If you’re in love with Alexa, Amazon’s first-generation Echo Buds were a great pair of headphones. Sure, they didn’t have the same sound quality or noise-canceling abilities as premium options from Apple and Samsung, but they were cheap, decent, and worked better with Amazon’s voice assistant than any other pair.
With its second generation, the Seattle-based tech giant refines its buds to something even more competitive. Wireless charging and noise-canceling join a brand-new pair of 5.7-mm drivers and beamforming microphones to create what’s probably the best overall experience in wireless earbuds below $150.
Add to that some of the best app integration available today, and the new Echo Buds are some of my favorite jack-of-all-trades headphones.
New for Gen Two
The new Echo Buds don’t really resemble their predecessors, apart from being made from the same matte plastic. The old case was more flat than tall, with the earbuds sitting at an angle inside, while the new wireless charging case is tall and thin.
They look and feel more streamlined. The buds themselves are now totally round on the outside, and what previously were two shiny, raised touch controls are now indistinguishable from the rest of the headphones, save for the Amazon arrow logo.
Noise-canceling chips, new mics, and better drivers mean the new Echo Buds feel a touch bulky, though they’re still 21 percent smaller than their predecessors. Still, I had no problem with them in my average-sized earholes; they land firmly in the post-Frankenstein’s Monster era of wireless earbuds.
Finding the right fit is a big priority for Amazon. Pop open the case, pair them to the Alexa app on your phone, and it’ll make sure that you’ve chosen the right ear tip size (Amazon includes four options, as well as two sizes of silicone earfins), thanks to a fit test inside the app.
I like the Echo Buds’ fit a bit more than AirPods Pro (8/10, WIRED Recommends), because they don’t have the little elephant trunks of the AirPods, but I’ve got to hand it to Apple on noise-canceling. Even with the wrong size of eartips on Apple’s flagship earbuds, they reduce background noise noticeably better than these Amazon buds. Still, the Echo Buds beat AirPods Pro on battery life (5 hours with noise-canceling to Apple’s 4), and they come with a quick charging capability that will get you 2 hours of listening with a 15-minute trip to the wall.
As with most non-Apple headphones, the Echo Buds work better with Android phones than iPhones, though they are compatible with Siri and Google Assistant, in addition to Amazon’s own helper. I spent the vast majority of my listening time using a Samsung Note 20 Ultra 5G that Samsung provided me on long-term loan, and they worked flawlessly. I even paired them to my Galaxy Watch with ease.
If you like Alexa. the best part about the buds is how easy they make it to summon Amazon’s AI assistant. I liked using the Echo Buds to set timers, check the weather before runs, and check my schedule with my hands free.
Obviously, your mileage will vary based on how much you like voice assistants and Alexa in particular, but it’s worth trying the voice-activation feature before you turn it off.
I noticed a dramatic increase in productivity when using these buds as an always-in pair; I used them to remind me to get up and stretch from my desk, play news updates, and tell me the chance of rain, all without pulling my phone out of my pocket. Frankly, I find it to be the closest to “usable” augmented reality I’ve ever tried, especially when you turn on Amazon’s hear-through functionality, which pipes in sound from the outside world alongside whatever else you’re listening to.
With everything sounding normal, and a voice assistant telling me the weather and scheduling appointments in my ear while nobody else can hear me, I feel pretty damn futuristic. Still, if you don’t want Amazon listening in, just turn off the microphone in the Alexa app. You’re not paying a premium for Alexa with these headphones, really.
You might expect the new Echo Buds to skimp on sound, given how much other tech Amazon packed in for $120. That’s really not the case here.
Sure, they—and every other pair of premium earbuds—don’t have the same clarity as Samsung’s dual-driver array in the Galaxy Buds Pro (9/10, WIRED Recommends), but they’re easily in the same ballpark. I like the sound quality of these earbuds easily as much as the AirPods Pro, with bold bass and clear highs that really help acoustic instruments float atop a mix. That said, the noise-canceling isn’t quite as impressive as either Samsung or Apple’s, as I touched on above. Don’t expect to totally block out all sound with these buds, but they do reduce HVAC and other noise significantly.
One thing I prefer, though, is that Amazon makes it so easy to modify the Echo Buds to your own whim. The touch controls on each earbud can be customized, as can noise-canceling level, hear-through functionality. There’s even a feature where the headphones will pause music and turn on hear through when they detect you speaking.
One control mechanism I don’t like, and probably never will on earbuds? Touch controls when working out. If you plan to sweat in the IPX4 water-resistant buds, Amazon’s sensors are sensitive to sweaty hair sometimes hitting them, which can inadvertently trigger these controls. If you’re rocking shoulder-length hair like I am, you’ll want a hair tie, lest you constantly screw up your soundtrack.
But as a more affordable alternative to headphones from Samsung and Apple, the Echo Buds are a huge win. They’re cheaper than their competitors, but not noticeably worse in any dramatic way. You still get usable noise-canceling, quality sound, and great app-based customization, plus one of the best voice assistants for daily life. As long as you don’t hate having an Amazon account, they’re some of the best earbuds you can buy.