexa to "play music", I tell her to "turn on the noise", which has been programmed to turn on my stereo to Pandora via my Harmony remote system.

Welcome to 2017, time-traveler.

TowerTone's picture might get shot in the @$$.
I have two Echos, one regular that has a decent sounding speaker for talking and a Dot hooked to my Outlaw Audio RR2160 (AND powered by it!) for audio if I choose.


BobG's picture

Cheer up Ken! Even us cheapskates can get good sound from a Dot. I had a cheap little Lepai stereo amp lying around, so I plugged the Dot into it and ran it to a pair of Jamo monitors I wasn't using. Alexa sounds beautifully full-voiced and I can conveniently listen to Prime Tunes with good sound with a simple request.

mikerr's picture

Yes, the Dot will bluetooth so it goes with your main rig. The big alexa goes in the kitchen.

Barb Gonzalez's picture
Yes, Ken, I was surprised by this post. I never considered using the dot to do anything but talk back to me and saw it as a conduit to, actually better speakers than on the Echo.
bgeneto's picture

I thought the author would talk about how crappy is the audio output section via 3.5mm jack of Amazon Echo Dot. There is noise everywhere. No matter what highend cable do you use, where do you put your Dot, the noise is always there and it is loud. My Dot 2 is connected to my Marantz PM-10 integrated amp via Audioquest Evergreen cable. The noise is like five times more than my phono section, or ten fold compared to my emotiva DAC input. IMHO a decent 3.5mm output would be a fantastic feature, but the way they implemented it (without any isolation) still makes the article completely relevant.

spiyda's picture

I have a dot connected to a little class 4 100W amplifier.
Speakers are some old wharfedales I built in the 1970s.
The power supply is a toroidal with a filter I designed.

I have absolutely no detectable noise at the speakers, even with the amp cranked up to full and my ear 2" from the speaker cones..

The secret was finding the right power supply for the dot.

I originally intended to power the dot from the power supply I built, but laziness got the better of me when I was building it and I just used a plug in usb adapter.

Initially dissapointed by the noise,

I discovered was that the noise at the speaker was all coming from the dot power supply.

I tried a few different supplies and eventually settled on an LG phone charger which is as close to silent as my ears can detect.

spiyda's picture

Oh, and the amp only takes 17mA when now making music!