Google Home and Amazon Echo devices have excellent microphone arrays. If yours seem never to hear you, the problem might not be the speaker or your voice. It might be where you put the device. Better placement may improve its performance.
Why Speaker Placement Matters
Smart speakers, like the Google Home and Amazon Echo, are actually pretty dumb devices on a local level. They amount to a speaker, some microphones, and just enough computer to listen for a wake word. All the rest of the intelligence comes from the cloud.
But, even cloud cloud-powered, that intelligence doesn’t do much if the speaker can’t hear you.
Smart speakers have multiple microphones built to listen to everything around them. But, if you put the speaker in the wrong location, those microphones may not work optimally. But that’s ok; it’s an easy fix. Just move your smart speaker. It’s just a matter of knowing where to move it.
The Center of a Room is Best
Knowing where to put a smart speaker begins with understanding its microphones. Thanks to the fine folks at iFixit, we know exactly how the Amazon Echo and Google Home are set up. Each features multiple microphones—seven for the Echo and two for the Google Home—arranged on a circular circuit board. The internal speakers also follow the same circular format.
That means if you place a smart speaker against the wall, you run the risk of blocking some of its microphones from hearing your voice. Worse yet, it may hear an echo of your voice hitting the wall and bouncing to its microphones. Similarly, any sound your smart speaker puts out goes in all directions, which means it will hit closeby walls and bounce off, giving your music a muddy sound.
Because of that microphone and speaker arrangement, the best location for your smart speaker is close to the center of the room as possible, preferably with few obstructions. Achieving that may be somewhat difficult if you plop your Echo or Google Home on a coffee table, for instance, as the power cord may trip someone.
You could consider mounting an Echo Dot or Nest Hub Mini (formerly Google Home Mini) to the ceiling. You can find mounts for both devices, and once you have it in place, you can run the power cord to the closest outlet.
With a ceiling mount, not only can you choose a spot very close to the room, you’re likely to have few obstructions like furniture in the way. Depending on the ceiling mount you use, it may also make the speaker more discreet, too.
If you can’t manage to place your speaker in the exact center of the room, aim for as close as possible. Consider where people will congregate, too. In a living room, you might want to place an Amazon Echo or Google Home on a stand next to the couch where people sit.
Wall Mounts Are a Second-Best Option
Placing a smart speaker in the center of the room or the ceiling isn’t always possible. You may need to consider alternatives. On a stand or other furniture near people is a good option, but you may also want to consider wall mounts for something that gets your smart speaker out of the way.
You can use the same ceiling mounts for Echo and Google Home for wall mounts. You need to carve a hole in the wall, attach the smart speaker to the mount, then insert both into the wall. You’ll get a beautiful flush appearance, and gain a secondary benefit: this position points the entire mic array and set of speakers at open air instead of facing some of the hardware towards a wall.
Other mounts work by plugging directly into the wall and creating a stand to hold the smart speaker. Those are only a good idea if they orient the speaker on its side; if it’s facing up, you may block microphones and speakers.
If you have the new Nest Mini, you don’t even need mounting hardware! It features a mounting hole built into the unit; you can hang it on a wall like you would a picture.
If you can’t place your smart speaker in the center of a room or mount it to a wall, then you may have to put your Echo or Google Home somewhere less than ideal. Your smart speaker will still work, but it may not be as accurate and clear sounding. But there are a few places you want to avoid altogether.
Where You Shouldn’t Place You Smart Speaker
Sometimes the ideal locations aren’t practical for your home layout, so you’ll have to make do as best you can. But there are a few places you should avoid altogether. For example, don’t put your smart speaker near or on your stereo system’s speakers. That might be tempting since they are convenient flat surfaces often near a plug, but that placement creates a problem.
You wouldn’t want to stand in the middle of a loud concert and try to have a conversation. You’d have trouble picking up all the words and responding loudly enough to be heard. Your smart speaker will have the same problem, so don’t place it right up against other speakers.
Avoid windows, too. Placing your smart speaker near a window is asking for trouble, even if you keep them closed. Echo and Google Home devices are sensitive enough to hear a person, even through glass.
Depending on how security conscious you are, you may want to consider moving your smart speaker to a spot where it won’t be visible through a window, either. As some security researchers have shown, it’s possible to trick a voice assistant on nearly any device (smart speakers, tablets, and even phones), into accepting commands by shining lasers at them.
With the right signals, microphones will treat light as sound, and the voice assistant interprets the laser as spoken commands. Line-of-sight is necessary for the attack to work, so keeping your smart speaker somewhere away from a window helps.
If the only good place to keep your smart speaker is near a wall, and you can’t mount it vertically, try to keep the speaker as far away from the wall as possible. Amazon says you should aim for at least eight inches from the wall. That extra space should help the microphones hear you better, and the speakers sound better. Of course, make sure it’s not in a far corner of the room: Your smart speaker will have a harder time hearing you if it’s too far away.