Should you buy… The Amazon Echo Buds?
7 March 2020, 08:04
Are Alexa-enabled, noise-cancelling earbuds from Amazon an Apple AirPods killer?
Wireless earphones with noise-cancelling support have become the desired standard of audio experience over the last 12 months, and Amazon’s Echo Buds are the latest to try to grab public attention.
Until recently, audio-focused brands such as Sony and Bose have been the best way to get high-end audio in small in-ear devices, but the rate of technological advance means other tech manufacturers are now able to offer genuine alternatives.
Having been making smart speakers for more than five years, Amazon (with a little help from Bose) has created its Echo Buds to not just offer high-quality audio with noise-cancelling capabilities, but to also provide access to voice assistant Alexa on the go.
So, how do they sound?
– Look and feel
Although sound is the key part of any earphones experience, how they look – especially the shape they take – and therefore how they fit into your ear also has a major impact on the listening experience.
The Echo Buds are minimal in design, with a two-tone black finish for the small earpieces, which sit snugly in the wearer’s ear, without protruding outwards too much.
They come with three different sets of tips, in different sizes, to enable users to find the fit that best suits them.
However, comfort isn’t as simple as changing ear tip size. The Echo Buds are generally comfortable enough to wear, but after an extended period – more than around 45 minutes – their weight starts to tell and they feel heavy in your ear.
Although they are also designed to seal your ear for better ambient noise reduction, on several occasions it was noted that air felt trapped behind one or both of the buds, which led to a level of discomfort and forced the wearer to take out and adjust them.
– Charging case
The Echo Buds are stored in a small rectangular charging case, which is small enough to keep in a coat pocket or bag while the buds themselves are in your ears.
It’s smart, minimal and easy to carry around with you, and the hidden LED indicator offers a colour-coded reminder of roughly how much battery life you have left each time you open the case.
The case itself can provide up to 20 hours of playback time, and during testing this proved to be the case, with the buds and the case getting through around a week’s worth of commuting before needing to be plugged in again.
However, the micro USB port can be a sticking point when it comes to charging – in an age where most devices have made the jump to USB-C, it means using the Echo Buds long term requires carrying an extra cable with you.
The matte finish of the charging case also makes it a little slippery in the hand, and on several occasions it slipped from our grip when taking it out of a pocket.
– Performance and experience
The audio quality that comes from the Echo Buds is excellent, with clear sound backed up by good levels of bass for such a small earpiece.
The noise reduction, powered by Bose and activated by double-tapping on either of the buds, shuts out background noise incredibly well.
As wireless listening experiences go, the Echo Buds are up there among the very best on the market right now.
Double-tapping either bud again turns on a mode called Pass Through, which uses the earpiece microphones to let in ambient sound should you wish to hear a train or airport announcement, for example.
Disappointingly, this is about the limit of the touch controls on the Echo Buds. Users are able to customise the settings in the Alexa app, adding in the ability to play and pause media with a double-tap, as well as selecting the virtual assistant they would like to be prompted when pressing and holding either bud.
Crucially as well, it is not possible to adjust the volume with touch controls, although this and a number of other controls such as skipping tracks can be controlled using voice commands.
The controls also have an issue with sensitivity, with the buds being incredibly over-sensitive during testing, to the point where a light brush with the hand past one of them can be enough to trigger them, which is disruptive to the listening experience.
But, given the level of sound quality they offer at the very reasonable price point of £120, it is not too difficult to overlook niggles such as those mentioned because of the audio payoff they deliver.
Well-designed earbuds with high-quality active noise reduction and very good battery life, the Echo Buds are a very good choice for any audiophile.
Being an Amazon product, there is the addition of Alexa and other voice control abilities to pad out the experience, but the sound quality is the star of the show here.
At £120 too, they are very good value for money compared with their rivals, including Apple’s AirPods Pro, which are priced at £249.
The Echo Buds then are a successful introduction to wireless earphones for Amazon.