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Echo’s multi-room audio: What you need to know

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Tech companies have worked hard over the past few years to make the music listening experience a ubiquitous one. Thanks to recent developments in streaming services and truly wireless headphones, we’re closer than ever to taking every song ever written with us wherever we go.

But one area where we’ve struggled is whole-home audio. Enter Amazon and multi-room music streaming. Like most Amazon consumer technology, its solution to multi-room audio is both cheap and convenient.

On August 29, Amazon released a press statement confirming that the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show products are now all capable of multi-room audio.

“Today, we’re making Alexa even smarter with an all-new feature that lets you play music synchronized on multiple Echo devices to provide room-filling music throughout your home,” said Toni Reid, vice president of Amazon Alexa, in the press release.

To activate multi-room audio, create a device group within the Alexa app and then simply tell Alexa, “Play my music everywhere.”

Amazon takes on whole-home audio

You may be familiar with existing whole-home audio solutions such as Sonos, Google Home, Chromecast and the upcoming HomePod from Apple. Amazon recently joined these tech stalwarts by activating multi-room audio capabilities on Echo devices via a software update.

The intention, of course, is to create a system where users can synchronize in-progress audio streams across multiple Amazon devices — one in each room, perhaps, or even spread out across multiple floors in your home. Industry insiders expect the new feature will add layers of complexity and customizability, too. Rather than just “flinging” music from a single source to a single speaker, you can group two or more Amazon devices and play music through all of them at once.

The implication is that multi-room audio will be available to you no matter which, or how many, Amazon devices you use on a regular basis. You’ll soon be able to synchronize your indoor playlist with, say, a series of speakers on your deck or patio. Each of these zones — living room, basement, patio area — should be able to play the same music at the same time or different playlists concurrently.

It’s hard to overstate what an improvement this is over the current functionality of Amazon’s standalone connected devices. It means Amazon is clearly reading the writing on the wall, too. Multi-room audio functionality has been an expected part of a device like Echo or Alexa for some time. Its arrival is just one more way Silicon Valley can continually raise the bar for itself and take exciting, futuristic features into the mainstream.

Why now — and why Amazon?

You might not be totally on board with the idea of packing your house with always-on, always-listening devices like Echo and Dot. Nevertheless, Amazon seems to have hit upon a sweet spot in the tech market — devices cheap enough and capable enough to sell at scale as impulse buys. Amazon’s connected home devices are almost perpetually on sale, meaning now that the update is live, you can outfit your home with audio capabilities on the cheap.

Sonos speakers, on the other hand, carry price tags of usually more than $200 each. Apple’s upcoming HomePod raises the barrier of entry to the $350 mark — and yes, that’s just for one speaker, albeit a beautiful-looking and -sounding one.

One final note concerns which streaming music and audio sources are able to take advantage of Amazon’s multi-room functionality. It’s true that Amazon does support the most familiar audio sources out of the box, and there are workarounds for almost everything else. In its press release, however, the company clarified that mutli-room audio is available for Amazon Music, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Pandora. Unfortunately, Spotify and SiriusXM don’t have multi-room capabilities as of this writing, but Amazon promises multi-room support for those services is coming soon.

It’s always an exciting prospect to see new features added to physical products via software updates. If Amazon gets this right (and so far, so good), it could be a serious shot across the bow to some of the other, pricier multi-room speaker solutions on the market today.

Kayla Matthews is a technology writer interested in AI, chatbots, and tech news. She writes for VentureBeat, MakeUseOf, The Week, and TechnoBuffalo.

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