With Amazon’s push to add Alexa to just about every tech product, a pair of Alexa-powered true wireless headphones was inevitable. The Amazon Echo Buds are the company’s first attempt at making a true wireless headphone with Alexa in-tow and although they're not perfect, they have a lot going for them.
While you’d expect Alexa to be the standout feature, it’s actually Bose’s active noise reduction (ANR) technology that makes the Echo Buds special. For commuters who want more than just passive noise isolation to drown out the outside world, the Echo Buds’s ANR offers a welcome respite, and can't usually be found at the price range.
Since their launch, the Amazon Echo Buds have been given a host of new features to help you track your workouts.
Initiated via Alexa voice commands, the wireless earbuds can now monitor runs and other types of exercise, tracking your steps, calories burned, your speed, and distance
Overall, the Echo Bud’s ANR, features and reliability, make them a great first pair of headphones for newcomers to the true wireless space, but the headphone’s average battery life, illogical touch controls and mediocre sound hold them back from winning any best-in-class award.
[Update: Amazon has announced the All-new Echo Buds (2nd Gen), making some substantial changes to the original models that include swapping active noise reduction technology for full-on active noise cancellation.
Amazon is shaving some money off the sticker price too: the all-new Amazon Echo Buds price starts at $99.99 (around £70, AU$130) for a limited time in the US, before rising to the original RRP of $119.99 after May 12 with global availability still TBD.]
Price and release date
The Echo Buds cost just $129 (£119, about AU$220), and given the smart features packed in here, from hands-free Alexa to active noise reduction, that’s an incredibly attractive, and competitive, price point.
How does that stack up to the competition? The Pixel Buds 2 $179 (about £140, AU$262) while Apple charges $249 (£249, AU$399) for its flagship AirPods Pro. We found that the latter are a bit more appealing despite costing nearly twice as much, but if your budget is limited the Echo Buds are a fine substitute.
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For both better and worse, the Amazon Echo Buds feature a fairly generic design – in fact, you probably wouldn’t be able to guess who makes the headphones if it weren’t for the Amazon “smile” on the case.
The buds themselves feature no branding and look like the hundreds of other generic true wireless earbuds on the market... but that can be a good thing if you don't want everyone in the world to know you're wearing a pair.
The earbuds are made of plastic and feature both matte and gloss black. Each bud has a touch-sensitive button that can be reprogrammed to do different things in the Amazon Alexa app (more on that in a second).
Having touch controls are great but, for whatever reason, the default commands are completely illogical. The headphones only recognize double taps and long presses, which means you won’t be able to control everything you want. You’ll have to choose between controlling music playback, activating your phone’s assistant, toggling ANR, and toggling pass-through. Every other single-button true wireless headphone allows for single, double, triple, and long presses to control more features.
Thankfully, Amazon ships small, medium, and large tips to help you find the best fit. The company also ships silicone “wings” to help stabilize the headphones in your ears who want to use the IPX4-rated headphones for working out. The wings are clearly an afterthought, fitting poorly over the earbuds, but the headphones stay will stay securely in your ear without the wings, even while running.
The charging case is somewhat large, about the same size as the Apple AirPods Pro and feature three additional charges, giving a total of 20 hours of playback.
Disappointingly, the case features a microUSB charging port instead of the ubiquitous USB-C port. There’s also a button on the bottom that lights up a single LED on the case to let you know the charge level.
Since the Echo Buds are an Amazon product, Alexa integration is unsurprisingly great. The headphones are always listening for the Alexa command so you don’t have to press any buttons to access the assistant.
The best part is that you don’t have to use Alexa at all as the Alexa app allows you to choose which assistant you want to activate with a press.
The bad news? This does mean that Alexa is the only assistant that can be activated with a hotword instead of a long-press.
Let’s talk about the Echo Bud’s headlining feature: Active Noise Reduction (ANR). Different from active noise cancellation (ANC), ANR isn’t as effective as creating a sense of silence but it does a great job of reducing the noise from the outside world. (In fact, we found the Echo Bud’s ANR more effective than some other true wireless headphones that feature ANC.)
The Echo Buds already do a great job with noise isolation by creating a good seal but with ANR enabled, voices and the low drum of a train fade into the background.
In terms of sound quality, the Amazon Echo Buds leave a lot to be desired. Bass is heavy-handed and muddy. Mids aren’t affected too much by the excessive bass but there’s a lack of resolution across the frequency range. Highs are rolled off, helping the headphones to never sound fatiguing but it also blunts the sparkle of cymbals and violin. For non-audiophiles, the sound will be acceptable but even the budget EarFun Free and Creative Outlier Air sound better.
The mics on the Echo Buds are good at picking up voice commands but you’ll have to raise your voice in noisy environments. For calls, they sound fine with callers saying they could hear clearly but that the audio quality is reminiscent of being on speakerphone.
In terms of battery life, we found Amazon’s claims of 5 hours of playback on a charge just about right, observing four and a half hours per charge playing music at 50% volume. The case also provides an additional 3 charges for a combined total of around 20 hours of playback.
Should you choose to remove your Echo Buds, you’ll be pleased to hear that an onboard optical sensor will kick in, pausing your playback and smartly activating the tunes once again when you pop them back in.
Overall, it’s a very intelligent pair of earbuds, and set of features, at a price point that makes you wonder how Amazon can afford to sell them at all.
The Amazon Echo Buds are a good choice for those getting their first pair of truly wireless headphones – the battery life and sound are good enough to please most and the addition of Bose’s ANR is something you don’t see in this price range. That said, however, the frustrating controls and mediocre sound prevent it from outclassing other true wireless buds.
If you want better sound for less money, the Creative Outlier Gold are an excellent option or, if your budget allows for it, you can spend a bit more to upgrade to a better-sounding, longer-lasting alternative like the AirPods Pro or Sony WF-1000XM3, both of which we'd recommend more than the Echo Buds.
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Gerald Lynch also contributed to this review.