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Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) review: Great Alexa integration but still room for improvement

Ben Johnston
26 Apr 2022
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
130
inc VAT

The Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) improve on their predecessors but are held back by poor battery life and limited audio customisation options

Pros 
Hands-free Alexa
Decent audio balance
Customisable touch controls
Cons 
Rudimentary equaliser
Mediocre battery life
Trebles sometimes lack clarity
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The Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) are the retail giant’s second pair of true wireless earbuds and the follow up to the Echo Buds, which were released in 2019. The wireless earbuds market has grown exponentially since then, meaning Amazon has its work cut out to compete in a highly saturated market.

Like any good sequel, the second-generation Echo Buds go beyond simply rehashing what made their predecessor successful. Sound quality has been improved, touch controls are now fully customisable via the Alexa app, and noise reduction has been replaced by full-blown noise-cancelling technology.

They’re not without flaws - battery life is disappointing and EQ options are limited - but hands-free Alexa and some handy features make the second-gen Echo Buds a smart pick for those that rely heavily on Amazon’s voice assistant.

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Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) review: What do you get for the money?

Like the original Echo Buds, the 2nd Gen are IPX4-rated earbuds that operate over Bluetooth 5.0 and support the SBC and AAC codecs. There are two versions available – the model with a wired charging case is £110, while the model that supports wireless charging will set you back £130. The buds also come in two colours: Black or Glacier White. For this review, I was sent the Glacier White version with a wireless charging case.

The new Echo Buds are roughly 20% smaller than their predecessor and feature a vent designed to reduce in-ear pressure during long listening sessions. There are four different sizes of eartips included, as well as two sizes of wingtips, and the Alexa app includes an option that will help you find the best fit possible. I found the buds very comfortable to wear and had no issues with them working themselves loose in my ears.

The outside of the buds house touch-sensitive surfaces via which you execute controls and these are now customisable via the Alexa app. I found it much too easy to accidentally activate single tap commands when adjusting the buds in my ears, so disabled the single taps. This meant I missed out on being able to play or pause audio using touch controls, but effective wear detection, which automatically pauses audio when one or both of the buds are removed, meant this wasn’t an issue.

Rounding out the list of features are active noise cancellation, a transparency mode and hands-free Alexa support. The latter enables you to simply utter “Alexa” while wearing the earbuds to hail the voice assistant, just as you would with any Echo device. All the usual voice commands are available, providing you with the ability to play music, get news updates and control your home’s smart devices without lifting a finger.

With hands-free Alexa and ANC active, the buds offer around five hours of battery life. This can be extended by turning off ANC and enabling Power Save mode, which disables features like Alexa to achieve a lifespan closer to six-and-a-half hours. Regardless of whether you opt for the wired or wireless charging case, you can expect a total battery life of 15 hours, or up to 19.5h in Power Save mode. Both cases support fast charging and deliver around two hours of playback from just 15 minutes on charge.

READ NEXT: These are the best noise-cancelling headphones to buy right now

Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) review: What did we like about them?

It may drain the battery faster, but the ANC is something that you’re going to want to keep on if you’re out and about. While not on par with the best earbuds around, the noise cancellation is perfectly adequate for the price; it dampened the impact of a busy road significantly and completely removed a microwave’s hum, though I did hear the ding when it was finished. Transparency mode isn’t as impressive but still gets the job done – you’ll be able to hear a car honking, but if someone’s speaking to you, you’ll need to turn your music down to clearly make out what they’re saying.

On the audio front, Amazon has swapped out the Knowles dual balanced-armature drivers from the first generation for a pair of 5.7mm dynamic drivers. The switch proves a successful one, as audio quality is a step up from the original Echo Buds. It doesn’t always come together perfectly but, for the most part, the sound signature hits the right notes.

Stereo separation is effective, with the opening drum solo in Santana’s Evil Ways passing pleasingly from left to right and back again, and the soundstage, though relatively narrow, is spacious enough to prevent the mids from feeling cluttered. In fact, this is where the Echo Buds are most impressive – the bass is meaty enough, and trebles are pretty crisp, but the detail in the mid-range is top drawer.

This results in the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) being particularly well-suited to vocal-heavy tracks. Something with a relatively straightforward backing track, like Elton John’s Your Song, is a great showcase for the strength of the vocal articulation. If you’re a podcast fan, you’ll also appreciate the clarity on offer when there are multiple hosts and guests talking over one another.

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Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) review: What could be improved?

The biggest drawback of the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) is their lacklustre battery life. While five hours of playback with ANC enabled isn’t the worst we’ve seen, the 15 hours of total battery life is decidedly unimpressive. With similarly priced models like the Beats Studio Buds and the Lypertek PurePlay Z5 offering up to 24 and 35 hours, respectively, the Echo Buds are some way behind the competition in this department.

While sound quality is decent on the whole, there were a few instances during testing where the treble in more complicated arrangements sounded rather messy. There’s a lot going on during the chorus of Patti Smith’s Because the Night and the Echo Buds struggled to articulate high frequencies completely cleanly. The opening of Meat Loaf’s I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), meanwhile, started strongly with a crisp piano riff but became distorted when the electric guitars joined the fray.

This is the sort of situation where a good equaliser can save the day, but unfortunately, the equaliser within the Alexa app is rudimentary. It consists of just three sliders for adjusting bass, mids and treble and feels particularly wanting when compared to the competition. For less money than the Echo Buds, you pick up the Creative Outlier Pro, which offer a ten-band graphic equaliser and numerous EQ presets, or the Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0, which use a seven-band equaliser, and have several preset tunings.

READ NEXT: Check out some more of our favourite Bluetooth headphones

Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) review: Should you buy them?

If you’re already an Amazon Alexa acolyte and want earbuds offering hands-free voice assistant support, the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) are hard to beat. You’ll find Alexa support elsewhere but, perhaps unsurprisingly, no other buds integrate as well for the money.

However, the second-gen Echo Buds are a much harder sell for those that aren’t fussed about smart functionality or whose voice assistant allegiances lie elsewhere. They’re still competent earbuds, with solid audio quality and some well-implemented features, but are outclassed by other options in what is an extremely competitive market.

It’s worth bearing in mind that, like most Amazon products, the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) are frequently available for substantially less than their RRP. If you time it right, you could pick up a pair for less than £100, at which point they become a far more appealing proposition.

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