Amazon Echo Buds (2nd gen) full review

Amazon released the Echo Buds 2 in the US about six months ago, and now they’re available in the UK. They improve upon the original Buds in lots of ways and are a bit cheaper to boot.

The second-gen true-wireless headphones have a new, smaller design, a more conventional charging case and an upgrade to ‘proper’ active noise cancelling, as opposed to the Bose noise reduction in the first-generation Echo Buds.

Audio quality isn’t the best around still, but it is also better than before and the big attraction compared to other true wireless earbuds is, of course, hands-free Alexa.

Features & design

  • Active noise cancelling
  • Hands-free Alexa
  • Black and white colour options

Aside from the redesign which means the Buds 2 are circular, they are 21% smaller according to Amazon. They’re certainly light and while some may feel they protrude from their ear a little too much, they’re comfortable to wear.

That’s partly thanks to a new vent which the originals didn’t have, and a shorter ‘nozzle’ – the part that extends into your ear canal.

To get the best fit, there are four sizes of silicone tips (usefully colour coded) and two sizes of ‘wing tips’ which are made from rubber and fit over the buds to grip your ear better. You don’t need them, but if you go running they should prevent them from falling out.

Amazon Echo Buds 2 review (2021)

In the Alexa app, which is used to pair the earbuds and manage them, there’s a fitment test that tells you if you’ve chosen the right tips. I couldn’t get anything better than a ‘good’ result from it.

There are three mics on each bud, helping to hear your voice and reduce background noise, and the  outer surface is touch-sensitive and used to control playback. A single tap pauses and plays, and other combinations skip tracks, enable pass-through so you can hear your surroundings and answer or end phone calls.

Amazon Echo Buds 2 review (2021)

When you tap and hold, this enables or disables ANC, and you can assign a different function for each earbud. For example, you could get it to call up Siri or the Google Assistant. But if you want to do that and not use Alexa, there’s really very little point in buying the Echo Buds 2.

You need to be wearing at least one bud for Alexa to work, and you need your phone in Bluetooth range with an internet connection. Wear detection is another useful features, pausing whatever you're listening to when you remove a bud from an ear.

Alexa

If you’re wondering why you might want Alexa in a pair of headphones, then consider it like having an Echo nearby whenever you’re wearing them.

You can say “Alexa, set a timer for 15 minutes” or “Alexa, what’s the weather today”. She can control all your smart home devices, add items to your shopping list, calendar and set reminders.

Specific to mobile use, you can of course ask her to play music, audiobooks (from Audible) and podcasts. Thankfully Amazon didn’t forget about the headphone features, so you can say “Alexa, turn on noise cancellation” and “Alexa, enable passthrough”. You do have to be specific: she doesn’t understand any variations on those commands.

The wake word works just as well as it does on an Amazon Echo speaker. Whether you consider any of this useful is another question, but for Alexa fans, the Echo Buds 2 are great.

Find My

If you misplace an earbud, there’s a handy feature in the Alexa app where you see it on a map and play a loud noise when you’re in Bluetooth range to locate it.

It sounds good in theory but it didn’t work well in practice. After a few days of testing I genuinely lost the right bud – an ideal opportunity to test the feature.

Amazon Echo Buds 2 review (2021)

The app said both buds were out of range, despite me holding the case with the left bud in place. The missing bud was last ‘seen’ 24 hours ago in my home but, despite walking around to try and establish a Bluetooth connection, nothing.

I later found the bud on the breakfast bar in the kitchen: it had almost 20% battery remaining and was only 2m from my phone when I first tried to locate it.

If that wasn’t annoying enough, the lid of the case has to be open if you want to find the buds using this feature, which means you need to always leave it open just in case you can’t remember where you left it. Bad design, that.

Battery life and charging

  • 15 hours total
  • 2 hours’ playback from 15 minutes’ charging

Instead of a clamshell case, Amazon has gone for a more common flip-top charging case with the Echo Buds 2.

There’s no spring on the hinge, so it flips closed all too easily. What’s great, though, is that there are three LEDs so can you see the battery level for the case as well as each earbud (and you can also see the exact percentages in the Alexa app).

Amazon Echo Buds 2 review (2021)

When fully charged, the buds offer 5 hours of playback, and up to 15 hours in total, meaning the case can completely recharge them twice before itself needing charging.

If you left the buds out of the case, 15 minutes in it will give you two hours of music or other audio playtime.

While some other true wireless buds last longer, the Echo Buds 2 last just as long between charges as Apple’s AirPods (and longer than AirPods Pro).

Audio quality

  • ANC good, could be better
  • Sound quality is improved

Let’s start with noise cancellation. Amazon says it’s twice as good as the first-gen Echo Buds and that seems about right to me.

I tested them both at home in a relatively quiet environment as well as on a noisy train. There are no settings for ANC, so it’s either on or off. When on, it does a good job of eliminating background hiss and hum and dulls conversations and the sound of a TV playing in the background.

It wasn’t nearly as effective on the train, where I still had to turn up the volume a bit to overcome the wind noise (the windows were open).

Amazon Echo Buds 2 review (2021)

I found ANC was more effective on Huawei’s FreeBuds Pro which are relevant here because they (now) cost exactly the same as the Echo Buds 2.

Sound quality is also a bit better from Huawei’s earbuds than Amazon’s, with more bass. Amazon hasn’t said an awful lot about the drivers it has used in the Echo Buds 2, but the main processor is very similar to the one used in the first generation.

Audio is noticeably better than the original Echo Buds, not least because the tone doesn’t change as you adjust the volume. It’s best described as ‘flat’ which sounds negative but it means that no frequency is more pronounced than any other.

A lot of headphones boost bass and treble, which many people prefer when listening to music. With the Echo Buds, you’ll have to use your phone’s EQ settings to do the same thing, but if you want loads of sub-bass, you won’t get it from the Echo Buds 2. You’d be better off with the AirPods Pro or Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro.

Amazon Echo Buds 2 review (2021)

But those cost considerably more, and if you’re not too demanding or simply want to watch videos and listen to podcasts, the Echo Buds 2 are perfectly good.

It’s worth noting that there’s no support for AptX, just as with the original Echo Buds. That means Android users are stuck with SBC, which is lower quality.

If you have an iPhone, then AAC support means good quality and in my testing, I had no dropouts or connection problems unless I walked well away from my phone into a different room.

Price & availability

The introductory discount had already ended in the UK by the time Amazon sent the Echo Buds 2 for review, so you’ll pay £109.99 or an extra £20 if you want a charging case that can be charged wirelessly on a Qi-compatible charger.

Amazon discounts its own devices fairly regularly, so it’s worth watching out for sales if you like the sound of the Echo Buds but can’t quite stretch your budget. 

In the US, the Echo Buds cost $119.99, or $139.99 if you want the wireless charging case. 

As mentioned, the Huawei FreeBuds Pro cost the same as the non-wireless-charging version of Echo Buds 2 (they were £60 more when they first launched), and are available direct from Huawei in white, black and the fetching Silver Frost, which is a sort of shadow chrome effect. They also have a nifty squeeze mechanism for playback control, which works better than tapping in this writer’s opinion, and have wireless charging as standard.

For alternative options, see our roundups of the best true wireless earbuds and best budget wireless earbuds.

Verdict

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to true wireless headphones, no matter what size your budget. Where the original Echo Buds didn’t quite perform well enough to justify their price, the second generation doesn’t have that problem.

They definitely sound better and they have decent, rather than class-leading, noise cancellation.

They’re still only a great choice if you really need Alexa in your ears, though, and I’d still recommend opting for the FreeBuds Pro if you don’t.

Specs

Amazon Echo Buds (2nd gen): Specs

  • Driver: High performance 5.7mm dynamic driver
  • Standards supported: Bluetooth 5.0, AAC, SBC
  • Processors: Realtek RTL8763C Bluetooth System on Chip, NXP Digital Signal Processor
  • Battery life: 5 hours (6.5 hours without ANC), 15 hours total with charging case
  • Sweat/splash resistance: IPX4
  • Frequency response: Not stated
  • Manufacturer's Warranty: 1 year
  • Included in box:
  • Charging case
  • Micro USB charging cable
  • Small/medium/large/x-large silicone ear tips + wing tips
  • Dimensions: Earbud - 20 x 19 x 19 mm, Case -67 x 29 x 39 mm

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