How to Breathe New Life Into Your Old Audio Equipment
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The Echo Input ($35) is the cheapest way to turn any speaker, so long as it has Bluetooth or an aux connection, into an Alexa-enabled smart speaker. It allows the speaker to function exactly the same as Echo — it can play music, set alarms and timers, answer questions, control your smart home — and you can control it with your voice. When you boil it down, the Echo Input is the same as Echo Dot ($50), just without the speaker. The idea is that with this little gadget, you can get more out of the speakers you already own.
The Good: The Echo Input is cheap. And setting it up is easy; the Alexa app walks you right through the whole thing. It works with any Bluetooth speaker or speaker with an aux port, meaning you can connect to nice powered speakers, like a Devialet Phantom or KEF LSX, or the cheap UE Boom or Bose speaker that you bought years ago. You can hook it up to amplifiers and receivers, too, and therefore control larger systems. After its setup, the connected speaker can be then integrated into a multi-room system with other Alexa-enabled speakers. There’s a mute button so, just like with an Echo and Echo Dot, you can stop Alexa from listening whenever you like.
Who It’s For: Anybody who has existing speakers and wants to interact with them like an Amazon Echo, or integrate them in a larger multi-room setup.
Watch Out For: The Echo Input is a versatile little gadget but it’s ultimately dependent on the source it’s connected to; if the speaker or receiver is turned off or in a power-saving mode, the Echo Input won’t work until the source is turned on or woken up again. The Echo Input isn’t designed for hi-fi streaming, so even though it’ll work with hi-fi systems, the audio quality won’t be the best. (Amazon released the Echo Link ($200) for hi-fi streaming in December.) The Echo Input is a powered device, so it’s going to take up an extra wall outlet. Also, dealing with the Alexa app and enabling smart skills can prove a tedious task.
Alternatives: Amazon’s Echo Dot can much do the same thing as the Echo Input, but it’s a little more expensive because it also works as its own speaker. A Chromecast Audio is a good alternative for those in Google’s ecosystem, although that streaming puck lacks a voice assistant.
Review: The Echo Input isn’t a complicated device. Quite the opposite. It adds Alexa voice controls to powered speakers and amps (and thus, larger sound systems) and that’s it. As long as the speaker or amp has a Bluetooth or aux connection, the Echo Input will work with it. For example, during most of my testing, I had Echo Input paired with the Bose Revolve speaker. I could pair it via Bluetooth or with an aux cable because the speaker has both.
The advantage of connecting via Bluetooth is that you’re able to hide the Echo Input a little bit, or at least position it away from the Bose speaker, after all it’s not that good looking of a device. And it takes up counter space. Technically, you could hide the Echo Input in a cabinet or behind of bookshelf; as long as the Bluetooth connection stays true, you’re good to go. The analog connection is probably just a little bit more dependable.
The Echo Input can connect with other powered speakers and amps. I was able to successfully to pair it with the KEF LSX and the Devialet Phantom Reactor speakers I was testing, which are essentially the most badass Bluetooth speakers you’re likely to find; and I was able to connect to my AV receiver and thus my passive bookshelf speakers. And the Echo Input — and Alexa — worked in exactly the same way.
Again, the Echo Input isn’t a complicated device, but there are things to watch out for. First, the Echo Input can only fully control the speaker’s volume if the speaker’s volume maxed out; if the volume of the speaker is only turned halfway up, that’s the max it’ll go when you ask Alexa to “turn the volume up to 10.” To make sure the speaker gets as loud as possible, you need to physically press the volume button so it’s all the way up.
Then there’s the issue of power. The Echo Input can be paired with any Bluetooth speaker, portable or otherwise, but if the speaker if off or dead — the Echo Input won’t be able to play music or speaker (it’ll still be able to control smart devices, though). The same is true is the speaker goes into a power saving or idle mode.
Verdict: The Echo Input puts Alexa voice skills and streaming capabilities into any Bluetooth speaker or speaker with an aux connection. In other words, it turns it into a better-sounding Amazon Echo. It’s cheap and easy to set up, and it works with stereo systems, too. If you want to breath new life into an old speaker, this will do just that.
What Others Are Saying:
• “Throughout my house, I have Amazon Echo Dots connected to stereo systems. In my office, I have a Dot connected to an Onkyo receiver and amp. In my basement, I have one hooked up to a small bookshelf system. Outside on the deck, a Dot serves audio to a small amp that powers outside speakers. There’s more, but the point is made. The Dot is a great device to add voice services to existing speakers. But with its built-in speaker, I’m paying for features I’m not using. That’s why Amazon made the Echo Input.” — Matt Burns, TechCrunch
• “Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot and every other smart speaker with Alexa built in are great for those who want an all-in-one audio-entertainment device. But what if you already have a stereo system that sounds far better? The Chromecast Audio fills a similar niche for music, but that device lacks a built-in voice assistant. The Echo Input is a device that I and, I suspect, plenty others have been waiting for.” — Mike Prospero, Tom’s Guide
Connectivity: 3.5 mm audio cable or Bluetooth
Weight: 2.75 ounces
In box: 5-watt power adapter, micro-USB cable, 1-meter aux cable
Amazon and Bose provided these products for review.
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