Amazon is coming for your ears with the Amazon Echo Buds which include true wireless earbuds with Bose noise reduction. If you’re an Android user in search of smart earbuds, these might be the answer to your technological wishes. Although they have their shortcomings, the Alexa Echo Buds are some of the best bang-for-your-buck smart earbuds you can get.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on April 14, 2020, to answer an FAQ regarding compatibility with Samsung TVs.
Who should get the Amazon Echo Buds?
- Commuters will benefit from Bose’s noise reduction technology. While it can’t outperform the Sony WF-1000XM3’s noise cancelling, it’s surprisingly effective and certainly better than passive isolation.
- Hands-free enthusiasts should think about getting the Amazon Echo Buds. Setting up Alexa takes just a few minutes and affords plenty of hands-free functionality like text dictation.
- Athletes may want to pick up the Alexa Echo Buds because the plastic housings are IPX4 water-resistant. This means you can sweat in them without concerning yourself with short-circuiting anything. If water damage does occur, the earbuds include a one-year warranty.
What are the Amazon Echo Buds like?
The Echo Buds are made from plastic, and not the durable plastic we’ve seen with the Jaybird Vista or even the Apple AirPods; no, it’s apparent these aren’t a premium pair of true wireless earbuds. Not only does it feel cheap, but the case is silly-slippery and was dropped more times than I care to admit. Perhaps it’s a comfort to know that even after multiple drops, the case looks just as it did when I opened the Amazon Echo Buds box.
The ‘buds are made from an identical plastic and are both adorned with a glossy circular touch panel. By default, touch gestures are configured so double-tapping either earbud alternates between noise reduction and passthrough listening modes, and holding your finger on either touch panel accesses your smartphone’s default assistant (e.g. Google Assistant or Siri). Even with the option to remap the controls in the Alexa app, these remain some of the least intuitive on-board controls I’ve used.
The earbuds are lightweight and comfortable to wear, assuming you don’t have small ears.
These aren’t overloaded with sensors like the Beats Powerbeats Pro, but there are proximity sensors in both housings for auto play/pause functionality. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Buds Plus which require you to remove both ‘buds simultaneously, removing either Echo Buds earbud will pause media playback.
Amazon provides listeners with three pairs of ear and wing tips, so you can get a comfortable fit. If you have smaller-than-average ears, the housings may be uncomfortable even without the wing tips. For most, though, the pre-installed medium ear tips should suffice.
Does Bose noise reduction work?
Seeing as Bose was one of the earliest adopters of Alexa voice integration with its QuietComfort 35 II headphones, it only makes sense that Amazon would entrust the premium audio company to manufacture an effective noise reduction chipset. To clarify: active noise reduction (ANR) works differently than active noise cancelling (ANC). The latter uses destructive interference to create a quiet environment while the former simply reduces background noise without nullifying it.
To alternate between noise reduction and passthrough hearing, double-tap either earbud.
Leave it to Bose to create noise reducing earbuds that work better than some active noise cancelling alternatives. Again, you’re not going to experience total silence with the Echo Buds, but low-frequency attenuation is surprisingly effective: air conditioner rumbles may be rendered approximately ⅓ to ½ as loud with ANR on. Distant chatter and outdoor traffic are significantly quieted because sounds higher than 1kHz are handily reduced. If you want top-tier active noise cancellation, get the Sony WF-1000XM3 or Apple AirPods Pro.
How do you connect the Echo Buds?
Open the case to reveal the Echo Buds and be sure to leave them in place as you depress the button on the bottom of the case. Hold this down until the single LED flashes blue: this indicates pairing mode. From there, select “Echo Buds” from your smartphone’s Bluetooth menu. Regardless of whether you have an iPhone or Android device, this pairing process is universal.
The Bluetooth 5.0 earbuds support AAC for high-quality streaming over iPhones and other iOS devices but lack aptX support. This means we Android users are left without a reliable high-quality wireless codec. For better or worse, most listeners are unable to differentiate between codec qualities, especially if more pressing issues, like auditory masking, are present. It uses the Realtek RTL8763B Bluetooth System on Chip, which facilitates low power consumption alongside a host of other abilities.
How to set up the Echo Buds through the Amazon Alexa app
In order to enjoy all Amazon Echo Buds perks, set up the smart true wireless earbuds directly through the Alexa app. If you’re familiar with Alexa smart speakers, you’ve likely jumped through these hoops before. It takes just a few moments and affords many benefits like setting timers and reminders, checking emails, making inquiries, and any of its tens of thousands of skills.
- Open the Alexa app and tap the “Devices” tab.
- Tap the “+” sign in the top-right corner of the screen. Then select “Add Device.”
- In the following window, choose “Amazon Echo” and scroll until you see “Echo Buds.” A window will appear requesting location access followed by a pop-up requesting you to cease battery optimization. Hit accept.
- Choose “Echo Buds” and continue through the guided setup, which includes adjusting passthrough volume. A brief video will then play.
Upon completion, you’ll be brought back to the Alexa app home screen where you may mute the microphone and alternate listening modes. By clicking the Echo Buds card, you can make further adjustments like deactivating both listening modes, make basic EQ adjustments, and take the ear tip sizing test, similar to what listeners may do with the Apple AirPods Pro.
Alternatively, the Sony WF-1000XM3 now support Amazon Alexa along with Google Assistant.
During the fit test, a series of beeps are played during a continuous low rumble for a few seconds. You’re then given a simple readout of the results; if both are optimal it will read “great” for both the left and right earbud.
Battery life surpasses Amazon’s specified five hours of playtime as our testing yielded 5 hours, 40 minutes of playback with noise reduction on. While this battery life still can’t touch that of the Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus, it is better than the AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3. The Echo Buds’ quick charging is phenomenal: just 15 minutes in the case affords two hours of listening. Combined battery life from the earbuds and the case supplies up to 20 hours of playback. To my disappointment, though, the case charges via microUSB. Yes, this keeps costs down but really, Amazon? I balked at the input after unboxing the Echo Buds.
Interestingly enough, battery depletion is uneven between the two earbuds. The right earbud ran out of just about 20 minutes before the left one. You’re unlikely to notice this as the earbuds are always charging when in the case, but it’s peculiar and something we haven’t really seen with other true wireless earbuds, regardless of price point.
How do the Amazon Echo Buds sound?
The Amazon Echo Buds frequency response is peculiar: bass frequencies are markedly amplified with little emphasis to other frequencies. This is just setting your music up to sound unclear as a consequence of auditory masking, when a loud sound makes it difficult to perceive a relatively quiet one. If you enjoy listening to music as a way to appreciate nuanced resonances, well, you’re out of luck. Bass and sub-bass notes sound twice as loud all other notes, making it incredibly difficult to parse out the ringing of a cymbal hit or female vocal detail.
Lows, mids, and highs
William Hinson begins the song Ireland by alternating between D-G chords on an acoustic guitar and the Echo Buds lacking clarity is immediately apparent. The transitioning plucks from D to G sound distorted and the low-E string is amplified far too much relative to the others, a repercussion of the low-end exaggeration.
During the bridge (2:10), Hinson switches the chord progression and employs both Bm and F#m both of which are difficult to distinguish with the accompanying piano chords. That said, Hinson’s voice sounds pretty good because he has a relatively low register, which bodes well for the Echo Buds’ sound signature.
Is the mic good for phone calls?
The microphone’s response is a bit odd as well: low fundamental vocal frequencies are heavily attenuated, resulting in low male voices sounding a bit distorted. The three-microphone array does work well to register the hotword “Alexa,” but struggles in noisy environments like a coffee shop at peak hours. Additionally you can hear the occasional compression artifact as well. My voice was relayed well enough to others, and no one asked me to switch to my Samsung Galaxy S10e microphone instead, which has happened before.
Amazon Echo Buds microphone demo:
How do the Amazon Echo Buds compare to other smart true wireless earbuds?
Many user reviews report that the Amazon Echo Buds are riddled with bugs. While this hasn’t been the case for our unit, it’s something to be wary of. Even with our Echo Buds functioning optimally, it’s hard to recommend them over the comparably priced Samsung Galaxy Buds which are smaller, have better touch controls, and sound much better than the Echo Buds. The Galaxy Buds battery life isn’t as good as the Echo Buds and they lack noise reduction or cancellation properties, but passive isolation is fairly effective.
If you have more to spend, get the Apple AirPods Pro or Sony WF-1000XM3
While the Amazon Echo Buds aren’t necessarily cheap true wireless earbuds, they do retail for markedly less than the Apple AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3—a huge part of their appeal. However, if you have a cushy budget, it’s worth tossing your cash at Apple or Sony for full-fledged noise cancelling and a more polished product.
Best noise cancelling earbuds
The Apple AirPods Pro are better than the Echo Buds, particularly for iPhone users because of the H1 chip integration which allows for hands-free Siri access and seamless switching between iOS devices. The AirPods Pro feature the same IPX4 rating as the Echo Buds with more comprehensive, intuitive pressure-sensitive controls. What’s more, the AirPods Pro includes a wireless charging case that works with any Qi-certified mat.
Then there are Sony’s true wireless noise cancelling earbuds to mull over. These earbuds use a smart tri-point design to evenly distribute pressure across the ear for maximum comfort. Like the Amazon Echo Buds, the Sony WF-1000XM3 ‘buds each have a circular touch panel for onboard controls. Noise cancellation is barre none, so if you’re a frequent flyer in need of portable ANC, Sony’s ‘buds are your best option. What’s more, sound quality is vastly better than the Echo Buds as Sony uses a Q1ne processor and provides granular EQ adjustments through its free app.
If you need something more affordable, get the Creative Outlier Gold
The Creative Outlier Gold integrate Creative’s Super X-Fi processing, something we’ve seen in its external SXFI amplifier. A major drawback to the earbuds is how the processing is limited to native files that must be played back through the SXFI app, but software aside, these earbuds are an absolute steal.
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Sound quality is superb as is battery life which clocks in at 10.3 hours of playtime. They also support AAC and aptX for high-quality audio streaming no matter your operating system. Oh, and the case charges via USB-C and costs $30 less than the Amazon Echo Buds. If you need something even cheaper with very similar high-value performance, check out our in-depth review of the Creative Outlier Air.
Should you buy the Amazon Echo Buds?
All that being said, if you’re wed to all things Amazon Alexa and your smart home relies on the virtual assistant, then the Amazon Echo Buds are a great option for your lifestyle. Hands-free access to Alexa works reliably with just some hiccups in loud environments. What’s more, the earbuds are comfortable for average-sized ears and battery life is excellent, given how Bose noise reduction processing likely draws a lot of power. There’s no way around it: the Amazon Echo Buds aren’t without their drawbacks, but that’s the case for any true wireless earbuds. It comes down to deciding what sacrifices you’re willing to embrace.