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Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff
Excellent Active Noise Cancellation
Touch controls are smart and configurable
Alexa is always ready to help
Fit is not quite as comfortable as I'd like
Case is a bit large
No wireless charging
Alexa should ask more questions before acting
With high-quality audio, excellent active noise cancelling (ANC) and a sub-$130 price, Amazon’s Echo Buds are an excellent value. They’re not as comfortable as Apple AirPods Pro, but they're an excellent, affordable option, and an especially good choice for those who’ve already integrated Alexa into their lives.
Had Amazon’s Echo Buds shipped just a month or so earlier, I think they might’ve taken a big lead in the in-ear active noise cancelling (ANC) space. But they didn’t. Instead Apple released its AirPods Pros, easily the best in-ear ANC headphones I’ve ever worn.
Amazon Echo Buds are a very close second, especially because they cost $120 less than Apple’s AirPods Pros for similar audio and quality of active noise cancellation.
Like Apple’s AirPods and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, Amazon Echo Buds ship in a charging case. The Echo Buds case is easily the largest of them and does not fit in my jeans change pocket and is even a bit bulgy for a regular pocket. There’s a button on the back for pairing and an old-school micro-USB charging port (it does ship with a USB cable). I’m beginning to think Amazon is the only company still using this legacy port.
Unlike the AirPods Pro case, the Echo Buds case does not support wireless charging. It does, though, offer an additional 15 hour of charge for the Echo Buds, which themselves promise 5 hours of audio playback for either Passthrough or Active Noise Cancelling playback.
I was generally pleased with Echo Buds setup, which entailed installing the latest Alexa app on my iPhone and then opening the fully charged Echo Buds case next to it. The app immediately recognized the Echo Buds, I tapped “Setup,” and they were ready to use a few moments later.
The Buds themselves feel beefier than AirPods Pros, but they are more self-contained, with no dangling parts. There’s the thick cylindrical section and, sticking out of one side, the silicon-covered ear tips. Amazon ships three different size silicon tips (I wore medium) and includes flexible wing tips that slip over the Echo Buds for an even more secure fit. I never used those, though, because I found that by sticking the Echo Buds in my ears and giving them a little twist, they seated perfectly. They also never fell out, whether I was walking, running, or stomping up and down stairs.
Now, the fit is different and maybe a little less comfortable than with the AirPods Pro. First of all, the Echo Buds are larger in the ear and the silicon tip is actually covering a hard-plastic stem. As a result, I can really feel the Echo Buds in my ears. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but the fit is simply more noticeable than what Apple provides.
There is an automated audio test in the Alexa app that plays a loud tune in your ears and then uses the Echo Buds microphones to tell if you have a good audio seal. I got a “Great” for each ear, so I stuck with medium silicon tips.
Amazon partnered up with Bose for the audio and active noise cancelling technology and it shows. These are excellent-sounding in-ear Bluetooth headphones with high-quality active noise cancelling.
Music sounds full and lush. There are sharp, clear high notes, and excellent, rich, almost head-vibrating base. The ANC, whether I played music or not, kept ambient noise to a minimum. I spent the day in my little sound cocoon. Passthrough mode let in ambient sound about as well as the AirPods Pro’s Transparency mode, but with the added twist of being able to adjust the Passthrough sound level in the Alexa app. Essentially, I could open the door to pretty much all outside noise.
The Echo Buds use touch and tap to control them. I switched between Active Noise Cancelling and the Passthrough technology. ANC is essentially on-par with what I experienced with the Apple’s AirPods Pros. I do like that instead of pressing a somewhat awkwardly placed indent (on the AirPods Pro), I can simply double tap the Echo Buds to turn ANC on and off.
The default Echo Buds gestures for both the right and left Echo Buds is turning ANC on and off. I’m not sure why Amazon didn’t default to having one side handle pause and play. Thankfully, I was able to change the gesture operations in the app so a double tap on my right ear pauses and plays. I could also program the gesture to skip to the next track.
I’m also supposed to be able to access Apple’s Siri by gently pressing and holding on either Echo Bud, but this failed for me.
One of the big benefits of owning Amazon Echo Buds is that Alexa lives in your ears. I simply said, “Alexa,” my music paused, and Alexa awaited my command. I now realize how self-conscious I can be about saying “Alexa” when there’s no obvious Echo device nearby. I had to work a bit to find the right volume where the Echo Buds would hear but not those around me.
Alexa on the Echo Buds is essentially the same Alexa you have on all your other devices and, depending on what skills you’ve enabled in the Alexa app, you can do quite a few things with your smart home devices, music, your information, and more. I had no trouble asking Alexa to check my calendar for upcoming appointments and for the current weather. If you want Alexa to, say, help you with directions, though, you have to enable location tracking when you’re not actively using the Alexa app.
I did learn, however, that Alexa has its limits when it comes to being completely helpful.
I wanted to test how well Alexa and the Echo Buds handle sending text messages. This works if you give, as I did, Alexa access to your contacts.
I started by saying, “Alexa, send a message to Linda.” Linda is my wife.
Alexa responded, "Okay, what should it say?"
Me: “I love you”
Alexa responded, “Message sent to Linda [Last Name not my wife’s]"
Alexa had sent a recording of me saying “I love you” to someone who is not my wife.
In a similar situation, Apple’s Siri always asks me, “Which Linda?”
Not Alexa. She wants me to get a divorce.
Battery life is as good as advertised. I got at least five hours of playback while using ANC. Keep in mind that Apple AirPods loose approximately 30 minutes of play time when using its ANC. The Echo Buds also recharge quickly in the case. They were fully charged in 45 minutes.
Also, if you’re planning to wear Echo Buds when working out, you can sweat to your heart's (or ears') desire. They’re IPX4 rated (like AirPods Pros) and can handle sweat and light water splashes. I never broke a sweat while wearing mine.
With high-quality audio, excellent ANC and a (slightly) sub-$130 price, Amazon’s Echo Buds are an excellent value. They’re not as comfortable as Apple AirPods Pro. Plus, there are some trade-offs like, case size, amount of extra charge (15 hours from the Echo Buds Case as opposed to almost 20 from the AirPods case), and no wireless charging, but I think Echo Buds are an excellent, affordable option to Apple AirPods Pro and an especially good choice for those who’ve already integrated Alexa into their lives.
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