The Pixel Buds Pro are off to a good start, with commendable clarity to go with solid active noise cancelation to block out the noise. We could use a little more bass, though.
- Clearer audio quality
- Solid ANC performance
- Comfortable fit
- Reliable touch controls
- Multipoint connections
- Hands-free Google Assistant
- These need a custom EQ
- More ear tip sizes would be nice
- No spatial audio — yet
Google is late to the "Pro" party as far as the most familiar brands go. Now that its best pair of wireless earbuds are here, what do they bring to the dance? The Pixel Buds Pro look like the two models that came before them, but are supposed to sound better and do more when future updates enable them.
The upside going forward is harder to read, so these buds have to show up with what they have from the start. Chances are, you will either really like them, or feel like your ears deserve better.
Google Pixel Buds Pro: Price and availability
Google launched the Pixel Buds Pro in July 2022, both online and in brick and mortar retail, through the usual channels. They're the most expensive earbuds from Google to date at $199, though you may see them eventually drop in price from time to time. They come in charcoal, coral, fog, and lemongrass variants.
Google Pixel Buds Pro: What's good
For Google, the Pixel Buds Pro aren't just earbuds to play tunes, they're an accessory to keep you connected. Not a new concept for the brand, especially considering the same purpose was applied to the previous Pixel Buds (2nd Gen) and Pixel Buds A-Series.
True enough, it's not as easy to find earbuds that will wake up Google Assistant and translate languages in mid conversation the way these can. Not to mention reading out notifications whenever you want to hear them. While not every connectivity feature is necessarily exclusive to the Pixel Buds Pro, the integration will feel unique or special if you've never had it before.
That's why I'm not sure you would feel a significant difference from the Pixel Buds A-Series, for example. Fast Pair is excellent at getting things up and running via Bluetooth. The fit and feel is so similar, you might mistake them at first glance. Google retains its penchant for making earbuds that feel lightweight, comfortable, and reliable, even including a setting in the app to test which ear tips are best for you.
The 20-second process plays a tone testing for sound leakage, and in my case, it found both the medium and large ear tips insufficient. Problem is, there are no extra-large tips in the box, so I used a pair from another brand. When I re-did the test with those, it found them to be perfect for me.
A tight seal is critical to get the best balance in sound, making that test all the more important in the grander scheme. But your ears are ultimately the deciding factors.
Google doesn't want you thinking too much about sound because it believes its AI algorithms can do that for you. The components inside were customized to work with those algorithms, and after several days of listening to a wide range of content, it became clearer to me who these earbuds are really for.
Every pair of Pixel Buds I've tested prioritized clarity above all, and the Buds Pro only amplify that further. Google describes bass as something it wants to hit "clearly" without the emphasis on that "oomph" it implies is so much easier to tune elsewhere. The soundstage here is decidedly skewed toward the mids and highs, driving a level of clarity I enjoyed with some content more than others.
Anything with a guitar or saxophone punched through with impressive verve, while podcasts and audiobooks were sublime. Unfortunately, I just didn't feel the same way listening to tracks with heavier bass, for the simple fact there wasn't enough of it. Bass can be hefty and clear all at once, evidenced by the kind of performance already available in other earbuds falling in the same price range, like the Jabra Elite 7 Pro and Technics EAH-AZ60, for instance.
To help the cause, Google committed to hybrid active noise cancelation (ANC) that surprised me in its efficacy. It did a very good job blocking out low-frequency sounds, including on a flight where I was sitting in the last row.
As anyone can attest, that part of a plane is loud and full of varying noises, like when passengers make their way to the restrooms. Those sounds felt like whimpers with the Pixel Buds Pro, with an added assist from the passive isolation afforded by the tighter seal I got from the extra-large tips.
Transparency shows its worth in reverse by doing a stellar job piping in the ambient sounds you’d want to hear for better outside awareness. It also bears out in conversation, not only making it easier to hear someone talking, but also while using Live Translate for those linguistically challenging interactions you might come across.
Speaking of interactions, Google has long pointed at call quality as one of the things it really gets right with its earbuds, and I will say it’s hard to argue with that kind of confidence. The Pixel Buds Pro were superb for me in that regard, holding true to what the previous pairs delivered before, which is clarity and reliability.
I had few hiccups with the Bluetooth connection, even in busier environs, only making it easier to keep the conversation going while roaming around as the phone sat on a charging pad.
You could also put the seamless integration with Google Assistant into that category. While not perfect, and amidst the odd misinterpretation, the voice assistant does well in responding to commands and reading out notifications when you allow it to. These are one of the easiest earbuds for initiating phone calls hands-free, as well as doing many of the things you already do with the Assistant through other devices.
Equally effective was the multipoint functionality for connecting with two devices simultaneously. It’s super easy to stay paired with two phones, or a computer and a phone, or even a tablet, if need be. Audio switching does a similar thing in that it will automatically switch from one device to another — with one catch requiring that they be on the same Google account.
Touch controls on earbuds are very much mixed bags, though Google has done a good job making them consistently reliable. I didn’t really like the swipe gestures in the Pixel Buds (2nd Gen) to control volume, but they’re quite good here, even if there’s always a chance you accidentally pause playback.
Google rates battery life at up to seven hours with ANC on, and 11 hours if you leave it off. You’re only going to hit those numbers at default volume, which is unlikely in most conditions.
Since I routinely had to raise the volume to 70% or higher, I cracked five hours with ANC on. Not great, but respectable enough, and something Google might be able to improve with future updates. The case will get you just about two extra charges, which is adequate, and it supports wireless charging for added convenience.
Google Pixel Buds Pro: What's not good
I know balance is subjective, but I have a hard time seeing anyone who loves bass enjoying the Pixel Buds Pro. At the same time, these aren’t earbuds for audiophiles, either, so who does that leave? Realistically, it could be anyone else.
The focus on clarity makes the Pixel Buds Pro sound good off the bat, but once you place these earbuds in your ears, you’re trusting Google to know how to best tune them.
Algorithms, however they work, aren’t necessarily personalized here. The ear tips fit test doesn’t tune anything, leaving Volume EQ as one way to go. Problem is, it only kicks in to push the bass at lower volumes.
If, for example, you love how your rock playlist sounds, yet lament the lack of punch in your hip-hop or house playlist, you don’t really have options. At this price, a customizable EQ is a must — algorithms or no algorithms.
It's an omission that stands out more precisely because the Pixel Buds Pro sound good already. I look at it kind of like watching a great show on a TV with outstanding picture quality, only to listen to the pedestrian sound coming out of its speakers. With the right speaker upgrade that you can also adjust yourself, the experience not only changes, it also applies differently to different tastes.
The ear tips can fall under the same theme. It’s great to have a user-friendly method to test passive isolation, but why then only offer three sizes as standard?
I would’ve also liked more codec support to go beyond the SBC and AAC the Buds Pro offer. Having aptX Adaptive would’ve added a missing low latency mode, as well as boost fidelity a little more for devices that could handle it.
I won’t knock Google for holding back on spatial audio. It’s coming in a future update this fall, more than likely when the Pixel 7 launches, but that hasn’t been confirmed. It would be nice to see feature drops bring in usable functions that add value to what’s already here. Time will tell.
Google Pixel Buds Pro: Competition
The Pixel Buds Pro would be good enough to be among the best wireless earbuds for the tight integration with Google Assistant. It’s up against tougher alternatives in other aspects, like the Sony WF-1000XM4 — still the best for ANC performance — and the Jabra Elite 7 Active for sound quality, comfort, and durability.
Google Pixel Buds Pro: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if...
- You want clearer sound
- You care about fit and comfort
- You want reliable touch controls
- You want hands-free Google Assistant
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You want a custom EQ
- You want more ear tip sizes
- You want more codec support
- You feel you get better value for less
In going "Pro," these Pixel Buds are an iterative step up from their predecessors, not a big jump up to a different level of stardom. They're easy to like because they're not all that complicated, yet also offer integrative features to make them unique in how they perform. Google Assistant regulars will love the way things seamlessly blend together here.
The sound clarity is a great start, and I'd like to see Google throw a bone to listeners who want the chance to customize how their earbuds sound as well. That would take these to a whole other level, and one even more worthy of the Pro moniker.
Google looks to take things up a notch with the Pixel Buds Pro, clarifying the sound, while also finally integrating good active noise cancelation and transparency to complement a pretty good pair of earbuds.
Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.
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