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Amazon's Echo Buds put Alexa in your ears — when they fit

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

Amazon's (AMZNEcho Buds are the company's first attempt at truly wireless earbuds. But the buds, which were available Tuesday for $129, aren't important because they're wireless. Rather, it's because they pump the tech giant's Alexa voice assistant directly into consumers' ears.

With on-board Alexa voice integration, you can use the Echo Buds to do everything you'd do with a standard Echo, while on the go; whether that's checking sports scores, getting updates on deliveries, or making phone calls. The Buds themselves also pack Bose's Active Noise Reduction technology and audio passthrough capabilities to let you better hear what's going on around you.

The Echo Buds come with attachable wing tips to help them stay securely in your ears. (Image: Ethan Wolff-Mann)

But the Echo Buds' sound quality is hit or miss. I had a hard time getting them to form a seal in my ear regardless of the type of interchangeable tips I used. Others who tried my pair, however, found that they offered decent audio that, if anything, was a bit too low and lacking in bass.

Fit and sound quality

The Echo Buds, like many of the current crop of wireless earbuds on the market, come in a storage case that doubles as a charger. The case, which is matte black and sports the familiar Amazon arrow logo, is significantly larger than both the cases for Apple's $159 AirPods and Samsung's $129 Galaxy Buds.

The Echo Buds put Alexa in your ear, but the fit can be finicky. (Image: Howley)

Like the AirPods, the Echo Buds offer five hours of playback in a single charge. The Galaxy Buds get six hours.

To use the Echo Buds, you'll need to download the Alexa app for your Android or iOS device. The setup process is as seamless as setting up a new Echo speaker and includes a video tutorial explaining the different features available with the Buds.

Amazon didn't make the Buds as distinct looking as, say, Apple’s (AAPL) AirPods, but unlike the standard AirPods, the Buds are water resistant.

In the box, Amazon includes small, medium, and large ear tips that you can slide on and off the Echo Buds, as well as option wing tips to better secure them in your ear. The ear tips are key to getting the best sound out of the Buds, since a tighter seal in your ear ensures better audio quality.

But regardless of which tip I used, I wasn't able to find one that comfortably fit my ears. I even tried mixing the tips between ears, using a large in one, and a medium in the other, but still couldn't find the right fit.

A view of the Echo Buds without their wing tips. (Image: Ethan Wolff-Mann)

I've had similar problems with earbuds like this in the past. Samsung's Galaxy Buds also proved uncomfortable for me. The only in-ear headphones that seem to work well for me are Apple's, which don't so much go in your ear, as sit on the outside.

As a result, music sounded dull and tinny when I used the Echo Buds. Bass in songs like Lil Wayne's "A Milli" was also virtually non-existent, when it should have been slapping.

I tried using the equalizer in the Alexa app to improve the audio, but there wasn't much improvement.

That said, a few of my colleagues said they were able to hear music fine while using the Buds, and mentioned the bass sounded substantial.

To improve listening while in a noisy environment, you can double tap the Echo Buds to activate Bose's Active Noise Reduction feature. Double tapping again will enable passthrough mode, which lets you hear what's going on around you while still being able to listen to your music.

Alexa in your head

As far as the Alexa features go, the Echo Buds proved as useful as my in-home Echo speaker. The buds are constantly listening for the "Alexa" wake word, which allows you to issue a command. I was able to fire up songs on Spotify, make phone calls, and check the weather in my area using the Buds without ever needing to pull out my phone.

Don't want to use Alexa? You can hold down on the Echo Buds' touchpad and pull up either your Google Assistant or Siri instead. But that's not nearly as convenient as simply uttering "Alexa," followed by your request.

You can also mute the Echo Buds' ability to listen for the wake word by turning off the feature in the Alexa app, just like you can with a standard Echo. The app is also where you can check the charge status of both the Buds and their charging case.

The Echo Buds use a stem covered with a piece of silicone to plug your ears. (Image: Howley)

Amazon also put an LED on the front of the charging case to give you a ballpark idea of the Buds' charge, but I'd prefer something more accurate that's easy to quickly check rather than having to open the Alexa app.

Amazon's strategy of including Alexa with the Echo Buds is a means to ensure that you never leave the company's ecosystem. By selling a pair of earbuds with Alexa built in, you're incentivized to use the voice assistant, which learns more about you and can serve up offers through Amazon that are more in line with your interests. That, Amazon hopes, will in turn lead to you making more purchases through the e-commerce giant.

Don't want to use Alexa? You can hold down on the Echo Buds' touchpad and pull up either your Google Assistant or Siri instead. But that's not nearly as convenient as simply uttering "Alexa," followed by your request.

Should you get them?

At $129, the Echo Buds are roughly the same price as other mid-tier wireless earbuds. The Buds, however, also add in Alexa functionality, as well as water resistance and noise reduction, two features that Apple's base-level AirPods are lacking.

But when it comes to sound quality, the AirPods provided a far better experience than the Echo Buds. Despite multiple attempts, I just couldn't the Buds to fit well enough to create an in-ear seal.

That, however, wasn't the case for three of my colleagues, who were able to easily fit the Buds. But they also found the AirPods offered more powerful sound.

If you're an Amazon diehard, or simply don't want to purchase a pair of Airpods, the Echo Buds could be a solid choice. Just make sure they fit well the moment you get them.

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Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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