Amazon Echo Buds review: These true wireless earbuds sound as good as AirPods and cost less

When rumors surfaced that Amazon had an AirPods ($ 129 on Amazon) competitor in the works, the rumors were that they would be priced under $ 100 and they would get some fitness monitoring functions. Instead, Amazon released the Echo Buds, a pair of $ 130 (£ 120) true wireless earbuds that feature Alexa and hands-free Bose noise reduction. They probably aren’t AirPod killers (especially not now Apple has announced AirPods Pro with noise cancellation), but after using them for several days, I found that I liked them a lot and some things could do slightly better.

The Echo Buds are hidden in their charging case.

Sarah Tew / HDOT

From a design standpoint, there is nothing special about the Echo Buds. They don’t look much different than many other true wireless earbuds you’ll find on Amazon, with a bulkier charging case than that of the AirPods and the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2, but still small enough to fit a pocket without problems. They hit me and a colleague like they remembered Bragi’s earphones. That’s not a bad thing – they look sturdy and feel significantly more substantial than a budget model like the Free EarFun – but they have a Plain Jane quality to them that you may or may not like. Also, this style of buds isn’t for everyone and may be a little too big for some ears.

They fit me well and feel similar to the Jabra Elite 65t ($ 71 on Amazon) in my ears – they stick out a bit but don’t really swell, which is good. The Echo Buds come with three sizes of earbuds and three sizes of wingtips (the earbuds are IPX4 sweat resistant, so you can use them at the gym or for running). I chose the large wingtip-less earpiece and was able to achieve a secure fit and airtight seal which is essential if you are hoping to get the best sound quality out of these earbuds. If you don’t get a tight seal, you will lose some bass and the noise reduction won’t work either.

I had a bit of trouble initially setting them up with a iPhone 11 Pro, but I’ve had issues with other true wireless earbuds, so it’s more likely an issue with iOS 13, which should be fixed in a later update from Apple. After setting up the Echo Buds via the Alexa app on your iOS or an Android device, the headphones work just like an Echo speaker. In order for all Alexa features to work you need to make sure you allow access to your location (via GPS), which may not be immediately noticeable to some people (I had to go into my iOS settings and set “Allow location access” to the Alexa app to “Always” instead of “While using the app.”).

What you get in the box.

Sarah Tew / HDOT

I’m not going to go into any files Alexa privacy issues, but, as with any Alexa-enabled speaker, you can choose to mute the Echo Buds’ microphones and prevent the headphones from accessing Alexa when you say “Alexa” without pressing any buttons. Alas, hands-free Alexa was a bit hit and miss. It worked perfectly indoors in quieter environments, but when I used the wake word “Alexa” while walking the noisiest streets in New York, the buds sometimes didn’t hear me, even when I was talking loudly. (For the record, it’s a little embarrassing to repeatedly bark “Alexa” in public around other people.)

Fortunately, you can log into Alexa manually as a backup. The Echo Buds have touch controls and you can program the left and right buds to perform tasks such as advancing a track forward or backward and accessing your phone’s voice assistant or Alexa by double-tapping or tapping and holding. I found the touch controls responsive, but some people may be put off by the fact that there are no volume controls on the buds themselves. As with the AirPods, you have to use voice controls to raise and lower the volume or use the controls on your phone.

As for the sound quality, while it wasn’t great, it was good (again, an airtight seal makes a big difference). There is an increase in presence (treble boost) to the default setting, but the earbuds have decent clarity and Amazon claims they are equipped with Knowles balanced dual armor drivers. It may not be a bass lover’s headphone, but it did have enough kick for my taste. You can tweak the sound a bit with the EQ settings in the Alexa app – I turned the treble down a bit and turned up the bass a bit – and most people should find that the Echo Buds offer a pleasant listening experience. Not a wow, but certainly on par with other true wireless earbuds in its overall price range and above standard AirPods, especially in noisier environments.

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