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Neutral Milk Hotel - On Avery Island Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the oft-overshadowed debut from indie rock icons, a smaller and more intimate look into the mercurial world of Jeff Mangum.
In the mid-’90s, Jeff Mangum moved into a haunted closet in Denver where he had dreams of women in fur coats drinking champagne, yelling at him to get out of their house. During a snowy Colorado winter, the Louisiana-born songwriter and his childhood friend Robert Schneider set about recording what would become Neutral Milk Hotel’s debut album. They worked feverishly, going out to smoke cigarettes when they hit a roadblock, until, in May of 1995, they had a finished record. The North Carolina indie label Merge scooped up the young band and quietly released On Avery Island the following March.





Amazon Echo Dot 3 vs Amazon Echo Dot 2: What's The Difference?

Amazon will launch the Echo Dot 3 on 11 October, 2018. The Echo Dot 3 improves on the Echo Dot 2 – but what sets the two apart, and should you upgrade?

On 11 October, Amazon will release the Echo Dot 3, the 3rd generation upgrade to the existing Echo Dot 2. Dot devices are Amazon's entry-level smart speakers. Equipped with Alexa and far-field voice control, the Echo Dot allows users to make calls, send messages, adjust thermostats, power lights and control other connected devices hands-free.

In anticipation of the Echo Dot 3, which is now available to pre-order for £49.99/US$49.99, Amazon has reduced the price of the Echo Dot 2 to £39.99 (it is still $49 in the US, though not as easy to purchase). 

This prompts the obvious question of whether the upgrade is worth it. We’ve looked into what sets the two apart to help you decide. You can also see our review of the Echo 2 for an in-depth look at its features.

The first, most obvious difference is the look. The Echo Dot 3 features a more rounded shape and a fabric-bound speaker that wraps the body of the device, ousting the smooth plastic look of the Echo Dot 2. The Echo Dot 3 is available in three shades: Charcoal, Heather Grey and Sandstone. The Echo 2 is available in black and white.

The new look might remind some of the Echo’s competitor the Google Home Mini, especially as both now share charcoal and grey fabric shades. The volume, microphone and Action buttons are all still at the top of the device, however, staying true to the Echo Dot's original design (though the mic mute icon has changed to a slashed circle).

The Echo 3 is slightly larger as well at 43mm high and 99mm wide. In contrast, the Echo Dot 2 spans a 32mm height and 83.5mm width. This results in a slightly heavier upgrade with the new Echo Dot weighing 300g – nearly twice the weight of the 163g Echo Dot 2.

The Echo Dot 3 also does away with the Micro-USB power port and relies on a direct power port instead.

When we reviewed the Echo Dot 2, we weren't too impressed with the dainty sound quality of the speaker – this was, of course, in relation to the larger Echo. The Echo 3 strives to resolve this with a more powerful speaker that's louder by 70-percent and which sounds richer too. It's no surprise then that the Dot 3 uses more power with a 15W rating – up 6W from the Echo Dot 2.

Like the Echo Dot 2, you can still connect the new Echo Dot to another speaker via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm audio cable if you choose to. Amazon has also introduced its own deep bass sub woofer, the Echo Sub (£119.99/US$129.99), if you're after even more power.

Along with losing the micro-USB power port, the Echo Dot 3 also reduces the number of far-field microphones to four from seven.

Further, like the Echo Dot 2, you can still initiate calls and send messages hands-free via the device itself or through the Alexa App –  but the Dot 3 goes further and aims to introduce voice-activated Skype calls as well.

The Drop In feature remains on the Echo Dot 3 too. Drop In lets you connect with Echo devices in other parts of your home or with close family members or friends so you can send a quick message when you need to. For instance, you can announce when dinner is ready across all Echo devices in your home.

Echo Dot 3's Alexa accessibility features
We’re also happy to see Amazon refine its Echo Dot with Alexa software that is more mindful towards accessibility needs – both on the device and on the Alexa app. This includes features to assist with vision, hearing, mobility, and speech.

For example, to help those with hearing needs, the light ring on the Echo Dot 3 should change colours based on the action Alexa takes; or to support visual needs, the volume can be increased by voice commands or by touch.

Meanwhile, the Alexa app supports larger text settings (though only on Android), as well as compatibility with screen reader software (see full list of software here). The app also allows high contrast text. These are only a handful of features – you can read more about Alexa’s accessibility features in full here.

Should you upgrade?
All in all, the Echo Dot 3 keeps the elements that make the Echo 2 a trusty smart assistant, but bolsters it with a better speaker, suaver design, and greater accessibility features. The Echo Dot 3 is slightly heavier than the Echo Dot 2, but in exchange you get better sound quality. This may justify an upgrade to some, but if you're just after more powerful sound you might as well connect your Echo device to a larger speaker via Bluetooth or an audio cable. 

The Echo Dot 3 is best suited to those who do not already have an Echo device but are in the market for one. It's not a massive step away from the Dot 2 but you get new features that promise greater connectivity, like starting Skype calls hands-free. The integration of accessibility features also make it a better alternative to the Echo Dot 2 if you don't already own an Echo device.

Stay tuned for a full review of the Echo Dot 3 once it officially launches on October 11th.



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