Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) vs. Amazon Echo Buds: Should you upgrade?

Amazon Echo Buds Glacier White
Amazon Echo Buds Glacier White (Image credit: Amazon)

Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)

Amazon Echo Buds 2nd Gen Render

Amazon is back for an encore with the second-gen Echo Buds, focusing on improving the things their predecessors didn't do so well. The results will largely depend on how you view the audio output, but the supporting features at least move the ball forward.

Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)

Second chances

Smaller and better fit
Hands-free Alexa access
Improved ANC performance
Maintains EQ support
Great support on both iOS and Android
Faster charging
No real difference in battery life
No multipoint Bluetooth
Finicky touch controls

Amazon Echo Buds

Amazon Echo Buds render

The debut Echo Buds don't look to be here for long, as Amazon looks to go all-in on the second-generation successors. But since they're still available, you can decide whether the sequel is worth it, so long as you accept that these earbuds come firmly in second place here.

Amazon Echo Buds

First time out

Solid active noise reduction (ANR)
Up to 20 hours of total listening time
Hands-free Alexa access
EQ support for some custom sound
Great support on both iOS and Android
Compact charging/carrying case
Aging Micro-USB for charging
No wireless charging
Only available in black

It's always easier to pit two pairs of headphones together when they come from the same brand and the same line. The Amazon Echo Buds were a new foray for the company, and while pretty good, there was certainly room for improvement across the board. That's where the Echo Buds (2nd-Gen) come in. They pick up where the others left off and push performance closer to where it should be.

Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) vs. Amazon Echo Buds: What sets them apart?

Amazon Echo Buds Black

Source: Amazon (Image credit: Source: Amazon)

There's a steady race to value-added true wireless earbuds these days. I'm talking about the ones that come at a lower price, yet feel like they're a tremendous value compared to more expensive options. Amazon clearly likes being the underdog in that fight, except it's hard to say it pushed the envelope in the ways others have.

The 2nd-gen Echo Buds are not as ambitious a project in that regard. They're smaller, and they do look different, including a white variant, but this isn't a radical step in any particular direction. Many of the same functions apply here, and the spec sheet shows that off the bat. There's more to the numbers when listening to what they can do, and that's where the improvements show the most.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Amazon Echo Buds (2nd-Gen)Amazon Echo Buds
Bud battery life6.5 hours5 hours
Case battery life19.5 hours20 hours
Wireless charging caseYesNo
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0Bluetooth 5.0
Digital assistant supportAlexa, Google Assistant, SiriAlexa, Google Assistant, Siri
Supported audio codecsSBC, AACSBC, AAC
Speaker size6mm drivers6mm drivers
Active noise cancelation (ANC)YesNo (active noise reduction)
Ambient sound modeYesYes

I have to start with battery life because there's a caveat to the length of each charge. The number listed is for when ANC is turned off. Turn it on, and the case's battery life is 15 hours, putting the earbuds at five hours per charge. It's not a step forward, nor a step back in the grand scheme. The first-gen Echo Buds had active noise reduction rather than true ANC, so the technology inside wasn't the same.

While many other wireless earbuds routinely get past five hours per charge — even with ANC on — the Echo Buds also deal with a second battery drainer in Alexa. In fact, Amazon bases its battery estimates on whether ANC and Alexa are turned on or off. If you leave one on, but not the other, the result is somewhere in between. It's a usability factor that you have to weigh when using either pair, but you're not hit as much on battery when doing it with the second-gen pair.

That the case also does wireless charging is an added benefit. So is going to USB-C, which enables fast charging for the first time with Amazon's earbuds. Plug in for 15 minutes and you get up to two hours of listening. The original Echo Buds have none of those things because they use microUSB, neither fast nor wireless charging.

Echo Buds with case

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

When it comes time to listen to something, the second-gen pair managed to dial back some of the excesses of the highs and mids, pursuing a more subtle mix with the lows that gives them a decent start. The original Echo Buds were heavily reliant on getting a good seal to hold in as much bass as possible. That was what provided the best balance, only there's less effort involved with their successors, and the main reason has more to do with how they fit. A slimmer frame makes them easier to position, which serves to improve how everything sounds.

With ANC now fully onboard, that only serves to block out further what's happening around you.

But so are the cleaner drivers. While similar in size, Amazon chose better ones for its second pair, which should bode well when it comes to output. With ANC now fully onboard, that only serves to block out further what's happening around you. The previous Echo Buds could reduce those noises, but struggled with higher-pitches and unique frequency sounds. That extra bit of ambient silence does a lot for making audio sound better on the second-gen pair. The Passthrough mode is good at doing the opposite, and it includes a feature to hear your own voice when talking so as not to feel like you need to raise it too high.

Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) vs. Amazon Echo Buds: Alexa at your beck and call

This is one area where both show virtually no difference. Alexa will respond the same way and do the same things that Amazon allows on its earbuds. It's not a monopoly, though, because you can just as easily use Google Assistant or Siri if that's your preference. There is a difference in whether a voice assistant is always listening or if it takes physical action to bring it up. In either case, with these earbuds, toggling the feature on means you can do it hands-free. Toggle it off, and you can still wake it up from your phone.

It's equally hard to say if phone calls have improved all that much, too. Amazon doesn't say a whole lot to qualify it one way or another, but there are similarities to note. The original Echo Buds had a harder time blocking out noisier environments to hear a voice assistant wake word or make calls sound clearer. The three-mic array returned in the second-gen pair, and with better ANC to help, you could hear some marginal improvement.

Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) vs. Amazon Echo Buds: Which one should you go with?

In due time, Amazon will make that choice for you. It has already stopped manufacturing the original Echo Buds, with only other retailers offering whatever's left of their inventory. So, part of this question is whether you should upgrade or not if you already own the original pair. Given the price and performance improvements, it's hard to argue you shouldn't. The second-gen Echo Buds also come cheaper, so there's also that.

It will be interesting to see how much more active Amazon will support the newer earbuds with future firmware updates to bring more out of them. They will eventually be the only pair the company will offer from its own product lineup, and it will be up against some pretty stiff competition, most of which you can find on Amazon's website.

Ted Kritsonis
Contributor, Audio Reviewer

Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.