Amazon isn’t reinventing the wireless earbud with its latest Echo Buds, but it is undercutting some rivals on price while tacking on more features.
The new Echo Buds officially cost $120 with a USB-C charging case or $140 with a case that supports wireless charging, and Amazon’s discounting both by $20 at launch. Compared to the first-gen Echo Buds, which sold for $130, the new buds are 20% smaller, have better sound quality, and include vents to make them a bit comfier. Amazon has also improved the buds’ active noise cancellation, claiming that it eliminates twice as much outside sound, and there’s a new option to get them in white instead of black.
On the software side, Amazon has added a “Find My Earbuds” feature, which you can activate via the Alexa app or an Echo speaker, along with a “VIP Filter” that only plays notification alerts for your favorite contacts. (The latter feature debuted on Amazon’s Echo Frames smart glasses.)
None of which adds up to anything revolutionary in the field of wireless earbuds, but if Alexa is your preferred voice assistant, maybe those incremental changes are enough. And if not, maybe the low price will steer you away from Apple’s AirPods (which list for $159, or $249 for AirPods Pro with noise cancellation), Google’s Pixel Buds (which cost $179), or wireless buds from other brands.
It’s easy to figure out why Amazon would want to make its own earbuds: It’s at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to other makers of headphones supporting Alexa. Amazon’s voice assistant isn’t the default assistant on any smartphone, so you can’t use it with the voice control functions on earbuds unless they’ve been made to work with Alexa specifically. Most earbuds just have you use the default assistant instead, whether it’s Siri on iOS or Google Assistant on Android.
The Echo Buds do give you the option to use your phone’s default voice assistant by tapping the sides of the earbuds, so you’re not stuck with Alexa. But giving people a cheap way to fire off hands-free Alexa voice commands from anywhere is clearly the goal, especially as things start to open up and people spend less time at home where they can just talk to their Echo speakers instead.
Why the low price? For Amazon, lowering the cost of entry is often a way to get consumers into its ecosystem: “We’ve always been about passing on as much value as possible to our customers,” says Miriam Daniel, the company’s VP for Alexa devices. And with earbuds in particular, the alternative might be consumers just leaving Alexa behind.