And here is yet another brand that enters the waltz of true wireless headphones. With the Echo Buds (2nd generation), Amazon signs banal earphones that only shine through the advanced integration with the Alexa assistant.
First presented as an exclusive for English-speaking countries, the second generation Echo Buds finally showed up in France in February 2022. Faced with the myriad of competing models, these second Echo Buds rely heavily on the native integration of Alexa, Amazon's voice assistant, with which it is possible to interact on the fly without having to take your phone out of your pocket.
Beyond this particularity, the Echo Buds (2nd generation) are true wireless headphones that could not be more classic, offering active noise reduction, IPX4 certification and the possibility of charging by induction, among others.
Manufacturing & Accessories
The Echo Buds (2nd generation) are headphones with a simple and sober design. Neither too big nor particularly discreet, they have a round design made entirely of plastic with a shiny finish on the inside and a matte finish on the outside. Only the small arrow of the Amazon logo on the outside surface brightens up the whole thing a bit. The manufacturing quality is very good and the whole thing seems robust. Certified IPX4, the Echo Buds are also resistant to water and perspiration, provided that they are properly maintained after each intense sports session.
The case, meanwhile, is made entirely of matte plastic, has excellent finishes and looks just as rugged as the earphones. Its small size allows it to be carried in a trouser pocket, even if it is very tight. It is also very easy to handle with one hand thanks to its magnetization systems of the earphones and opening.
Amazon has been rather generous in terms of accessories with no less than four pairs of silicone tips of different sizes, as well as three pairs of stabilizers (including two identical pairs) also in silicone. The good idea was especially to include a long cable of 1 m for the recharge and not a small one of about twenty centimeters, as it is the case with many competitors.
Comfort & fit
While not unpleasant, the Echo Buds (2nd generation) are not the most comfortable true wireless earphones we've tested. They do take up a lot of room in the ear and apply some pressure to the concha, especially on smaller people. If you don't have small ears, then the Echo Buds (2nd generation) may be quite comfortable. But even in this ideal case, they show their limits over extended periods of use (more than 1 hour) by causing a sharp pain in the antitragus. Their rounded design, and thus not very ergonomic, leads them to lean on this part of the ear to maintain themselves in place.
The Echo Buds (2nd generation) fit very well in the hollow of the ear, even without a stabilizer. They still provide a certain gain in terms of support, particularly thanks to their silicone design, which is much more adherent to the skin than the plastic of which the shell of each earphone is composed.
As a whole, the Echo Buds (2nd generation) are nothing special and make do with the bare minimum in terms of available controls and features. Fortunately, the native Alexa integration and the simplicity of the companion app make them stand out.
Indeed, the Echo Buds (2nd generation) are fully controllable with Alexa. Like the AirPods with "Say Siri", it is possible to interact with Amazon's assistant directly with the voice without having to go through the touch surfaces (mandatory for Google Assistant and Siri). The voice recognition works perfectly in a quiet environment: Alexa understands very well the orders given to her, even the most complex ones, without having to raise the tone. Things get much more complicated when the environment becomes noisy. Raising the voice can even be totally ineffective in the worst conditions.
The headphones are also completely controllable thanks to the two touch surfaces positioned on their external face. It is thus possible to perform a series of one, two or three taps, as well as a long press to trigger a wide variety of actions ranging from the management of playback to the volume and the navigation between tracks. The touch sensors are very responsive, even overly so, as they can sometimes be activated inadvertently. In addition, there is some latency between the moment the touch is made and the execution of the action.
To take full advantage of these Echo Buds, especially with the Alexa assistant, it is necessary to download the well-named Alexa app (Android, iOS). Simple, but effective, it gives access to various indications such as the remaining battery level or various customization settings such as an equalizer or the assignment of touch controls. All settings are saved by the headphones and kept from one device to another.
Pairing is done by pressing the button on the back of the case for several seconds. The Echo Buds (2nd generation) communicate in Bluetooth 5.0 and are compatible with SBC and AAC codecs only. We didn't encounter any connection dropouts or range problems during our test, even in environments flooded with Bluetooth devices like the subway during rush hour or a busy open space. On the other hand, we regret that there is no quick pairing feature (Fast Pair, Swift Pair...) nor support for a multipoint function. Amazon's headphones are also difficult to use as a single unit, as there is no mono switching, so you lose half of the stereo signal in this case.
The Echo Buds (2nd generation) kept their promises, about 5 hours with active noise reduction on and a little over 6 hours with RBA and Alexa off: a fair score, although many competitors do better. As for the case, it offers about two extra charges.
With three microphones per earpiece, Amazon presents the Echo Buds (2nd generation) as prepared for all eventualities. In a quiet environment, the voice is indeed well captured, its timbre is relatively respected and the sounds often retranscribed with aggressiveness ([s] and [ʃ] are never unpleasant for the ears). Still, the voice lacks presence and sounds a bit pinched, as if we were suffering from a cold.
In very noisy environments, for example near a busy intersection, the noise suppression algorithm struggles to properly separate the voice from the background noise. Even if we manage to detect some spoken words, it is very difficult to hold a conversation in these conditions and we advise you to pick up the phone directly to make yourself understood at the other end.
We measured a latency equal to 341 ms in Bluetooth communication. Such a delay inevitably causes a strong lag between sound and image, making it unthinkable to watch a video or play a video game in good conditions. However, the good integration of Bluetooth makes it possible to compensate for this significant latency on many sites or apps like Disney+, Prime Video or YouTube. Video games, however, remain exempt from any compensation and are therefore difficult to play.
The Echo Buds (2nd generation) don't particularly shine by their sound performance because of a shrill rendering and stunted bass. The general inaccuracy is also very damaging.
The first thing that strikes you with these Echo Buds (2nd generation) is the excess of high mids and highs, as well as the pronounced withdrawal of the bass. This behavior gives the instruments a very sharp, slamming, even acidic side, which is quite telling on saturated guitars, horns or cymbals. The snare drum hits also "beat" the eardrums quite a bit and the vocals are certainly perfectly intelligible, but lack roundness and sound a bit too fluent. In fact, almost everything lacks roundness, especially the instruments in the low register such as the large percussion instruments, the basses or the double basses. They sound dry and lack body: the impacts are still felt, but the resulting resonance is very timid. A small turn through the equalizer allows however to give back a little warmth and to calm slightly the highs in order to obtain a more pleasant sound signature to the ear. You should also know that the deactivation of the noise reduction makes it possible to gain a little in roundness, but that remains almost anecdotal.
To make matters worse, the general rendering is imprecise on the whole spectrum. This lack of precision is particularly audible in the upper midrange and high frequencies due to their frank emphasis. This results in some phenomena of sibilance and timbres that are not always very faithful. The inaccuracy of the low frequencies is less obvious because of their folding, but the most experienced will be able to detect overflows when the mix becomes rich in low frequencies.
The emphasis on the highest frequencies and the general inaccuracy will inevitably lead to rapid auditory fatigue due to the high sensitivity of the human ear to the upper midrange. You have to be careful not to turn up the volume too much, otherwise you'll exacerbate the grueling and testing sound of these Echo Buds (2nd generation). This very frontal sound signature also throws certain effects, usually discreet, to the forefront, making the latter particularly crushed in terms of depth.
Active noise reduction
Active noise reduction isn't the strong point of these Echo Buds (2nd generation) either. First of all, the attenuation is not really effective in blocking out all components of the lowest pitched sounds, such as the rolling of a train or the whirring of engines. This leaves everything in the hum range. Fortunately, the rest of the bass and midrange are very well attenuated, silencing many of the unwanted sounds. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the midrange. The Echo Buds (2nd generation) also emit a constant hiss that can quickly become annoying, especially if you only want to use the headphones to shut out the world.
The passive isolation provided by the earphones is also rather disappointing, especially for in-ears. Moreover, the occlusion of the auditory canal causes a significant emphasis of the resonances caused by the walk.
To finish on a good note, the Surrounding mode, very well controlled, allows to remain conscious of its environment and to hold a conversation without problem while carrying the ear-phones in the ears. The surrounding sounds are indeed faithfully reproduced and not artificially.
For its first pair of headphones sold on French soil, Amazon signs a rather average product that doesn't stand out in any of the critical areas like comfort, audio quality or active noise reduction performance. Its real asset could have been the ability to interact with Alexa using only voice, but other headphones are just as capable. In short, we suggest you pass on this one and look for many cheaper alternatives that are far superior in audio quality, comfort and noise reduction performance.