Amazon Echo Link Amp review

Amazon wants Alexa to be taken seriously. The brand’s active smart speakers, from its cute Dot to the full-size Echo Plus, may have sold by the truck-load, but it also wants to carve a niche for itself in the more esoteric waters of system hi-fi.

Enter the Echo Link Amp, a new-age mini system for streaming audio fans. Just add traditional passive speakers, configure with the usual Alexa app, and you’re in the music business. A step-down Echo Link (£190) does away with onboard amplification, to be used as a streaming pre-amp.

Amazon Echo Link Amp – design and features
Measuring only 8.6cm high and less than 25cm wide, the system is compact enough to easily fit on shelf-space beneath your TV. Ergo, using its optical input, it can double as a TV sound system. Soundbars are sooooo last season.

The Echo Link Amp design is certainly good. The finish is matt black with a rolled edge to the fascia, and it looks slick.

To the rear is a pair of substantial loudspeaker binding posts able to take banana plugs as well as bare wire. There are also coaxial and optical digital inputs/outputs, plus stereo analogue phono in/out. However, the Echo Link Amp can only support one component at a time – a source hierarchy, which runs through network streaming, Bluetooth (4.0), optical, coaxial and analogue, means you'll need to switch off a source higher up the chain, or even unplug it, to access one below it.

While the system offers a dedicated subwoofer pre-out, Amazon’s own Echo Sub isn’t compatible. With no onboard microphone, you don't get recognition of any spoken commands, or any of the usual Alexa banter; the Echo Link Amp needs to be partnered with another Alexa component for voice control. And there are other limits to general functionality. It can’t (easily) be used to stream music from files you might have on a NAS, for example, and there's no USB input for playback of music from a flash drive.

The setup routine is much like any other Alexa product. Largely plug-and-play, but with some provision to adjust bass, mid and treble if required. It doesn’t come with a remote control, which is hardly surprising.

Amazon Echo Link Amp – performance
Those upgrading Alexa audio from a one-box Echo Plus speaker will be impressed with this amp’s two-channel presentation, which is spatially wide and coherent. The jangle rock of Friend of the Devil, by The Grateful Dead, sounds fresh and lively; guitars are picked wide, with a nicely centred vocal.

The DAC, according to Amazon, is significantly more sophisticated than what you’ll find in an Echo Dot. It’s 24-bit/192kHz capable, while the optical/coaxial inputs are limited to 96kHz.

Comparing the same playlist via Bluetooth streaming and Wi-Fi is telling. The system is at its best over Wi-Fi; there’s far greater energy and detail in its performance. However the slightly awkward control mechanism, mandated by going through a partnered voice-enabled Alexa component, means that more often than not Bluetooth is the easiest streaming option.

The internal power plant is rated at 2 x 60W into 8 ohms, but doesn’t really sound that brawny, and there’s precious little bass extension. This lack of attack becomes particularly telling when the Echo Link Amp is used with film and TV feeds, taking an optical digital output from a flatscreen.

When Han and Qi'ra make their escape on a stolen speeder with stolen hyperfuel (Solo: A Star Wars Story, Sky Cinema), high-speed collisions lack impact. The Echo Link Amp almost seems to flatten out the speed bumps. This rather undynamic trait becomes even more apparent during the opening of Baby Driver (Sky Cinema). Bellbottoms by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion belts out, but the amplifier has no visceral kick.

Amazon Echo Link Amp – verdict
Despite its cool form factor, the Amazon Echo Link Amp doesn’t quite impress enough. While the DAC may well have virtues, sonic enjoyment is hampered by a somewhat compressed, contained nature. If you want a premium streaming audio system, there are better options, be it an upmarket all-in-one or standard stereo amplifier coupled with an Amazon Echo Dot.

Verdict

Amazon Echo Link Amp
£290
www.amazon.co.uk

We say:  Stereophonic imaging and vocal clarity are good, but a deficit of dynamics makes this a rare misstep from the Amazon brains trust.

Performance: 3/5
Design: 3/5
Features: 3/5
Overall: 3/5

Specification

Amplification (claimed): 2 x 60W
Connections: Yes. 3,840 x 2160 resolution
HDR: Yes. HDR10; HLG
Connections: Digital optical audio input/output; digital coaxial audio input/ output; analogue phono input/output; subwoofer output; 3.5mm headphone output; Ethernet jack
Dimensions: 86(h) x 217(w) x 242(d)mm
Weight: 2.2kg

Features:Dual-band Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0; automatic input switching; Amazon Alexa integration via external device; Alexa app; supported music services include Amazon Music Unlimited, Spotify Premium, Apple Music and Deezer

COMPANY INFO
Amazon UK

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