Though Amazon’s original model of Echo Buds from 2019 isn’t exactly long in the tooth, two years is an eternity in the world of true wireless earphones. However, the new Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) offers a host of upgrades and design improvements worthy of attention for anyone looking for a pair of sub-$150 true wireless earphones.
Editor’s note: this Echo Buds (2nd Gen) review was updated on August 5, 2021, to address Amazon’s Climate Pledge.
Who are the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) for?
- Alexa users with heavy investment into Amazon services: while these earphones do a decent job for anyone, they don’t really shine without a heavy need for Amazon’s Alexa or content delivery services.
- General users with a passing need for voice assistant support.
- Gym rats with Amazon Music HD will find a good pair of TWS earbuds in the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen), as they offer water resistance and voice control.
What are the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) like?
It’s clear that Amazon doesn’t want anyone to mistake its product for the AirPods. Don’t get us wrong, AirPods are fine, but they’re not exactly the product you want to emulate when you need water resistance, isolation, or a snug fit. In those regards, the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) is the complete opposite of the eponymous Apple earphones—and that’s a good thing.
Start here: What makes a good set of in-ears?
The Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) definitely isn’t the flashiest product we’ve ever seen, but that’s probably wise, even if it means the earbuds look a little nondescript. A matte plastic exterior without feature might be a welcome change for those that don’t want to attract attention to the ear candy they’re wearing. The only branding you’ll see is a slightly off-color print of the Amazon smile… and that’s really it.
The Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) comes with three sizes of ear tips, along with two sizes of rubber ear stays (three pairs total) to accommodate differently-sized ears. Ear stays are an additional bit of silicone or rubber that push against the inside of your outer ear to force the earphones to stay in place, so that way you’re not constantly adjusting the fit of your earbuds. Finding the right ear stay should only take 5-10 minutes, and you won’t have to take them off before replacing the Echo Buds in the case. The ear tips themselves are pretty standard fare—they’re made of the same smooth silicone that graces most earphones nowadays. While it’s a little disappointing that there are no foam options, it’s to be expected given the price.
Having several options to manage your earphones’ fit is a decent plus, and speaks to a desire to make sure those little plastic bits stay put. For true wireless earphones, managing your potential fit failures is the most important thing you can do; so it’s nice to see some improvement here over the original Echo Buds—and attention paid to something largely ignored by most manufacturers.
However, the real star of the show is Amazon’s integrations via the Alexa app. Even though most headphones have some form of voice assistant functionality, the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) definitely plays to its strengths as an Amazon device. By using the app, you gain:
- Equalizer control
- Find my device
- ANC settings
- Enable wake words
- Adjust tap controls
- Ear Tip Fit Test (this is more important than it sounds)
- Workout data
- Live battery data for each earbud, and the case
- Power saving mode
Of course, these are just features laid on top of the Alexa voice assistant, so all the other features that come baked into that platform also work with the Echo Buds. If you have a lot of smart home products, these earbuds offer plenty of utility. Take a look at Amazon’s overview of the service if you want to learn what else Alexa does.
How do you connect the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)?
When you first open the box, you could be tempted to rush in and pair your earphones like you would any other set of earbuds, but we recommend installing the Alexa app first. While installing anything that collects data about me gives me the willies, the lifeblood of these earphones is the Alexa integration. There are too many features reliant on Alexa to go without it.
Once you’ve installed the Alexa app, open the case of the Echo Buds and ensure your Bluetooth is enabled on your phone. The Alexa app will ask you to sign in to your Amazon account, and prompt you to link any of its other services you may use (for example, Amazon Music HD or Audible). Setting up is quick, and relatively uninvolved. If you’d like to connect to a different device you can do that easily. Just be sure to hold the button on the back of the case to enter the buds into pairing mode, and connect to them via your device’s pairing protocol.
Become an expert: Understanding Bluetooth codecs
Though these earphones only support SBC and AAC, they perform well enough on either codec that you won’t really notice any performance issues from using either on Android. However, the response time when using SBC is a little on the long side at 360ms. You’ll notice a very short lag between actions you perform on your phone and the audio catching up, but most apps nowadays can help mitigate things like video delay, so it will probably only pop up rarely. Another thing to bear in mind: these earphones have a 6.1-meter wireless range which is quite a bit shorter than the standard 9-10 meters of wireless connectivity.
How to control the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)
Controlling the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) is fairly straightforward. A capacitive touchpad on either earbud allows you to perform basic actions without engaging the voice assistant. By default, the actions are set as described in the table below.
|1 tap||Play / pause|
|2 taps||Next track / answer or end call|
|3 taps||Previous track|
|Hold||Toggle ANC or passthrough|
However, you can use the Alexa app to customize these controls to suit your needs. This is especially important for those who want to use either Siri or Google Assistant instead of Alexa, as you can change the long press to activate those voice assistants if you wish.
How to update the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)
Like most other main functions of the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen), updates are handled from within the Alexa app. From the main screen, you can head to “device settings,” then select your Echo Buds after you’ve linked your device with them. From there you can navigate several options related to the operation of your earphones including (you guessed it) firmware updates.
How do the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) sound?
The frequency response is a little quirky, but inoffensive if you’re used to a more consumer-friendly sound. The Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) tests very similarly to most other mass-market TWS earphones in this price bracket. However, even people who prefer sound like this may find it a little uneven.
Take the chart above: it’s adjusted to show the deviation between our target and audio output of the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen), and it shows that these buds don’t actually sound especially bassy. The rather tepid output up to around 400Hz also means vocals won’t always be all that clear in the presence of other music. While speech intelligibility will be decent enough on a phone call, you may have difficulty picking out the words to a new song, or singers with high-pitched voices.
For example, it’s a little difficult to pick out Robert Plant’s vocals in Kashmir by Led Zeppelin, as they get a little lost in the lower guitar riffs, unless he’s really belting it out. It’s minor, but with earphones this small it’s quite common to run across this sort of issue.
We encourage anyone who can to mess about with the equalizer a little to see if you can get the music sounding to your tastes. Our suggestion is to drop the “Treble” and “Mid” sliders down a notch or two and see how that sounds to you. Unfortunately, there isn’t a more comprehensive graphic band equalizer, which makes it difficult to get the results you may want.
One of the most clever things that the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) do for your sound quality is the Ear Tip Fit Test, which is buried in the Alexa app. We’ve screamed ourselves hoarse about how fit is the single most important thing you can get right to improve your sound quality, and it’s really nice to see a company help people achieve this on their own. Sure, you may find out that you can’t get an ideal fit, but there are other options if it comes to that.
The Ear Tip Fit Test will walk you through achieving the best fit possible. It’s short, painless, and a good way to double-check that you’re getting the most out of your earbuds. Passing the fit test will not only mean you’re getting the best noise attenuation you can, but it will also ensure you’re getting the best sound, too.
You might like: Amazon Echo (4th Gen) review
By being good isolators with active noise cancellation(ANC) on top of that, you’re unlikely to have your music masked out by environmental noise like cars and people gabbing around you. Even though sound quality isn’t the greatest here, it will sound a lot better in practice than it would on something with a poor seal like the original AirPods, for example.
How well do the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) cancel noise?
These earbuds are made for commuting, and it shows with the new ANC unit. Offering improved ANC performance over the previous generation, the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) decently mutes out common sounds like car engines, the subway, or an airplane engine (whenever we get to fly again safely).
You can expect loud droning noises to sound anywhere from half to one-eighth as loud with ANC on. Because the earbuds do a good job of ensuring a good fit, the isolation is pretty decent as well. This is good because instead of relying on a complicated system to get rid of noise present in the ear canal, the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) simply creates a physical barrier to block it from reaching that point in the first place.
Because establishing a good seal works against all types of sounds, it’s much more effective than ANC at getting rid of incidental noise like people talking, office sounds, and street noise. While ANC processing has gotten better over time, nothing will ever be quite as good as physically blocking out the noise in the first place, and the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) gets good marks here.
How good is the battery of the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)?
All things considered, the battery life of the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) is average. It can’t be overstated just how difficult it is to cram that many electronics into such a tiny package, and still make room for batteries in each earbud. In our standardized test, the earphones lasted 4 hours, 42 minutes before needing a recharge in the case—very average for this product type. Most people we’ve polled use their headphones for no longer than 2 hours a day, so this kind of battery life isn’t really much to worry about.
Music lovers: how long do you listen to your headphones each day?
— Android Authority (@AndroidAuth) August 7, 2018
The case itself is good for a few more charges, and thankfully it has an indicator light to tell you how much juice it has left. If you are diligent about storing your earbuds in the case, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about when it comes to battery life unless you have a super-long flight coming up.
|Green||Greater than 40%|
|Yellow||Less than 40%|
Like most other true wireless earphone cases, these charge via a USB-C port tucked into the back of the case, near the Bluetooth pairing button. The battery is relatively small, so you won’t have to leave it charging overnight just to get a full cell.
Is the mic good for calls?
In our experience the mic isn’t really anything to write home about—but it’s not bad either. You can listen for yourself below, but you may note that the mic sounds a little compressed. That’s to be expected and is extremely typical of true wireless earphones.
How good is the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) in the gym?
As far as true wireless earphones go, these are a decent fit for the gym. The Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) does a lot to manage potential fit issues, and it boasts an IPX4 water resistance rating. This means the earbuds can take a splash or sweaty workout without you having to worry about it much.
...they can take a splash or sweaty workout without you having to worry about it much.
If you like to exercise with only one earbud in, the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) supports the use of either earbud independently.
Is the Amazon Echo Buds environmentally friendly?
Sure, Amazon has a badge on the Echo Buds page saying “Climate Pledge friendly,” which sounds like a rebranding of the common term, environmentally friendly. With this Climate Pledge, Amazon vows to reach carbon neutrality in two decades—an interesting goal from the company that normalized compulsory online shopping.
The black colorway of the Echo Buds is made from 21% post-consumer recycled plastic. To offset the energy used to produce the Echo Buds, Amazon is building wind and solar farms, though the wording of it suggests they’ve yet to be built to completion.
What happens when the batteries degrade too much?
The elephant in the room Amazon does not address: what happens to the Buds when they no longer work? Ultimately, true wireless earphones are not particularly green. Either the buds turn obsolete or the batteries go kaput. You can’t really replace the batteries in the majority of earbuds without some know-how. Like other true wireless earbuds, the Echo Buds batteries are covered in solder.
Collectively, we often turn a blind eye to the environmental impacts of disposable tech culture and the Echo Buds may very well end up in a landfill the same as other earphones. Amazon’s in a powerful global position; it could pave the way for major changes in responsible green tech but to some, this Climate Pledge could come off as lip service.
Should you buy the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)?
Yes. Amazon chose to look at the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) as a tool rather than a flashy gadget, which means there are plenty of creature comforts here that offer an actual leg up when it comes to its users’ experience. As much as I hate to say it, more companies would do well to emulate Amazon here. The Ear Tip Fit Test is something I’d love to see more often.
Of course, this all comes with the caveat that by using the Alexa app you’re coughing up a lot of personal information. That may not bother you as much as it does other people, but it’s a really important issue to note because these earphones are not the same product without Alexa. We understand that it’s almost impossible to offer stats tracking and voice assistant functionality without a certain level of data collection, but it’s still something to be aware of. For some, it’s a dealbreaker.
At $119.99 USD for the wired charging and $139.99 USD for wireless charging earbuds, these are well-positioned to compete with the AirPods Pro, but they fall a little short when it comes to sound quality. Nevertheless, the features packed into the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) make a very strong case for your dollar if you’re invested in the Amazon ecosystem already.