Amazon’s new second-generation Echo Buds are the corporate’s second crack at true wi-fi earbuds. They’re smaller, lighter, and extra snug than earlier than, and now have more practical noise cancellation. The primary time round, Amazon borrowed a few of Bose’s tech to assist the unique Echo Buds block outdoors noise, however model two was constructed utterly in-house. Arms-free Alexa voice instructions nonetheless get prime billing, however essentially the most compelling factor in regards to the Echo Buds remains to be their aggressive value — and the stable mixture of options you get in trade.
The Echo Buds price $119.99 or $139.99 with a wi-fi charging case. Through the preorder interval, Amazon supplied each for $20 off. Not solely is Amazon undercutting premium noise-canceling buds from Apple, Bose, Sony, and others, but it surely’s additionally seemingly making an attempt to obliterate mid-range choices just like the Anker Liberty Air 2 Professionals.
The revamped Echo Buds are 20 p.c smaller in footprint and have a shortened nozzle, in order that they protrude from the ears a bit much less. They ditch the shiny outer touchpad for a matte design (although the facet dealing with your ear is shiny) The Amazon “smile” brand is current on each earbuds, but it surely’s not as obnoxious as I assumed it’d be. It’s matte and printed onto the buds as an alternative of being embossed or given a unique texture to face out, so the brand doesn’t actually name consideration. Nonetheless, I’d have most well-liked it to not be there in any respect. The charging case is way extra understated; there, the smile brand is on the underside — the place most individuals are by no means even going to see it.
That case has additionally been downsized and is roughly 40 p.c smaller than the final gen, however nonetheless carries sufficient juice to offer the earbuds with two full recharges. The Echo Buds final for 5 hours with ANC enabled, which is extraordinarily par for the course in 2021. This stretches to six.5 hours in the event you disable noise canceling and hands-free Alexa. Oh, and the case does charging LEDs proper: you get separate indicators for the case’s cost and each earbuds even have their very own.
Amazon has included all the things however the kitchen sink to assist assure an excellent seal and comfortable match. There are 4 sizes of silicone suggestions within the field — S, M, L, XL — and three totally different pairs of non-obligatory wing suggestions. The ear suggestions are coloration coded, which makes it a lot simpler to inform the totally different sizes aside with out having to squint at them. The wing suggestions may show helpful in the event you’re going to make use of the Echo Buds for intense exercises, however they weren’t essential for on a regular basis use or outside runs in my ears; the decreased measurement of the earbuds was sufficient to maintain them locked in place for me.
The brand new Echo Buds now characteristic a vented design to chop down on ear strain, much like Apple’s AirPods Professional and up to date Samsung Galaxy Buds fashions. However the flipside of this transformation means in the event you flip off ANC within the Alexa app (or with a voice command), you’re going to listen to a good mixture of ambient noise. If you wish to hear extra, Amazon will get credit score for its passthrough mode, which almost matches the AirPods Professional and Bose in how pure sound it sounds. In the event you crank it up all the best way, it virtually seems like superpower listening to — however there’s a really noticeable hiss at max passthrough.
Amazon claims that the second-gen Echo Buds cancel out “twice as a lot noise” as the unique pair, and the enhancements are most concentrated in decrease sound frequencies — precisely what you’d need for flights or bothersome hums round the home or workplace. However keep in mind that the unique Echo Buds utilized Bose’s noise discount know-how, which isn’t the identical as full-blown lively noise cancellation. (Even on the time, Bose mentioned it may do higher.) So whereas Amazon is promoting important good points over the prior mannequin, you gained’t hear any claims that it’s outperforming earbuds from Apple, Bose, Jabra, or different firms. These are totally different goalposts.
And the Echo Buds objectively aren’t as efficient because the AirPods Professional or Bose QuietComfort Earbuds at turning down the quantity knob on the skin world. You may assume that it’s due to the vented design — however the AirPods Professional have that design trait too — so it’s actually simply that Amazon’s proprietary noise cancellation tech doesn’t but measure as much as the perfect on the market. Sometimes when holding the Echo Buds in my arms, I’d hear a high-pitched whine or squeal popping out of them. This has occurred with different earbuds, and Amazon tells me it’s as a consequence of an ANC-related suggestions loop. Amusingly, I’m additionally instructed there’s a “squeal detection algorithm” that’s meant to suppress this. The noise is rarely actually a hassle after they’re in your ears, fortunately, but it surely does pop up sometimes.
Satisfactory ANC apart, the Echo Buds do sound good. They handily beat out the AirPods Professional at bass, which is turning into an everyday incidence at this level. Amazon says the 5.7mm drivers are “optimized for elevated constancy in bass and treble,” and so they make for straightforward listening once you’re taking part in spoken phrase content material like podcasts, audiobooks, or watching movies. All of this proves out as true when utilizing them. The bass has ample kick and the treble is nicely contained and by no means will get earsplitting. Tracks like Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Name Me By Your Identify)” or Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Begin Now” are good demonstration of what the Echo Buds are good at. I get the impression that Amazon has tuned these with fashionable hits in thoughts.
However they do lack a layer of depth and texture that you simply’ll discover within the increased value tiers of true wi-fi earbuds. Acoustic-heavy tunes aren’t as heat as they might be, and tracks like Phoebe Bridgers’ “Graceland Too” don’t have as broad of a soundstage. The highly effective backside finish could make up for that considerably on songs like “Chinatown” by Bleachers, the place the bassline by no means will get misplaced to the synths, vocals, and guitars.
So even earlier than you get to the Alexa a part of the equation, the Echo Buds set up themselves as worthy contenders at a hard-to-resist value. Additionally they supply IPX4 water and sweat resistance, and voice name high quality has improved some over the first-gen buds. Audio robotically pauses when both bud is eliminated, and both sides can be utilized independently. Like most earbuds (save for these from Jabra), the Echo Buds lack multipoint Bluetooth pairing. Each AAC and SBC codecs are supported. Connection stability has been rock stable in my assessment interval up to now with solely the rarest blip or dropout.
However how does Amazon’s voice assistant fare? Alexa can aptly deal with music requests (“play my Launch Radar on Spotify”), climate checks, good dwelling instructions, and different actions which might be usually easy crusing on Echo audio system. Amazon says “later this 12 months” the Echo Buds will get the identical VIP Filter as its Echo Frames, which helps you to decide which notifications you need to hear.
However on the entire, Alexa noticeably lags behind Siri and Google Assistant at extra on-the-go requests. In the event you ask for instructions, Alexa responds that it’s essential to faucet a notification in your iPhone for these instructions to really open up in Apple Maps. It’s not an enormous inconvenience, and a few of this — like SMS messaging being restricted to Android — boils right down to platform restrictions, however there are sometimes center steps that don’t exist in the event you’re making the identical ask of Siri or Google Assistant. (You additionally should grant the Alexa app full-time location entry for instructions to work.) It’s good that I can ask these earbuds the place the closest COVID-19 vaccine website is or inquire in regards to the standing of a given subway line, however these are the sort of issues that I’m all the time going to make use of my cellphone for. Getting folks to alter that default habits is not any small hurdle.
There have been additionally bugs the place I didn’t anticipate them. After I would say, “Alexa, activate noise canceling,” it will typically reply “sorry, what machine?” Apparently “noise cancellation” is the time period you’ve bought to make use of, but it surely appears apparent that each ought to get you there. This was by no means a problem with voice instructions asking to allow or change off passthrough mode, which labored each time.
Amazon says it has in-built a variety of privacy-minded options to restrict how typically the microphones are listening for the “Alexa” wake phrase. At the very least one of many earbuds wants to really be in your ear for the mics to perform — they’re robotically muted when each are eliminated — and there should be an lively Bluetooth connection to your cellphone. You too can manually mute the mics with the Alexa app or by customizing a long-press to do this.
Although Amazon promotes hands-free Alexa as a flagship characteristic of the Echo Buds, I feel it’ll be a negligible worth add for some consumers: the worth, consolation, and sound are nonetheless sufficient to make these earbuds fairly engaging. You’ve additionally bought the selection of utilizing your cellphone’s native assistant as an alternative of Alexa, which is an alternative choice for the long-press command on the skin of a bud. So no less than Amazon isn’t forcing something on you.
In the event you don’t have an inherent resistance in the direction of Amazon merchandise (and a few folks definitely do), the 2021 Echo Buds strike a stability of options that’s downright spectacular at their promoting value. They’re a substantial improve from the first-gen earbuds in consolation with improved noise cancellation in addition — even when it’s not near greatest at school. You are able to do higher in the event you’re prepared to spend upwards of $50 to $70 extra. In the event you don’t need to go that top, the Echo Buds gained’t disappoint.
Images by Chris Welch / The Verge