“They’re the perfect companion for those who love Amazon Alexa.”
- Hands-free Alexa
- Good sound quality
- Top-notch call quality
- Excellent transparency
- Poor battery life
- Mediocre ANC
When Amazon introduced the original Echo Buds in 2019, they set a new standard for what we could expect from a $130 investment in a set of true wireless earbuds. They sounded great, had effective active noise cancellation (ANC), and let you talk to Alexa without needing to tap any buttons.
They weren’t perfect: Battery life was only so-so, they were a bit on the bulky side, there was no wireless charging option, and you couldn’t customize the controls very much. But Amazon had still managed to set the bar very high and, for a time, they were our top pick for the best true wireless earbuds.
But since 2019, there’s been an explosion of new options and new brands. ANC, which was once an exotic and expensive extra, is now showing up on earbuds that cost $100 or less. Battery life has improved by leaps and bounds, and getting decent sound quality has become easier and cheaper than ever.
This means that Amazon’s latest version, which for clarity I’ll refer to as the Echo Buds 2 ($120 or $140 depending on whether you want wireless charging or not), need to be a real step up from their predecessors just to keep pace with the market.
Did Amazon succeed? Let’s take a look at the Echo Buds 2.
What’s in the box?
Amazon leads the way in terms of sustainable, recyclable packaging. The Echo Buds 2 come in a small cardboard box, with only a tiny amount of plastic film used to protect the charging case. There’s no foam and no twist ties. Inside, you’ll find the earbuds in their case, a USB-C charging cable, four sizes of silicone eartips (including the ones preinstalled on the buds), two sizes of wing tips (with a spare set of the smaller size included), and a quick start guide.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Echo Buds 2, especially if you happen to be familiar with the first generation, is their size. Not only are the earbuds smaller, but so is their charging case. They’re not quite as compact as the Apple AirPods Pro, but they compare favorably with many other models, like the Jabra Elite 75t or Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro.
Available in either a matte-finish black or an eggshell color that Amazon calls “Glacier White,” the earbuds are smooth and seamless, with no defined area for the touch-sensitive controls. A discrete Amazon smile logo is the only decoration.
The charging case is equally free of adornment. Its rounded corners make it comfortable to hold and to pocket, but its bottom is still flat enough to let it stand upright on a desk (or a wireless charging mat if you spring for the $20 upgrade).
Gone is the Micro USB connector that seemed antiquated even in 2019. It’s replaced with the current industry standard, USB-C. A small LED indicator on the front lets you see the case’s charging status or battery level, while a set of similar LEDs inside the case give you the same info about each earbud.
Bottom line: These are very comfortable buds.
The earbuds pop in and out of their charging sockets easily and well-balanced magnets keep them there when you’re not using them. One big improvement over the previous model: Even with the largest wing tips installed, the earbuds make a good connection with their charging contacts — something which didn’t always work on the first-generation Echo Buds.
My only critique is the charging case lid: It opens and closes easily, but the hinge doesn’t have a notch to keep it from flipping closed accidentally, which it tends to do a lot.
Amazon has kept the Echo Buds’ IPX4 water -esistance rating, which means they can easily withstand some rain and plenty of sweat without being damaged — just don’t immerse them in water.
Normally when it comes to true wireless earbuds, there’s not much to say about getting them paired with your phone or tablet. Opening the case or removing the earbuds is enough to get them into pairing mode, at which point you select them from the available devices in your Bluetooth menu and away you go.
With the Echo Buds 2, it’s slightly different. You need to download and install the Amazon Alexa app first if you don’t have it already and then open the charging case lid.
The app automatically finds the earbuds and walks you through the rest of the process. It’s quick and painless unless you’re using an iPhone with a lot of previously connected devices in your Bluetooth menu. If that’s the case, it can take a long time for the Echo Buds 2 to be recognized. It worked for me eventually, but I had to conduct a factory reset on the earbuds by holding down the pairing button on the charging case for 10 seconds.
Comfort, controls, and connections
With a smaller overall shape than the original Echo Buds, the Echo Buds 2 are indeed a little more comfortable, and I imagine that people with smaller ears will definitely find them easier to wear. But it’s the Echo Buds 2’s vented design that makes the most difference to the “feel” of wearing them.
To explain: A lot of folks find that when they put earbuds in their ears, the experience of having their ears fully blocked by an object is unpleasant. It can also, under certain circumstances, create a sucking or pushing feeling inside your ear canal, to some people are especially sensitive.
To alleviate this, some earbuds, like the Jabra Elite 85t, are being built with tiny vents that let a little air pass through the earbuds. The venting on the Echo Buds 2 really does make a difference, but it also comes with some compromises, which I’ll touch on below.
Bottom line: These are very comfortable buds. You can use the optional wing tips to secure their fit for vigorous activity, but I found they stayed put just fine without them.
The Alexa app — which you’ll need to get the most out of the Echo Buds 2 — has a fit test tool that helps you determine if you’ve selected the right eartips. It’s very handy. All too often, people will choose the eartips that they think are right for them, based on their belief around ear size (“I’m a medium”) instead of choosing the tips that provide the best seal. Given how critical a good seal is for sound quality and ANC — especially in a vented earbud design — taking a fit test is a great idea.
Pro tip: If you ever find that earbuds sound weak, or there’s not as much bass as you’d hoped, you’re almost definitely using the wrong eartips. Try one size larger, and don’t be afraid to use different sizes in each ear — we are not (well most of us) highly symmetrical beings.
Bluetooth connectivity is rock-solid and I didn’t experience any dropouts.
I still prefer physical buttons for earbud controls, but the touch controls on the Echo Buds 2 are as good as they come. You get four touch gestures: Single tap, double tap, triple tap, and tap-and-hold. They’re the same for each earbud and let you control play/pause, call answer/end, track skip forward/back, and ANC/transparency modes. Having the same controls on each earbud means you can use just one without any loss of options, but it also means there are very few customization options.
In the Alexa app, you can change the tap-and-hold function from ANC/transparency to voice assistant access (Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant), but the other gestures can’t be modified.
Notably, as with the first-generation Echo Buds, you can’t control volume without using your phone’s buttons. The lack of customization and volume control is a little annoying, especially as the Alexa app has so many other options, but at least Amazon has added the single- and triple-tap options — the original Echo Buds only had two gestures.
The Echo Buds 2 have wear sensors that will automatically pause and resume music when you pull the buds out or reinsert them. This works like a charm, responding to changes instantly.
Bluetooth connectivity is rock-solid and I didn’t experience any dropouts or weirdness between the two earbuds, but their range is limited. I was only able to stray about 25 feet from my phone indoors — a much shorter distance than most true wireless earbuds I’ve tested.
Clear, well-balanced sound is what you can expect from the Echo Buds 2.
Their soundstage isn’t especially wide or deep, but they have a really generous frequency response that can be altered extensively using the EQ settings in the Alexa app.
Out of the box, the sound is bass-forward — perfect for workouts or listening to a variety of genres, from hip-hop to EDM. But move the three-band equalizer’s sliders around and you can tweak it from big and booming to light and airy.
Unfortunately, without any EQ presets in the app or the ability to create your own, you may find yourself moving those sliders around each time you switch content types, from music to podcasts, in order to get the best balance.
Like a lot of true wireless earbuds, the Echo Buds 2 have a sweet spot for sound quality when it comes to volume level. At around 60%, they deliver a full, rich performance. But that balance can drop off quite sharply as you reduce the volume.
I have a feeling that this is partly due to the vented design. They naturally block less external sound than non-vented earbuds, so you need to increase the volume to compensate — even when using ANC.
Noise cancellation and transparency
The first Echo Buds used Bose’s active noise reduction (ANR) technology, but the Echo Buds 2 have swapped that for Amazon’s own ANC tech. Amazon claims this change delivers a significant improvement in performance. It “effectively cancels out twice as much noise,” says the reviewer’s guide that accompanied our Echo Buds 2 loaners.
ANC on the Echo Buds 2 is a mixed bag.
I spent about an hour swapping back and forth between the two versions to see if I could verify this claim, but I couldn’t. Here’s the dilemma: While it’s true that the Echo Buds 2 cancels more audible sound when you use ANC rather than the ANR on the Echo Buds, it’s also true that the vented design of the Echo Buds 2 lets in more sound to begin with.
The Echo Buds 2’s ANC also produces an audible background hiss when it’s engaged. This could be the result of an overeager ANC setting, but unlike transparency mode, which can be adjusted, ANC is either on or off.
The original Echo Buds don’t produce as pronounced a shift in sound when you switch on ANR, but they do such a good job of passively isolating sound in the first place that they don’t really need to be as aggressive. Plus, there’s no new noise introduced when ANR is turned on.
In short, ANC on the Echo Buds 2 is a mixed bag. You’ll probably get the most out of it when listening to music while commuting or in a busy space like a Starbucks, but if you’re hoping to create a cone of silence for improved concentration — the kind of magic sound erasing that the AirPods Pro and Jabra Elite 85t can perform — you may be disappointed.
The premier feature of the Echo Buds 2 is hands-free access to Amazon’s voice assistant.
Transparency mode, on the other hand, is excellent. You can fine-tune how much external sounds are amplified, and at the extreme end of this spectrum, the earbuds even offer some hearing enhancement.
What I’m less thrilled about is the time it takes to shift between ANC and transparency. From the time you’ve initiated the tap-and-hold gesture to the time these modes have changed, up to six seconds have elapsed. That might be acceptable when you’re swapping modes as you enter or exit a building, but if someone is trying to talk to you, you want to switch as fast as possible — preferably in an instant.
All about Alexa
It should go without saying that the premier feature of the Echo Buds 2 is hands-free access to Amazon’s voice assistant. If you own Echo smart speakers, or an Amazon Fire TV device, or one of the many third-party speakers that let you interact with Alexa, it’s awesome to have her at your beck and call no matter where you are or what you’re doing.
I’m not going to go into all of the things you can get Alexa to do — that list is far too long — but it’s worth highlighting some commands that are especially useful on the go:
Music, volume, modes: You can get Alexa to control virtually all aspects of your media experience, including changing volume (which can’t be done with gestures), answering calls, switching between ANC and transparency, and picking music from a wide variety of services like Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, and more. She’ll even read out your remaining Echo Buds battery life.
The new Echo Buds deliver crystal-clear voice quality.
Alexa Transit: I couldn’t test this feature because it’s not yet available outside of the U.S., but it looks very handy. Alexa can now respond to a series of queries and commands related to getting around, whether you’re walking (“Alexa, how do I get to the Empire State Building?”) or using public transit (“Alexa, what is the status of the Q train?”). The responses are context-sensitive, so if there’s more than one Q train, it will select the one that’s nearest to you. Setting locations like home and work in the Alexa app makes these interactions even more useful.
I found that the Echo Buds 2 were very responsive to the Alexa wake word, and Alexa’s reaction time to various commands was quick and I needed to repeat myself far less than I did with the Echo Buds. If you depend on Alexa while at home, I suspect you’ll quickly begin to wonder how you ever survived without her when you’re not at home.
On the one hand, the Echo Buds 2 give you the ability to extend their normal five-hour play time to 6.5 hours by turning off ANC and the ability to use Alexa with a wake word. But on the other hand, their charging case only holds two full charges (the previous version held three).
So with ANC and Alexa engaged, you’re looking at a maximum of 15 hours of stamina. That’s considerably less than any other true wireless earbuds at the same price. The $130 Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro, for instance, get seven hours per charge, and 26 hours when you include the charging case.
A 15-minute quick charge will give you up to two hours of music playback.
I didn’t get enough of a chance to fully verify Amazon’s battery claims, but from what I could see, they appear to be accurate.
For most true wireless earbuds, call quality is something of an afterthought. Many claim to do a good job of it, but in my experience, few actually do. The Echo Buds 2 are the exception. They deliver crystal-clear voice quality.
I walked through some very busy intersections, with lots of traffic and other competing sounds, and somehow it always sounded like I was standing in the middle of an empty room.
You may be able to get slightly better call quality from the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, but given that they cost more than twice what you’ll pay for the Echo Buds 2, I doubt you’ll get results that are more than twice as good.
If you enable location services on the Alexa app, you can use it to find your missing Echo Buds 2. The app will show the earbud’s last-known location, and can force the buds to emit a chime as long as they’re not insider their charging case.
If you don’t own a Fitbit or an Apple Watch, the Echo Buds 2 have a built-in accelerometer that can do basic step-counting. You can track your walks or runs and the app will keep a history of your achievements.
With the Echo Buds 2, Amazon has addressed several of the weaknesses of the original Echo Buds while actually dropping the price by $10 if you don’t need wireless charging. And though they don’t knock it out of the park on every feature (ANC and battery life come to mind), they’re still a superb option for those who want to take Alexa everywhere they go.
Is there a better alternative?
You’ll find several models of true wireless earbuds that let you access Amazon Alexa, but only the Echo Buds 2 (and the original Echo Buds) let you talk to Alexa hands-free.
Because of this, they’re in a class by themselves.
But if you don’t mind having to press a button before speaking, I can think of two excellent alternatives including:
- $130 : Better sound, better ANC, and better battery life.
- $150 : Better sound, better ANC, better battery life, customizable controls.
What’s the warranty?
Amazon backs the Echo Buds 2 with a one-year warranty.
How long will they last?
The Echo Buds 2 appear to be very well-built, as is their charging case. You can replace the eartips when they wear out. The biggest concern will be battery life. At five hours per charge, if that should drop considerably over the course of normal use, you may end up needing to replace them faster than earbuds that have a longer starting point.
Should you buy them?
Yes. If you love the idea of taking Alexa with you everywhere you go, the Echo Buds 2 are an affordable, comfortable, and great-sounding set of true wireless earbuds.