The great thing about speakers is that their performance is confined by a few basic properties; all you need is a magnet, a little bit of electricity and a medium to create the airwaves to produce the sound. Unlike cars that become more efficient with each new generation or computers that become faster, speakers that sounded good yesterday will sound good for their entire lifetime.
And for the most part, speakers have not changed much in the past 50 years aside from housings being made of plastic and the mesh materials on the grills. But with the growth of digital assistants and connecting everything to the web, adding Alexa to a speaker is becoming a new trend and many vendors are jumping on this bandwagon.
I am far from an ‘audiophile’ but I do appreciate clean, quality sound. I’ve got a few speakers in my house including several Sonos products, a Harman/Kardon Invoke, and a myriad of Bluetooth speakers but for this comparison, I’ll be using the Invoke, a Sonos One, and a second generation Amazon Echo.
Out of the box, the Voice One is large; it’s 15 inches tall and has a base of 7.87 x 7.87 inches. The mesh outer-covering feels a bit like blue jeans material and acts as a thin layer over the plastic shell.
And yes this thing is 100% plastic and there is no question about it. For $180, I would have expected something that felt a bit more solid as this doesn’t feel like a premium device despite being priced like one. The front knob moves around liberally inside its housing which doesn’t fill me with confidence that this speaker will hold up for the next five years.
The buttons below the knob feel much more confident in their placement and have a satisfying click when pressed. The top button changes input mode as you can use Bluetooth with this device and there is also a line-in option as well. The second button is play/pause and the bottom ‘button’ is a light that occasionally turns on to illuminate the KS logo but honestly, I’m not quite sure when or why it turns on.
One thing I do quite like about this speaker is that it is flexible with the inputs; considering Sonos doesn’t support Bluetooth and Invoke doesn’t have a line-in option, the Voice One bests those devices in functionality.
Also, there is a USB port on the back so that you can charge a phone or tablet from the speaker too. And for those that need a remote, the unit comes with one too that offers basic functions like volume, input change, advancing tracks, and muting the microphone.
Setting up the hardware is quite easy; download their app and you will be up and running in 5 minutes or less.
Because it works with Alexa, you also get super-simple multi-room audio support through that platform which makes it easy to expand with new hardware in the future. And on the front, there is a mute button to silence the microphones and a ring light around the volume knob to let you know when Alexa is engaged.
When using the speaker for its Alexa functionality, it works great; the device had no trouble picking up my voice commands
But, I will say that I’m not a huge fan of the audio profile of this device. The main reason for this is that for being such a large speaker, its low-end is missing when compared to the Harman Kardon and the mids and highs are muddy when compared to the Sonos One.
To be completely fair, the Sonos One is $50 more expensive but the Invoke is $50 less (but does not work with Alexa).
When compared to its likely direct competitor, the Echo (second generation) which costs $85, the audio quality is about the same but Amazon’s device feels like it has higher build quality. But again, it does not have a line-in option nor does it have a remote but I’m not sure those features justify the price difference between the two pieces of hardware.
The reason to buy the Voice One over a competitor is for the playback flexibility and the remote; it works with all major streaming services, supports Bluetooth and line-in input, and is easy to set up. The reasons you should not buy this speaker is for its audio quality or build materials and it’s quite large too.
At the end of the day, the device does everything it promises too but my main issue is the price. At $180, the quality isn’t there but if this thing was priced the same as a second generation Echo from Amazon, it would be a much more compelling offering.