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Amazon Echo and Bose Alexa speakers reviewed: which are Don’t Buys?

Latest tests expose new Don’t Buys – plus a Best Buy surprise as well

It’s been a rollercoaster month at our wireless speakers lab, with remarkable successes and big brand failures. We review Amazon’s latest range of Echo speakers and Bose’s flagship smart speaker with Alexa voice control, plus new portable speakers from Sony and Ultimate Ears. See which ones come out on top.

Amazon promises even better sound from its entry-level smart speaker, the Echo Dot (3rd Gen), claiming it’s suitable for listening to music as well as for accessing Alexa. We put it to the test to see whether that’s the case.

It says the larger Echo Plus (2nd Gen) has improved sound as well. Plus, its smart speaker with a screen, the Amazon Echo Show (2nd Gen), has undergone a major redesign, bringing a larger 10-inch touchscreen. We’ve put it through its paces to see whether the sound quality matches its smart credentials.

Meanwhile, big brand rivals are nipping at Amazon’s heels. The Bose Home Speaker 500 aims to deliver bigger, wider sound than Amazon’s Echo range, and Bose’s pedigree for quality audio promises a lot. It too offers Alexa so you can control it hands-free, plus multi-room capabilities to connect to other Bose speakers. There’s also a 3.5mm socket to connect up devices such as an mp3 player or record player via a wire.

Ultimate Ears has launched its latest range of stylish portable speakers with the Boom 3 and Megaboom 3, both claiming to deliver powerful but balanced sound. And Sony has launched the SRS-XB01, a tiny Bluetooth speaker that could be the perfect companion for music on the go. Find out how all these models perform through the links below.

Best Buy Bluetooth and wireless speakers – jump straight to our best recommendations.

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen), £50

The Amazon Echo Dot is one of the most popular ways to add Alexa voice control and smart hub functionality to your home. It allows you to ask for information such as the weather, set calendar reminders and perform similar tasks, and control home devices such as smart thermostats – all without having to lift a finger.

However, most people use these devices to listen to music. The Echo Dot now has more powerful speakers (and an increased price, rising from £35 to £50), so Amazon says it’s suitable for listening to music.

Our panel of music industry professionals give their verdict in our definitive Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen) speaker review.

Amazon Echo Show (2nd Gen), £220

Amazon’s innovative Echo Show is its speaker with a screen, allowing you to visually interact with Alexa and use the speaker without a smartphone.

The second-generation version has a larger 10-inch touchscreen that Amazon says is suitable for watching live TV and for video calling, including the use of Skype, which it plans to add to the device.

However, the speakers now fire out the back of the device, like a TV, so can this speaker rival more traditional speakers for quality music playback?

Some of Amazon’s Echo range have excelled for listening to music in the past – we see whether this matches the best in our comprehensive Amazon Echo Show (2nd Gen) speaker review.

Amazon Echo Plus (2nd Gen), £140

Amazon is now increasingly positioning the Echo Plus as the ‘premium sound’ choice for those looking for better sound than the standard Amazon Echo (2nd Gen). It now has a larger 3-inch woofer to deliver stronger bass and can be paired with the new Amazon Echo Sub for even more power at the lower end.

It also has a built-in smart hub, which allows you to directly control smart devices around your home with your voice, such as Philips Hue light bulbs, which could avoid the need for a separate hub or ‘bridge’ for some smart devices.

But does the sound quality really live up to Amazon’s claims? Find out in our extensive Amazon Echo Plus (2nd Gen) speaker review.

Bose Home Speaker 500, £399

Bose is a highly respected name in audio, well known for premium headphones and, more recently, portable speakers. Bose is now increasing its presence in home speakers as well with the high-end Bose Home Speaker 500, which aims to be the speaker of choice with Alexa voice control, aimed at fans of high-end audio.

It also supports multi-room if you have other Bose speakers in your home. It has 3.5mm aux-in for a wired connection to your devices, and a wide variety of music streaming services including Spotify, TuneIn radio, Amazon Music and Deezer.

In our Bose Home Speaker 500 review, our expert panel of music industry professionals give their verdict as to whether it’s really worth the high price.

Ultimate Ears Boom 3, £130

Ultimate Ears is a popular name for portable speakers, known for distinctively designed speakers that are highly rugged and waterproof.

This unique style has been given another upgrade with the Boom 3, with a new eye-catching light-shifting fabric finish alongside multiple design improvements. It’s claimed to have a 15-hour battery life and a 90dB maximum volume to fill a party.

So does it offer refined and balanced sound? We put it to the test in our Ultimate Ears Boom 3 review.

Sony SRS-XB01, £25

The diminutive Sony SRS-XB01 looks like an unusual mix – a speaker Sony’s put in its ‘Extra Bass’ range despite its tiny proportions. Nevertheless, it looks ideal for taking around with you and is available in a bright range of colours.

Can a speaker this tiny really deliver superior sound quality? Find out in our expert Sony SRS-XB01 review.

Also tested

We’ve tested another Ultimate Ears speaker, the Megaboom 3. It claims to bring you ‘way more boom’ and a truly ‘thundering bass’. We’ll be also be reviewing Yamaha’s big multi-room speaker, the Yamaha MusicCast 50 (WX-051), next month – so be sure to check out how its smaller brother performed in our lab tests.

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