While the new Echo, Echo Plus and Echo Dot are staple from Amazon as smart speakers go, these are not the only speakers powered by Alexa Voice Service. More and more Echo alternatives are becoming available spotting the same intelligence and skills. Here are your options.
First smart speakers to appear in living rooms, the Echo range of smart speakers now come in all shapes and sizes, from the compact Echo Dot to the new Echo, Echo Plus and Echo Show.
There is even the Echo Tap portable speaker and the smaller Echo Spot with a circular display for the bedside table. Amazon has all the bases covered or have they. Click on the relevant links to check out the latest online prices.
While the Echo range of smart speakers are adequate as speakers go, they do not offer the same sound quality, detail and bass as you would get from say a multi-room wireless speakers or even a Bluetooth wireless speakers. So what are your alternatives?
Thankfully, Amazon has allowed developers and major speaker manufacturers to incorporate the cloud based voice service in their speakers. These are not just speakers that take voice commands and pipe them through to your Bluetooth connected smartphones or tablets but have direct access to Alexa via WiFi.
Using its own array of microphones, it will pick up the “Alexa” wake word and respond whatever questions or command you may have. It offers all the capabilities of Alexa but through a third party speaker that is capable of pumping out superb sound. Who wouldn’t like choices and being able to pick your favourite speaker.
Top 5 Speakers with Alexa Built-in
1. KitSound Voice One with Alexa Built-in – MULTI-ROOM, WIFI
The KitSound Voice One has impressive sound thanks to its 20W RMS power with clever speaker arrangement. It works directly with Alexa and lets you stream directly Apple Music, Spotify (with voice control using Alexa) and Internet radio. The wireless speaker can also be configured with up to 8 Voice Ones to offer a multi-room configuration. As with the Echo, you get to stream music from Amazon Music, Spotify check the weather, get your flash briefing, the weather forecast, update your shopping list, to-do list and connect to your calendar.
KitSound’s Voice One has a stain resistant Nano coating so you don’t have to worry about using it in the kitchen or garden.
The book shelf styled speaker pumps out deep bass and detailed full range enough to fill a room and you can certainly hear the difference coming from an Echo or Echo Plus. Apart from WiFi, there is also Bluetooth and Aux-in connectivity, a mini remote as well as stereo pairing if you have a second KitSound Voice One. A light ring similar to that on the top of Echo Plus indicates when Alexa is listening. The fabric cover and nano coating on the body keeps the unit stain free giving you the confidence of using it even in the kitchen.
Voice One from KitSound is certainly a very capable Echo alternative and at the price range RRP 129 is is also around $10 cheaper than the Echo Plus.
2. Jam Audio Symphony WiFi Speaker with Alexa – MULTI-ROOM, WIFI
From Jam Audio comes the Symphony and the smaller Rhythm, both speakers with Amazon Alexa Control built-in. It connects directly to WiFi to access the voice service and stream music directly from Amazon Music, Spotify or Internet radio. You can also use the JAM WiFi App to stream from TuneIn, Rhapsody, iHeartRadio and more. You can also use the App as an intercom to talk through the speaker. The bigger Symphony has a 2.1 stereo speaker setup offers plenty of punchy sound plus audio clarity and detail with its dedicated sub-woofer and tweeters.
For multi-room setup, you can pair up to 8 JAM WiFi speakers together to stream from the same source or pick and choose where you and what you stream. While the smaller Rhythm is perfect for a mid size room, Symphony is the one that will do it for a big family room. Both are capable of stereo pairing if you are after spatial stereo. Using the one touch controls via four preset buttons, you can program and choose your favourite station quickly. Being an Amazon Alexa enabled speaker means you can also control your smart devices.
3. Sonos One – Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Alexa Built-in – MULTI-ROOM, WIFI
If you have heard the Sonos PLAY:1, the Sonos One sounds no different. It is basically the same speaker offering amazing room filling sound, deep and rich bass as well as crisp mid and high range with Alexa Voice Control thrown in. It may have a rough start with users complaining about respond time and accuracy when issuing commands over Sonos One as oppose to Echo but with time, we are likely to see these issues resolved via software updates. It is worth noting that when using the wake word “Alexa” you need to give it a moment to beep before you start talking.
The difference between the Sonos One and the PLAY:1 is the lack of physical buttons. This has been replaced by touch controls to set the volume, skip track and more.
It is also worth pointing out that Sonos One does not have as many microphones as that found on Amazon’s echo. The integration is not completely seamless as you will need to download the Alexa app as well as the Sonos app to configure the speaker properly but we like to think that each app has its own features and advantages and to keep them separate is best so they are not in a muddle. Excellent sound quality that is unsurpassed by any speakers from Amazon’s Echo range.
Some issues raised by early adopters:
- Cannot change the default wake word
- Need to pause for indicator light after wake word before issuing command
- Scheduled late release support for Spotify Voice control with Alexa
- Voice recognition sensitivity is an issue that hopefully will be resolved with future updates
- Does not support all Alexa skills. Cannot call or use the drop in function
- Won’t pair with regular Sonos speakers. Pairing is limited to Sonos Ones
- Using two apps, Sonos and Alexa to configure one device
- No support to own library of music using voice control, only streaming services
The last point is understandable as it would mean indexing your personal library and adding voice control which is not part of Alexa’s program.
I already have Sonos PLAY:1, PLAY:3 or PLAY:5, how do I get Alexa on there?
No you don’t. Existing Sonos speakers does not have Alexa Built-in but can work with Echo Dot, new Echo and Echo Plus wirelessly with a firmware update. Using the Alexa app, detect and add the multi-room speakers under Smart Home. Give the devices a label such as “Living Room” or “Kitchen”. You can then issue a command to your Echo speaker to play music on the speakers hands-free instead of using the Sonos App e.g. “Alexa, play Top Pops station in the Living Room”. This again is limited to Alexa controlled streaming services and does not support your personal library. You have the Sonos app for that.
4. Ultimate Ears BLAST and MEGABLAST Portable Speaker – WIFI, BLUETOOTH, PORTABLE
The UE BLAST and MEGABLAST portable speakers are slightly bigger and wider than the UE BOOM2 and MEGABOOM respectively but not far off. It still offers the same room filling 360° sound from its powerful speaker but with WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity as well as Amazon hands-free voice control. The speakers are also fully waterproof IPX7 rated and on a full charge offers up to 12 hours of playtime on BLAST and 16 hours of playtime on the MEGABLAST.
If you are familiar with the UE bluetooth speakers or have experienced the sound quality, the UE BLAST is going to blow you away in more ways than one. The smart speaker is not only portable but extra durable and waterproof. Plus, with its cylindrical water bottle design, it pumps sound in all directions and connects not only via Bluetooth but WiFi to access Alexa.
It spots the same portable water tumbler cylindrical profile with easy grip fabric and huge volume control buttons. Buyers need to understand that as it relies on WiFi and the Internet connection to access the Alexa cloud service and streaming services, you will lose these when moving from place to place unless you have an always-on hot spot. Your fall back would be to connect to a source via Bluetooth and streaming your music through there be it a smartphone or music player.
IPX7 means it can be immersed in 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. Some of the features you don’t get on UE BLAST and MEGABLAST are the DoubleUp/Party Up feature to play music on multiple speakers from the same source for more volume,
5. Libratone Zipp and Zipp Mini – MULTI-ROOM, WIFI, BLUETOOTH, PORTABLE
Owners or Libratone Zipp and Zipp Mini will be glad to know that their multi-room wireless, Bluetooth and AirPlay enabled speaker is about to get Alexa voice integration update. Starting first with device compatibility and then true voice integration, your speaker will first take commands from Amazon Echo and Echo Dot. With the full implementation promised in Q1 of 2018, you will be able to tap on the speaker and talk to Alexa directly. You can read more about this here.
UPDATE: The next generation ZIPP 2 and ZIP MNI 2 from Libratone have Alexa support built-in. Tap the little birdie icon and issue your command or question verbally to Amazon Alexa voice assistant. The ZIPP 2 has sharper acoustics, long battery life of 12 hours and new touch controls but the same cylindrical design. For the voice assistant feature, it also comes complete with far field mic array with 6 microphones allowing for hands free operation.
For those whom are not familiar Libratone Zipp and Zipp Mini, these speakers are highly versatile and configurable as a multi-room sound system with WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. It can be configured to stream directly from Spotify or Online Radio station over WiFi with touch sensitive control panel for easy access. It has a cylindrical water tumbler shape offering 360 degree omni directional sound with changeable cloth cover.
As the feature is yet to be enabled, we will have to wait and but given that you need to tap on the speaker (not hands-free), it is already a disadvantage as other speakers offer hands-free access to Alexa. Still, sound quality will trump half the speakers in this list and definitely better than Echos.
RELATED: Check out our full review on Libratone ZIPP.
Omaker WoW Smart Speaker – MULTI-ROOM, WIFI, BLUETOOTH, PORTABLE
Omaker WoW is another amazon certified hands-free Alexa speaker. Use the speaker like you would an Echo speaker to play music, make calls, set time and alarm, check traffic, weather forecast and more. The speaker also lets you access skills, check your calendar, play audiobooks, radio station and flash briefing all in a compact and portable unit.
The onboard battery lets you play music continuously via Bluetooth for up to 12 hours or via WiFi for up to 7 hours per full charge. Music is powered from dual 4W speakers. Like all portable speakers, you are not going to get access to Alexa and its streaming services all the time unless you move with an always-on hot spot.
COWIN DiDa with Amazon Alexa – WIFI, BLUETOOTH, PORTABLE
DiDa is a small 15W output speaker with enhanced bass priced to compete with Echo Dot based on current promotion and discount. The speaker access Alexa Voice Service directly via WiFi and also offers Bluetooth connectivity with direct streaming from music services, Internet radio, Airplay, DLNA, Qplay and Spotify.