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Amazon Echo now available for all US customers to purchase, ships July 14

Amazon on Tuesday officially opened up orders to the general public for its Echo accessory, a Siri-like, always-on virtual assistant that exists in a standalone tubular speaker.

The Amazon Echo was previously limited as an invite-only purchase, but starting Tuesday, anyone in the U.S. can place an order for the voice-driven hardware. The online retailer has said that orders will begin shipping to U.S. customers on July 14.

The Echo actually launched last November, and to date it has earned a 4.5-star rating from reviewers on Amazon. The handsfree, always-on device delivers information, news, music, weather, traffic and more, and is priced at $179.99.

"The customer response to Amazon Echo has been incredibly positive, and we've been working hard to build more as quickly as possible," said Greg Hart, Vice President, Amazon Echo. "We are grateful to our early customers for their incredible engagement and for providing us with invaluable feedback to help shape Echo as it evolves--with their help, we've been able to add features like Audible, Pandora, home automation, sports scores, calendar, and more. We're excited to get Echo into the hands of even more customers and continue to invent new features and experiences."

Echo uses far-field voice recognition with an array of seven microphones, allowing it to hear the user clearly around the room. It also utilizes beam-forming technology to combine the signals from individual microphones to suppress noise, reverberation, and even competing speech.

The Echo is designed with advanced dual downward firing speakers that produce 360 degrees of omni-directional, room filling audio. Amazon says the device gets smarter over time, because its "brain" actually exists in the cloud.

Since November, Amazon has added support for Belkin WeMo and Philips Hue connected home products, as well as Pandora, Audible, Google Calendar, If This Then That, sports scores, traffic, Prime Music stations, and customized news. The Echo can also be used to re-order Prime-eligible products.