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Can I make UK phone calls using Amazon Echo or Google Home? And other questions

Update (March 7th): Google Home devices can now make free UK calls

This Christmas an elderly relative has requested the gift of hands-free, voice-activated calling via a home virtual assistant. Much has been written about Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, and the tech press are awash with conflicting information and feature speculation. As Christmas approaches and confused buyers respond to Amazon’s advertising, I’ve provided answers for shoppers with elderly or manually impaired gift recipients in mind

Disclaimer: Both devices run proprietary software which transmits personal information into the cloud under terms which present a threat to privacy.


Q: Can Amazon Echo devices make calls to UK mobiles and landlines?

A: No. Currently Echo devices can only call other Echos, and people who have the Alexa App installed. Contacts must also be synchronised with the device doing the calling before a call can be initiated. Amazon announced in September that free calling from Echo devices to mobiles and landlines is now available to customers in the USA, Canada, and Mexico, but not the UK. Presumably this will come later.

Q: Can Google Home make calls to UK mobiles and landlines?

A: No. Google Home can currently only make calls from the USA and Canada. Calling has reportedly been activated and deactivated by Google for some users, but Google has yet to officially launch it and enable it for all customers.

Standalone operation (without a smartphone)

Q: Can Amazon Echo devices be used without a smartphone?

A: Yes, but only following initial setup and synchronisation with a smartphone and the Alexa App. Once setup is complete, a smartphone is not required. However to update contacts or reset the device a smartphone with the app will again be necessary.

Q: Can Google Home be used without a smartphone?

A: Yes, but similarly to Echos, it must first be setup and synched with a smartphone, and resynched to updated the contact book.


As things stand, neither Google nor Amazon offer proper calling of any kind for UK customers, nor standalone operation. With assistance during setup, and assuming that important contact numbers don’t change, Amazon Echo devices can provide limited app-enabled calling. Personally I wouldn’t rely on this as a primary communication channel.

Over the next few months we can expect that both companies will add free UK calling to their devices. It’s unlikely that their dependence on smartphones for setup will change however.

Achieve reverse reverb (echo) effect with GNU/Linux audio plugins

Objective: achieve a reverse reverb effect using only MIDI and Free Software audio plugins. What we’re aiming for is the same piano effect that’s used on “Planisphere” by Justice (one of my favourite tracks).

Approach: I’ll use Qtractor Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), with a piano MIDI instrument, and the Impulse Response (IR) LV2 plugin. You could use any other DAW that supports LV2 plugins, e.g. Ardour.


  1. Make sure you’re using a GNU/Linux distribution that is configured to run with a real-time kernel, and has the JACK audio server set up and working.
  2. Open Qtractor, and create a new track, and set it up as your favourite MIDI piano instrument. In my case I used Calf Fluidsynth (available in many distribution repositories as part of the calf-plugins pack), loaded with a grand piano soundfont.
  3. Create a new clip and edit it with the “piano roll” (MIDI) editor to add some notes. Play the clip and make sure you can hear the sound. Here’s the clip that I used.
  4. Audio: piano-clip-no-reverb

  5. Make sure you have the IR.LV2 plugin installed. This will handle the work of applying the reverse reverb effect. If it isn’t in your distribution’s software repositories, it can be easily compiled. Just download the source code, extract it, cd into its directory and run make, then make install. You’ll also need to install zita-convolver before compiling.
  6. IR.LV2 Plugin configured for reverse reverb

  7. In Qtractor, add IR as a secondary plugin to your piano instrument. IR should appear listed below the existing instrument plugin in the mixer window with a green light next to it showing that it’s enabled. If the IR plugin gui hasn’t appeared automatically, open it by double clicking on the IR plugin listed under the piano MIDI instrument in the mixer window.
  8. To make IR apply a reverb effect, we need an impulse response file to tell it what reverb pattern to use. I recommend the True M7 Impulse Pack, which contains a variety of high-quality WAV samples. Once downloaded and extracted, load a sample into IR by clicking “Open File” on the GUI. I’m using a room sample called “Blue Room L”. Here’s how my clip sounds with reverb applied.
  9. Audio: piano-clip-reverb

  10. By this stage, a reverb effect should have been applied to your piano, and if you play it you should hear the difference. To get reverse reverb, we have to do some configuration however. Try setting the following:

    Predelay = 0
    Attack, Envelope, Length, Strech = 100%
    Stereo In = 150%
    Reverse = on (toggled)
    Dry = Mute
    Wet = -6dB

    You can save this preset by clicking “Add” under “Bookmarks”. Choose somewhere sensible for the file and give it a name.By this stage you should see that the wave form in the graph preview window has changed, and that it illustrates a build up in volume representing the reverse reverb. Play your clip again – you should hear the desired effect!
  11. See how clips in both tracks are offset by two beats

  12. You’ve now achieved the desired sound effect, but one problem remains – there’s now an audio delay between then the MIDI note should be played according to the tract, and when you hear the sound through speakers. This will obviously cause havok with the timing of your track and the other instruments that don’t have any delay in playback. There may be a more elegant solution to this problem, but here’s a workaround that works for me. Simply shift your piano clip(s) two beats (half a bar) earlier (to the left). With the IR settings above, this should correctly compensate for the delay. Now if you add other tracks, they should sound syncronised with your reverse reverbed track.
  13. That’s it, good luck!