Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to try out the Amazon Echo Link and Amazon Echo Amp, designed as Amazon's first foray into the hifi streaming game. Both can connect to your existing stereo system to purportedly offer high-fidelity music streaming along with Alexa voice controls.
In the world of logo-laden audio equipment, the Amazon Echo Link and Echo Link Amp are strikingly un-striking - there isn't even a logo to identify them as Amazon products.
The matte black finish is broken up by a black volume knob, surrounded by 10 white LEDs that indicate the volume. There's also a 3.5mm headphone socket on the bottom-right of the faceplate. But otherwise, both Echo Link and Echo Link Amp are entirely bare, which allows for a clean design that some might like.
Connections & Usability
You can set the both Link and Link Amp up on their own in a house that already has Alexa devices in it. Here, just give the command to the Alexa smart speaker and specify the Link/Link Amp, renamed based on where it is in the house, as the destination player. For example, say "Alexa, play Cher in the office." It's a shame that neither the Link nor Link Amp have a USB socket that could be used to power an Echo Dot as the Amp itself doesn't have built-in mic/speaker combo to act as an Echo Dot.
Both Link and Link Amp have a good selection of connections, with coaxial, optical, and RCA analogue inputs and outputs, plus a headphone-out and a pair of speaker terminals for connecting passive speakers. I tried a number of speakers during my tests, from my archaic JBL 500 bookshelf speakers to a more lifestyle appropriate Bose Acoustimass V sub-sat system.
Both Links support Bluetooth, too, although Amazon doesn't reveal the format, confirming only that it's A2DP compliant.
There is no way to manually switch inputs, either on the device itself or in the app. Instead, the Link Amp employs automatic switching, based on a strict hierarchy that runs from streaming to Bluetooth, then optical, coaxial and, finally, RCA.
While having control taken away from the user might be irritating, it proved largely unproblematic during testing. Based on the input hierarchy, I imagine that the types of users who buy either (or both) Link and Link Amp will find automatic switching to be right up their alley.
As for streaming, they both approach music streaming the same way as Amazon's Echo speakers. Initial set-up is straightforward and handled by the Alexa app, but for actual streaming, the app is rather limited and unintuitive. There's no way to search for music across multiple services, for example, and no way to add tracks to an on-the-fly queue.
If you only use Spotify, that's no problem. You can just use the Spotify app and select either or both Links as the destination(s) for your music. Amazon Music users will find that app more useful, too, although it also lacks the ability to create on-the-fly music queues when the Links are the destination.
Subscribers to other services are largely out of luck. The Echo Links support Apple Music, but it can't be selected as a playback device due to a lack of AirPlay support. It is only accessible via the Alexa app, while the more hi-fi pleasing services such as Tidal and Qobuz are entirely unsupported. Internet radio is available via TuneIn, and Deezer is also on board for those who use it. There is no support for UPNP.
Sound quality is the biggest downfall of these units. When I tested the Link Amp, I found the sonic quality to be unexciting. This is not to say that it's bad. It's great for background music. But if you're listening with any level of seriousness, there is just no excitement whatsoever.
In the beginning, I thought it was the amplifier section. However, when I tested the Link connected to my standalone 2-channel MOSFET amplifier from Pioneer Elite, the problem remained. This leads to the conclusion that the internal DACs of the both Link and Link Amp (one can only deduce that they both share the same DAC topology) are the main culprit. Then again, most people will buy these units merely as their whole-home music solution and not a dedicated standalone system.
To Buy or Not To Buy?
Both Link and Link Amp can be considered a very good first attempt from Amazon for their Echo ecosystem. If you are looking to use these as a part of your dedicated system and need the best sound quality possible, then it might be best to look elsewhere. But if you listen to mostly Internet radio and Amazon Music, and you listen to them as a whole-home music solution, these allow you to continue to use your own speakers and enjoy a smart system with ease.