Once I found a sweet spot, the Echo Buds held up well across a range of genres. Whether it was the wooing sounds of Death Cab for Cutie, the angry metal of Oh, Sleeper or the electronic beats of Com Truise, there was a solid amount of bassy thump. The sound has decent clarity and though there's more tendency toward the low end, the overall audio was solid.
A key feature on the Echo Buds is Bose's Active Noise Reduction. The ANR tech isn't active noise cancellation (ANC), and you'll learn this quickly once you start using the earbuds. It does a decent job of cutting out some background noise, but it won't completely block out the world around you. That's especially true in coffee shops and other spots there's a constant din. It's definitely a step up from passive noise isolation, but if you're looking to kill it all, you'll want to consider an alternative.
Call quality is also decent on the Echo Buds. During my tests, the person on the other end said I still sounded like I was on speakerphone, which is common for true wireless earbuds. However, they noted that it sounded like I was doing so in a quiet room. At the time, I was standing right beside a noisy dishwasher, so that's pretty impressive. Being able to adjust how much of yourself you hear on calls is also a nice feature for the Alexa app. Once you dial it in, it will help you speak more naturally and keep you from yelling while you've got the tiny gadgets in your ears.
Amazon promises up to five hours of battery life for the Echo Buds with three additional full charges in the case. I was able to mange just under four and a half. While five hours is well short of the 10 hours much of the competition offers, it's enough to get you through a work day -- especially if you put them in the case during a meeting or lunch break. Sure, the Echo Buds are more affordable than a lot of the competition, but just know battery life is one of the sacrifices you'll have to make.
We're in a USB-C world in 2019, but Amazon is living in the past and charging the Echo Buds. The case charges via micro-USB, but at least there's a quick-charge feature that will give you 40 percent battery in 15 minutes. The company also includes an LED battery-level indicator on the front of the case to give you an estimate on where you stand when the buds are inside. There's a handy button on the bottom of the case that activates this feature (and puts the earbuds in pairing mode). If you're above 40 percent, the light will shine green. Below 40 percent the light turns yellow and when you drop below 5 percent, it will glow red. The light will display the info for the earbud with the lowest level.
You can also check on the battery level of the case itself when the Echo Buds aren't inside. A green light means you have more than one charge left, while yellow indicates less than a full change. A red light simple means low battery. You can also just ask Alexa about the battery level, or swipe over to the app for an exact percentage.
It goes without saying that Amazon's main competition for the Echo Buds is Apple's AirPods. That will change in 2020 when Google ships its new Pixel Buds. Both alternatives from Apple and Google offer assistants that are always listening. However, if you want that feature with AirPods, you have to splurge for the pricier model. The Pixel Buds will cost $179, but we don't know exactly when they'll arrive or if they're any good. AirPods are available for $159 and $199, which makes the Echo Buds the most affordable option out of all three at $129.99.
If sound quality is more of a concern than hands-free Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant, Sony's WF-1000XM3 are currently the best choice at $230. Plus, those earbuds pack full active noise cancellation rather than active noise reduction. Apple also announced the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro this week. They'll be available tomorrow, but they also cost $249, $19 more than Sony's stellar option with ANC. I guess it depends on whether or not you can live without hands-free Siri at this point, since AirPods Pro are so new we haven't been able to review them yet.
The competition may be flooding the market with options, but at least Amazon is finally bringing the Echo Buds to consumers. Hands-free access to Alexa is a powerful feature and it works well with only a few minor hiccups. And those issues are mostly one-time problems that you can quickly fix. Sound quality isn't great and limited touch controls can be frustrating, but there's a solid overall package here thanks to Alexa. It's a good first effort, and if we've learned anything from Amazon over the years, the company will continue to refine features and audio quality in future models. Let's just hope it does the same with the Echo Buds.