I’ve owned the Amazon Echo Buds wireless headphones for over a year now, since they were first made available in the UK. And while the headphones have served me well for the past 12 months, I’ve had several issues that has left me overall disappointed with the product.
At £119.99 (RRP), the headphones aren’t cheap but are in the lower range of premium wireless headphones. It’s not a bad price for the Bose Active Noise Reduction (ANR) technology that comes build-in and the fact that you can have Alexa in your ear. However, the headphones don’t have a premium feel.
The headphones are very generic looking and most people wouldn’t know you are using Amazon’s Echo Buds as they look very similar to the many other cheaper wireless headphones on Amazon. The charging case is also very plain aside from the faint Amazon “smile”.
The headphones come with a 1-year limited warranty, which is arguably short compared to some of the competition. Google, for example, offers a 2-year warranty on the new Pixel Buds (2nd Gen), although these headphones are more expensive.
After 12 months of use, the right headphone has developed a permanent crackle that is present even when the headphones aren’t connected to anything. Just by opening the case, I can hear the crackling.
Now that the warranty is up, I am unable to get a replacement, which is disappointing havening spent £100+ on the headphones. In comparison, my 5-year old wired Sony in-ear headphone are still working as perfectly as the day I bought them.
Connecting the headphones up for the first time is fairly easy. Although the instructions ask you to download the Alexa app and pair the headphones using it, you will have no problem pairing it with a PC or other devices that support Bluetooth. Keeping the headphones connected is another issue, however.
More often than not, pulling the headphones out of the case doesn’t immediately re-connect them to the device. And this is especially true if you use the headphones across multiple devices. Time and time again, I found myself putting the headphone back in and out of the case to establish a connection, or even going into the Bluetooth settings on my device to manually establish a connection.
But when the headphones did eventually connect, I didn’t have any issues with disconnections unless I moved more than 10 meters away from the device (which is understandable due to range limitations with Bluetooth). While working from home during the last 9 months (during the COVID-19 pandemic), I’ve been using the headphones for Zoom and Teams calls with no issues.
I haven’t been able to put the ANR feature through its paces as much as I would have hoped (due to travel restrictions), but when I did use it on the London Underground, it did a decent job of blocking out the background noise, but wasn’t able to block it out completely.
The pass-through feature is useful so you don’t have to take the headphones out in order to hear someone. This was helpful particularly when I was working from the office back in January to March 2020. The ANR was useful in the office too, especially when you need to focus.
As for the Alexa feature, it was a love-hate relationship. For the first few months, I struggled to get Alexa working. For this feature, you need to have paid the headphones with the Alexa app and keep it connected to your phone. Alexa just couldn’t answer any queries until a firmware update that magically fixed the issue.
Once Alexa was working, I probably used it a few dozen times in the 12 months. It was useful to get a flash briefing of the news and weather, and setting reminders for tasks I need to complete. When it works, it works very well. But I did sometimes get odd looks from people in the office when I asked Alexa to do something.
Each headphone has configurable options for double-tap and tap-and-hold actions (nothing for single tap). The options can be configured from the Alexa app, for example, to play / pause a music track or activate ANR / Pass Through, and they can be different for each individual headphone. The double-tap action worked fine with both headphones (on the right-ear, I set this to activate ANR, and play / pause on the left-ear).
The tap-and-hold was hit-and-miss, which was configured to activate Google Voice Assistant (on Android devices). More often than not, the tap-and-hold would do nothing. I had to press down hard (and thereby forcing the headphones further into the ear) to get the feature to work correctly. Even as I was typing this, a simple tap-and-hold was failing to activate Voice Assistant after a few seconds. I had to hold the headphone down for a good 5 seconds for it to activate.
The Alexa app is useful to check the battery status of each individual headphone as well as the charging case. You can also use it to manually activate ANR / Pass Through or mute the microphones, too. And after a recent update, you can also ask Alexa for the current battery status without pulling out your phone.
If the batter does run down low, Alexa will automatically notify you of low battery via the headphone. In general, the battery life has been as advertised, giving a good solid few hours of use. The case, when fully charged, gives you enough charge to fully charge the headphones a few times, which is useful if you are away for several hours (or even days).
What I did find was that the headphones failed to turn on when the case has low battery (<10%), even if the headphones were fully charged. On a few occasions, I had to plug the case into charge (via the old Micro USB cable) and wait a minute or two before I was able to use the headphones normally.
Overall, despite the bugs and issues I’ve experienced over the last 12 months, the headphones were good. However, I will not be buying another pair once this set dies. With the right headphone already starting to show signs of dying, I would not recommend anyone purchase the headphones. If you are after premium headphones, you should definitely look elsewhere.
Update – 11 Jan 2021:
Since writing this review, I reached out to Amazon Support to fix the crackling issue I was experiencing. I was unable to fix the problem and as by headphones were just out of the 1-year warranty period, I was ineligible for a refund or replacement. However, Amazon was kind enough issue a partial refund equivalent to just under half the RRP.