AirPods Pro vs. Echo Buds: Do you need to spend $250 for true wireless bliss?

The Apple faithful have been waiting years for the AirPods Pro: Finally, a set of AirPods that have some degree of sweat and water-resistance and active noise cancellation (ANC). But these extras come at a proportionately extra price. The AirPods Pro are $250, making them among the most expensive true wireless earbuds you can buy. So how is it possible that Amazon’s brand new $130 Echo Buds seem to offer so many of the same features as the AirPods Pro, but for $120 less? Did Amazon cut too many corners, or is Apple just resting on the power of its brand reputation to charge whatever it likes?

We’ll get to the bottom of this right now in our comprehensive head-to-head (or bud-to-bud?) comparison. No stone will be left unturned. And in the end, you’ll be able to decide which true wireless earbuds are right for you.

Price

If it wasn’t obvious from the introduction, let’s be clear: The Amazon Echo Buds are a lot cheaper than the Apple AirPods Pro. In fact, at $130, the Echo Buds aren’t just cheaper than the AirPods Pro, they’re also cheaper than the least expensive version of the AirPods. We like to cover this category up-front because we want you to keep it in mind as you read the rest of the comparison. It’s possible that the Apple AirPods Pro will justify their sky-high $250 price tag as we delve into their features, but on a pure dollars-to-dollars basis, this is the Echo Buds’ category by a mile.

Winner: Amazon Echo Buds

Sound quality

Apple’s AirPods are big on convenience but are somewhat lackluster when it comes to sound quality. The AirPods Pro are expected to offer significantly improved sound thanks to their fully noise-isolating in-ear design and three sizes of silicone ear tips. Just how much better they sound remains to be heard, but we already know that the Echo Buds are a big step up in sound quality from the non-Pro version of the AirPods. Our guess is that the AirPods Pro will sound at least as good as the Echo Buds, but we’ll officially call this one once we’ve had a chance to test them out.

Winner: TBD

Design, fit and comfort

The Amazon Echo Buds use a combination of three sizes of silicone ear-tip and three optional sizes of ear fins (wingtips) to achieve a good fit for most users. A feature within the Amazon Alexa app helps people determine the right size. We found that even without the wingtips, the Echo Buds stayed securely seated in our ears. The wingtips helped lock them in place during vigorous activities. The design is very comfortable, but like most in-ear earbuds, you can get a little fatigued after wearing them for a few hours.

The AirPods Pro also use an in-ear design with three sizes of ear tips. Like Amazon, Apple has also included a way to analyze fit using its software. Unlike the Echo Buds, however, the AirPods Pro retain the golf-tee shape of the original AirPods which means there’s more mass outside of the ear canal. Without the availability of some kind of ear fin — whether integrated or as an add-on — can the AirPods Pro stay securely seated? This becomes a bigger question once people start tapping the earbuds for control.

It’s another area that’s too close to call for now — until we try the AirPods Pro ourselves.

Winner: TBD

Convenience

We’ve praised Apple’s AirPods for their super-easy pairing and effortless integration into the iOS ecosystem, and we expect no less from the AirPods Pro. But much of what makes the AirPods such a solid choice for Apple users gets stripped away once you try to use them with an Android device. Pairing is less straightforward, you lose hands-free access to a voice assistant, and there’s no battery life indicator. The Echo Buds compensate for all of these cross-platform drawbacks through the use of the Amazon Alexa app.

The app coordinates all of the Echo Buds’ functions from customizing the double-tap and long-press on each earbud to selecting your choice of the voice assistant. Pairing is almost as instantaneous through the Alexa app as it is when using AirPods with an iOS device. The app also shows you the battery life of each earbud and the charging case. Only Alexa works hands-free on the Echo Buds, but you can set-up double-tap access to Siri on iOS or Google Assistant on Android.

We believe the AirPods Pro will remain the most convenient choice for iOS users, but for everyone else (or those who use multiple platforms) the Echo Buds offer more.

Winner: Amazon Echo Buds

Noise cancellation

Both the AirPods Pro and Echo Buds offer circuitry that uses external microphones to detect and reduce outside sounds. But they use different techniques to do so. The Echo Buds use Bose’s Active Noise Reduction (ANR) while the AirPods Pro use Apple’s own Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) technology. Noise cancellation is a tricky business and not every company that tries to do it is successful. One company with an exemplary track record is Bose, and we found the Echo Buds to be very good at reducing external sounds.

But the Echo Buds aren’t as good at noise-canceling as the more expensive Sony WF-1000XM3. Can Apple deliver a superior experience to the Echo Buds? We’ll be surprised if they do, so for now, we’re giving this one to Amazon, but we may change our minds.

Winner: Amazon Echo Buds

Battery life

Battery life for the Echo Buds and the AirPods Pro is rated at about five hours of continuous playtime. Both products will see a slight dip in these numbers depending on volume level, and use of ANC/ANR. However, the AirPods Pro pack just a bit more power into their charging case. The AirPods Pro wireless charging case extends the total battery life to 24 hours, while the Echo Buds (non-wireless) case top out at about 19 hours. We’re not sure that this is going to be a deal-breaker for many people, but Apple definitely takes this category.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro

Conclusion

Until we get our hands and ears on the AirPods Pro, we’re not going to call an overall winner. However, it’s already clear that Apple has its work cut out for it if the AirPods Pro are going to dislodge the Echo Buds from their current standing as one of the best values in a true wireless earbud. Check back with us in the coming days — we’ll be updating this comparison soon.