Amazon's $199 Echo Studio is a powerful smart speaker at a cut-rate price

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

Amazon's Alexa-powered Echo speakers are the go-to smart speakers for much of the world. According to research firm Canalys, Amazon (AMZN) captured more than 25% of the market in Q2 2019, making it the top selling smart speaker in the world. But the Echo has never had a truly powerful speaker behind it.

That's where the new Echo Studio comes in. The Echo Studio packs all of the Alexa functionality of the Echo into a massive, canister-shaped device that sports 5 individual speakers including a 5.25-inch subwoofer.

And at $199, the Echo Studio easily undercuts competitors like Apple's (AAPL$299 HomePod and Google's (GOOGGOOGL$299 Home Max. For Amazon fans looking for a more complete listening experience, the Echo Studio is the system to buy.

Amazon's Echo Studio is a low-cost, powerful speaker worth checking out. (Image: Amazon)

Size and speakers

The Echo Studio is an absolute beast of a speaker next to the standard $99 Echo. At 7.7 pounds, the Studio is a chunkster next to the 1.7-pound 3rd-generation Echo. It's not just hefty, either. The Studio's footprint is also noticeably bigger at 8.1 inches tall and 6.9 inches across. The standard Echo is 5.8 inches tall and 3.9 inches across.

In other words, you're going to need some extra space for the Studio. It's not as though you can pack the studio into a cubby or shelf, either, as doing so will impact the quality of the audio coming from its top-firing speaker.

Amazon's Echo Studio is a larger, chunkier kind of Echo. (Image: Amazon)

Amazon also suggests you keep the Echo Studio about 6 inches away from the wall to allow for the speakers to work as effectively as possible. That didn't leave many options for me, so I simply set up the Studio on my kitchen table and called it a day.

The Studio features the same cloth covering as the standard Echo, as well as the standard, volume up and down, microphone mute, and Alexa buttons on top. But the overall design and layout of the Studio's speakers are completely different.

While the Echo has a center-mounted tweeter and subwoofer, the Studio has one side-mounted midrange speaker each on its left and right sides; a third top-firing; mid-range speaker; a front-mounted tweeter for high-frequency audio; and a center-mounted, downward-firing sub.

The setup is meant to provide you with a more immersive listening experience, since audio should be coming from multiple directions. In fact, Amazon says the Studio is designed to handle 3D audio from Dolby Atmos and Sony's 360 Reality Audio.

Audio quality

3D audio is a fancy way of saying that the music you listen to on the Echo Studio should envelop you in sound, rather than simply be blasted at you. In a fully outfitted studio setting, 3D audio like Dolby Atmos presents a mind-blowing experience.

The format is designed around the idea of sounds as objects that can be moved around a three-dimensional representation of a listener's head. Think of bells sounding as though they move from in front of you to behind you, and backing vocals flowing from left to right.

It's a more immersive experience than standard stereo, with music seeming to wash over you as you listen.

The Echo Studio packs 5 individual speakers, producing some impressive audio. (Image: Amazon)

But that's not exactly what you get out of the Echo Studio. I listened to a sample of 3D audio available on Amazon Music HD, and while the sound from the chunky speaker was impressive, it wasn't an all-encompassing experience. Flourishes of music from songs by Ariana Grande and "Star Wars" definitely sounded as though they were coming from different directions, but it wasn't as though I was wrapped in a blanket of music. 

That said, the Echo Studio did provide crisp audio complete with sharp highs and deep bass. Watching the downward-firing sub bounce up and down with each successive bass hit was almost worth annoying my neighbor by cranking up the volume at 9 p.m. on a Monday.

Amazon's not exactly giving away that 3D audio, though. You'll need to subscribe to Amazon Music HD, which costs $14.99 per month, or $12.99 per month of Prime subscribers. 3D audio songs aren't as plentiful as the number of HD songs in Amazon's catalog, as the standard is still relatively new in the music industry.

So what about music from say, Spotify (SPOT)? 

I was blasting everything from Lil Wayne to hardcore metal, and it sounded fantastic. There wasn't any reverb from the bass, and I didn't hear any crackling from the tweeter. This is a quality audio setup from top to bottom.

At $199, it's also less expensive than options like Apple's HomePod and Google's Home Max. And if you're using your smart speaker in conjunction with smart home products, Amazon's Alexa is sure to give you plenty of options from connected blinds and coffee makers to bathroom lights and showers.

All three speakers are able to fill your room with audio, but the Echo Studio wasn't as bass heavy as the Google Home Max. For those out there who are crazy about getting the best audio possible, you'll likely have to push well past the Studio's price range to grab something like a Sonos (SONO) or Bose speaker, which will cost you hundreds more.

The Echo Studio has one more trick up its sleeve, though. If you pair two Studios together and connect them to your Fire TV, you'll get a Dolby Atmos listening experience out of your television with compatible movies. I tried a demo of such a setup, and, man, it actually sounds like a 3D experience. Of course, you'll have to pony up for two Studios, but for aspiring home theater aficionados, $398 for a pair of speakers isn't bad.

You can certainly connect a single Echo Studio to your TV and get great audio, but two units amplifies the 3D affect.

Should you get it?

The Echo Studio packs an impressive audio experience, Alexa functionality, and expandability into an incredibly low priced package. It's clear that Amazon's play here is to get consumers to upgrade to its Amazon Music HD service, but that's not completely necessary for most listeners.

If you just want a high-end speaker system for streaming high-quality music, the Echo Studio is no doubt worth the sticker price. 

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that you do not need two Echo units to get audio from your TV.

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Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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