For months now, Amazon’s voice-activated digital assistant technology—better known as Alexa—has captivated shoppers, making the Amazon Echo wireless speaker one of the year's most popular products. But the company has been far less successful at producing quality sound.

In our tests, on a scale of Poor to Excellent, Amazon Echo earned a rating of Good score for sound. And so, when Amazon introduced a new Alexa-equipped, battery-powered speaker in March, called the Tap, we were hoping for a step toward a Very Good score. Instead we found the opposite: The sound in the smaller, tube-shaped Amazon Tap earned just a Fair in our tests.

The Amazon Tap speaker is not an ideal choice if you're a music lover, although you might find it acceptable for listening to talk radio, movies, and TV shows. The bass has almost no impact and the midrange is thin, somewhat grainy, and—at higher volumes—harsh. In general, the treble sounds smeared and sizzly. And, at the upper range, it's subdued.

On the bright side, we found no significant differences in the sound quality when we connected the device to an audio source via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and old-fashioned cable.

Alexa on the Amazon Tap

Once again, Alexa is the star of the show. On the Tap, Amazon's voice-activated assistant functions in much the same way as it did on the Amazon Echo—with one exception. To preserve the Tap's battery life (nine hours, according to Amazon), you have to press a microphone button to request Alexa's help, which is considerably less fun than simply telling the device to turn off the lights, give you the drive time to the office, or provide the score of a Yankees game.

As for utility, because the voice-activated technology is open to third-party developers, Amazon continues to add "skills" to Alexa's repertoire each week. Just like with the Echo, you can ask the Tap to order you a car via Uber and a pizza from Domino’s—once you've worked out the details in the Alexa app.

Bottom Line

If the Amazon Tap's mediocre sound is a a deal breaker, there's another option: the Amazon Echo Dot, $90. The Echo Dot features the same hands-free, voice-controlled technology as the Echo but doesn't masquerade as a speaker. Instead it allows you to arm a wireless speaker of your choice with Alexa via Bluetooth or an audio cable. (Check out the best wireless speakers to buy right now, and our wireless speaker buying guide and Ratings.)

And, as with the original Echo, the Echo Dot responds straightaway to voice commands. No need to push a button. Simply say, “Alexa, order me a Domino's pizza” and you're good to go.