what are the benefit of smart speakers?
January 17, 2021 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Specifically any differences versus hooking echo dots to stereo speakers by aux cable?

I just want to play music well through Alexa. Any reason to buy a smart speaker? Sound quality for the price seems likely to be better with non-smart speakers (either powered or with an amp).

posted by mkuhnell to Technology (13 answers total)
My understanding is that, if something is plugged into the aux jack of an echo dot, all audio gets output that way, and nothing uses the internal speaker.

In other words, if you want to ask the echo to, for example, set a timer or check the weather, you won't hear the answer unless your external speakers are also turned on. (And consider the energy waste of leaving them on all the time.)
posted by kickingtheground at 12:03 PM on January 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

The benefit is being able to yell what your want to play or happen through an all in one solution. In the kitchen where my hands are often full and I want to set a timer or change the music, I really enjoy this. I don't have room for real speakers in my kitchen. Everywhere else, I have quality speakers with Chromecast Audios.

The Echo Dots are never going to have great sound based on their form factor. But unless you have above average quality speakers already, the quality of modern designs like the full blown Echo or Echo Studio will often outperform the integrated system you bought in 1988.
posted by Candleman at 12:09 PM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Having an echodot for music has been unsatisfying since the trial of amzn music expired, please inform me otherwise, but that's my experience.
posted by theora55 at 12:13 PM on January 17, 2021

I'll add that I find the "smart" functions almost completely worthless. It plays music, sets timers, and tells me the weather. For basically everything else, I find just using a phone/computer gets a better answer, faster.
posted by Candleman at 12:14 PM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you definitely want to use Alexa, and you want good sound quality, get a Sonos speaker. It’s not a smart speaker itself, but you can control it with whatever Alexa device you have. And you don’t have to use Amazon Music—Sonos also works with Apple Music, Spotify, and other services. No wired connection necessary, and you can also control the Sonos from an app on your phone or computer if necessary.
posted by ejs at 1:11 PM on January 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have used Echos and Echo Dots both as standalone speakers and with the Dot connected to my stereo. It's nice with better speakers, but I agree that having to have the amp on is a bummer. Plus if I'm using a different input like my turntable or CD player or whatever I can't hear the Echo. I can still add stuff to lists or whatever and just trust it listens, but can't do anything more complicated. I also like it because I can stream bluetooth from my phone to the amp (which doesn't already have BT capability).

I also agree that it's kind of garbage without Prime Music or a better subscription, but I'm mostly happy with Prime Music and wouldn't consider the higher tier.
posted by papayaninja at 2:36 PM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have a dot attached to a dedicated amp (a $20 Lepai - I want a touch louder and better, not audiophile quality) and two speakers. It is exactly as you say - the output is always via the speakers. The amp in question is always on so this works.

Amps don't consume a lot of power above the parasitic level when nothing is going through them (though some are more efficient than others, certainly).

They even do a speakerless echo for this, though given the echo dots are always discounted I don't think it's actually any cheaper than a dot would be.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 6:04 PM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh, one notable thing with that arrangement - I've found that the dots can actually make enough noise that they can't hear what you're saying. With external speakers that seems to be less of an issue.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 6:25 PM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

My Echo and my desktop computer are both connected to my computer speakers, via a mixer. So both devices can play sound through the speakers, and I don't have swap cables or press any switches or otherwise fiddle with anything.
posted by akk2014 at 7:39 PM on January 17, 2021

Just here to say that I absolutely hate my Sonos speaker.
posted by athirstforsalt at 8:08 PM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

What do you hate about it, athirstforsalt? Just asking because I was thinking of buying one.
posted by umbú at 5:44 AM on January 18, 2021

Jumping on the sonos hate: I used to be a fan. Until they started forcing upgrades and not alowing local media to be played without the speakers being connected to the internet. I have an old (circ 2010) macbook that had a working version of their mac app and I was very happy with my setup. Until one day after clicking "upgrade" via the dark patterns they use I found myself in limbo because the speakers got upgraded, but the macos app was not: macos 10.10 was "no longer supported" and I found myself unable to play my music. Their online forums were basically "too bad, you need a new mac", so it was goodbye Sonos.

Then there was that whole "deactivate speaker so it has to go into the landfill and cannot be donated" debacle, which made me happy I got rid of them.

I have been looking at a diy raspberry pi alternative, but nothing's calling to me right now. In the interim, I'm using my home theater setup to listen to music and an old BT speaker in the kitchen/bathroom.
posted by Arthur Dent at 7:27 AM on January 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Yep: the forced upgrades and resultant glitchiness about every 3rd time I use the speaker, the need for reliable wifi which I don't have, the fact that you can only listen through approved services which meant that the switch from google music to youtube music necessitated a whole reconfiguration of my music storage, and also means that I need to stay a Spotify premium member for...ever?, but mostly that j am trapped with all this because there's NO AUX PORT.
posted by athirstforsalt at 7:11 AM on January 21, 2021

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