New Amazon Echo Buds get updated design and improved performance, start at $100
Shipping in May, Amazon's second-gen Echo Buds are available for preorder at the discounted price of $100, with a wireless-charging version costing $20 more.
David CarnoyExecutive 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, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
ExpertiseMobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakersCredentials
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Released in early 2020, Amazon's Echo Buds weren't as exciting as I hoped they might be, but I found a lot to like about them -- and a few things they could do better. Now Amazon has unveiled "all-new" second-generation Echo Buds that feature a smaller design, improved sound and noise canceling, as well as better voice-calling performance, according to the company.
Unlike some Amazon devices that receive small upgrades, most of them internal, these new Echo Buds are indeed completely new. While they're set to ship in May and carry the same list price ($130, £120) as the originals, Amazon is offering them for the preorder discounted price of $100, with a version with a wireless charging case costing $20 more for preorder. (Australian pricing wasn't announced, but £120 is about AU$215.) Also new: These Echo Buds now come in two color options -- black or glacier white.
I didn't get a chance to try the new headphones yet, so I can only share their specs and features for now. As you might expect, like the originals, these new Echo Buds feature hands-free Alexa, which means you can simply say the Alexa wake word and Amazon's voice-assistant will be all-ears, ready to accept your voice command (one of the many it understands anyway). They also have similar battery life to the originals -- about five hours with noise canceling on or six and a half hours with it turned off. A 15-minute charge will give you two hours of battery life.
As noted, Amazon says the Buds are more compact -- they're 20% smaller and the case is 40% smaller -- and have a shorter nozzle, so the tips don't dip into your ear canal as deeply as the originals. According to Amazon, the Buds are designed to fit better and more comfortably. As with any earbuds, a tight seal is crucial for optimal sound quality and noise-canceling performance.
Amazon says both are improved. With the original Echo Buds, Bose provided the noise-reduction technology, but for this version it isn't involved. Amazon reps told me the new noise canceling cuts out twice the noise compared to the previous Echo Buds. There's also a pass-through mode that lets ambient sound in and is similar to the transparency mode on the AirPods Pro. And the buds are vented like the AirPods Pro to help prevent that feeling of occlusion you can get from noise-isolating in-ear headphones.
The 5.7-millimeter drivers are new and Amazon's using a Realtek chipset with Bluetooth 5.0. It says the combination produces better sound with more sparkle to the treble and better bass definition. Naturally, I'm curious try them to gauge how the sound measures up to other buds in this price class.
Each bud has three microphones, which is supposed to help with noise-reduction during calls as well as voice pickup when you're issuing Alexa commands. And these also have a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice inside the earbuds as you're talking, so you can modulate your voice and don't end up shouting.
The touch controls return -- they're programmable, with the option to choose to have volume controls or not -- and the new Echo Buds retain the fitness-tracking features of the originals that were added late in 2020. As far as new features go, there's now a Find My Buds feature that helps you locate a lost bud or buds (if you're in range, your buds will emit a chime). Currently, multipoint Bluetooth pairing isn't supported. That feature allows you to pair the buds to two devices simultaneously, such as a PC and smartphone.
While I haven't tried them, if the sound and noise canceling has indeed improved, the new Echo Buds would seem to be a good value at their preorder price of $100. I would have liked to have seen their battery life numbers go up a bit, but it's always a challenge to shrink a product while increasing battery life. While we're seeing elevated battery life numbers for some true-wireless earbuds -- some new buds are topping the 10-hour mark -- many noise-canceling true wireless earbuds remain stuck in the five-six hour range. That includes the AirPods Pro.