Easy setup • Adds good bass to music • Relatively light
Can’t produce deep bass (
There are more powerful and versatile subwoofers out there, but the Amazon Echo Sub is the fastest, easiest way to give Alexa-powered music some oomph.
If you regularly listen to music on an Amazon Echo device — specifically the Echo, new Echo Dot, or Echo Plus — then I can’t recommend the Echo Sub enough. With minimal setup, it greatly improves the musical experience, delivering bass notes that you’ll otherwise miss out on.
There’s one big caveat to that recommendation, however, and that’s only if you have adequate floor space. Like any subwoofer, the Echo Sub needs a permanent place on the floor, roughly 3 square feet, and it shouldn’t be hidden away in a cabinet. For many, that will automatically nix the Sub from the primary home for an Amazon Echo: the kitchen.
I’d also add that for anyone looking for the absolute best sound, the Echo Sub will disappoint. Yes, it’s great at adding oomph to music, but it can’t reach down deep and deliver serious, earth-shaking bass. And that’s OK – if you’re searching for audiophile-quality sound, you’re not turning to the Amazon Echo anyway.
But an Echo setup with the Echo Sub will get you about 90 percent of the way there, which is miles ahead of just listening with the Echo alone. For the masses of people who have developed the habit of listening to music on the Echo simply because of the dirt-simple convenience of asking Alexa to play something, the Echo Sub is a serious level up. And adding it to your system is seamless.
To be completely clear, the Amazon Echo Sub, which costs $129.99, is a complementary device, meaning you can’t use it if you don’t already have an Echo. And it’s not compatible with every kind of Echo: you’ll need at least one Echo (1st or 2nd gen), Echo Plus (1st or 2nd gen), or Echo Dot (3rd gen) to use it. Ideally, you’ll have two of the same device so you can use them as a stereo pair along with the Echo Sub. You can also use the Sub with the Echo Show (1st or 2nd gen) but only for music, not videos or movies.
Want to use the Echo Sub with a speaker system that’s not made by Amazon? Sorry, that’s not a feature. In addition, you can’t even use the Sub with an audio source that doesn’t natively play via an Alexa skill, which feels like an unnecessary limitation made in the name of keeping users in Amazon’s walled garden.
Finding a place for the Echo Sub
In addition to our Echo Sub review unit, Amazon sent along a pair of second-gen Echo Plus speakers. This is the best possible setup for the Echo Sub since the Plus is rated for the best audio performance of all the Echo models. I also tried the Sub with just one Plus as well as with a pair of third-gen Dots.
At 9.3 pounds, the Echo Sub is a hefty guy, but not overly so. That’s really good news for unboxing, setup, and transportability. Carrying around the speaker is as challenging as lugging a watermelon — not something you want to do all the time, but it’s easy enough to move from room to room. That said, the Sub isn’t going to win any contests for most monstrous subwoofer, suggesting it doesn’t have the goods for really impressive bass.
It’s not like Amazon hides this. The Echo Sub has a 6-inch downward-firing driver, and it’s rated at 100 watts with a frequency response that goes down to 30Hz (at –6dB). For the price, those are fine specs, and are on par with the subs found packaged with many soundbars. Just don’t expect the world to move.
Setting up the Echo Sub is easy. Take it out of the box, plug it in, and then fire up the Alexa app on your iPhone or Android. You add the Sub just as you would any other Echo, except, when you’re done, it doesn’t behave like any other Echo.
The Echo Sub has no light ring, for starters. There are no microphones, so Alexa isn’t listening to you — at least not from the Sub itself. In fact, there are no controls of any kind, just a single LED in the back that indicates when it’s plugged in or ready to pair.
To use the sub, you need to create a speaker group within your Alexa app. The app walks you through this every step of the way. Once you hit the “+” button, the app shows you only the Echo devices that are capable. As mentioned, you can pair the Sub with just one Echo or a stereo pair. If you do the latter, the app will ask which speaker should be the left channel (leaving the other one to be right) and then it’ll create the group. In all, it took me just a few minutes the first time I did it.
If you already have a speaker group and you want to use the Echo Sub with it, you’ll need to first unpair the group. This isn’t a huge deal, and only adds one extra step.
Once the Sub is visible in your Alexa app, you can call it up to adjust its settings, like the location, alarm sound, and more. Mostly you’ll just want to concern yourself with the volume slider and and equalizer, which has sliders for bass, midrange, and treble. There’s no adjustment for crossover frequency, which is probably for the best. The Echo Sub has an adaptive filter since the crossover will vary depending on which Echo models it’s paired with.
Bringing the noise
I did most of my listening with the Echo Sub on its default settings. This is clearly a device that prioritizes convenience and ease of use over the ability to tinker, and it stands to reason most folks who buy it will set it up and then mostly forget about it. As is only proper — you could even argue that’s the entire ethos of the Alexa platform.
I set up the Echo Sub and Plus stereo pair in my basement, which is fairly roomy but not overly so. The two Pluses were on a counter about 6 feet apart; the sub near a wall with nothing on one side and a bulky dehumidifier about 3 inches away on the other.
I started with Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do,” and noticed the difference between the experience on my (original) Echo almost immediately: When the beat starts along with the first lyrics, you really feel the thump. It’s not overpowering — Swift’s voice was still clear and emphasized, but the overall audio was much more immersive.
I sought out a track with even more bass presence and cued up Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive.” With the Echo Sub, the moment where the bass drops becomes an event. The Sub turns the constant thump-thump in the background into something visceral. At the same time, the song was well balanced: The stereo Echo Pluses ensured voices and instruments weren’t overpowered by the bass, and generally filled the basement with sound.
I wanted to see what happened when I made some adjustments to the sound. The light rings on the two Echo Pluses flashed every time I adjusted something in the equalizer, which I appreciated: Sometimes adjustments to sound are hard to hear, and I liked that the system would tell me visually that it received the command.
When I took the bass down to zero, the thump-thump in the background disappeared, and “Radioactive” was suddenly a lot less active. This was a good exercise just to show how much the Sub was adding to the experience, which is to say, quite a lot. I messed with the midrange and treble a bit as well, though I didn’t really find a setting I could definitively say was better than the default.
For another sample, I listened to The Tragically Hip’s “In View.” The Echo system conveyed the musicality of the track extremely well, giving the song’s trademark drumbeat needed strength, but never so much that it overpowered Gord Downie’s voice. I could discern individual instruments, and the whole experience felt immersive even if I wandered far from the theoretical “sweet spot” between the two Echo Pluses.
Just to make sure my speaker group was rendering stereo correctly, I listened to “Take, Take, Take” by the White Stripes, which puts slightly different lyrics in the right and left channels throughout. Sure enough, the recording came through exactly right, and the Echo Sub added some nice kick to the drum.
I also tried the Echo Sub with a stereo pair of Echo Dots. I reviewed the 3rd-gen Echo Dot and found the sound to be quite good — at least, quite good for a hockey puck-size speaker. Using them as a stereo pair improves things considerably. Using the Dot stereo pair with the Echo Sub takes it to a whole other level.
Without the Sub, the Echo Dots played “Radioactive” competently, but the bass drop was a nonevent. Male voices still came through just fine, although they were a bit overpowering, and the whole thing started to sound distorted at higher volumes. With the Sub, however, the bass dropped powerfully, instruments and voices were full and immersive.
Similarly, “In View” came through loud and clear, with crisp rat-tat-tat drums that really hit you. The whole song sounds balanced, with clearly discernible instruments, whereas without the Sub in the mix it lacks oomph and the instruments sound a bit hollow.
All this is to say the Echo Sub is a competent subwoofer. However, if you’re looking for serious room-shaking bass that goes all the way down to 20Hz and beyond, you’re going to need something bigger. The Echo Sub can go deep, but not that deep.
A Sub with a purpose
For most music listening, though, the Echo Sub adds a lot. And that’s what you’ll use it for — not just because that’s what most Echo owners do with their Echoes, but because that’s all you can do with it. I really wanted to see how the Echo Sub contends with movie soundtracks and surround sound, but that’s not part of the picture, at least for now. When I paired my iPhone with one of the Pluses in my speaker group, the music only played through the single speaker.
The Echo Plus also has a line input/output, but my unit was buggy and I couldn’t switch it to input mode. But I confirmed with Amazon that any external source would only play through the single speaker.
This really reduces the versatility of the Echo Sub. I hope Amazon provides an update in the future that lets you connect external sources to a speaker group. I would love to use an Echo system as my TV speakers. I guess Amazon doesn’t want to cannibalize its own Fire TV Cube just yet.
One of the great things about using an Echo system is controlling playback with your voice. Aside from the usual playback commands, you can control the equalizer as well. If you say, “Alexa, turn up the treble,” or “Alexa, turn down the bass,” it’ll do so. Those commands will adjust sound for the entire system — stereo pair and sub included — so if you want to adjust settings for just one of the speakers, you’ll need to use the app.
Amazon obviously knows a whole hell of a lot about what Echo owners are doing with their speakers, which is probably why the Sub feels like the end result of a focus group. It’s built to meet the audio needs of the vast majority of Echo owners who listen to music often and would love to hear better sound, but don’t want to be too inconvenienced.
And that’s not bad news. It’s actually a good thing that Amazon is taking a larger interest in sound quality considering how it’s influencing music listening. And it’s arguably a more versatile solution than, say, the Google Home Max. Larger speakers like the Home Max tend to be dominating; that makes them hard to find a permanent place for in, say, a bedroom. The Echo Sub, though, just needs a corner or empty spot near a wall, so it’s less needy.
I would never recommend you stop using your Amazon Echo to listen to music, and even if I did, it’s not like you’d stop anyway. The better solution: Improve the Echo’s audio experience with better sound in the most convenient and affordable way. It may not be as versatile or powerful as it could be, but the Echo Sub completes that mission with almost robotic precision.