OK, Amazon. You have me. This is not at all what I expected the next pair of Echo Buds to look like. Two years after releasing its second-generation set of noise-canceling earbuds, Amazon is back with a different approach. The new Echo Buds ditch noise cancellation and earbuds altogether in favor of a semi-open design similar to the regular AirPods or 1More ComfoBuds. The revised design has led to a much more affordable $49.99 price compared to the $139.99 Echo Buds – now known as “Echo Buds with Active Noise Cancellation” to differentiate the two. You can pre-order the new pair starting today and they will ship on June 7.
Besides comfort, the other big advantage of a semi-open design is that you can always hear and stay aware of what’s going on around you. But the fundamental purpose of these Echo Buds remains the same: they’re a vehicle for taking Alexa anywhere with hands-free voice control. Amazon claims its latest earbuds also deliver “rich audio, long battery life, and premium features.” Since there is no in-ear seal, the sound will be undeniably a lot different than the previous two Echo Buds.
But some people really dislike how silicone tips feel, and I suspect Amazon has noticed enough sales of similar products to warrant trying the half-open form factor. There are countless AirPod knockoffs on Amazon.com, and now the company has seen fit to counter those with its own generic but very affordable earbuds.
And yes, these things look kind of boring. There is no visible branding on the stem-style earbuds. This shot of the Echo Buds in their case makes it look like I’m looking at some 3D-printed model of an early product. But no. That’s the finished thing right there. Maybe they come across better in person than in marketing photos.
The Echo Buds contain 12-millimeter drivers and last up to five hours on a single charge. That’s not what I’d call impressive considering there’s no ANC present, but at least the case packs enough extra juice for three full charges. Amazon claims they produce “rich sound and balanced bass” and use a voice-detection accelerometer to accurately detect when you’re on a call (or to Alexa).
“Echo Buds include features such as customizable tap controls, VIP filter, and multipoint pairing so the earbuds can pair and switch between two devices simultaneously,” Amazon wrote in a press release. Multipoint for $49.99 isn’t bad!
The 2021 Echo Buds with Active Noise Cancellation will remain on sale alongside the new, cheaper set. This strategy of offering a high-end pair of noise-canceling earbuds complemented by a cheaper, open-style alternative is something we’ve seen from Apple, Samsung, Sony, OnePlus and other brands. Amazon therefore relies on a familiar script. Having done an impressive job with the previous two in-ear versions, I’m curious to see how this change in strategy will compare.
In addition to the Echo Buds, Amazon also announced a completely new product – the Echo Pop – along with new versions of the Echo Show 5 and expanded availability of the Echo Auto.