Amazon has just announced the second generation of its Echo Buds true wireless earbuds, and they sport a much smaller design. They’ll be available in May in white or black, and will cost $120 for the wired charging case, or $140 for the wireless charging option. Folks who sign up for the pre-order period, which starts today and goes for 30 days, will get a $20 discount: $100 (wired) $120 (wireless). Amazon is also throwing in six months free of Amazon Music Unlimited and Audible Plus for qualifying pre-order customers.
The first thing you notice about the new Echo Buds (like Apple’s AirPods and Google’s Pixel Buds, Amazon has opted to keep the product name unchanged for the second generation) is how small they are compared to the originals.
The first generation were a bit on the bulky side. That was true of the earbuds, which tended to stick out from your ears a bit, but even more so for the charging case, which is still among the largest in the true wireless landscape. The new buds retain the IPX4 rating for water resistance.
Amazon says that the new Echo Buds are 20% smaller, while their new charging case is 40% smaller. The earbuds have a shorter horn, so the silicone eartips won’t need to wedge themselves as deeply into your ear canal, and the addition of small vents is expected to help with the feeling of fullness that in-ear-canal earbuds can cause. The Jabra Elite 85t and Master & Dynamic MW08 use a similar design.
Speaking of the eartips, Amazon includes four sizes, and two kinds of wingtips to help folks get a secure fit. As with the original, the Amazon Alex app can help with an ear-fit test that will tell you how good your seal is.
The other big change in the newest version is improved active noise cancellation (ANC). The first version used Bose’s active noise reduction (ANR) technology to achieve a modest amount of noise canceling. The new version ditches the Bose tech for Amazon’s own ANC, which the company claims is twice as effective as the previous system.
When it comes to sound quality, the new Echo Buds could sound radically different from their predecessors. Amazon has chosen to use a single tiny, 5.6mm, dynamic driver, in each earbud, as opposed to the dual balanced armature drivers found in the originals.
The company says these new high-performance drivers are optimized for an increased fidelity in bass and treble and will deliver “crisp, balanced sound with extended dynamic range.”
Unfortunately, battery life hasn’t changed. In fact, it’s arguably a bit worse. The earbuds themselves get up to five hours of music playback on a single charge with Active Noise Cancellation and hands-free access to Alexa, though Amazon notes this could go as high as 6.5 hours if you turn these features off. That’s about what the originals were capable of.
The charging case, on the other hand, only provides two additional charges for a total of up to 15 hours of music playback. The previous case held three full charges, for 20 hours of total play time. Quick-charging remains the same: 15 minutes of socket time gives you up to two hours of extra playback.
The big selling feature for the Echo Buds has always been Alexa. These are the only true wireless earbuds that give you hands-free access to Amazon’s voice assistant and the company is doubling down on the benefits Alexa can offer to Echo Buds wearers.
She can now advise you on your public transit commute in select major U.S. cities like New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Jersey City, and Philadelphia. You’ll be able to say, “Alexa, what’s the status of the Q train?” and you’ll get a helpful response.
You can also ask Alexa for more specific things like, “Alexa, play relaxing music for 15 minutes” or “Alexa, play my followed podcasts.”
Later this year, Amazon plans to update the Echo Buds with its VIP Filter, giving you more control over which of your phone’s notifications are passed along to the buds, which they’ll be able to read to you in real-time.
We’ll get a chance to put the new Echo Buds to the test in the coming weeks, so make sure you come back to learn our verdict on whether the second generation are worth the upgrade.