Connect the Dots


Well, it got your attention, didn’t it? Here is another article that seems slightly off my beat, but technically is still a part of it.
I’m talking about Amazon Echo units, the Echo Dot in particular. (Yes, this article is currently directed at my U.S. audience as well as my UK, Canadian, Australian and now, Indian readers. Perhaps this will be available in other countries in the future, who knows)? OK, now admit it, you shop at Amazon too, come on now, admit it, everyone shops at Amazon. In fact, Amazon does carry some finer Hi-Fi products so to speak, such as Rega, Project, Music Hall, Clear Audio, Cambridge, etc. but you will not find $30k high-end amps and such….as far as I know, but who knows about later? While we may quarrel with some of the moves Jeff Bezo makes and worry about Amazon taking over the world, along with access to items such as I have listed, Amazon has other items that though not specifically designed as audio products, have enough function to be used as an audio product. For instance, we have the Echo line of products, or is it “family”, to judge by the way folks are treating them?
There is a whole line of Echo products, including the Echo Dot, Echo (now 2nd generation), Echo Plus, Echo Spot, Echo Look and the Echo Show. What I am talking about here though is the Echo Dot, which already has external audio capability, which was one of the check boxes that influenced me to welcome an Echo Dot into my home and my sound system. (For the record, I have 3 Dots now, in other words, Alexa has me surrounded).
While I do not use Spotify or any other streaming service for formal listening, I do enjoy those services for research and background music or casual use. Some of you may know of or remember the far too short-lived Logitech Squeezebox unit. My main system driven by an AVR (which is about to be replaced with a two-channel amp) already has streaming built-in and even interacts with my Roku nicely. The Logitech Squeezebox was/is a streaming device (mine still works), that was designed to plug into any sound system and while tiny, has a touch screen with keyboard. When the Squeezebox came out, even “audiophiles” started to take notice and some even claimed the device had a pretty good built-in dac. It is actually pretty decent in that regard. About a year after it was out I picked one up for around $220 new and hooked it up to my “vintage” system. What I did not know at the time was that as sales of this device were skyrocketing, Logitech had decided to kill it and it support for it. (Very stupid move).

Then Amazon came out with the original Echo touting its great speakers and such. While I was certainly intrigued by the Echo and all it can do, not to mention being weak in the knees around gadgets, especially tech gadgets, I thought, “well, it’s a bit pricey and sorry, but I’m a system guy, I must have the traditional 2-channel and such”. In 2014 Amazon came out with the Echo Dot, a very small version of the original Echo with an awful speaker especially for music, but with bluetooth transmission and an aux jack for external speakers and subsequent systems of any stripe and at a fraction of the price of the full Echo! As I sat there thinking about a possible backup for my Squeezebox should anything happen and contemplating the lack of keyboard or easier input device for my main system (this was before my tablet died), I learned that they only made 500 of the Dots and they were sold out in just under 10 seconds! Eek! Inquiring at amazon about the Dot, I was told that there were no plans to make more. Sad day indeed.
Then came 2015 and all of a sudden appeared the Echo Dot Second Generation! This time Amazon was serious. It wasn’t 2 months before they started flying off the shelves and I mean flying. Amazon could not produce them fast enough. It got so bad that they had to find a way to increase production. I guess they did somehow because starting in 2016 and to this day, people order them by 3, 6 and 10 at a time! The Echo Dot, as are all Echo products, is an artificial Intelligence device able to do all kinds of things and more each day. It is so wild that a trend has developed according to Amazon. The trend is that for the first couple of days of ownership on average people refer to their Dots as objects or “the Echo Dot”, but……then all of the sudden according to the support folks at Amazon, the calls they get start referring to the Echo Dot as “She”, “Her”, Alexa, etc. and yes, yours truly is not immune. Around here the Echo Dot is “She”, “Her” etc. Funny beings we humans are.
Anyway, back around end of 2016 as I was pondering the trouble I all of a sudden was having with Spotify on my Logitech Squeezebox, the lack of keyboard for my AVR/Roku devices in my main system and such, I decided it was time to get an Echo Dot as a solution to all of it and for $50 (now $29.99), how could I go wrong? Not only is the Echo Dot a fun device, but it is a great audio accessory.

The Echo Dot has two ways of hooking up to external speakers or Hi Fi systems, cable and Bluetooth.

Cable: One can use the following type of cable: 1/8 mini jack to L/R RCA or any termination your powered speakers or system uses. No Hi Fi system? No problem, got a pair of powered speakers? The Dot can hook into those via cable or Bluetooth.

Bluetooth: Of course, the Dot can use any Bluetooth speaker, but what about non-powered speakers or Hi Fi systems without bluetooth? With the advent of such devices as the Echo comes a plethora of accessories and other devices to use with it. For example, one can get a “Bluetooth receiver” unit and turn almost any non-bluetooth system or speaker or what have you into having Bluetooth ability.
Hooking the dot up to your Hi Fi system or powered speakers via cable has the advantage of using the dac in your system or speakers if you favor those.
Bluetooth connection offers a bit more flexibility in that while you are using the dac chip in the Dot, you have more flexibility of where to locate your Dot. There is also a 20 foot USB cable you can purchase on the cheap for the power adapter that powers the Dot allowing you to locate it almost anywhere.
Some claim sonic disadvantages to Bluetooth. In my experience, I don’t detect any. That said though, Bluetooth can be quirky and there are distance limitations and such that will greatly affect sound and function. For my uses, Bluetooth works fine. (I currently have a $20 Amazon Bluetooth receiver hooked up to my vintage stereo for the Dot, which is located about 4 feet away, so no issues).
In fact, that takes us to use and the fun of it all. Being able to use your voice to control or I should say call up what you want to hear via streaming is fun and convenient. Of course, one can not control everything in one’s system with the Echo Dot, nor can one ask it to put on a vinyl record, but one can essentially control volume from the Echo Dot itself as well. (If your Echo Dot is not at maximum already, you can tell it to turn up the volume, which will in turn affect the volume on your system or speakers you have it connected to).
As with things of this nature though there is a downside, if you can call it that. While calling up individual songs doesn’t appear to cause any hiccups, the Echo Dot does have trouble understanding what you are asking when trying to call up certain albums. For instance, she…er, I mean it (there I go), seems to have trouble calling up self-titled LPs. For example, calling up Bread’s first LP is a challenge or calling up “the Yes Album” is equally frustrating. Sometimes you will hit on the right way to request things like that with the Dot, but it is a lot of trial and error and I don’t enjoy spending 10 or more minutes trying to get it to understand, by then I choose something else. Even with that quirk though it is still fun and convenient.