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AirPods Pro vs. Echo Buds 2: I tested Apple and Amazon's earbuds for weeks

Both sets of wireless earbuds have active noise cancelation and a voice assistant, but one is nearly half the price. Here's how they compare.

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There's no shortage of excellent wireless earbuds you can buy, including Apple's AirPods Pro, but even when they go on sale for less than the $250 (£249, AU$249) retail price, they may still be out of your budget. Amazon's less expensive Echo Buds 2 may fit the bill if you're looking for noise-canceling earbuds with similar features. While they were on sale as low as $80 during Prime Day, their normal price is $120 (£120) -- half the price of the AirPods Pro. I tested both sets of earbuds for several weeks to compare their design, comfort, sound quality, calls and feature set.

Watch the video on this page for a full breakdown of how these earbuds compare, including microphone samples, or read on for the abridged version.

Read more: Best noise-canceling true wireless earbuds for 2021

The AirPods Pro have excellent active noise cancelation and work seamlessly with Apple devices. With spatial audio support for movies and music (aka virtual surround sound) and balanced sound quality, they are a versatile set of earbuds for a variety of listening scenarios. They also have excellent call quality. You can also use the AirPods Pro with Android phones, although you lose some features like spatial audio and quick switching.

Read our AirPods Pro review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

Amazon has completely redesigned the second-generation Echo Buds with a more comfortable fit and improved noise cancellation compared to the original Echo Buds. They also have the benefit of hands-free Alexa, so if you're already familiar with Amazon's voice assistant, these are a natural extension. They have a stronger bass response than the AirPods, but call and mic quality aren't as good. But for the price, especially on discount, they are excellent value.

Read our Echo Buds 2 review.

 

Now playing: Watch this: Comparing Apple AirPods Pro to Amazon Echo Buds 2
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Want bass? Get the Echo Buds 2. Want balanced calls and audio? Get the AirPods Pro

Both earbuds sound great when listening to music across a wide range of genres. The Echo Buds 2 have stronger bass than the AirPods Pro, so if you like a heavier response across lower frequencies, you might prefer these buds. I also found I needed to dial back the treble a little bit in the equalizer within the Alexa app (iOS and Android) to get the best performance out of the Echo Buds 2. The AirPods Pro are more balanced to my ears and sound great when listening to music, making calls or listening to podcasts. The adaptive equalizer on the AirPods Pro dynamically changes the sound according to how the earbuds fit in your ears, but if you do want to change the sound profile further, you can do that in your favorite music app or within the Headphones Accommodation settings in iOS.

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Lexy Savvides/CNET

The ANC in the Echo Buds 2 is improved over the original Echo Buds and they suppress noise much better than before. I found they both did a great job when trying to block out the sound of an overhead fan and air conditioning unit so I could really focus on my music. You'll also be able to pipe in sounds from the outside world to better hear your surroundings, called transparency mode on the AirPods Pro or passthrough mode on the Echo Buds 2. Transparency mode sounds much more natural to me, but I do like how you can adjust the passthrough strength in the Alexa app on the Echo Buds 2.

I could hear a faint hiss in the Echo Buds 2 without any music playing, both in ANC and passthrough mode, so if you have sensitive hearing, you may also pick up on this sound. The AirPods Pro do not have any hiss in either ANC or transparency mode.

AirPods Pro have slightly better battery life

Apple's official rating says you'll get 4.5 hours of listening time out of the AirPods Pro with ANC but in my testing, I regularly get closer to 5 hours when listening at 50% volume. Amazon's rating quotes 5 hours, but my listening time also differed from the official number, coming in closer to 4.5 hours under the same conditions.

The charging cases also offer some extra juice: up to 24 hours total listening time on the AirPods Pro, or 15 with the Echo Buds 2. Wireless charging is supported on both so you can use a pad to charge up the case, but you do need to pay a $20 premium to get this on the Echo Buds 2. The AirPods Pro has a wireless charging case as standard.

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The Echo Buds 2nd-gen case (left) vs. AirPods Pro case (right)

David Carnoy/CNET

Echo Buds 2 are really flexible with Alexa support

While both earbuds let you summon their respective voice assistant just by speaking the wake word, Alexa on the Echo Buds 2 is more robust than Siri on the AirPods Pro. You'll be able to make calls, change the volume of music playback, open Alexa skills, hear workout metrics or get directions and use navigation guidance with your voice.

The Echo Buds 2 let you use Alexa regardless of platform, or you can swap it with Google Assistant on Android, or Siri on iOS if you prefer. If you're using the AirPods Pro on Android, you won't be able to use hands-free Siri.

Both pairs let you use each earbud independently, which is useful if you want to charge one earbud in the case while taking calls or listening to music on the other. The Echo Buds 2 also offer a microphone mute switch that you can toggle on or off in the Alexa app.

Amazon Echo Buds earbud headphones
David Carnoy/CNET

Echo Buds 2 have more fit options than AirPods Pro

That's because they come with three ear tip sizes, as well as three wingtip sizes to lock them into your ears more securely. I found the wingtips were really helpful when running with the Echo Buds 2 to provide a snug and secure fit. The AirPods Pro only come with three interchangeable ear tips.

Apart from using the voice assistant, you can interact with these buds through touch controls. The AirPods Pro have a clickable stem, while the Echo Buds 2 have touch panels. Both work well, although I prefer the stem on the AirPods Pro for more precise control. The long press on the Echo Buds 2 to switch between ANC and passthrough mode takes up to 5 seconds to register. Both earbuds are rated IPX4 which means they are splash and dust resistant, but bear in mind this is for the earbuds themselves, not the charging cases.