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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Disassembling the Echo Studio, Amazon’s Apple HomePod foe

Again in late February, inside my teardown of an Apple HomePod mini good speaker, I wrote:

I just lately stumbled throughout a way for cost-effectively acquiring teardown candidates, which I positively plan to proceed using sooner or later (the truth is, I’ve now acquired two extra victims queued up in my workplace which I acquired the identical method, though I’m not going to spoil the shock by telling you about them but).

In early June, whereas dissecting my second sufferer, a first-generation full-size HomePod, I summarized the aforementioned acquisition approach:

I picked up a few “for components solely” units with frayed energy cords on eBay for substantial reductions from the totally useful (whether or not model new or used) worth. One in all them ended up nonetheless being totally useful; a bit {of electrical} tape sheltered the frayed segments from additional degradation. The opposite went “below the knife”. Immediately, I’ll showcase one of many “two extra victims” I beforehand foreshadowed.

Sufferer #2 wouldn’t totally boot, the results of both a foul logic board or a firmware replace gone awry. And right this moment, we’re going to try sufferer #3, paradoxically a direct competitor to the HomePod. It’s a high-end Amazon Echo Studio good speaker; right here’s a inventory shot to start out us off:

That one, matching the one you’ll find out about intimately right this moment, is “Charcoal” in shade. The system additionally is available in white…err…“Glacier”. Right here’s a conceptual picture of its multi-transducer insides:

The story of how I got here to acquire a tool which usually sells for $199.99 (generally discovered on sale for $159.99) for under $49.99 is a bit convoluted but in addition instructional—I’ll revisit the big-picture matter later because it pertains to different similar-configured units, particularly computer systems. So, I hope you’ll indulge my transient detour earlier than diving into the system’s guts. As with its predecessors, this good speaker was listed on eBay “for components solely”. And in one thing of a primary after greater than 1 / 4 century of my being energetic on eBay, after I purchased it the vendor reached out to me to make sure I knew what I used to be (and wasn’t) getting earlier than he despatched it to me.

A humorous (not less than to me) apart: in sitting down to write down this piece simply now, I lastly took an in depth take a look at the vendor’s eBay username (“starpawn19”) adopted by a go to to his eBay storefront (“Star Pawn of New Port Richey”). He runs a pawn store, which I’d really already suspected. He instructed me that somebody bought certainly one of his staff the Echo Studio, however the worker forgot to inform the vendor (earlier than leaving) to unregister the good speaker from his or her Amazon account, and the telephone quantity the vendor gave the pawn store ended up being inactive.

After doing a bit extra analysis, there’s possible extra to the story than I used to be instructed (I’m by no means suggesting that “starpawn19” was being misleading, thoughts you, solely not totally educated). Amazon retains a document of every buyer account that every of its Echo units (every with a novel system ID) has ever been registered with (the truth is, if you happen to purchase a brand new system direct from Amazon, you typically have the choice for it to return pre-registered). If all that had occurred, as had been associated to me, was that the earlier registered consumer forgot to unregister it first, I assume (though info discovered on-line is contradictory, and the Amazon help reps I spoke with in fruitlessly striving to resurrect my new toy have been tight-lipped) {that a} manufacturing facility reset (which I attempted) would allow its affiliation with a brand new account. If, then again, a earlier consumer ever reviews it misplaced or stolen (or if, apparently, Amazon thinks you’ve been nasty to its supply personnel!) it will get unregistered and all subsequent activation makes an attempt will fail, as I found:

The one recourse that “Contact Buyer Service” provided me was to return the unit to the vendor for a refund…which in fact wasn’t an possibility out there to me, since I knew about its compromised situation upfront. So, what occurred? One in all two issues, I’m guessing. Both:

  • Whoever bought the system to “starpawn19” had beforehand stolen it from another person or,
  • Whoever bought the system to “starpawn19” hadn’t been pleased with the worth they acquired for it and subsequently determined to get revenge by reporting it misplaced or stolen to Amazon.

With that backgrounder over, let’s get to ripping down, we could? I’ll start with just a few overview photos (albeit no typical field pictures, sorry; it didn’t are available retail packaging), as-usual accompanied by the compulsory 0.75″ (19.1 mm) diameter U.S. penny for dimension comparability functions however absent (I noticed on reflection) the removable energy twine. The Echo Studio is 8.1” excessive and 6.9” in diameter (206 mm x 175 mm), weighing 7.7 lbs. (3.5 kg). Right here’s a entrance view:

As a result of I don’t need it to really feel ignored:

Now a again view:

A closeup of the bottom connections reveals the ability port within the middle, flanked by a micro-USB connector to the left (with no documented consumer perform) and a multipurpose 3.5 mm audio enter jack on the precise, able to accepting each TRS analog plugs and incoming optical S/PDIF digital streams.

Like Apple’s HomePod, the Echo Studio incorporates a mixture of speaker counts and sizes, able to reproducing varied audio frequency ranges, and variously positioned within the system. However the implementation particulars are fairly totally different in each circumstances. Right here’s a take a look at the internals of the first-generation HomePod (recall that the second-generation successor has solely 5 midrange/tweeter combo transducers, versus the seven on this initial-version design):

Evaluate it towards the “x-ray” picture of the Echo Studio at first of this text. A number of deviations significantly leap out at me:

  • Apple employed a single speaker configuration to sort out each midrange and excessive frequencies, whereas Amazon used distinct drivers for every frequency span: three 2” midranges and a 1” high-frequency tweeter.
  • Apple’s woofer factors upward, out the highest of the HomePod, whereas Amazon’s 5” driver is downward firing. That stated, each designs leverage porting (Amazon calls them “apertures”, one in entrance and the opposite in again) to boost bass response.

  • The various speaker counts and places have an effect on each bill-of-materials prices and sound copy capabilities. Recall that bass frequencies are omnidirectional; you possibly can put a subwoofer just about anyplace in a room, with optimum location guided by acoustic response traits versus proximity to your ears. Conversely, excessive frequencies are unidirectional; your greatest outcomes come from pointing every tweeter straight at your head (word, for instance, its front-and-center location within the Echo Studio). Midrange frequencies have middleman transducer location necessities.
  • The Echo Studio was additionally designed for encompass sound copy. That explains, for instance, the truth that certainly one of its three midrange drivers factors straight upward, to help Dolby Atmos’ “top” channel(s). The opposite two midrange drivers level to both aspect. And like its different fashionable Echo siblings, two Echo Studios could be paired collectively to extra totally reproduce left and proper channel “stereo” sound, in addition to (paired with an Echo Sub) to additional improve the system’s low bass response.

Right here’s our first take a look at the highest of the Echo Studio, with the grille for the upward-firing midrange within the center and an array of seven microphones spaced across the outer ring. Recall that the HomePod’s six (first-gen) then 4 (second-gen) mics have been across the center of the system.

Left-to-right alongside the decrease fringe of the ring are 4 switches: mute, quantity down and up, and the multifunction “motion” button. And, within the area between the speaker grill and outer ring, a string of multi-color LEDs shines by in varied working modes, with various colours and patterns indicating present system standing (vivid purple, for instance, signifies mute activation).

Now for the Echo Studio’s rubberized “foot”:

together with that distinctive DSN (system serial quantity) that I discussed earlier:

and which I’m betting is our pathway inside:


Earlier than persevering with, I need to give credit score to the parents at iFixit, who (so far as I do know) by no means did a correct teardown of the Echo Studio however whose varied restore manuals have been nonetheless invaluable disassembly guides (within the spirit of giving again, you’ll discover feedback from yours really posted to this one). I’ll additionally level you to a teardown video I discovered whereas doing preparatory analysis:

I don’t communicate Hindi, so the narration was of no use to me, however the visuals have been nonetheless useful!

Anyhoo….onward. Amazon actually gave my Torx driver set fairly a exercise; I’m undecided that I’ve ever encountered so many alternative screw head varieties and sizes in the identical system. First, getting the plastic backside off required eradicating 15 of them:

Elevate off the underside plate:

Disconnect the wiring harness and a flex PCB cable:

And the deed is completed; we’re in!

Let’s first give attention to the PCB-plus-power meeting connected to the within of the underside plate:

Take away 4 screws:

and the PCB comes free:

The IC to the precise of the flex PCB connector is the Texas Devices’ OPA1679 quad audio op amp. Flip the PCB over:

and also you’ll discover one other, smaller IC beneath the audio enter jack, presumably additionally from TI contemplating its two-line marking:

TI 12

however whose id escapes me. Concepts, readers? (I’m additionally guessing, by the way in which, that the optical S/DPIF receiver is constructed into the audio enter jack? And the place does the DAC for the digital S/PDIF audio enter, or alternatively the ADC for the analog audio enter, reside? Hold studying…)

Right here’s one other shot of this identical PCB from a unique vantage level earlier than we proceed:

And now for that wiring harness:

Now for the PCB inside the system, which we noticed earlier and which (lots of you’ve got possible already discovered, given the huge transformer, passives, and all of the thermal paste) handles DC energy era and distribution:

Take away another screw and disconnect another wiring harness:

And the PCB lifts proper out, leaving a baseplate behind:

I strove mightily to chip away at and take away all that thermal paste whereas leaving all the pieces round and beneath it (and embedded inside it) intact, however ultimately bailed on the thought. Sorry, people; if anybody is aware of cost-effectively dissolve this cussed stuff with out marring all the pieces else, I’m glad to provide it a shot. Talking of pictures, listed here are some extra:

About that baseplate:

The plastic ring round it, held in place by a single screw, wants to return out first:

And now for the baseplate itself, which does double-duty (on its different website) in redirecting the woofer’s output by the good speaker’s two aspect “apertures”:

Bless you, iFixit registered consumer Jeff Roske, for suggesting in an iFixit information remark (step 6, to be precise) that “Energy provide baseplate should be rotated clockwise, ~1cm at exterior edge, to launch catch tabs earlier than lifting out of unit” and, within the course of, saving my sanity (I solely want it hadn’t taken me 5 minutes’ value of frustration earlier than I noticed Jeff’s smart phrases):

Woof woof, look what’s beneath!

And I guess you understand what my subsequent step will likely be…

Lastly, we get our first glimpse on the system’s “brains”, i.e., its predominant board:

Listed below are closeups of the insides’ 4 quadrants, as oriented above. Left:



And backside:

Particularly, to get the system board out, we’re first going to should disconnect a bunch of wiring harnesses and flex PCB cables. Right here they’re, sequentially clockwise across the board beginning on the left aspect, and in each their related and disconnected states:

Pausing the cadence briefly at this level, I encountered one thing I don’t assume I’ve seen in a teardown earlier than; a zipper tie bundling a number of harnesses collectively to tidy up the insides!

And right here’s one other organizing entity, a harness restraint alongside one aspect:


Up prime are additionally two antenna feeds that must be unsnapped:

Now over to the precise:

Subsequent to go have been sixteen complete screws, eight of them shiny and screwed into steel beneath, the opposite eight black and anchored to beneath plastic:

Houston, now we have a liftoff”:

Right here’s the aspect of the system board that you simply’ve beforehand seen in its put in (pointed downward, to be exact) state, which I’ll name “aspect 1”:

And right here’s when-installed upward-facing system board “aspect 2”:

Time for some closeups and Faraday cage removals. Facet 1 first; holding to the prior clockwise cadence, I’ll begin with the left-quadrant circuitry, which incorporates (amongst different issues) a Texas Devices LM73605 step-down voltage converter:

Now the highest:


And eventually, the Faraday cage-dominated panorama at backside:

Once more, you already know what comes subsequent, proper?

That’s MediaTek’s MT7668 wi-fi connectivity controller on the middle. Quoting from the product web page on the producer web site: it’s a “Extremely built-in single chip combining 2×2 dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MU-MIMO and newest Bluetooth 5.0 radios collectively in a single package deal.” The one wi-fi protocol NOT documented is Zigbee, help for which keen-eyed readers could have already observed was talked about within the good speaker “foot” markings earlier. And by the way in which, if you happen to hadn’t already observed, along with the sooner famous exterior antenna wiring feeds, there are PCB-embedded antennae to both aspect of the Faraday cage (additionally seen on the opposite aspect of the PCB).

Talking of which…now for the system board aspect 2. Already-exposed IC at left (a Texas Devices TPA3129D2 class D audio amplifier) first:

At prime (and prime left) left is a clutch of ICs solely a few of which I’ve been capable of ID:

The upper-left Faraday cage hides, I imagine, the Zigbee controller. Its markings are:


and thru a convoluted course of involving Google Picture search adopted by a bunch of dead-end (and dead-page) searches that ended up bearing (hopefully not-rotten) fruit, I assume it’s Silicon Labs’ EFR32MG21:

Now for the rest of the ICs on this area:

The IC on the very prime, with the silver rectangular “patch” atop it (which I at first thought was a sticker however can’t appear to peel off, so…) seemingly protecting a same-size gold area beneath, is without doubt one of the puzzlers. Above the silver patch are the next faintly (so I might not be spot-on with my discernment) stamped strains:


Beneath the silver part are additionally two marked strains, the primary stamped and the second embossed:


And subsequent to the chip is that this odd construction I’ve not encountered earlier than, with a loop atop it:

Any concepts, people?

To its decrease proper is one other puzzler, marked as follows:

TI 13

Thankfully, the rest aren’t as obscure. Instantly beneath the “silver patch” IC is Cirrus Logic’s CS42526 2-in, 6-out multi-channel codec with an built-in S/PDIF receiver (hearkening again to my earlier S/PDIF dialogue associated to the bottom-panel PCB). And subsequent to its lower-right nook are two Texas Devices THS4532 twin differential amplifiers.

Final however not least, there are the Faraday cage-rich proper and decrease quadrants:

Let’s sort out the cage-free IC on the proper edge first: it’s one other Texas Devices TPA3129D2 class D audio amplifier, the mate of its mirror-image at left. Above and two Cages to its left is nonvolatile storage, a Sandisk SDINBDG4-8G 8 GByte industrial NAND e.MMC flash reminiscence:

To its proper, beneath the big rectangular Faraday cage, is (curiously) one other MediaTek Wi-Fi-plus-Bluetooth controller IC, the MT7658, which is on-line documentation-bereft compared to its MT7668 cousin on the opposite aspect of the PCB, talked about earlier, however which I’ve seen earlier than.

And what about that enormous sq. Faraday cage on the backside? Glad you requested:

Beneath the lid, within the higher proper and left corners, are two Samsung K4A4G165WE-BCRC 4 Gbit DDR4 SDRAMs. And beneath them each, befitting the thermal paste augmentation, is the system “brains”, MediaTek’s MT8516 utility processor.

Do not forget that earlier talked about LED ring, and people up-top buttons and mics? They recommend we’ve acquired one PCB to go, plus we haven’t seen any midrange or tweeter transducers but. Subsequent let’s get out these two shiny steel brackets:

Two screws for every connect to the aspect:

And one screw for every connect to the assemblage above (or beneath, within the Echo Studio’s present upside-down orientation, if you happen to want):

And with impediments now eliminated, they raise proper out:

Subsequent up for elimination is the baseplate beneath (extra precisely: above) the now-absent steel braces and system board:

Extra audio system! Lastly!

At this level, I hypothesized that I’d must get the highest of the Echo Studio off to be able to proceed any additional. Holding it in place, nonetheless, have been 14 screws accessible solely from beneath the highest, solely a subset of that are proven right here:

Why? These audio system. The midranges specifically had actually robust magnets, which tended to intercept and cling to screws en route from their unique places to the skin world:

Those self same magnets, I found full with colourful accompanying language, would additionally yank Torx bits proper out of my driver deal with. I finally bailed (quickly) on my iFixit driver equipment and went with a set of long-shaft single-piece Torx screwdrivers as an alternative. Right here’s the top consequence because it pertains to the highest speaker grill, alongside my varied implements of destruction:

And right here’s the now-exposed upward-directed midrange speaker:

4 extra screws eliminated, much less “momentously” than earlier than, set it free:

Now for that prime outer ring. With the screws initially holding it in place not current, I used to be capable of pop it free utilizing solely my thumbnail:

The translucent ring across the underside for the LEDs to shine by is probably going apparent (maintain that thought), as are the “springs” for the 4 buttons. The one on the left, if you happen to look intently, is totally different than the opposite three: there’s a cutout in it. Once more, maintain that thought:

Two simply eliminated screws are all that also maintain the LED PCB in place:

Right here’s an preliminary overview shot of the LED PCB standalone, and of its prime with the ring of 24 LEDs round its center, an instantly apparent function.

Eager-eyed readers could have additionally already observed the seven MEMS microphone ports, certainly one of which is lacking its gasket (caught as an alternative to the underside of the highest outer ring, which you’ll now discover if you happen to return and take a look at the sooner photograph of it). Let’s now do some closeups, starting with the highest:

The “mute” change, at far proper on this photograph, is totally different than the others as a result of it has devoted LEDs alongside it that illuminate purple when the mics are in a muted state (along with all the ring going purple, as talked about earlier). And what’s that subsequent to the “motion” change on the far left? Bear in mind the cutout I discussed within the accompanying change? It’s an ambient gentle sensor that allows dynamic calibration of the LEDs’ brightness to the room’s present illumination stage. The IC beneath it, judging from the emblem, is sourced by Toshiba Semiconductor, a part of its LCX low-voltage CMOS logic line, however I can’t definitively ID it. Listed below are the markings:


The chips at proper:

are a Texas Devices LP5036 36-channel I2C RGB LED driver and, beneath it, one other TI chip unknown in perform and labeled as follows:

T 0C8

That very same two-chip combo can be current on the left aspect of the PCB:

The underside of the highest aspect of the PCB is relatively unmemorable:

as is the underside of the PCB, except for the majority of the MEMS microphones’ housings:

We’re nonetheless not the remainder of the way in which inside, however preserve the religion; I nonetheless see just a few screws up prime:

Seems the Echo Studio is comprised of two separate shells, the outer doing double-duty as entrance and aspect audio system’ grills (and, together with the highest items’ colours, the only real differentiators between “Charcoal” and “Glacier” variants, come to think about it), which now slide aside:

Right here’s what the outer-shell grilles for the entrance tweeter and aspect midranges appear like from the within:

No speaker, subsequently no grill, in again, in fact:

They correspond to the inner-shell places of the left midrange:

Proper midrange:

And entrance tweeter:

Once more, the bottom is naked:

Talking of which…the midranges are similar to the top-mounted one you already noticed. However let’s take a more in-depth take a look at that tweeter:

In closing, one last set of photos. In peering by the outlet left from the tweeter’s elimination:

I occurred to note the 2 antenna wires, one white and the opposite black, that I’d briefly confirmed you earlier. I noticed I hadn’t but discerned the place they ended up and determined to rectify that omission earlier than wrapping up:

That is the within of the interior shell, trying towards the highest and again of the system from the underside. The antennas are within the again left (black wire) and proper (white wire) of the Echo Studio, subsequent to and “behind” the midrange drivers:

My guesses are as follows:

  • One in all them is for two.4 GHz Wi-Fi (black?), the opposite for five GHz (white?).
  • The two.4 GHz one multitasks between Wi-Fi and Zigbee duties, and
  • The Bluetooth antennae are the PCB-embedded ones famous earlier.

Agree or disagree? And associated: I’m nonetheless baffled as to why the design consists of two Wi-Fi-plus-Bluetooth controller SoCs, MediaTek’s MT7658 and MT7668, plus a devoted Zigbee controller. If in case you have any insights on this, or ideas on anything I’ve lined on this huge missive, I as-always welcome them within the feedback!

Brian Dipert is the Editor-in-Chief of the Edge AI and Imaginative and prescient Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the corporate’s on-line publication.

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