They sound pretty good. They have active noise reduction. They let you summon a digital assistant hands-free. They are relatively comfortable and not too big. And the Echo Buds true wireless earbuds from Amazon only cost $129. What’s the catch?
The catch, besides an obvious and expected bent toward Alexa and Amazon services, is that these earbuds annoy you with a series of small aggravations that make them feel like the economical choice, not the best choice.
My time with the Echo Buds alternated between being surprised at what you get for “only” $130 and frustrated that Amazon didn’t put more care into their design, craftsmanship, and quality. Echo Buds are a good value, especially if you’re already all-in with Alexa, but those who don’t care about hands-free Alexa integration should probably consider other options.
A comfortable but inelegant design
The good news: Echo Buds are comfortable and not so bulky as to jut way out of your ears. They’re a little chunky, but not so big and heavy that you feel weighed down by them, or will have trouble wearing a winter hat.
The design is therefore functional, but it lacks grace. The buds are basic ovals with a small protrusion where the silicone tips stick into your ear canal. You wouldn’t immediately recognize them as Echo Buds, not that I mind an inconspicuous design.
Making them fit comfortably requires finding the right-sized ear tip. Amazon sends you three sizes and the Alexa app has a fit test function that’s just as gimmicky as that for the AirPods Pro. But the weight distribution is offset and top-heavy, and they’ll easily pull out of your ears during a workout or a run if you don’t also employ one of the three pairs of included wing tips.
The stretchy rubber sleeves have a small protrusion on top meant to fit into your ear’s concha and keep the earbuds from tipping downward. It works, and you can leave them on while you put the earbuds in the charging case, but it’s tricky to get them on properly and the whole thing feels like an afterthought—a kludge to fix a design problem.
Once you get a good fit with both the right tips and wings for your ears, they’re pretty comfortable and stay put even during a run or a workout. My ears do have that “plugged” feeling common to most earbuds with silicon tips, though. Only the AirPods Pro have done a really good job of alleviating that.
The clamshell case is about twice the size of that for the AirPods Pro—not especially large for wireless earbuds with in-ear silicone tips, but definitely not highly compact. There seems to be a lot of wasted space in the case; it could be significantly more compact. It also feels cheap, with large seams and poor tolerances, as well as an “empty plastic” feeling….