Here’s the real reason Amazon added a smiley logo to the Echo Buds 2

While considered a somewhat controversial – and slightly cheesy – move, Amazon had good reason to add a smiley logo to the exterior of its true Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) wireless earbuds.

According to the chief audio officer of the company, people kept getting things wrong.

“We found that with our first generation, people were putting them upside down or upside down,” said Phil Hilmes, director of audio at Amazon Devices & Services Team. “It’s understandable if you’ve never worn a pair before, and some people have really big ears, so they fit in backwards. “

You read that right, Amazon had to put the smiley logo on it to prevent people from putting the headphones on upside down.

“Having that smiley logo helps them say, ‘OK, that’s the right way to go’ and it helps point the microphone towards your mouth while still being subtle.”

The delicate balance of space, better sound, better battery life and a price

There is an old adage in computer engineering that products can’t be fast, good, and cheap, but only two out of three. The way Hilmes talks about audio design – and especially the tradeoffs to be made when designing a pair of headphones like the Echo Buds – you can tell he’s heard it before.

In a discussion with TechRadar, Hilmes spoke about the decisions made to make the 2nd Generation Buds – choosing to include a larger full-range driver instead of a dual-driver design and creating an efficient noise-cancellation algorithm that saves battery life.

“We switched to a dynamic rider on the second gen headphones and the rim diameter is 5.7mm – which looks small and is small – but we decided to compromise on the diameter to get a better excursion. so we can really push a lot of air and that helps with so many different things. Of course this includes good bass response but it also allowed us to put a vent in [to alleviate a build up of pressure].

“We wanted to make sure we had the best ANC in its class. To do this, you need to have a lot of headroom in your low frequencies to cancel out this noise. We compromised with that and the size, ”Hilmes said.

Amazon Echo Studio

(Image credit: Avenir)

Hilmes is the reason Alexa can understand you

While Hilmes hasn’t shared too much information about his time working at Lab126, Amazon’s first hardware lab responsible for creating Amazon Echo, Echo Show, Echo Studio, and Echo Buds, among dozens of other devices, it has a long history of laboratory innovation.

As the author of several white papers on noise cancellation and echo reduction, speech recognition and sound detection, Hilmes is responsible for a number of innovations that you have seen in the Amazon Echo line for almost a decade now. .

“Which immediately impressed me once I joined [Lab126] is the startup mentality that the whole place has. I know this is common on Amazon, but I have the impression that it is even more true within Lab126: “If you have an idea, let’s do it”. Whether it’s something new and creative – like a new algorithm – one of our leadership principles is to invent and simplify.

This doesn’t mean that all products from Amazon’s engineering wing are flawless – as we saw in our recent review of the new Amazon Echo Show 15 – but it does mean the team has tackles new problems and looks for ways to innovate on what already exists.

All-new Amazon Echo Buds 2

(Image credit: Amazon)

Space audio is a hot area for innovation – but it might be best left out for now

When asked what he thinks about the advent of spatial audio on headphones like Apple’s AirPods and the Sony WF-1000XM4, Hilmes agreed that there was a lot of innovation going on. – but the end result just doesn’t compare to a true spatial audio setup in your living room.

What I would say is, I haven’t seen anything yet that does almost as well as speakers in a room, but there is some really good progress and I know it’s going to get there.

Phil Hilmes, audio manager at Amazon

“I think spatial audio is great for headphones and earphones, but it also presents great challenges because generally the spatial experience is better in a real room. The tricky part is that everyone’s ears are different and so trying to compensate for that is a challenge. I’ve seen a lot of potential solutions for this, like some companies that scan your ears, but some work better than others, ”Hilmes said. “Head tracking is a good solution for this, but you have to do everything right… Trying to track the head with virtualization is a challenge. “

“What I would say is, I haven’t seen anything yet that does almost as well as speakers in a room, but there is really good progress and I know it’s going to happen.”

For now, it looks like we’re a few years away from spatial audio on the next pair of Amazon Echo Buds, but with Hilmes at the helm, we’ll be happy to hear the results when they finally arrive.


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