Amazon Echo Buds (2023) review: $50 goes a long way

When Amazon introduced its 2nd-generation Echo Buds in 2021, the company redesigned them to address nearly every issue with its first attempt. They had true active noise cancellation (ANC), better sound and a smaller size. Amazon took a much different approach for its third version, opting to move from mid-range to a low-cost model with an all-new design that covers most of the basic features you’d expect. As always, the Alexa faithful will get the most out of the new $50 Echo Buds, but in a lot of ways you could argue a budget model that does well with the essentials is where Amazon should’ve been all along.

Design

While the first two iterations of the Echo Buds had similar designs, Amazon completely changed things up for the third generation. The 2023 model has an AirPods-like stem that extends down from your ear toward your jaw. The silicone ear tips are gone as well and the buds sit in your ear rather than completely closing off your ear canal. There are two sets of silicone “covers” included with the Echo Buds that Amazon says will “optimize your fit.” They don’t really change how the earbuds feel in your ears because they’re so thin. They just provide a tiny bit of grip to help them stay put.

Amazon

Amazon Echo Buds (2023)

Pros

  • Very affordable
  • Good sound for the price
  • Multipoint connectivity works well
  • Solid mix of features

Cons

  • Requires Alexa app for setup
  • No wireless charging
  • Design and fit isn’t for everyone
  • IPX2 rating

The mostly open design is great for when you might not want to block out the world entirely. However, they’re only IPX2 rated for protection from water droplets. The 2nd-gen Echo Buds offered slightly better IPX4 resistance, so I wouldn’t rely on the 2023 model as your workout partner if you sweat a lot.

Amazon didn’t cut too many corners when it comes to controls to keep costs low, though. The upper, main part of the Echo Buds accept taps (single, double, triple and long press) for music playback, calls and to summon Alexa manually. The earbuds are also equipped with in-ear detection for automatic pausing. You can reconfigure the defaults any number of ways, including swapping out core controls for volume. You’ll need two spots for that though, as volume up is one gesture while down requires another.

The controls are mirrored on both sides out of the box, but you don’t have to keep them that way. You can also reassign the long press to mute the Echo Buds mics or activate your phone’s native assistant. Since these earbuds offer hands-free access to Alexa, you can technically get both. However, the Echo Buds won’t summon Siri or Google Assistant if the mics are muted, even if you’ve assigned them to the long press action. The bottom line here is that there is a lot of customization available and the earbuds reliably accept your taps without having to repeat a touch command.

Despite the longer overall design, the charging case with the new Echo Buds remains small. This one will easily tuck in a tiny pocket. The Bluetooth pairing button is on the outside up front, sitting just below an LED status indicator, and a USB-C charging port resides on the right side.

Software and setup

Amazon Alexa app

Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

One of the biggest issues I have with the Echo Buds is that they require the Alexa app for a full setup. I’m well aware earbuds and headphones need apps to get the most out of their features, but the Alexa app is bloated as it handles all kinds of smart devices beyond just the Echo Buds. There’s a lot to contend with here just to tweak your settings. Amazon has put the earbuds info up top so you don’t have to go looking for it, but there’s still a lot to get lost in down below.

The Alexa app displays battery life percentages for both earbuds individually and the case right on the home screen, as well as an easily accessible mute button for the microphones. Tapping further into the settings shows you Bluetooth connections and gives you the option to disable Alexa hands-free. Note that this doesn’t mute the mics and you can still manually summon Amazon’s assistant with a long press on the Echo Buds. The earbuds also support multipoint connectivity for two devices at once, and in my experience switching is quick and reliable.

As it has in the past, the company allows you to activate and adjust Sidetone. That’s the amount of your own voice you want to hear during a call. VIP Filter returns as well, which lets you decide which contacts and apps you want to receive notifications from. EQ customization comes in the form of three sliders for bass, mids and treble, just above the option to reconfigure the tap controls. Amazon has included a Find My tool in the app and there are feature categories for Entertainment, Communication and Location & Maps that help to further personalize the Echo Buds Setup.

Sound quality

Amazon Echo Buds (2023) review

Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

When it comes to open-type earbuds, sound quality can vary wildly from model to model. It’s understandable that some companies struggle to deliver the best audio without sealing off your ears and the wearer’s ear shape can dramatically impact the results. But Amazon tackled both of those challenges admirably and created a sound profile that’s quite good in a set of $50 buds.

The first thing that impressed me with the Echo Buds was the clarity and detail. Softer and acoustic genres like bluegrass, folk and lighter country sound great, with the warm strums of Zach Bryan’s guitars and vocals on American Heartbreak cutting through the mix. Switch over to the electro-pop-rock of PVRIS’ Evergreen and you’ll notice that these earbuds do lack a bit of low-end thump. That’s common with open designs, so it’s not surprising. If I press the buds in slightly, the bass is more present. Unfortunately, that means audio quality may vary based on how the Echo Buds sit in your ears.

Overall, the tuning is well-balanced across genres. At times, there’s a heavier dose of treble, but it’s not a constant issue. But in general the Echo Buds deliver better audio quality than much of the $50 competition. They pickup plenty of subtle reverb when it’s present and there’s nice texture to drums and distorted guitars across hip-hop and metal respectively. They even adequately render all of the layered and unique sounds of the KAYTRAMINÉ album.

Unlike the previous version of Echo Buds, there’s no active noise cancellation here. Due to the semi-open design it would be mostly wasted anyway. This means the new Echo Buds won’t do much to block a noisy coffee shop or air conditioner, but they should keep you from missing announcements, warnings or any other crucial info that might otherwise go unheard.

Battery life

Amazon Echo Buds (2023) review

Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Amazon says you can expect up to five hours of use on these Echo Buds. You can extend that figure by one hour if you opt to disable hands-free access to Alexa. There are three additional charges in the case and a quick-charge feature will give you up to two hours of listening time in 15 minutes. The Echo Buds are replenished via the USB-C port on the right side as there’s no wireless charging here. Amazon doesn’t include a cable either, citing its Climate Pledge Friendly commitment, but chances are you already have one. If not, the company offers the option to bundle it for $10 more.

During “regular” use, I still had eight percent left in the tank after five and a half hours. That’s a mix of playing music, taking calls and leaving the buds on my desk outside of the case a couple of times. I also had the wake word active, so I went beyond the company’s stated number. Five hours is near the industry average these days, especially for more affordable models, but it’s nice to see Amazon slightly overdelivering.

Call quality

To assist with calls, Amazon installed two mics and a voice accelerometer on each earbud. As always, companies’ claims about call performance are typically exaggerated to some degree with promises of “crystal clear” quality. That’s exactly what Amazon says about the Echo Buds, but overall clarity isn’t particularly great. Your voice comes across slightly muffled, though it’s perfectly fine for general video and voice calls. I wouldn’t do any recording with these – not that you would with most earbuds anyway. The Echo Buds do a decent job combatting background noise, including a loud fan that came through as soft white noise instead of its raucous rumble and a nearby game of Mario Kart 8 wasn’t picked up at all.

The competition

Amazon Echo Buds (2023) review

Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

At $50, Amazon is significantly undercutting its competition from the biggest names in wireless earbuds. Sony’s cheapest option, the WF-C500s, are $100 and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2 are only about $10 less. Apple’s 2nd-generation “regular” AirPods are $129, but there’s a pricier, redesigned model of those that debuted in 2021.

For more apt comparisons, you’ll want to look to the likes of Jabra and Anker for the best budget wireless earbuds. The Jabra Elite 3 are my top affordable pick due to its impressive sound quality for the price ($80), good battery life, comfy fit and reliable touch controls. There’s no automatic pausing and EQ adjustments are limited to presets, but the audio is great out of the box. My colleague Jeff Dunn prefers Anker’s Soundcore Space A40. For $75, you get decent ANC, customizable sound, eight hours of battery life and almost all of the essentials.

Wrap-up

Amazon’s new approach to Echo Buds has produced interesting results. The company was only going to improve things so much at its previous mid-range price point, there’s a limit to how much tech you can add to a $150 set before the price has to go up. Going for the budget buyers instead of building a high-end set of $300 earbuds makes more sense considering its approach to other devices. Still, the company managed to create low-cost Echo Buds with sound quality that punches above the price point while still including all of the basic functionality. Alexa users even get a hands-free assistant, which isn’t all that common on $50 earbuds. There are certainly some omissions, but on the whole, Amazon’s choice to go budget friendly seems like the right call.

Gallery: Amazon Echo Buds (2023) review | 12 Photos


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