Tech review: Asus Lyra Voice is both smart speaker and router

No unsightly antennas on the Asus Lyra Voice, which is both a router and a smart speaker that supports Amazon Alexa. PHOTO: ASUS
No unsightly antennas on the Asus Lyra Voice, which is both a router and a smart speaker that supports Amazon Alexa. PHOTO: ASUS

The Asus Lyra Voice marries a mesh router with a smart speaker. It is part of a new category of hybrid devices that are only starting to be available from manufacturers.

Having tried the similar Netgear Orbi Voice last December, I believe that such devices make sense. We typically place multiple smart speakers and mesh routers around the home, so why not merge the two?

It can be used in a Wi-Fi mesh network to extend the wireless network coverage and eliminate Wi-Fi blind spots. In addition, it is always listening for you to say "Alexa", which readies it to respond to your queries and voice commands.

Like the Orbi Voice, it uses the Amazon Alexa voice assistant, which, unlike the Google Assistant, is not supported in Singapore.

While you can get Alexa to work here, you will have to jump through some hoops. For starters, I had to install the required Alexa app to my Android smartphone from a third-party website, not the Google Play Store.

Apple users have to change the country setting for their Apple ID to a country that supports Alexa, such as the United States, before they can download the app.

I personally prefer the Google Assistant to Amazon Alexa but the latter is more popular with third-party developers and has a larger catalog of Alexa Skills, or voice commands for Alexa-compatible apps and devices. For instance, you can command the Lyra Voice to turn on the guest network or pause the Internet.

The Lyra Voice has a couple of advantages over its Netgear competitor. Firstly, it doubles up as a Bluetooth speaker, so you can play back audio from any device using Bluetooth.

  • SPECS

    Price: $439

    Ethernet Interface: 2 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN

    Standards: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac

    Security: WPA/WPA2-PSK

    Speakers: Two 8W stereo speakers

    RATING

    Features: 5/5

    Design: 4/5

    Performance: 4/5

    Value for money: 3.5/5

    Overall: 4/5

Secondly, it works as a Wi-Fi repeater and can be paired with most modern routers, regardless of the manufacturer. I configured it as a repeater with a pair of D-Link Covr mesh routers without any issue.

Using it as a repeater means losing out on some of its built-in features, such as parental controls and Trend Micro-powered security suite, but it is an option for those with an existing router. In comparison, the Orbi Voice works only with other Orbi routers.

If you have a compatible Asus router (denoted by the AiMesh label), you can add the Lyra Voice as a node in a mesh network. Users can then enjoy the benefits of a mesh network, such as seamless handoff between two nodes.

A perk of having a router that is also a smart speaker: it can guide you through the initial setup with its voice, though you will need to install the Asus Router app (available for iOS and Android) on a smartphone to complete the process.

For more advanced users, the browser interface for the Lyra Voice offers more extensive settings than the app, though it is also more cluttered.

A thin LED strip runs down the middle of its soundbar-like body, between its fabric-covered speakers. There are four buttons at the top, two for volume control, one to mute the microphone and the last to trigger Alexa.

Press this Alexa button or say Alexa aloud and the LED indicator turns blue to show that it is listening to your next words. It picked up my voice from across the living room without requiring me to shout. Press the volume controls at the top and this LED strip turns white to show the new audio level.

Compared to entry-level smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or the Google Home Mini, the Lyra Voice is a clear improvement. Its audio sounds more rounded and wider. It also gets really loud at maximum volume.

As a router, the Lyra Voice has three wireless bands and supports up to a maximum speed of 867Mbps for a single Wi-Fi 802.11ac client. In practice, I recorded a decent download speed of 403Mbps using two test laptops situated in my living room. The speed dropped to 113Mbps when one of the laptops was moved to a bedroom.

Verdict: It is competent at being both a router and a smart speaker. An option for the Google Assistant would have been perfect.