Amazon dove headfirst into the wireless earphone game just two years ago with its Echo Buds, but that’s an eternity in technology these days. Now, the retail giant is back for round two with a healthy set of upgrades that should make just about anyone happy. Better yet, you won’t even have to break $150 to see what we mean. Let’s jump right into our Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) review.
Who are the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) for?
- Dedicated Alexa users will love the above and beyond integration with Amazon’s voice assistant, as well as great controls for other Echo products.
- Anyone can make the most of the noise-cancelling as well as the general Alexa help.
- Fitness junkies with Amazon Music HD will appreciate the water resistance, voice control, and secure fit options.
How are the design and build quality?
We can say for certain that you won’t confuse these Amazon Echo Buds for a pair of AirPods. We’re not bashing on Apple’s ‘buds, but they’re not a top pick for their isolation, fit, or durability. Amazon’s new headset, on the other hand, is a great option for all three of those things.
Now, the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) aren’t the flashiest pair of earbuds in the world, but that’s probably by design. The matte plastic exterior is a good way to keep your earbuds incognito as you go about your day. The only real branding you’ll find is Amazon’s smile logo, and even that is barely visible on the side.
Amazon’s Echo Buds (2nd Gen) comes with a trio of ear tips as well as two sizes of ear stays to adjust for almost any differently-sized ear. The ear stays are additional pieces that attach to your earbuds and push against the inside of your outer ear for a more secure fit. It should only take you a few minutes to fine-tune your setup, and you won’t have to repeat the process each time you get them out of the case. We would have enjoyed a foam option for the ear tips, but silicone is the sensible choice given the price.
While the hardware is pretty solid, the Alexa integration is the real star of this show. Sure, most headphones have some form of voice assistant, but the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) crank the Alexa power to the max. If you pair up the Alexa app, you suddenly gain the following:
- Equalizer control
- Find my device
- Active noise-cancelling (ANC) control
- Wake words
- Tap controls
- Ear Tip Fit Test (more on this later)
- Workout information
- Live battery feedback
- Power saving
These are just the bonus features on top of the flexible Alexa integration, so you also have support for other Echo-powered devices. If you find yourself drawn to Echo displays and speakers, this is the place to be.
How do you connect the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)?
While you can pop open the lid and pair your earbuds right away, we recommend downloading the Alexa app first. We don’t love installing apps that collect too much data, but Alexa is really the backbone of this whole experience. There are just too many Alexa-based features on the Echo Buds (Gen 2) to go without it.
There are too many Alexa-based features to go without the companion app.
Once you’ve installed the app, open your Echo Buds case and enable Bluetooth on your phone. Your Alexa app will prompt you to sign in to your Amazon account and link any of its other services. If you decide you want to pair with a new device, press the button on the charging case to enter pairing mode and complete the process on your phone’s Bluetooth menu.
Amazon’s Echo Buds (2nd Gen) only supports the SBC and AAC codecs, but they perform well enough that you shouldn’t see any performance lag on Android either way. The response time on SBC is a bit long at 360ms, so you may notice a slight delay from your phone to your earbuds every now and then.
How do the controls work?
Amazon took the keep it simple approach with the Echo Buds (Gen 2) controls, adding a capacitive touchpad on both earbuds. These touchpads allow you to perform basic actions without Alexa’s help. Check out the table for a quick rundown of your options.
|1 tap||Play / Pause|
|2 taps||Next track / Answer call / End call|
|3 taps||Previous track|
If you’re not satisfied with the defaults, you can always ask Alexa to customize them. This is doubly important if you plan to use an assistant besides Alexa — you can adjust the long-press setting to activate either Siri or Google Assistant if you so desire.
What is the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) update process?
Remember when we called the Alexa app the backbone of the entire experience? Well, it’s back again for the update section. You’ll handle all updates in the Device Settings menu within the app, where you select your Echo Buds from the list of linked devices. This is where you can manage other settings, but the firmware updates are key to maintaining your earbuds in the long run.
How do the earbuds sound?
The Amazon Echo Buds (Gen 2) offers a good enough sound for most people to enjoy. However, they’re not the earbuds you want for a high-end listening experience or critical playback. Check out the frequency response chart to see what we mean; the pink line represents the SoundGuys house curve, what it deems as the platonic ideal, while the cyan line represents the Echo Buds’ frequency response.
Overall, the response is a little funky but not offensive if you’re used to a consumer-friendly profile. The Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) tests similarly to other options in the price bracket, though it’s a little uneven compared to the general competition.
For example, we had trouble picking out Robert Plant’s vocals in the Led Zeppelin classic Kashmir. They tend to disappear under the lower guitar riffs unless he was really getting into it. The issue itself is minor, but it tends to be common in earbuds this small.
The Amazon Echo Buds (Gen 2) offer a good enough sound for most people to enjoy.
If you choose to pick up the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen), we highly recommend fiddling around with the equalizer to see if you can find your perfect sound. We found that dropping the Treble and Mid sliders a notch or two gave us a better result. Unfortunately, the equalizer is basic at best in the Alexa app. If you want something more comprehensive, you’ll have to check out third-party EQs.
One of Amazon’s best additions to the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) is the Ear Tip Fit Test, hidden in the Alexa app. We’ve already mentioned how the right fit is key to your experience, so it’s great to see Amazon take it seriously. While you may not ever get just the right fit, Amazon’s test is here to get you as close as possible.
The test itself is short, painless, and a reliable way to fine-tune your experience. Passing the fit test with flying colors means that you’re getting top marks for attenuation as well as the best overall sound. The fit test is also key to letting ANC do its job, and the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) will sound better in practice than rivals with poor seals, like the original AirPods.
Is the noise-cancelling any good?
Amazon crafted the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) for commuters, and the new ANC unit confirms it. The improved ANC performance decently knocks out sounds like car engines, the subway, and even airplane engines.
Also read: Best noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds
You should expect loud droning noises to sound somewhere between one-eighth and half as loud with ANC cranked up. The Ear Tip Fit Test also ensures that the general isolation is pretty good even without ANC. This means that the physical barrier between your ear and the outside world carries its own weight instead of relying solely on a complicated system.
The good seal also works better than Amazon’s ANC at eliminating incidental office noise and conversations. ANC has improved steadily over time, but it can’t beat a good physical seal. Amazon’s combination of the two nabs high marks for the Echo Buds (2nd Gen).
How does the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) battery life stack up?
We’d have to say that the battery life on the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) is thoroughly average for such a small package. It’s not easy to pack this much tech into a tiny package when you’re worried about a battery too. Our standardized test yielded four hours and 42 minutes before we had to head for the charging case. This is pretty much average for the category, and most people only tend to listen to their headphones for just a few hours each day anyway.
The battery life on the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) is thoroughly average for such a small package.
The included charging case packs enough juice for a few more charges, and the indicator light helps to let you know how much power you have left. As long as you’re good about keeping your earbuds in their case, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about in terms of battery power.
The Amazon Echo Buds (Gen 2) relies on a single USB-C port on the back of the case for charging. You shouldn’t have to charge the case very long, either, as the battery itself is relatively small. If you want wireless charging, you’ll have to pay an extra $20 at checkout for the more premium bundle.
Is the microphone setup good for calls?
While Amazon’s microphone setup won’t win any awards, it’s not a bad little option. You can check out our sample below, but note that the sound is a little compressed. That’s par for the course and very typical of other true wireless options.
Do the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) perform well in the gym?
Fitness junkies will be pleased with the overall experience when it comes to gym use. The Amazon Echo Buds (Gen 2) takes care of fit issues the best it can, and the pair is IPX4 rated for water resistance. While it’s not the most waterproof around, the Echo Buds should take a splash or two and handle all the sweat you can throw at them.
Best workout earbuds: Jaybird, Bose, Beats, and more
If you prefer a single-bud experience, the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) supports either playback on either earbud individually.
Value and competition
In typical Amazon style, the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) undercut much of the competition, but there are still some big-name brands vying for the ANC crown. If you don’t mind stretching your wallet a bit, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is a great pair of earphones, especially for anyone with a Samsung Galaxy device. The noise-cancelling and microphone are very good and the IPX7 rating is even more impressive than the Echo Buds’.
If you have a bit more money to spend, we recommend investigating the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: these are among the most comfortable earphones around and offer great sound quality with Active EQ software.
You could also check out the Sony WF-1000XM3, but the noise-cancelling isn’t nearly as impressive as the other options listed (Echo Buds included). Plus, you might as well wait a bit longer for the anticipated Sony WF-1000XM4 which are sure to have even more impressive noise-cancelling than the WF-1000XM3.
Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) review: The verdict
Yes, we think that you should get a pair of the new Echo Buds. Amazon approached the Echo Buds (Gen 2) as a tool rather than a flashy set of earbuds, which results in a leg up for most users. The earbuds pack plenty of creature comforts on fit, functionality, and design, especially with the Ear Tip Fit Test. It feels weird to say, but other companies could do well to emulate Amazon for once.
Don’t forget, the reliance on Alexa means you’re giving up plenty of personal information. While that may not be an issue to you, it’s an important point because these ‘buds aren’t the same without getting Alexa involved. Of course, any pair of earbuds that offers workout tracking and voice assistance will gather some data, but it’s worth considering.
Amazon’s Echo Buds (2nd Gen) costs $119.99 with wired charging or $139.99 with wireless charging, so they’re certainly competitive in the pricing department. The earbuds certainly undercut the AirPods Pro, but they come up short on sound quality. Overall, the features Amazon managed to pack in offer a serious dollar-for-dollar value to any Echo user.