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  1. During a press conference this morning at the Amazon Spheres in downtown Seattle, Amazon formally announced a widely anticipated new product: first-party earbuds called Echo Buds. They’re wireless and cost less than $129, putting them within striking distance of Apple’s AirPods, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, and other rivals. These aren’t just any IPX4 splash-resistant Bluetooth earbuds, mind you. Noteworthy features include up to five hours of battery life and up to 20 with the included battery case. (For comparson’s sake, the Galaxy Buds last six hours on a charge.) Bose’s active noise reduction technology is built in, as are dual drivers and gesture-recognizing capacitive sensors. Tapping and holding grants access to a paired phone’s assistant, either Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant, while double-tapping toggles noise reduction. Predictably, the Echo Buds work best with Alexa, which can be summoned with the wake word “Alexa.” It understands any question Alexa on Echo devices understand, and later this year, it’ll helpfully tell you whether the Whole Foods location your nearest has the item you want or direct to which aisle might have it. (Amazon owns Whole Foods.) The earbuds give Amazon an opportunity to deliver a more portable Alexa experience to customers — extending beyond the confines of home speakers, smart displays, soundbars, and car infotainment systems. Amazon has been laying the groundwork for years. Last October, Qualcomm announced it would release chips that any headphone OEM could use to embed Alexa directly into their devices. And in June, Amazon introduced a refreshed Alexa Mobile Accessory (AMA) Kit — the software stack that routes voice commands to a paired smartphone running the Alexa companion app — with support for location-aware responses and access to more music services. Amazon first introduced the AMA Kit in January 2018, when it revealed ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that more than 150 products have Alexa built in. The dev tools were initially made available to select manufacturers like Jabra, Bose, and Sony, but they became generally available last November. There’s also no denying that the airbuds make sense from a dollars and cents standpoint. Research firm IDC recently reported that global wearable shipments in Q2 2019 were up 85% year over year, climbing to 67.7 million devices. Meanwhile, the “hearables” category of intelligent assistant-connected earbuds and headphones grew to 250%, a roughly 47% slice of the entire wearables segment. Apple’s AirPods have become the de facto earbuds for folks living wire-free lifestyles, with an estimated 60% share of the global wireless earbuds market as of April 2019. The valiant efforts of Jabra, Samsung, Jlab, Bose, and others have so far failed to unseat the Cupertino company’s flagship from its pole position. Perhaps Amazon will fare better. Source
  2. Amazon Echo Buds review: great sound at the right price Amazon’s first truly wireless earbuds exceed expectations Amazon’sAmazon’s new Echo Buds are the company’s first wireless earbuds. They put Alexa in your ear. They include Bose’s proprietary noise reduction technology to help eliminate outside noises. And the most surprising part is just how good they sound. The Echo Buds cost $129.99, which is a remarkably aggressive price compared to what manufacturers like Sony, Jaybird, Google, Microsoft, and other earbud makers are charging — especially if you want noise reduction. Apple has managed to steal some of Amazon’s thunder with the new $249 AirPods Pro, which offer active noise cancellation, a customizable fit, and upgraded audio, plus all of the usual AirPod features. But the Echo Buds have exceeded my expectations and definitely warrant some excitement. They don’t offer every bell and whistle (like wireless charging), but I’ve been using them for a little under a week, and even if you never bother using any of the Alexa functionality, these are worth serious consideration. Our review of Amazon Echo Buds Verge Score 8 out of 10 Good Stuff Excellent sound quality Good, comfortable fit Bose’s noise reduction makes a difference Bad Stuff Micro USB. UGH. No wireless charging Some early bugs The Echo Buds are nondescript, come in only black, and lack the signature blue LED that you might expect from an Echo / Alexa product. When worn, they don’t look much different from Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, just slightly larger. There are no physical buttons on the buds — just a touch-sensitive circle on each one that’s easy to find with a finger. Depending on how you want to customize the tap controls, you can change tracks, activate Siri / Google Assistant, or enable noise reduction with a tap, two taps, or by tapping and holding. Unfortunately, you can’t control volume directly on the buds; you’ll have to ask Alexa to crank it up or adjust volume on your phone directly. ThreeThree sizes of silicone tips come in the box (with custom-fit Comply foam tips available separately), and Amazon also includes wing tips that might be useful if you plan to run or exercise with the buds. I noticed that using the largest wing tips could sometimes prevent the Echo Buds from fully docking in their case if I wasn’t paying attention. Even when I followed Amazon’s instructions to carefully line up the wing tip with its respective Echo Bud. This isn’t a problem with the medium and small wing tips. In my case, the largest ear tips kept the Echo Buds in snugly without needing the help of the wings, and they didn’t start to slip out or dislodge while eating or talking, which can sometimes happen if you’ve got an imperfect fit. The Echo Buds are IPX4 water and sweat resistant, and Amazon says they can last for up to five hours of continuous listening before needing a recharge. The carrying case, which is neither the largest nor the smallest I’ve seen, has enough power to give the buds 20 hours of total listening time. By far the worst part of the Echo Buds is found on that case, however. Amazon made the very unfortunate decision to use an ancient Micro USB charging port instead of USB-C or wireless charging. In late 2019. I’d managed to go all USB-C before reviewing these earbuds, but Amazon isn’t ready to let go of the past. This company has shown an extreme reluctance to change connectors; the new Fire HD 10 tablet is Amazon’s first USB-C device. I’m sure Amazon’s decision is backed by customer data, but it still comes off as stubborn when competitors are all using USB-C (or Lightning in Apple’s case). I think it’d be easier to overlook the Micro USB annoyance if the Echo Buds case was capable of wireless charging and you could just ignore cables altogether. But it’s not, so you can’t. Here’s hoping that Amazon eventually releases a USB-C case with wireless charging — ideally before these buds get refreshed a year from now, but we’ll see. The included case also has the kind of matte finish that scratches and gets scuffed almost immediately. HavingHaving Alexa in your ear is convenient, but unlike the rest of the Echo lineup, it’s not a headline feature. It’s easy to use these earbuds and pay no mind to Amazon’s voice assistant whatsoever. I think that’s a good thing because, in large part, Alexa feels redundant in this particular use case. If you do want to avoid Alexa completely, you can disable the wake word in Amazon’s Alexa app. The earbuds also let you mute the microphones, but that affects phone calls, too. I think there’s ample reason to be wary of wearing Alexa everywhere you go. To that point, Amazon says it has several privacy protections in place to keep the Echo Buds from spying on you: The Voice Activity Detector senses when you’re talking, enabling wake word detection. We then use near-field beamforming technology to focus the microphones on your mouth to detect your speech and reject any background noise. Echo Buds were designed such that Alexa wake word functionality is only available when at least one earbud has been connected via Bluetooth to a compatible mobile device with the Alexa app open and detected in-ear by an on-device sensor. Additionally, there are multiple ways to mute wake word functionality on Echo Buds. In the app, the home screen will allow you to mute or unmute Alexa with just a click. You can also set up an on-device gesture that mutes the microphones when you press and hold either earbud. And finally, if you take both earbuds out of your ears Alexa will be muted. When Alexa is muted, no audio is streaming to the cloud and Alexa will not be able to process your request. I’ve mostly used Alexa to add items to my grocery store shopping list and check the weather. Everything I do with it is already possible one way or another with Siri or Google Assistant. Triggering Alexa with my voice isn’t any faster than Apple’s “Hey Siri” or saying “OK Google” on headphones with Assistant built in. Aside from the basics, the Echo Buds let you instantly Drop In on Echo speakers — either your own or those belonging to friends / family — with an audio call. Or you can record announcements that’ll be played back on your speakers at home. But as long as you’ve got the Alexa app on your phone, you can already do all of this with any set of earbuds — albeit not hands-free. It’s nice to be able to check whether your smart lock is latched without pulling out your phone, but I don’t think Alexa will be what sells the Echo Buds. But their noise reduction and sound quality definitely will. AmazonAmazon collaborated with Bose on the Echo Buds, which feature the latter company’s noise reduction technology. This is very much a case where words matter; noise reduction is different and less extensive than active noise cancellation. The Bose system used by the Echo Buds will eliminate annoying hums and cut down on street noise, but it’s not the same kind of isolated feeling you get when wearing over-ear noise-canceling headphones. Even Bose itself says its upcoming wireless earbuds (due sometime next year) will outperform the Echo Buds in this regard. AGREE TO CONTINUE: AMAZON ECHO BUDS Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we’re going to start counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate. Like any other set of earbuds, the Echo Buds can be used via traditional Bluetooth pairing without you agreeing to any terms and conditions in software. But the preferred way of setting them up is through the Alexa app for iOS and Android, which means you’ll have to give the thumbs-up to the Alexa terms of use, Amazon’s conditions of use, privacy policy, and Amazon’s terms of service for its hardware devices, among others. You’ll also have to agree to the company’s conditions of use for Amazon services. And remember the inherent trust that you’re putting in Amazon when using Alexa. Humans will potentially review your Alexa voice recordings unless you opt out of this process, and you’ve always got the ability to manually delete your Alexa interactions. Final tally: No agreements are mandatory if you’re using the Echo Buds as basic Bluetooth earbuds with reduced functionality. But there are at least five mandatory agreements and several optional ones if you want to use Alexa or configure the earbuds with the Alexa app. But don’t let that put a damper on your expectations. I’m still quite satisfied with what the Echo Buds can do. You can definitely tell the difference between the noise isolation you get just from wearing the buds and the increased peace and quiet that comes with enabling noise reduction. By default, you can switch between noise reduction and pass-through ambient audio mode with a double tap of either earbud. In the Alexa app, you’re able to adjust the volume of the piped-in pass-through audio, but noise reduction is an on / off affair. Amazon’s ambient mode isn’t as natural-sounding as I’ve recently heard from Bose’s Noise Canceling Headphones 700 or the Beats Solo Pros. There’s a distinctly digital quality to everything, and pass-through can get almost disorienting if you turn it on in a loud restaurant or bar. But it gets the job done fine if you need to have a quick chat with someone or hear an announcement. Much to my surprise, the Echo Buds sound wonderful and are leaps and bounds better than the expectations I had coming in. The low end packs a wallop with strong, bumping bass. But it’s not bloated, and the overall tonal balance put out by the dual-balanced Knowles armature drivers is very pleasing. I like them considerably more than Sony’s expensive noise-canceling earbuds. More than the Galaxy Buds. I like them more than Jaybird’s Vista earbuds, which were my general recommendation at this price point — until now. The Echo Buds aren’t flawless, and I’m sure some self-described audiophiles will say the sound signature is too blatantly tailored for modern music. And it is a perfect fit for Taylor Swift’s Lover album. But the Echo Buds competently handle music spanning decades and genres, from Paul Simon to Post Malone. They deliver a lively listen that makes the debut album by The Highwomen shine, with nice separation between the four vocalists and a wide placement of instruments. The buds support AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs, and you can make basic EQ adjustments in the Alexa app. If there’s one weakness, it’s that the Echo Buds never get super loud — if that’s your thing — but they offered more than enough volume for my liking. Audio pauses automatically if an earbud is removed, and either of the Echo Buds can be used individually if you want. The other half to the sound quality equation is how the microphones handle voice calls. I’ve had no complaints and people said I sounded clear when talking to them with the Echo Buds, so Amazon’s beamforming mics and speech detection seem to produce good results. This is an area where Samsung’s Galaxy Buds and even the Powerbeats Pro really struggle. LikeLike any version 1.0 product, the Echo Buds aren’t without their bugs. I’ve had more than a few instances where saying “Alexa” got no response. (You’ve got to speak up when using voice commands in general.) Occasionally, I’ve heard a notification sound / chime while music is playing for no obvious reason. And you’ll notice that when you adjust volume with noise reduction enabled, your music will sound different for a second or two before everything levels back out. (Amazon says that one is by design and a side effect of the noise reduction tech.) And I must mention that on my iPhone, I’ve noticed some audio / video delay when watching select apps — but not all — including YouTube. This shouldn’t be the case, according to Amazon. Those minor issues and the curse of Micro USB aside, I’m downright impressed with the Echo Buds. They’re Amazon’s first earbuds, yes, but their fantastic sound quality shows the strides Amazon has made in audio. The upcoming Echo Studio speaker is another testament to Amazon’s determination to make high-quality listening devices. Apple’s noise-canceling AirPods Pro are no doubt going to have a huge impact on the wireless earbuds category, but Amazon has managed to do a lot right on its first time out. And I think the $130 price is going to hit the right buttons for a lot of people when they’re comparing the Echo Buds against $200 and $250 options from other brands. Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge Source: Amazon Echo Buds review: great sound at the right price Source: (The Verge)
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