Amazon Unveils New, Smaller Echo Buds With Active Noise Cancellation
Amazon revealed the second generation of Echo Buds this week for pre-orders ahead of a May 13 shipping date. The redesigned hearables are smaller and come with new and upgraded features like active noise cancellation and better audio hardware, even though the $120 baseline cost is actually a bit lower than the previous iteration’s when they debuted about a year and a half ago.
The new Echo Buds are only about 80% the size of the first version and come in black or white. The hearables come with four ear tip options to cover the shorter nozzle in the ear to make them more comfortable, but the general shape and style is familiar. The charging case has also shrunk by about 40% and uses a USB-C charger, or a wireless charging stand for another $20. The tech within has seen some upgrades, most notably the active noise cancellation technology built by Amazon to replace the Bose active noise ‘reduction’ tech in the first Echo Buds. Amazon claims its creation can shut out double the level of sound from the outside world.
The active noise cancellation uses microphones on the inside and outside of the earbuds to calculate and produce the inverse of the sound the wearer doesn’t want to hear. It’s activated by touch or by asking Alexa. Users who want to be able to hear some of what’s happening around them can switch in the same way to Passthrough mode and customize how much sound gets through in that mode on the Alexa app. The earbuds cost $100 or $120 depending on the charging case choice right now, but the price will go up to $120 and $140 once the earbuds start shipping. Amazon is also bundling six months of Amazon Music Unlimited and Audible Plus with each purchase to sweeten the deal.
“The all-new Echo Buds are better in so many ways—a smaller design, a more comfortable fit, Active Noise Cancellation technology, a new color and wireless charging option, and high-performance drivers for dynamic audio,” Alexa senior vice president Tom Taylor said in a statement. “It’s never been easier for customers to bring Alexa with them throughout their day—whether at home, walking the neighborhood, or commuting to work, all they have to do is ask to play music or podcasts, call to check in on a loved one, add an item to their to-do list, and so much more.”
Most of Alexa’s abilities with the Echo Buds are the same as before, including the fitness tracking, but there are a couple of new and anticipated goodies. Owners can ask Alexa on their smartphone or smart speaker to “find my buds,” and the voice assistant will make them started ringing like bells. The hearables are also debuting alongside Alexa Transit, which enables Alexa to provide directions and status updates on public transportation in seven U.S. cities, with more scheduled later this year. That’s also when the Echo Buds will get the VIP Filter feature, already on the Echo Frames smartglasses. VIP Filter lets wearers selectively decide what phone notifications will interrupt the audio playing in the earbuds.
Amazon has clearly been looking at reviews and responses to its hearables and wants to stay competitive in the ever-more crowded market. Voicebot’s data from October last year found that hearables ownership rose 23% over the two years among U.S. adults, but Apple AirPods and Apple AirPods Pro have consistently been leading the sales. There are a large number of earbuds linked to one for more voice assistants like the Echo Buds. The Google Pixel Buds, Samsung’s bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live, the Baidu XiaoduPods, Microsoft Surface Earbuds, and the sundry third-party creations by Bose or JBL all have their merits but Apple is the brand everyone else is watching. That becomes particularly clear in Amazon’s case just from a glance at the charging case above, which is all too easy to mistake for a generic Apple rip-off and not Amazon’s most advanced hearables tech.