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Amazon Echo Buds (3rd Gen) review: Alexa-enabled headphones on a budget

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the amazon echo buds in their charging case 2023
The Amazon Echo Buds are among the cheapest earbuds you can get with hands-free Alexa support.Sarah Saril/Insider

Amazon's third-generation Echo Buds are the brand's most budget-friendly headphones yet. The new model uses a revised semi-in-ear design while carrying over a few features found on the more expensive second-gen Echo Buds, like hands-free Alexa support. We spent hours testing them at home, on flights, and running errands to see how they stand up to the competition.

The third-gen Echo Buds are capable for entry-level headphones, but when it comes to sound performance and overall build quality, they can't compete with the best wireless earbuds on the market. They're still a solid buy at just $50, but some compromises have been made to get the price so low.

An on-ear Alexa speaker with simple controls

sarah wearing the amazon echo buds 2023
sarah wearing the amazon echo buds 2023

Designed with an AirPod-like fit, the Echo Buds are ideal for users who don't like fully in-ear headphones.Sarah Saril/Insider

Alexa users will love the convenience of having a portable smart speaker right in their ears. The Echo Buds work exactly like any Echo speaker or display, with a hands-free smart assistant that responds to your voice commands.

It's a handy feature when you're on the go or moving around the house without a speaker nearby. Now, you can ask questions and control compatible smart devices with your voice no matter where you are. So long as the Echo Buds are connected to your smartphone and that smartphone has a signal (cellular or WiFi), you can ask Alexa to do things like manage your shopping list, play music, or make a call without pressing any buttons.

The microphone listening quality is great and we found that a normal tone of voice was enough to trigger Alexa, so no need for yelling or over-enunciation. However, that means that talking to friends named "Alexa" or speaking a similar word may mistakenly trigger the digital assistant. Luckily, there's a handy mic mute option that you can activate with a long press on the earbuds or via the Alexa app.

In addition to Alexa commands, you can control audio playback using the tap controls on the earbuds, which are responsive and easy to actuate. A single tap plays and pauses tracks, a double tap skips to the next song or answers calls, and a triple tap plays the previous song.

Pairing and managing the Echo Buds is done right through the Amazon Alexa app, which is also where you can take care of the rest of your Alexa devices. This makes the Alexa app a convenient, all-in-one hub for all your Amazon smart home needs. The Alexa app also lets you customize the Echo Buds with settings for the tap controls, sidetone volume during calls, and a basic equalizer.

Audio quality isn't the best, but the buds sound decent for the money

Amazon Echo Buds on a gray surface in front of earpods and AirPods Pro 2
Amazon Echo Buds on a gray surface in front of earpods and AirPods Pro 2

The Echo Buds have decent audio quality, but they don't hold up when compared to pricier earbuds.Sarah Saril/Insider

For only $50, you get what you pay for with the Echo Buds' audio quality. They're far from the worst-sounding earbuds you can buy in this price range but don't expect them to offer quality on par with more expensive options from brands like Sony, Bose, Samsung, and Apple.

Audio generally lacks weighty bass and can sound somewhat tinny compared to AirPods or pricier over-ear headphones. On the plus side, the earbuds' sound quality is fairly well-balanced without distortion. During testing, we listened to various genres and found that acoustic and folk songs came through particularly well, with crisp vocals from artists like Lizzy McAlpine clearly separated from instrumentals. On the other hand, the lack of bass is noticeable when listening to rap and EDM tracks like "Happy Place" by Alison Wonderland, which fall a little flat.

And unlike more expensive headphones, the third-gen Echo Buds don't come with active noise cancellation (ANC) to help reduce background sounds that might interfere with your music. This makes them a poor travel companion for loud planes or bustling coffee shops. However, if you want similar earbuds with active noise cancellation, Amazon still sells the second-gen Echo Buds with ANC for $120. The second-gen Echo Buds don't have the 2023 model's updated design, but they're better for buyers who want to block out noise.

Not the most comfortable form factor

a hand holding the amazon echo bud 2023 to display the silicone cover
a hand holding the amazon echo bud 2023 to display the silicone cover

The earbuds are designed with a removable silicone cover to help customize their fit.Sarah Saril/Insider

The 2023 Echo Buds feature a brand-new design compared to their 2019 and 2021 counterparts. Earlier models offered active noise cancellation (ANC) and had a fully in-ear design to accommodate that feature.

In contrast, the 2023 Echo Buds use a semi-in-ear design that does not create a complete seal in your ear canal, and they have stems that resemble AirPods. They also offer a unique silicone cover that can be removed to help customize the earbuds' fit. The cover makes the in-ear portion of the buds marginally bigger and better for larger ears. They also help by providing a grippier surface.

The buds' partially open design is similar to the standard AirPods in form factor, which is a plus for users who don't like the invasive feeling of buds with a true in-ear design. But the shape isn't ideal for people with smaller ears and can grow uncomfortable after hours of use. The earbuds don't have the best staying power either and can come unwedged easily, depending on your ear shape.

In general, the Echo Buds simply feel a bit cheap. The earbuds rattle in their case, the matte plastic is thin, and they're only rated for IPX2 water resistance, which isn't substantial. The overall construction of everything lacks heft.

Versatile use thanks to easy pairing with multiple devices

the amazon echo buds outside of their case on a tabletop
the amazon echo buds outside of their case on a tabletop

You can pair multiple devices with your Echo Buds and easily switch between them while in use.Sarah Saril/Insider

Despite their drawbacks, the Echo Buds are still a solid budget choice for users of multiple devices. They allow you to connect to two Bluetooth sources simultaneously (like your smartphone and laptop) and seamlessly switch between them as necessary.

Bluetooth connectivity is strong as well. When testing, we found that we could walk across a large room and into another without disconnecting from our smartphone or computer. However, the Echo Buds make a very jarring, shrill connection chime when they successfully pair with a device, which is an odd choice compared to other earbuds.

Outside music, the buds work well when paired with a phone or computer for phone calls and meetings, with good microphone pickup that receives reasonably crisp and clear audio. Battery life is also solid, with up to six hours of constant playback, or five if you keep the Alexa wake word on. The included case can hold up to 20 total hours, which is decent, but it lacks wireless charging support.

Should you buy the Echo Buds (3rd Gen)?

a side shot of the echo buds displaying the thinness of the case
a side shot of the echo buds displaying the thinness of the case

The Echo Buds' case design is cheaply made and the earbuds rattle when stored inside.Sarah Saril/Insider

The Echo Buds (3rd Gen) aren't for everyone, but they have their appeal. Their audio quality is nothing special, but that's not the point. The Echo Buds' main selling points are their low price, versatility, and handy smarts. And they allow you to bring hands-free Alexa's capabilities wherever you go, as long as they're paired to your phone.

For $50, they're among the cheapest Alexa-enabled earbuds you can get, and in that sense, they're a worthy buy. But if you don't care about Alexa, you can find cheaper earbuds with similar audio performance from brands like JLab. And if better sound quality and active noise cancellation are top priorities, we recommend paying more for step-up models from companies Jabra, Soundcore, Sony, and Bose.

But if you want an inexpensive pair of true wireless earbuds that sound decent and have hands-free Alexa support, then the Echo Buds should be your top choice.

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