Google Pixel Buds Pro review: Great true wireless earbuds for Android users
Google Pixel Buds Pro review: Great true wireless earbuds for Android users
The first "Pro" Pixel Buds
Why a company with the vast resources of Google would need nearly five years to release flagship-class true wireless earbuds will forever remain a mystery. But, the Google Pixel Buds Pro is finally here and it is the company’s most premium and advanced earbuds yet.
It has all the features you’d expect from a set of flagship-class earbuds: active noise-cancellation, water resistance, an ambient sound mode, wireless charging, multipoint connectivity, and more. And what’s particularly exciting about the Pixel Buds Pro is that, at S$299, it’s one of the more affordable flagship-class true wireless earbuds that you can buy. So, it comes at a great price and has loads of features, but is it any good? Let's find out.
Design & features
The Pixel Buds Pro resemble the Pixel Buds A-Series of last year. The charging case looks similar and the earbuds themselves look like the Pixel Buds A-Series earbuds minus the ear hooks.
Though the Pixel Buds Pro was announced in four colours, only one will be available in Singapore (don’t ask why) and that’s Charcoal, which is really just a fancy way of saying it’s black. The charging case is white so the entire device has a dramatic monochromatic Stormtrooper-like colour scheme going for it.
The charging case charges via USB-C and supports wireless charging. Claimed battery life is up to 7 hours with ANC turned on and up to 20 hours with the charging case. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to properly test these claims. What I can tell you, however, is that the earbuds lasted a few work days with on-and-off listening (approximately 15 hours in total) without requiring a charge. So Google’s claims are probably right.
The crucial bit is that the Pixel Buds Pro is compact. The charging case is roughly the same size as the AirPods Pro’s which also means it’ll fit into pockets easily. The earbuds themselves have a smooth bean-like shape and are light. They will slide into ears easily and sit there comfortably for hours.
Google provides a pair of smaller and larger eartips and I found that I needed the larger ones to get a good fit. The buds felt quite snug once I had the larger eartips but it doesn’t quite feel as secure as some of its rivals like the Apple AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM4. Part of the reason why is because the silicone tips don’t go quite as deep. The upside, of course, is that these earbuds are more comfortable to wear – particularly for folks who have an aversion to sticking things into their ears. You can take these earbuds exercising because it has an IPX4 water resistance rating.
As you’d expect from Google’s flagship-class earbuds, the Pixel Buds Pro has a fast pairing feature that works with any Android 6.0+ device. Also, the Pixel Buds Pro have touch sensors and it’s one of the better implementations I’ve seen. To start, the sensors are responsive and, by default, the touch sensors will let you adjust volume, control playback, and activate Google Assistant. I’d recommend going into the Pixel Buds app (more on it later) and customising it a little so that one earbud activates Google Assistant and the other toggles between the ANC and Transparency modes. This way, you have full control over the earbuds.
The Pixel Buds Pro also work with the Pixel Buds app. The app is clean and easy to use, but light on features. It lets users customise the touch sensors and Google Assistant features, and there’s a handy eartip seal test if you are not sure you are wearing the buds correctly, and that’s about it. You can’t adjust the level of ANC like you can with Sonys and, very curiously, there’s no EQ function either so you are stuck with how the buds sound.
Also strange is that Pixel Buds Pro support multipoint connection but it is not enabled by default. You need the app to turn it on. But once you do, it works flawlessly. It switches between source devices very seamlessly.
Noise cancellation & transparency mode
This is the first Pixel Buds to have active noise cancellation but Google is coy about how it works. It would only say that the feature is possible because of a custom 6-core audio chip “that runs Google-developed algorithms.” It also touts a technology called Silent Seal that “adapts” to your ear shape and maximises the amount of noise blocked. They also say each earbud has three mics.
That's all nice and, crucially, it all works. The active noise cancellation feature on the Pixel Buds Pro is easily one of the best I’ve heard. Of course, part of this will be dependent on how good of a seal you can achieve. I don't have Sony's WF-1000XM4 with me right now, but based off my memory, I think the Pixel Buds Pro are almost as good. It’s eerily competent at blocking out low frequencies noises and also wind noise.
There’s also an ambient sound mode that Google calls Transparency Mode that lets you hear your surroundings. According to Google, the Pixel Buds “processes a wide range of frequencies with low latency” to keep the effect sounding natural and in sync. The end result, I’m afraid, is not quite as good. While there’s no discernible lag between what you hear and what’s happening, there’s an uneasy sense that some frequencies are thrown away and some are over-emphasised. I’m not sure I can trust it. The consolation is that whatever you do hear actually sounds quite natural.
Sound comes from custom-designed 11mm dynamic drivers. Google didn’t reveal the material for the driver's diaphragm. However, they did say that the drivers are tuned in-house by their own audio engineering team with an emphasis on clean bass, clarity, and dynamics.
The first thing I noticed about the Pixel Buds Pro is how wide they sound and how much it sounds like I was listening to speakers. Imaging and staging are excellent for earbuds.
True enough, the bass is indeed very clean, with only just the slightest amount of bloat to give it a sense of body. However, the overall levels are low, making the Pixel Buds Pro one of the more bass-shy earbuds I’ve heard. The quality is irreproachable, but it could use a little more quantity. And because the app doesn’t have an EQ feature, you’ll can’t change the way it sounds.
Fortunately, the mids and treble are very good. The mids are smooth and full-bodied, while the treble is clear and easy on the ears. The net effect of these is that the Pixel Buds Pro has outstanding clarity and sense of air.
If there’s anything I would nitpick, it would be the decay (the way sound ends). Notes seem to drop-off and end abruptly. This seems most evident on drums and strings. This results in the Pixel Buds Pro sounding a little artificial and synthesised, especially if you are listening to music with a lot of drums and strings, like rock or jazz.
But overall, the Pixel Buds Pro are easily one of the better-sounding earbuds you can buy today. As I said, it could do with more bass energy and a more natural-sounding decay, but the staging and the way it handles mids and treble are so good that it’s easy to overlook these shortcomings.
Android users can rejoice at the knowledge that there’s now another excellent true wireless earbuds that they can buy. The Pixel Buds Pro has deep integration with Android, excellent ANC, good battery life, and sounds quite great. And as I said in the beginning, at S$299, it’s one of the more affordable flagship-class true wireless earbuds available. And when you consider its features and how competent it is, it turns out it's also one of the best value-for-money earbuds you can buy. Considering this is Google’s first attempt at a high-end earbud with ANC, it’s an impressive and mostly wonderful effort.