Amazon is in the business of selling things, and Amazon Echo Buds will sell like hot cakes, air conditioning in the East, and Supreme products on eBay. Amazon's excellent value wireless speaker Echo Studio is one recent example of how competently it can make a quite premium-sounding device, but sell it for less than competitor products. Sure, it looks a bit anonymous, maybe even a bit crap, but as much as there's nothing in the design to excite, there's also nothing to turn buyers off. Amazon Echo Buds are much the same, but in true wireless bud form.
These noise cancelling true wireless earbuds are obviously intended to take on Apple AirPods Pro (or Samsung Galaxy Buds, if you're Android-centric). However, they cost less than either, and the Echo Buds include noise cancelling from market leaders Bose. To get that from Apple you need to step up to Apple AirPods Pro. The Echo Buds also incorporate the generally useful Alexa, instead of the frequently irksome Siri.
So yes, Echo Buds may not look much but they are cheaper than AirPods and musically better. They're roughly comparable in terms of sound to some slightly cheaper buds – Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 and Lypertek Tevi, for instance – but the Bose noise cancelling kicks everything up a notch and then Amazon spoons on the extra features with a trowel – Alexa integration, a good 'hear through' feature for when you want to hear what's going on around you, sweat-proofing for workouts, customisable touch controls on each bud… you get so much for your £120. And, of course, they'll probably be under £100 come Amazon Prime Day 2020, if not sooner. Here's todays best noise cancelling headphones deals
The trade-off is that Amazon Echo Buds are pretty much devoid of style and don't massively excel in any one area. The reason they're excellent buds that will sell very well is they competently deal with every key requirement of being a pair of true wireless buds in 2020, and Amazon doesn't want to charge you all that much for the pleasure. Echo Buds are greater than the sum of their parts… and there are quite a few parts.
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Amazon Echo Buds: release date, price
Amazon Echo Buds are out now in the UK, USA and elsewhere.
Amazon Echo Buds: battery life and design
Amazon has taken a more standard true wireless 'puck' design approach over Apple's 'stem' construction – ie, there are no cool sticky-out bits. That makes them a lot more discrete while wearing them, as they barely extend past your ear. They do insert further into your ear, which some people don't like, but which provides better sound isolation and hence gets more out of the audio quality of the buds' drivers.
Style-wise, there isn't any. Echo Buds look like generic, affordable true wireless buds, of the type you might see selling very cheap indeed on Amazon itself. They are almost devoid of design flair. However, since they more or less vanish into your ears, this doesn't really matter much, so stop your whining.
To get the best fit possible, Echo Buds come with three different sized ear tips and wing tips. They're lightweight, not too bulbous, and I thought they felt pretty secure and comfortable. A potentially handy feature, also found on AirPods Pro, is that you can run a test to confirm whether you have the correct sized ear-tips for your ears. Mine duly confirmed the fit was 'great', and in terms of noise isolation and feeling secure, that was a fair assessment. After prolonged wear, they did start to feel a little uncomfortable, but not agonising or anything.
You can add wing tips for further security, but I thought these were pretty poor. You have to wrestle them on like some kind of audio condom, which has a rib sticking out, not for stimulation but to anchor them under the ridges in your ear. This approach can work very well when done properly but Amazon hasn't done it properly and the result looks and feels unpleasant. But as noted above, the fit with the basic ear-tips is perfectly good enough, so why worry?
A further big plus is that each earbud is sweat-resistant and IPX4-rated to withstand splashes or light rain. That means that, along with their seemingly secure fit, they can be used as workout buds. In the gym they are great, running on the road I am not sure they are quite as secure as they could be, but nothing that the occasional tap back into the ol' lugholes couldn't solve. Ideally for running, however, you want something like my personal fave, Beats Powerbeats Pro, which you can pretty much fit and forget. But then, Powerbeats Pro are twice as expensive as Amazon Echo Buds.
You'll get up to five hours of music playback on a full charge, and the included charging case holds up to three additional charges. That means you'll get a maximum of 20 hours of music playback by my maths.
The case uses micro USB for charging rather than USB-C. This is either a good thing, if you have loads of old micro USB cables still lying around, or a slightly annoying thing, if you've upgraded most of your devices to USB-C. The battery life of the buds, the case, and the speed at which they recharge – 2 hours playback from half an hour's charging – means battery life is not as much of an issue as the headline figure of 5 hours (with noise cancelling on) might suggest.
The case is a bit too big. It's not as big as the Powerbeats one, which is the size of a mouse's coffin, but it's too big for the average modern trouser.
Amazon Echo Buds: sound
Echo Buds feature two premium, balanced armature drivers in each earbud. Amazon says the driver design is inspired by in-ear monitors used by professional musicians, and they aim to deliver crisp, clear vocals and dynamic bass.
Needless to say, these £120 buds do not, in fact, sound like in-ear monitors used by professional musicians. They sound like very good, £120 true wireless buds. To be clear about this: Wired headphones > Bluetooth headphones > true wireless headphones. Only the crème de la crème of true wireless sound objectively excellent, but most of them nowadays sound acceptably good, and that is true of the Amazon Echo Buds. What helps them sound better than most such buds in this price bracket is the addition of noise cancelling.
I don't know if Bose has handed Amazon the same noise-cancelling tech as it uses in its Bose NC 700 and QuietComfort 35 headphones, but it's certainly effective at shutting out the world. The fact that these buds sit quite deep in your ear mean outside noise is already blocked out to a decent extent but the noise cancelling, powered by two outer microphones and one inner mic per bud, mean you can, as Depeche Mode once advised 'enjoy the silence' on trains, in the office and walking the mean streets.
Bose's most recent headphones have also boasted excellent noise reduction when listening out for your voice and that seems to be the case here, too. Amazon Alexa is built in, of course, and it can hear you. Call quality is also very solid.
The combination of fairly deep, in-ear fit and active noise cancelling means you can't very well wear these and have a chat, or hear someone shouting, 'Look out, there's a truck coming.' However, in line with most other noise cancelling headphones, Amazon has included an audio Pass Through function.
You just double tap a bud and the noise cancelling mics pass audio to your ear. You can adjust how loud this is in the Alexa app, and also choose whether the double tap layers outside sound on top of the music you're listening to, or pauses it so you can hear everything. The overall effect is like listening a bit like in normal life, only everything you hear is through a quite good telephone connection.
Amazon Echo Buds: verdict
Unless the average price of true wireless buds falls more rapidly, Amazon seems to be on to a sure-fire winner with the Echo Buds. They're cheaper than AirPods, sound better than AirPods – they're more comparable to AirPods Pro, really – and they're also gym- and run-ready unlike Apple's omnipresent buds.
It's not like Amazon has whacked it out of the stadium here. There's almost nothing exciting about Echo Buds and they are up against an increasing number of high-quality true wireless buds around the £90-£120 mark. However, while they may lack style, Amazon Echo's additional features, superior technology and, above all, brand recognition means a lot of people will be more than happy to buy them, and they won't be disappointed.
The tech and retail giant has created a compelling package, combining pretty good sound quality, and noise cancelling – from Bose, no less – and decent call quality and consumer-beguiling smart features – all for an affordable price. There are better sounding true wireless buds, certainly, but no overall package of sound and features can quite match Amazon Echo Buds and be yours for just £120/$130. I am not a massive fan of them but I also can't really think of anything I hate about them, apart from the wing tip things, and it's not often I can say that. The true wireless market is now a duopoly rather than an Apple monopoly.