Technology we own and use
- Written by: Angus Fox
Echo Link Amp. Stream and amplify hi-fi music to your speakers (requires compatible Echo device for Alexa voice control)
Echo Link Amp enables you to stream and amplify hi-fi music to your existing hi-fi speakers. It has both digital and analogue options for inputs and outputs, which makes it quite a niche product. But if you fit the niche its the perfect bridge between your Hi-fi and your Amazon Echo. I'm one of those people who fits the niche and I love this product and hope it improves with more features and better software over time.
This is Amazon's first Echo device optimised for hi-fi stereo. You wouldn't know it to look at it as there is no branding on it whatsoever. Note this is specifically not for TV/Video connections. It is aimed at music from streaming services and from hi-fi audio sources compatible with the inputs so you'll need to dig out that amplified turntable or ancient expensive Hi-fi CD player.
I've got these lovely Acoustic Research speakers from the 1960's which I use with my modern Rega Research Record Store Day special edition turntable. My AV Amp has never really been optimal for them as it is always in use for TV duties and it is a kerfuffle to make it play the turntable. So the idea was to wire up the speakers to the Echo Link amp instead, connect the Rega to the analogue input, and get the ability to play my old vinyls as well as to listen to music streaming services through these lovely old speakers which have a special warmth to the sound. It this sounds too good to be true it is because it is. You need a little more magic!
The magic is provided by a fifteen quid AVLink Pre-amplifier For Turntables. This device amplifies the signal to match it to the line or CD input of the amplifier. It has an On/Off switch fitted and a mains power supply. It is a shame the Amazon amp doesn't have a dedicated phono level input but it is what it is.
Setup was easy. Connect the speakers and turntable and turn on the device. The network setup was automatic via the Alexa App and quick because I already have a houseful of Amazon devices so it knew the wifi network password (I trust Jeff that its encrypted). Once set up, plug in an Ethernet cable for full speed connection.
To use this ddevice you need to use the Alexa app for iOS or Android. For voice control you need an Amazon Echo device. I have quite a few. So I created a group called 'Dining Room' in the app with the Echo Dot and the Echo Link Amp in it and set the preferred speaker to be the Echo Link Amp. That was confusing to do. Amazon need to make it a bit easier to understand. I had to follow the guides on the Amazon web site. Groups are quite fiddly to set up and adjust. To test it use a voice command.
Alexa, play Absolute 80's in the Dining Room.
Once music is playing you can adjust the device settings and audio settings in the Alexa app. This is confusing until you get the hang of it. But overall you probably won't change it much given the voice control is easy.
The settings that worked best for me are volume 80%, mid range up one notch and treble down one notch. Now to play my old vinyl records I can just use a voice command too, after cueing up the record.
Alexa, play music in the dining room.
Overall, if you have an existing Hifi wired to your speakers this is not something you need. But to me, the ability to hear my old favourites on these old favourite speakers makes it worthwhile.
- Written by: Angus Fox
Fire TV Cube, Hands free with Alexa, 4K Ultra HD streaming media player
This latest Fire TV Cube is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand it has Alexa built-in but on the other hand, it is fiddly to set it up with the now typical AV setup of multiple set top boxes an AV amp and speakers. Theres no HDMI cable in the box so you'll need one!
It is also odd that it does not have built-in Ethernet, although an Ethernet adapter is provided in the box. The very original Fire TV had Ethernet built in so it seems daft not to have it. I'm no fan at all of endless connectors to make things work. Hopefully eventually Amazon will reinstate an internal Ethernet port.
Alexa on Fire TV Cube enables you to tune to live TV Channels with select satellite boxes from Sky. You can also control compatible TVs, Soundbars and A/V Receivers from top brands like Samsung, Sony, LG, Sonos and others. It works with mine. The equipment control is a revelation. It works perfectly with my very old Pioneer TV, and my pretty new Onkyo AV Amplifier. I can turn the TV and amp on and off by voice now, and although the product comes with an Infra Red extender I didnt need to use it even thought there isn't good line of sight between the components of my system.
The setup wizard is automatic, just choose the brand of equipment and it works out how to control it. It was incredibly easy to make it work. This is the stand out feature of this product.
Alexa, go to home screen.
If you have Dolby Atmos compatible AV equipment then you'll welcome Atmos sound support in the Prime Video app and Netflix app (in some, not all content), and the support for Alexa in the YouTube apps too.
Overall, if you have an existing Fire TV device already this is probably not something you need although it is much faster than the earlier Amazon Fire USB sticks and the Alexa voice support for connected equipment is great and made me get one!
Alexa, turn on the TV.