Amazon’s first attempt at a set of true wireless earbuds gets a lot right, with Bose active noise reduction technology and hands-free Alexa.

At £119.99, the Echo Buds undercut rivals, some of which cost more than twice as much. Their design is generic: large, kidney-shaped with a glossy touch panel on the outside and a standard silicone eartip on the inside.

The eartip supports the earbud with the majority of the rest of the body sitting outside the ear. But the earbuds are large and heavy at 7.6g each, meaning they sit proud of your ear. They started to hurt after 30 minutes.

Three sizes of silicone eartips are supplied along with three sizes of wings for securing the earbuds in place if needed, which I didn’t.

Amazon Echo Buds review



The Echo Buds look fairly generic with their black glossy touch panel on the outside. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The touch panel on each supports two gestures on each earbud: double-tap or tap and hold. Each earbud can do different things, choosing from pause/play, track skip, activation of Alexa or Siri/Google Assistant, muting the microphones, activating active noise reduction or transparency modes, with or without pausing the music, which is great to have.

Taking one earbud out pauses the music too, which resumes when you put it back in. The only control that’s missing is volume, which you will have to adjust on your phone.

Activating the controls can be a mixed bag: sometimes they work as intended; at other points both gestures can take a few goes to register. You end up tapping harder and harder, which makes loud banging sounds in your ear. It’s also difficult to insert the earbuds without activating some sort of control.

Specifications

  • Water resistance: IPX4 (splash only)

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, SBC, AAC

  • Battery life: 5 hours listening, up to 20 hours with case

  • Earbud weight: 7.6g

  • Earbud dimensions: 22 x 23 x 24 mm

  • Charging case dimensions: 57 x 77 x 29mm

  • Charging case weight: 70g

  • Case charging: microUSB

Sound and Active Noise Reduction

Amazon Echo Buds review



The Alexa app takes care of settings. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Echo Buds sound good for the money. They produce a decent amount of low end sound that doesn’t butcher the rest of the tones. Mids and highs come through clearly, separation of instruments is good and they have a fairly wide soundscape. Overall, they are an easy listen with a pleasing sound at low to medium volumes, but they do not produce the sort of sparkling audio that lets you hear new notes in your favourite pieces.

The Echo Buds have Bose active noise reduction (ANR) technology, which the firm says differs from its active noise cancelling (ANC) system by the level of noise it can deal with.

The Echo Buds do a good job of reducing the amount of background noise that leaks into your music. They managed to significantly reduce general road sounds while walking about London and the noise of commutes on trains. They perform slightly better than the Libratone Track Air+ but not quite as well as the AirPods Pro or the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.

Another nice feature is the ability to pause the music, deactivate noise reduction and activate an ambient listening mode, which uses the microphones to pipe the sounds of the outside world into your ears – great for suddenly halting your music to listen to an announcement.

Alexa

Amazon Echo Buds review



The near side of the earbuds has a presence sensor, magnetic charging interface and the silicone ear tip. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The other big feature is Alexa integration. You can choose to have the Echo Buds listen out for the “Alexa” wake word in the same way an Echo smart speaker might. Or you can manually activate Alexa with a gesture.

They work in mostly the same way as many other earbuds with similar functionality. Apple’s AirPods work with Siri in the same way, while many have similar Google Assistant integration.

Saying “Alexa” triggers Amazon’s voice assistant, which on the whole behaves the same as it does through an Echo smart speaker, including voice calls to other Echo devices, smart home control, access various skills and answer questions.

It can also perform basic actions on your phone, such as playing music from Spotify and adjusting the volume. As a phone-based assistant Alexa is OK but it’s not as good as Google Assistant for general management of your daily tasks (if you use Gmail etc) or Siri for integration into the iPhone.

I ended up switching Alexa to a button to invoke, rather than listening out for the wake word. If you don’t want to use Alexa you don’t have to – instead you can use the voice assistant built into your phone.

Call quality was good. Recipients said I came through loud and clear, beating many rival earbuds for clarity in quiet environments and dealing relatively well with background noise with just a slight echo. On my end of the call the option for sidetone was welcome but the earbuds let a lot of background noise into the call.

Battery life, case and charging

Amazon Echo Buds review



The fliptop case charges via microUSB, which is still common but the charger of the past rather than the current USB-C charging standard for phones, tablets and laptops. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Echo Buds offer nearly five hours of continuous playback with three complete recharges available from the case, making up to about 20 hours of battery life all in. A 15-minute trip in the case is enough to charge the earbuds for about two hours of playback.

The earbuds snap into place in the case using magnets and pin connectors. The case is a similar matt black plastic from which Amazon’s Fire tablets are made. It feels a little cheap despite being relatively robust. There’s a microUSB charging port on one side and a button for pairing on the bottom. It would have been better to use USB-C given most smartphones are now charged via the newer connector.

The case is fairly big and heavy compared to the best true wireless earbuds released in the last year, coming in at about twice the size of the AirPods Pro or Jabra Elite 75t cases. It’s still pocketable but not as convenient and easy to carry as smaller options. It could fit into only a large money pocket in one particular pair of jeans.

Ultimately disposable

Like most true wireless earbuds the Echo Buds and their case contain batteries that should last many years. However, they cannot be replaced, ultimately making them disposable. Amazon offers replacement earbuds outside of warranty for £59.

Amazon does not recycle electronic waste directly, instead it is a member of the WEEE distributor take back scheme in the UK.

Observations

Amazon Echo Buds review



The earbuds snap into place in the case on the metal contacts. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • An LED on the front of the case shows the charge of the earbuds (green >40%, yellow <40%) or the case battery when the earbuds are out (green above one charge, yellow for less than one charge)

  • Connection to an iPhone 11 Pro or OnePlus 7 Pro was rock solid

  • Each earbud can be used independently and hot-swapped

Price

The Amazon Echo Buds cost £119.99 in the UK or $129.99 in the US.

For comparison, Apple’s AirPods cost £159, the AirPods Pro cost £249, Jabra’s Elite 75t cost £170 and Sony’s WF-1000M3 cost £179.

Verdict

Amazon ticks a lot of boxes with the Echo Buds: they sound good for the money, have noise reduction technology from Bose and don’t break the bank.

They also have the option of full Alexa integration, including wake-word support – like a smart speaker in your ears – or you can turn off Amazon’s voice assistant. A four- to-five-hour battery is reasonable but not anywhere near class leading, while the case is of average size and function.

The biggest downsides are the size of the earbuds, which stick out quite far and were uncomfortable after extended listening, and controls that were unreliable sometimes. Like most other true wireless earbuds you can’t change the battery, so they are ultimately disposable too.

If you can overlook these niggles then the Echo Buds offer a lot of bang for your buck: their cost undercuts rivals while offering good sound and noise reduction.

Pros: Bose ANR, good sound, reasonable battery life, good ambient mode, Alexa integration, undercut rivals on price, solid connection, good call quality, can use either earbud independently

Cons: large in the ear, no aptX, controls can be unreliable at times, disposable, case a little bigger than rivals, microUSB charging socket

Amazon Echo Buds review



The button on the bottom of the case initiates Bluetooth pairing, but can also be pressed to show the current battery state of the case or buds via the LED on the front. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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