Amazon's feverish desire to get Alexa into as many different devices as possible has led the online shopping giant to incorporate the virtual assistant into a pair of earbuds -- the Echo Buds.
But are they any good?
I came to the Echo Buds after a disappointing experience with the much-hyped but also flawed (and bizarrely named) Sony WF-1000XM3. My expectations for the Echo Buds was much lower than for the Sony earbuds, partly because of more limited hype, but also because of the much more restrained price tag -- $129.99 compared to $228.99. Also, Sony has been in the music business for a lot longer than Amazon, and has a legacy going back decades.
Amazon, on the other hand, is a newcomer to the music business, but has made great headway into people's homes with various smart speakers.
Integrating the Alexa virtual assistant into earbuds was inevitable.
The Echo Buds were born.
The Echo Buds are, well, much like other earbuds. They are little black buds, supplied in a moderately sized charging and carry case, designed to be popped into the ears.
The buds come with a number of different eartips, and optional earwings. While the eartips are pretty standard fair, the earwings feel like little more than a blob of rubber on a small circle of rubber. They are hard to fit on the earbuds correctly (you have to line up a small, squintingly hard to see mark on the rubber earwing with an equally small and hard to see mark on the earbuds), and look terrible and feel like an afterthought.
All this is a shame because they actually improve in-ear comfort. Even without the earwings, the Echo Buds are comfortable enough to wear for hours.
Unlike the Sony offering, the Echo Buds are sweat-resistant and water-resistant to IPX4, which means they are fully resistant against dust and particles, and can resist water splashes, but not total immersion.
The buds have a 5-hour battery life, and the case takes that up to 20 hours. Testing suggests that the hardware delivers on these claims. Fifteen minutes in the case gives the buds two hours of runtime. There's no wireless charging built into the case, and the case charges using a microUSB port.
The Echo Buds require that Amazon's Alexa app is installed on your smartphone or tablet, and while you could run them without this, it not only makes the Alexa bit work, but it also allows for a level of customization (as well as allowing the bud's firmware to be updated in the background).
From an audio point of view, I think that the Echo Buds are not bad at all. I'm no audiophile, so not overly discerning, but in my testing the audio is loud, clear, and has a good range.
The Echo Buds each have three built-in microphones, and work for picking up voice, and also for the Bose Active Noise Reduction and Passthrough Mode, which block out the noise of world, or bring it to your ears, respectively. Both features work astonishingly well, and it's quite startling how well the noise reduction feature works.
The voice pickup for summoning Alexa and making calls is very good, and works well in a variety of situations. Call quality is up there with the best earbuds, so these are a good choice for work as well as play.
As for the Alexa experience, it is the Alexa experience we have come to know, and if you love it, you will love what the Echo Buds have to offer. If you are deep in the Amazon ecosystem, the Echo Buds are a logical choice.
They are certainly worth a listen.
The Echo Buds are controlled using a touchpad on the side of each bud, and while this mechanism works, engaging with it is not obvious initially, and as with most touchpad mechanisms, it can be overly touchy at times, and sluggishly unresponsive at other times.
So, are the Echo Buds any good? Bottom line is, yes. My biggest complaint is with the touchpad control system, but after a few days of use, I got the hang of it. The earwings are, well, cheap and nasty. But that said, they work.
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