Okay, Amazon. You got me. This is not at all what I expected the next pair of Echo Buds to look like. Two years after releasing its second-gen set of noise-canceling earbuds, Amazon has returned with a different approach. The new Echo Buds ditch noise cancellation and ear tips altogether in favor of a semi-open design not unlike the regular AirPods or 1More ComfoBuds. The overhauled design has led to a far 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 preorder the new pair starting today and they’ll ship on June 7th. And for a limited time, you can get them for even less: the introductory price is just $39.99
Aside from comfort, the other main benefit of a semi-open design is that you’re always able to hear and remain aware of what’s happening around you. But the fundamental purpose of these Echo Buds remains the same: they’re a vehicle for taking Alexa with you everywhere with hands-free voice controls. Amazon claims its latest earbuds also deliver “rich audio, long-lasting battery life, and premium features.” Since there’s no in-ear seal, the sound is undeniably going to be much different than the previous two Echo Buds.
But some people really hate how silicone tips feel, and I’m guessing Amazon noticed enough sales of similar products to warrant giving the semi-open form factor a try. 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 quite bland. There’s zero visible branding on the stem-style earbuds. This photo of the Echo Buds in their case makes it seem like I’m looking at a 3D-printed early product mockup of some sort. But nope. That’s the finished thing right there. Maybe they come off better in person than in marketing shots.
The Echo Buds include 12-millimeter drivers and can last for up to five hours on a single charge. That’s not what I’d call impressive when you remember that there’s no ANC present, but the case at least holds enough spare juice for three full recharges. Amazon claims they produce “rich sound and balance bass” and use a voice detection accelerometer to accurately detect when you’re speaking on a call (or to Alexa).
“Echo Buds include features like customizable tap controls, VIP filter, and multipoint pairing, so the earbuds can pair and switch audio 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 for sale alongside the new, cheaper set. This strategy of offering a high-end pair of noise-canceling earbuds complemented by a less expensive, open-style alternative is something we’ve seen from Apple, Samsung, Sony, OnePlus, and other brands. So Amazon is leaning on a familiar playbook. After doing an impressive job with the previous two in-ear versions, I’m curious to find out how this changeup in strategy will compare.