At first sight
Sleek Design You’ll never need to yell “Alexa!” It can pair with two devices simultaneously
Mediocre sound quality Poor ANC Insignificant battery life
How much do you love Alexa? You should really love Amazon’s digital assistant to choose its Echo Buds over other quality in-ear headphones.
Price at time of review
$99.99 with wireless charging case; $79.99 with wired charging case
Today’s best prices: Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Generation)
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Like each of Amazon’s smart speakers, its second-generation Echo Buds in-ear headphones do a fantastic job of summoning the company’s digital assistant, Alexa. And like each of those speakers, audio performance takes a back seat to hearing and responding to that wake word.
The second generation Echo Buds are generally a more refined product than Amazon’s other audio devices, with the possible exception of the $200 Echo Studio– so it’s no surprise that they received a generally warm reception when they were released a couple of years ago. They are definitely the best audio product I have heard from Amazon. Unfortunately for Amazon, it’s competing in a category full of excellent alternatives, and they don’t really stack up.-
How you feel about the Echo Buds really depends on how you feel about Alexa.
Echo Buds have a sleek case that slips easily in and out of pockets, are light in the ear canal, and have a charming cowgirl smile on the touch-sensitive control surface of each earbud. There’s a lot to like at first glance, but we’ll identify a few problems as we analyze their characteristics.
This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best noise canceling headphones.
Are the Amazon Echo Buds well built?
Echo Buds come with four sizes of ear tips and two sizes of stabilizer wing tips to ensure the best possible fit. In addition to the two earbuds and charging case, there’s also a USB-C charging cable and user manual. Choose between black and glacier white colors for the earphones and their case.
These earphones offer up to 5 hours of playback before needing to put them back in the charging case, which increases that number to 15 hours of usability. If you can do without active noise cancellation (ANC) and Alexa, those numbers jump to 6.5 and 19.5 hours, respectively. When you’re in a hurry, you can get 2 hours of playtime on a 15-minute charge.
The basic case allows for wired charging with the included cable and retails for $119.99. You can upgrade to the version reviewed here for $20 more. This model supports both wired charging via cable and wireless charging on a Qi-certified pad. At the time of this review, the earbuds were priced at $79.99 with the wired charging case and $99.99 with the wireless case.
There’s an iPX4 waterproof rating, making them adequate for gym use, but they aren’t designed to survive a dip in the pool. (you will learn everything you need to know about IP weathering codes at the previous link).
The controls are what you’d expect: a single tap on the outside of a headset plays and pauses audio, two taps skip to the next track or answer and hang up a phone call, three taps skip to the previous track, and a long press toggles between ANC and passthrough.
What do the Amazon Echo Buds sound like?
The Echo Buds use 5.7mm dynamic drivers, with two external beamforming microphones and one internal microphone in each earbud. They connect via Bluetooth 5.0 and support AAC and SBC codecs, but none of the aptX versions.
And this is where the Echo Buds really disappoint, especially as a flagship product from a brand like Amazon. Compared to Apple and Google’s flagship earphone offerings, the AirPod Pro and the Pixel Buds Pro respectively: the Amazon Echo Buds sound brittle and thin, with almost no bass presence.
If you’ve listened to the basement earphones that sell for around $30, you’ll be impressed with the Echo Buds, and you might be wondering what I’m complaining about here. But anyone who has been exposed to high-quality Bluetooth speakers or headphones will not be satisfied with the sound of these earphones.
Using the Alexa app
The Amazon Alexa app for iOS and Android will track your workouts via Echo Buds, but it’s a very basic tracking feature. As an iPhone user, I can’t imagine why anyone would use this feature instead of the built-in Fitness app included with iOS.
You can connect the Echo Buds to two devices at the same time and the app shows which devices they are. A definite plus for the Echo Buds is that the voice prompt tells you the name of the device you’re using when it makes a connection, rather than just confirming a nameless Bluetooth connection like almost any other wireless headset or headphone does.
There’s an option to have Alexa read your phone’s notifications aloud, which might come in handy during a run or bike ride. More importantly, the slider to turn that feature off again is easy to locate in the app.
There’s a simple three-band EQ that didn’t do much to improve the flimsy sound of music on these earbuds. What improved the audio was the audio customization test. Amazon uses a wider variety of volumes with its test tones than the customization tests I’ve used with other in-ear headphones.
If you decide to use the Amazon Echo Buds, the audio customization test is a must. The overall sound has improved a lot, so much so that I had to go back to my AirPods and Pixel Buds to see if I had been grossly wrong in my previous sound assessments.
Not exactly. My Custom Audio Profile comes with substantial digital signal processing that sounds artificial compared to the output of competitive earphones. That DSP makes the Echo Buds more listenable, but they’re nowhere near as good as the audio output of other high-profile earphones.
Amazon Echo Buds Noise Canceling
The other real letdown here is the active noise cancellation. I used the ear tip fit test to make sure I got the right tips. Yes, my fit was determined to be “great” for both ears. Every time I turned on the ANC, there was a soft low-grade hiss that reminded me how the best noise-cancelling headphones can reduce the sound of a jet engine during an airplane flight.
The only problem is that I was seated in a quiet room. When there was real noise (like a dishwasher or dryer), the Echo Buds filtered out less real noise than any other in-ear headphones I tested for TechHive.
Again, it’s not that Amazon’s ANC doesn’t work, it’s just that there are dozens of other choices out there that will do a much better job of eliminating unwanted distractions.
Alexa is the killer feature of Amazon Echo Buds
How you feel about the Echo Buds really depends on how you feel about Alexa. The Alexa Hands-Free feature is turned on by default, and you can call your digital assistant by simply saying “Alexa” and then asking your question. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with “Alexa,” as there’s no way to change the wake word like you can on Amazon’s Echo speakers.
If you’re using Echo Buds or any other headset with an iPhone, you can call Siri by saying “Hey, Siri.” If you use most Android phones, you can use Google Assistant with a “Hey, Google.” The draw here is for anyone who insists on using Alexa as a digital assistant.
I was able to issue a command to my Echo Dot speaker using the Echo Buds, along the lines of “Play the Ramones on my Echo Dot.” It worked when I was away from home. As I returned from a walk and entered my office, “Beat on the Brat” dutifully played on my Echo Dot. Of course, if I issued the command “Alexa, play the Ramones” when I was in the same room, the Echo Dot’s microphone would have handled my request without needing the Echo Buds.
Triggering smart home routines is probably a better use case for having an Alexa-enabled device with you when you’re out and about — you could, for example, trigger the lights to turn on as you walk to the porch at night. But it would only help if you’re returning from a walk or run; Of course you shouldn’t use earphones in the car.
Using Alexa hands-free drains the earbuds’ batteries, but that doesn’t seem to be any more of an issue than using ANC. Of course, the more you use a particular digital assistant, the better it should be at predicting the responses you want. Amazon wants to be the company that collects and processes that data for you, so they built the Echo Buds to be their Alexa solution on the go.
If you think Alexa is the best digital assistant and want to avoid the competition, or if you trust Amazon more with your data than Apple or Google, then Echo Buds are the way to go if you want a hands-free digital assistant. .
Should You Buy Second Generation Amazon Echo Buds?
Amazon positions the Echo Buds as a premium product designed to compete with the pricier Apple AirPods Pro 2, Google Pixel Buds, and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. They share the excellent fit and finish with those models, but the Echo Buds don’t compete in terms of audio quality or noise cancellation.
The Echo Buds are better than many other audio products Amazon has brought to market, but they don’t really live up to the standards set by other brands in this incredibly competitive space.
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