“Competitors are catching up, but for Alexa fans, the Echo Buds are still amazing.”
- Comfortable, secure fit
- Excellent sound
- Very effective noise reduction
- Hands-free Alexa
- Built-in Tile tracking
- So-so battery life
- Limited set of earbud controls
- No wireless charging
It’s been one year since Amazon debuted its first and only true wireless earbuds, the $130 Echo Buds. Since then, many competitors have turned up that offer similar features for less money.
And though the Echo Buds still compare very favorably against Apple’s AirPods, Amazon’s buds are no longer quite the slam-dunk they used to be.
On paper, the $130 Amazon Echo Buds are still compelling. They have five hours of battery life, a snug-fitting and comfortable design, an IPX4 sweat- and water-resistant rating, Bose Active Noise Reduction, and hands-free access to Alexa — along with Siri and Google Assistant compatibility.
But time doesn’t stand still. Do the Echo Buds still have what it takes to be a top choice for true wireless earbuds shoppers? We’ve updated our initial review to take another look.
Design and fit
Amazon went to a lot of trouble to ensure that the Echo Buds fit a wide variety of ears. Included with the Buds are three sizes of silicone ear tips and three sizes of ear fins, which Amazon calls “wingtips.” A correct fit matters because the Bose active noise reduction (ANR) feature works best when a full seal is achieved. Amazon has an ear tip sizing test — a tool inside the settings menu of the Amazon Alexa app — that helps you find the right size of ear tip, and it works well.
For my ears, the default ear tips were a great fit. The Echo Buds sat comfortably and were secure even without the optional wingtips. With the wingtips added, they didn’t budge at all. The rounded shape of the earbuds makes them easy to tap with your fingers, yet they sit flush. Unlike Apple’s AirPods, there’s no protruding stem, giving the Echo Buds a very clean, minimalist look.
One of the problems that plague true wireless earbuds — even those with Apple’s custom H1 Bluetooth chip — is connection dropouts. Whether it’s one earbud losing its signal, or both dropping out for a split-second (or longer), it’s something we’ve experienced a fair bit in our reviews of the best true wireless earbuds.
The Echo Buds have proven unflappable, staying tethered over Bluetooth with either an iPhone or an Android device. Even in locations that have stymied other earbuds, the Echo Buds never missed a beat. They’re also very flexible. You can use them both, or you can use just one — handy for phone calls.
The Echo Buds have so far proven to be unflappable, staying reliably tethered over Bluetooth.
The one hiccup I experienced was the initial pairing of the Echo Buds. On my Android handset, it worked as expected. The Alexa app recognized the Echo Buds when I opened the charging case and placed it beside the phone. My test iPhone didn’t handle the process smoothly, so I had to add the Echo Buds manually through the app.
Active noise reduction
One of the highlights of the Echo Buds is their onboard ANR developed by Bose. I’m still not clear on the difference between ANR and ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) — which Bose uses on its flagship headphones — but I can tell you this: It works really well.
Turning on Bose ANR has an almost magical effect on constant low-frequency noise, like the hum of machinery. I didn’t get a chance to put the Echo Buds to the ultimate traveler’s test — an airplane — but when I stood next to a fridge with its compressor running or my NAS hard drive during its ludicrously noisy diagnostics run, those sounds were totally canceled.
ANR is also effective at reducing the sound of traffic, background conversations in cafes and restaurants, and general ambient noises. At my gym, it was a lot easier to focus on my daily fix of morning talk-show radio.
It’s not a cone-of-silence like you’ll experience with the AirPods Pro, but it’s effective enough that you appreciate the ability to let outside sounds in temporarily via the pass-through mode. Inside the Echo Buds settings, you can adjust the level of pass-through amplification. On its maximum setting, the feature acts like a hearing aid of sorts, not only letting sounds in but magnifying them.
Surprisingly good sound
I wasn’t expecting the Echo Buds to deliver excellent audio quality, but they do, easily beating Apple’s AirPods. Sound is rich and full, and very satisfying. The sound can best be described as “close.” Vocals and instruments feel like they’re right beside you, as opposed to occupying a wide stage.
I wasn’t expecting the Echo Buds to deliver excellent audio quality, but they do.
They over-deliver on bass out of the box — not uncommon on audio accessories — but you can compensate using the Alexa app’s EQ settings. I threw many genres at the Echo Buds, and they were all enjoyable to listen to.
Hands-free voice assistant
I was able to get Alexa’s attention while huffing and puffing on an elliptical trainer without raising my voice at all.
The Echo Buds make Alexa even more personal. If you have the Amazon Alexa app running in the background on your iOS or Android device, you can simply speak your preferred wake word to summon Alexa. The three-mic array on each earbud does an impressive job of recognizing when you’re speaking. I was able to get Alexa’s attention while huffing and puffing on an elliptical trainer without raising my voice at all.
Using Alexa has become mundane for many people, but I guarantee you’ll be wowed by the experience all over again once it can follow you anywhere you go.
And going hands-free doesn’t get any more affordable — or compatible — than the $130 Echo Buds. The Google Pixel Buds 2 let you talk to Google Assistant for $170, but they only let you do so on Android phones. H1-equipped Apple products like the AirPods and AirPods Pro let you talk to Siri, but only when using an iOS device, and these earbuds start at $149 and go up to $249. Meanwhile, the Echo Buds play nicely with both Android and iOS.
The Echo Buds will also work with Siri and Google Assistant (depending on your device) but only Alexa can be used hands-free for now.
I still wish Amazon would add Alexa support for more music services, but most folks will find the ability to control Spotify, Apple Music, or Amazon Music (to name the big ones) will be more than adequate.
With no physical buttons, you tap on the smooth outer surfaces of the Echo Buds to control its various functions. The Alexa app gives you the ability to assign different functions to each earbud, but you only get two interactions: A double-tap and a long-press.
This limited set of four options (two commands per earbuds) means you’ll have to choose which functions matter most in terms of speed, and which ones you’re willing to handover to Alexa.
You can pick from the usual media playback controls (play/pause, skip forward/back, volume up/down) and there’s even an option to mute/unmute the microphones.
You can also flip between the Bose ANR modes (on and pass-through) or use an optional “pass-through and pause” function which simultaneously pauses your music and lets you hear your surroundings.
Regardless of which function you assign to the double-tap, when a call comes in a double-tap will answer or end it.
When both earbuds are in and audio is playing, simply pull one out, and the sound will automatically pause. Put it back in, and you’re back to your tunes. The pause function works well, but I found that the resume feature was a bit hit and miss.
One of the tap actions can also be assigned to activating Google Assistant (Android devices) or Siri (iOS devices). Unfortunately, there’s no way to summon Google Assistant on an iOS device.
Double-taps are recognized very effectively, but I had some trouble with long-presses. The trick is to treat the first part of the long press as a tap — a gentle touch won’t work. Overall, I’d prefer it if the Echo Buds offered more command options from the earbuds themselves. Being able to call on Alexa to help out is awesome, but it shouldn’t be a requirement.
The Echo Buds are about average in their ability to pick up your voice, but they do a very good job of blocking other sounds. During my test, I walked past a busy construction site. My caller could hear the occasional bang or boom, but the constant droning of the machinery was almost totally masked.
Typically, this is the one area that true wireless earbuds struggle with, so if you’re looking for a set of buds that can deal with loud environments, the Echo Buds are better than most.
Find my buds
Skullcandy and Sennheiser have both started to integrate Tile Bluetooth tracking into their headphones and earbuds. While I’m not sold on the lost headphones scenario, it’s a very handy way to locate missing earbuds. The Echo Buds have this feature too, but it involves giving the Alexa app constant access to your location, as well as enabling the Tile Alexa skill.
Once it’s set up, the Alex app can show you the last known location of each earbud, give you directions to find them, and trigger each bud to emit a sound, even if they’ve powered down because they weren’t in use.
Battery life and charging case
If there’s one area where the Echo Buds fail to inspire, it’s their battery life. Amazon claims five hours per charge, which is at the low end of the current options. I found it’s more like four-and-a-half hours if you keep Bose ANR on and use the wake word for Alexa.
The charging case is good for three recharges, for a total of 20 hours of play time — almost an entire day’s worth of use — before you have to go in search of an available USB power source. A 15-minute quick charge can buy you an extra two hours of listening time.
This is probably enough for most people, and the nearly identical battery specs on Apple’s earbuds don’t seem to have affected their popularity. Nonetheless, we’ve seen massive improvements in true wireless battery life since 2019 (Samsung’s Galaxy Buds+ with 11 hours of playback time come to mind) and Amazon should pump these numbers up a bit on the next version.
The charging case, with its smooth, rounded corners, will fit in most pockets but it’s one of the biggest and heaviest on the market. It’s not clear to me why this is; there are dozens of earbuds with longer battery lives and much smaller cases. Its size also makes one-handed opening and closing a bit tricky.
There’s no wireless charging and those who live in a USB-C world may find the MicroUSB charging port a tad inconvenient.
The Echo Buds snap into place on their charging contacts with just the right amount of magnetic pull and remain securely fastened until you pluck them out, but this only seems to be true when using the smallest wingtips (or none at all). The larger wingtips have a tendency to bump into the contours of the sockets, which can prevent the earbuds from making a secure connection with the charging contacts. It’s not a deal-breaker, but you’ll have to pay attention when seating the earbuds in the case.
At $130, the Amazon Echo Buds are a great value. It’s their sheer number of useful features, like hands-free Alexa access and awesome Bose ANR, that make them a great purchase.
Is there a better alternative?
The Echo Buds hit the sweet spot when it comes to price, quality, and features, but 2020 has seen a tidal wave of new competitors emerge.
But these earbuds lack the Echo Buds’ convenient hands-free Alexa access and ANR — the $99 1More Stylish come to mind. The $150 Samsung Galaxy Buds+ may be the closest competitor in terms of price and features, though they lack noise-canceling functionality.
You can also spend a good bit more and get better audio, better battery life, and true ANC. Sony’s $230 WF-1000XM3. come to mind.
Then there’s Apple’s AirPods Pro. They’re in a different league of audio quality, call quality, and noise-canceling tech. They’re also over $100 more.
How long will they last?
The Echo Buds come with a one-year warranty from Amazon which while standard, doesn’t tell you much about long-term performance. Compared to other wireless earbuds we’ve tested, the Echo Buds look to be of average build quality, but like so many of these devices, it’s probably the batteries that will give out before the earbuds themselves fail.
Should you buy them?
Yes. The Echo Buds offer an amazing combination of features that make their $130 price tag all the more appealing.
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