Android Central Verdict
Bottom line: Amazon took an already good product in the original Echo Buds and made it even better with a host of improvements and upgrades. The Echo Buds (2nd Gen) are smaller and lighter, come in a second color option, have USB-C and wireless charging, and added true active noise cancellation. They're still not the most premium earbuds you can buy, but they are an absolutely fantastic value.
USB-C port and wireless charging option
Upgrade to true active noise cancellation
Competitive price point
Hands-free Alexa access
Smaller, lighter, more comfortable design
EQ settings are limited
No real battery life upgrade
VIP Filter feature not ready at launch
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We have a whole host of expert writers and reviewers here at Android Central that eat, sleep, and breathe true wireless earbuds. I'm talking about legit audiophiles who can talk your ears off about dynamic range, sound profiles, and the merits of active noise cancellation. I'm not part of that group, and I'm not invited to sit at their lunch table. Don't ask; it's fine...
What I am is an Amazon Alexa enthusiast, and I've owned, tested, or reviewed just about all of the best Alexa devices that have come out in the past few years. Some would say that I'm a little too close with my voice assistant. In fact, I even have a t-shirt that says "Alexa is my side chick," which my wife is not a fan of, lol. So given my Amazon device experience and the fact that I reviewed the original Echo Buds back in 2019, I was the natural choice to write this Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) review.
But enough about me, what you really want to know is: are these new Echo Buds worth your time and money? Well, after wearing them for a few days now, I certainly think they are. You see, I've been wondering for a while now when we'd get a more mobile and useful version of Alexa, and it appears that Amazon's vision for this future is starting to take shape with the Echo Frames (2nd Gen) and the Echo Buds (2nd Gen). Let's dive into the review to see what I mean.
Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen): Price and availability
The Echo Buds (2nd Gen) were announced in mid-April 2021, nearly 18 months after the first generation made their debut. They now come in two colors (Black and Glacier White) and with two case options — a USB-C powered version and one that can charge via USB-C or with a Qi wireless charging pad. The regular version often retails for $120, and the wireless charging case version retails for $150.
Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen): What I like about them
When I reviewed the first-generation Echo Buds, I gave them high marks with a 4.5 rating, but there were still a few areas where I felt they could be improved. With this second generation, Amazon managed to address all of my initial complaints AND lower the price. It's kind of hard not to like that.
While it wasn't really a complaint of mine with the first-generation, I wasn't surprised that Amazon made some design tweaks to improve the second-generation Echo Buds. The first thing you'll notice when you open the box is that the case is significantly smaller this time around — 40% smaller than the previous generation. Along with that drop in size comes a reduction in weight as well. I'm a big guy with big pockets, and even I felt uncomfortable carrying around the first-generation in my pants, but that's not so much a problem any longer. The tactile feel of the case is similar to the previous version, but it does appear to be more solid and less creaky, perhaps because there is less surface area. The top of the case also opens on the narrower side, rather than the wider side as before.
The earbuds themselves are also smaller (Amazon says 20% smaller), and you can certainly feel the size and weight difference when you pop them into your ears. Amazon also says that it included built-in vents on the buds to relieve pressure on your ears. Along with the improved fit, Amazon continues to include extra ear tips and wings in various sizes, and the ear tip fit test that is a part of the device setup in the Alexa app helps assure that you have a proper seal.
The final design tweaks I want to mention are more superficial but no less important. For starters, Amazon is giving us a second color choice — Glacier White. Okay, okay, so black and white aren't the most exciting colors, but the more options, the better.
The other thing you might notice is the little Amazon arrow logo on the side panel of each Bud. It may seem silly at first, but that little logo actually helps you orient the earbuds the correct way in your ear (I actually had trouble with this with the first generation Echo Buds).
Some may say that it's tacky for Amazon to splash its logo on the side of these earbuds, but it is very subtle, and most people will never notice it (heck, they shouldn't be getting that close to your ears, especially during this time of social distancing).
With the Echo Buds (1st Gen), Amazon relied on a partnership with Bose to include ANR (Active Noise Reduction) to the earbuds. With the Echo Buds (2nd Gen), Amazon has developed its own ANC (Active Noise Cancellation), which it says can block out twice as much noise as the previous generation. I've now worn both (even, briefly, simultaneously), and I don't doubt Amazon's claims here at all. Its ANC does a much better job than the first-generation ANR, and I didn't think that was bad. The overall sound profile is pretty good; again, I'm no connoisseur here, but I doubt most folks considering these earbuds will be either. The important thing to takeaway is that these sound as good or better than any $150 or less pair of earbuds I've worn.
Since I often like to listen to music while walking or running on the street or hiking in the woods, I particularly appreciate the customizable Passthrough mode. I activated Passthrough on my hike yesterday and was able to enjoy the Android Central podcast and one of my Amazon Music playlists while still being able to hear the birds chirping clearly, the gravel crunching beneath my shoes, and overly eager mountain bikers approaching from behind. Amazon includes a feature for the Echo Buds in the Alexa app called Sidetone, which allows you to block out your own voice so you don't hear yourself during phone calls, or you can add it back in at an adjustable level. This isn't new — it was a feature on the first generation — but I either missed it or never used it before. I tested it out with the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) and found it worked as advertised (in other words, don't activate it, lol).
A couple of other features that are not necessarily new to the second-generation Echo Buds but are worth mentioning are the Find My feature and the Workout mode. Find My is exactly what it sounds like; it's a location tracker functionality built into the Alexa app, and it works as advertised. Not all earbuds have this feature (outside of Apple and Samsung offerings), so that's nice to see here too.
The Workout mode was introduced in November 2020 and makes an appearance here as well. It's not the most robust workout tracking experience, but it does work, and it's certainly better than nothing. If you don't have a fitness tracker or smartwatch, it's a good option to have as it can track distance, calories, average pace, and steps. I compared it to the Garmin Venu 2 I was using, and it wasn't that far off (I didn't start/stop both at exactly the same time). With a basic feature like this, it's less about how accurate the tracking is and more about how consistent it is, and I think that many people will be perfectly happy with its basic functionality. You can manually start a workout from the Alexa app or by asking Alexa to "start a workout." Once begun, it will continue tracking in the background until you tell it to stop, but it won't interfere with your listening activities.
You can also try Alexa Transit, which is available in large cities across the country, where you can ask Alexa for directions to the nearest bus or train station or be updated on public transportation status. It can even suggest the best route via public transit, letting you select your preferred commute type in the Alexa app. This sounds like a really useful feature — pity that I live in a state where my elected officials don't believe in public transport.
As with the first generation, the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) can also be used to summon your phone's primary voice assistant (Google Assistant or Siri) with a long press, but if you stick with hands-free Alexa, you'll be happy to know that her response time is faster than before. This improved response time from the microphones holds true for voice calls as well.
The biggest improvements from the first to the second generation — at least in my opinion — have to do with the charging situation. The Echo Buds (2nd Gen) now charge via USB-C (FINALLY), and Amazon has started to bring the more modern charging standard to more of its devices like the Fire tablet lineup.
Even better, there is an option to purchase a version of the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) with a wireless charging case. The wireless case should work with any Qi-compatible charging pad (make sure you get a good one!), but Amazon is offering a bundle with an Anker Qi pad that has a nice little divot for the case to set in and which has LED charging indicators for both the earbuds and the case.
I appreciate that Amazon is offering these two versions, as not everyone needs, wants, or can afford the upgrade to wireless charging (even though Amazon's is more affordable than many other wireless charging earbuds). The Echo Buds (2nd Gen) also have a manual Power Save feature in the Alexa app that will turn off Ambient Sound Modes, Alexa, and more background features in order to extend your Buds' battery life.
Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen): What could still be better
Looking at the previous section, I'm sure you won't be surprised to read that I didn't have much at all to dislike about the Echo Buds (Gen 2). However no product is perfect, so here are a few minor things I'd love to see improved moving forward, either in software updates or in a future version.
As I said last year, I appreciate that you can manage the Echo Buds from within the Alexa app, but I still feel that it's not the optimal solution. Don't get me wrong, it's better than no app experience at all, but it's certainly not as good as a dedicated Echo Buds app. There are only a few settings that you can tweak when the Echo Buds are not actively in use (like workout history and your profile), and while there are some EQ controls, the functionality is pretty basic. There is no option to select preset sound profiles, nor can you customize and save your own.
I mentioned above that the included Workout functionality is limited. It would be awesome if the next generation Echo Buds had additional sensors and more options to use as a true fitness tracker alternative. Perhaps a premium version could even incorporate some of the advanced health sensors from the Amazon Halo or even the (controversial) Tone feature. Amazon's Halo subscription service features all kinds of guided workouts and meditations that could be a nice value add here too.
While it's awesome that Amazon made the changes it did to the Echo Buds charging options, it is a little bit of a bummer that the battery life didn't improve much, if at all. The first-generation Echo Buds would last up to five hours on a charge, and the case would give them an additional 20 hours. The Echo Buds (2nd Gen) can get up to 6.5 hours on a charge (if Alexa and ANC are disabled), and the case provides an additional 19.5 hours. Now, all things considered, that consistency is pretty impressive, especially since the newer Echo Buds themselves are 20% smaller, and the case is 40% smaller, but we always want more.
The last thing I wanted to mention was that one of the key new features — the VIP Filter — isn't available at launch. This setting debuted with the Echo Frames (2nd Gen) and was a great way to keep every phone notification from nagging you via your glasses (or earbuds), but for some reason, it wasn't quite ready for launch here, and is coming in an upcoming update. Not a huge deal, but again, kind of a bummer it's not ready out the gate.
Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen): Competition
There is no shortage of wireless earbud competitors, from the budget range to the high end of the spectrum, but here are a few of our favorites that you might consider vs. the Echo Buds (2nd Gen).
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 were one of the best wireless earbuds to come out in 2021. They are small and lightweight, sound great, and do wireless charging. They're a little more expensive than the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) with wireless charging case, but if you're already in the Galaxy ecosystem, they just might be worth it.
Google's Pixel Buds Pro have a similar set of features (albeit with a much higher price tag), addressing both noise cancelation and connectivity improvements. That makes them a worthy competitor to these latest Echo Buds, especially if you're more into Google Assistant. Another option well worth considering are the Creative Outlier Pro, which prove to be excellent earbuds for a bargain price.
Finally, you might want to take a long, hard look at the Anker Soundcore Life P3. These are really comfortable, delivering excellent sound quality with a custom options through the Soundcore app. Plus, they're in the same ballpark price-wise as the Echo Buds.
Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen): Should you buy them?
You should buy this if ...
- You want good active noise canceling and customizable pass-through audio
- You want wireless charging
- You want hands-free Alexa access
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You want the most premium buds
- You want super-customizable EQ settings
I thought Amazon's first stab at true wireless earbuds was pretty good — so much so that I gave the first-generation Echo Buds a 4.5 rating and subsequently purchased two pairs for myself over the past two years. I can't say that these are the best wireless earbuds around, but they're pretty great and a fantastic value. Especially since Amazon addressed every concern that I had with the first-generation; I mean, how often does that happen?!
Hands-free Alexa access, excellent ANC and Passthrough modes, really good sound, a smaller form factor, and more modern charging options make the Echo Buds (Gen 2) a compelling option for anyone looking to spend $120-$150 on a set of quality earbuds. The customizable tap controls, workout profile, transit directions, and more add even more value. Whether you're an Alexa advocate, Google Assistant follower, or even an iPhone user, I think you'll be very pleased with the Echo Buds (Gen 2).