- Comfortable to wear
- Bose's Active Noise Reduction
- Multi-assistant support
- Mic sensitivity is poor
- Micro USB charging
- Lack of polish
Alexa has made its way into millions of homes – now it wants to follow you out of the front door, with Amazon squeezing its smart assistant into headphones, glasses, and even rings.
The Echo Buds are Amazon’s first wireless headphones, serving to challenge Apple’s AirPods dominance while taking Alexa mobile.
The wireless earbuds are less... distinctive than Apple’s, probably for the better, and allow you to keep Alexa at your beck and call at all times.
Read this: The best hearables and smart earbuds
Spec-to-spec with Apple’s latest AirPods Pro, the Echo Buds prove a worthy adversary: Bose's noise reduction, on-demand Alexa, and a price tag of just , undercutting the AirPods Pro by .
But how do they fare when put to the test? Here’s our full review.
Amazon Echo Buds: Design and fit
We’ll try to keep the AirPods comparisons to a minimum, but the design of the Echo Buds couldn’t be more different. They’re far less controversial, with a more generic round, black design made of matte and gloss plastic.
The end result is one that won’t draw much attention, which is probably a good thing. In the box you’ll find a variety of tip sizes, which can be swapped in to find the perfect fit.
Getting the right fit isn’t just important ensuring the Buds don’t fall out your ears and roll into a drain at the first sudden head movement, but for using the noise-reduction feature to its full effect. More on that shortly.
The Echo Buds are IPX4-rated, which means they’re resistant to splashing water and therefore sweat too, should you want to take them running (we did, and they survived). Just don't take them swimming.
The Echo Buds’ charging case is larger than the AirPods Pro case, but not quite as big as the Powerbeats pro. Or, it can just about squeeze into a trouser pocket if you don’t mind the bulge, but we wish it was a little smaller.
We also wish docking the Echo Buds in the case wasn’t so awkward. We really love the way the AirPods and AirPods Pro slip into place (yes we know, we’re talking about them again) but there have been times we’ve placed the Echo Buds into their case only to find the charging connectors weren't fully attached, and had to nudge them into place.
Amazon Echo Buds: Features and Alexa
The Echo Buds are foremost wireless headphones, and their best feature is arguably the active noise reduction (ANR), which comes courtesy of Bose.
Assuming you have a good seal (you can do an earbud fit test in the Alexa app to make sure you have the correct size tip) the noise reduction will dampen outside noises from traffic, voices and suchlike.
Note we say reduction and not cancellation – this isn't quite the same thing as it doesn't seal off the outside world the way pricier over-ear headphones do, but it does a decent enough job.
There's also an ambient passthrough mode that will allow sound to leak in for moments you want to talk to someone, and can be toggled with a double-tap of either earbud (another double-tap will turn ANR back on).
The overall effect took us a while to get used to – it sounds like the bitrate of Real Life took a hammering – but you can adjust the volume of the passthrough mode in the Alexa app. We recommend playing with it to find a balance that won't startle you every time you double-tap.
The Echo Buds will also detect when you’ve put them in your ears, or removed them, and will pause/resume what’s playing. It’s not a unique feature, but it’s really quick to respond on the Echo Buds. It's a similar lack of friction that's helped the AirPods become so wildly popular, and it works in Amazon's favor here too.
As for Alexa, it can, naturally, be summoned with just a mention of its name. There's just one problem: Alexa is profoundly deaf in noisy environments. On a bustling street it took us three attempts at saying Alexa's name at a moderate volume before we heard the tone to signal it was listening – by which point we'd been shot some odd looks by passers-by.
When you do successfully get its attention, Alexa can answer and do most of the things it can on smart speakers, be it asking for a traffic update or telling it to turn off your smart lights.
But what's interesting is that Amazon lets the Echo Buds work with Siri and Google Assistant too – however you'll only be able to get their attention with a long-press of an earbud; voice summoning is left exclusive to Alexa.
While Alexa in the ear is almost a copy-and-paste job from your smart speaker, Amazon says it's planning some special features meant especially for the Echo Buds, such as having Alexa being able to tell you the location of items in the grocery store. Alexa is miles ahead of Siri in the home, so why not capitalize on that here too?
Amazon Echo Buds: Sound quality
These are headphones, so we didn't expect the world in terms of audio quality. To come back to the AirPods Pro comparison, the Echo Buds sadly don't quite match up.
That's not to say they're at all bad, and the noise cancellation gives them a massive leg-up in the audio department, but there isn't a wide soundstage here and bass can be a little murky. We think they're better than the regular AirPods, but the Pros certainly have them beat.
Thankfully, Amazon offers EQ settings in the app, letting you dial down the bass and adjust the overall balance to your preference. We recommend you do.
Amazon Echo Buds: Battery life
Amazon promises around 5 hours of continuous listening from a single charge, and in our testing we’ve found that to be accurate. The good news is that the case provides another three charges. For all you math fans, that's a total of 20 hours to play with.
One other maybe-drawback of the case, depending on where you stand, is that it charges using Micro USB, which feels quite outdated for a product launching at the end of 2019. USB-C would have been much more preferable. Hey, maybe the Echo Buds 2?
How we test