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Amazon's New Echo Buds Have 2 Key Features That Other Cheap Earbuds Lack

Amazon's stick-style AirPods 3 alternative, the Echo Buds 2023, are on sale for $35 in an early Prime Day deal. Here's what makes them special.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
4 min read

I like to test a lot of inexpensive true-wireless earbuds, hoping to find some hidden gems to pass on to CNET readers as good bargains. With that in mind, I was eager to try Amazon's new Echo Buds 2023, which carry a list price of $50 but are currently selling for $35 in an early Prime Day deal. That puts them firmly in the "cheap" earbuds category.

Interestingly, they impressed me in a few ways that I wasn't expecting. For starters, they sound good for inexpensive open earbuds, delivering decent clarity and ample bass. And by "open," I mean that they don't have silicone ear tips that you jam into your ears (buds like that are called noise-isolating ear buds). However, they do feature a rubber ring around their 12mm speaker driver, along with a translucent removable silicone rubber cover that fits over the bud itself (you can choose to add it or remove it). Both those design elements help you get a more secure fit, though like all earbuds, the Echo Buds 2023 won't fit every ear equally well. But they stayed in my ears better than Apple's AirPods 3 and they're also lightweight like the AirPods and include a compact charging case. 

The Echo Buds 2023 are a good AirPods 3 alternative for less

The Echo Buds include removable silicone sleeves that help you get a more secure fit.

David Carnoy/CNET

Read more: Best open wireless earbuds for 2023

The Echo Buds 2023 aren't so different from 1More's Comfobuds 2 ($30) for example, which also feature a rubber ring or truncated ear tip around their speaker drivers. But what sets the Echo Buds 2023 apart are a couple of key features that you'll rarely find in a set of $35 earbuds.

The first is an ear-detection sensor on each bud that automatically pauses your music when you take one or both buds out of your ears. Your music resumes playback when you return the bud(s) to your ears, and you can use a single bud independently of the other if you want. (At around $43 and sometimes less, another set of budget open earbuds that I recommend, the Soundpeats Air 3 Deluxe HS, also have ear-detection sensors, as well as support for the LDAC audio codec for devices that support it.)

The second key feature is hands-free Alexa, which allows you to issue voice commands like "next track" and "lower volume" and control Alexa-enabled smart home products just by saying the Alexa wake word. With most cheap earbuds, you have to press a button to activate your voice-assistant (you can opt to use Siri or Google Assistant with the Echo Buds but there's no hands-free option for those voice assistants, as Amazon would prefer you to use Alexa). 

The Amazon Echo Buds 2023 feature a stick design like the AirPods 3

The Echo Buds 2023 have ear-detection sensors.

David Carnoy/CNET

Beyond those two key features, the buds also feature a voice accelerometer that detects when you're speaking and that helps people hear your voice more clearly when you're making calls. (Amazon says the buds have two microphones to pick up your voice.) The buds do a reasonable job reducing background noise but callers said they could hear some traffic and other ambient noise during my calls. But my voice did come through clearly, rising above the ambient sound. Since these are open earbuds, they do let in a fair amount of ambient noise, so it's harder to hear callers -- and any other audio you're listening to -- in noisy environments. But the buds do offer ample volume. 

Additionally, you get multipoint Bluetooth pairing (Bluetooth 5.2) so you can pair the buds to two devices simultaneously and automatically switch audio between them. For instance, if you're using these with a computer and a call comes in on your smartphone, you can answer the call and the buds will switch from your computer's audio to your smartphone's. (You have to pair to a second device using the Alexa companion app.) 

The Echo Buds 2023 are a good AirPods 3 alternative for less

The Echo Buds 2023 also come in black.

Screenshot by David Carnoy/CNET

Other specs are in line with what you get from most other inexpensive earbuds. You get up to 5 hours of listening time from a single charge with an additional three charges in the case (the buds also have a quick-charge feature). They're IPX4 splashproof and sweat-resistant, so you can use them for working out. That said, after going on a run in hot weather, I did pull off the silicone covers on the buds to wipe everything down because some moisture seemed to be trapped under the covers. 

I should also note that I had a little trouble initially setting up the buds using the Alexa app with my iPhone 14 Pro (you can also use these just fine with Android devices). I've encountered this issue before -- the app seems to hang and fails to recognize the Echo Buds because I have so many Bluetooth devices in my Bluetooth list. It took me a few tries and a phone restart before the buds showed up in the Alexa app. Once they did, everything worked well. You can tweak the sound profile a bit using the app's equalizer settings and customize the touch controls to your liking. There's also a locate feature similar to Apple's Find My feature for its AirPods.

To be clear, the Echo Buds 2023 don't offer the greatest sound quality -- but they're good for the price. Their sound falls short of that of Apple's AirPods 3, which deliver fuller bass and overall fuller sound. But the AirPods 3 cost more than four times as much as the Echo Buds 2023 and offer only about 15 to 20% better audio. In short, if you're looking for open earbuds -- or "semi-open" as these types of earbuds are sometimes called -- the Echo Buds are good value at their $50 list price and even easier to recommend at $35 on sale.