Piece de Assistance
Now you’re going to read about some of the things the Pixel Buds Pro can do, but let’s start with the price. At 199 dollars or 220 Euros, you’re going to have to do something outstanding to… stand out. At least in today’s market. Samsung, Apple, Sony, Sennheiser, Jabra, SoundCore, Edifier, 1More, Bose – all these companies have products at this price and some even cheaper that do everything the Pixel Buds Pro claim to do. So why would you get it?
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Well, with Google – it’s all about getting you and keeping you into that Google ecosystem. We’ll come to the sound, ANC and all that good stuff in a bit. But this is clearly a showcase for the Google Assistant to live on one more place – your earbuds. Now – this isn’t new – so many headphones and earbuds already can have Google assistant enabled on the earbuds.
But hey Google – at least be a little subtle about it. We like your assistant, but seriously the default setting is to have long press on both earbuds activate assistant? I switched the left one to ANC / transparency and right one to Google Assistant – as Google knows it should be. Using the assistant itself is very responsive. You can do all the Googly things like asking about the weather etc. You can go one step further and reply to messages etc using just your voice. And you can even do system-y things like switching to noise cancelling and check battery levels on the headphones and our phone by just asking Google Assistant. The weird thing is we didn’t notice any special integration with a Pixel phone except that you see all the options directly in the bluetooth menu. On a Samsung phone for example, it was one tap away.
And you know what – the assistant exclusive to the Pixel Buds Pro. Pixel is probably Google’s vision on how they would like to see assistant integration into earbuds. So – you know- Big Brother’s got another platform to harvest your data. Search, Android and now… earbuds. But we digress.
The Pro Isn’t for Sound
From smarts to sound. Let’s talk about it. Look if you’re one of our fellow audio nerds, following this channel – these sound… fine. To start with they’re AAC only, and that shows. For certain recordings – these sound really good. Especially for warmer recordings without too much high end sparkle.
The frequency response curve we generated reflects that. There’s loads of bass and plenty of sub bass rumble and bassheads are going to like the custom-designed 11 mm dynamic speaker drivers. But weirdly in terms of volume – they got way louder on my Samsung phone than on my Pixel phone – go figure! But then come the downsides. There is no hi-res codec to be found anywhere in the specs. The soundstage seems very limited. The timbre is excellent for the most part, but at this price we’re going to have to say that the treble is a weakness. With so much bass presence, the higher frequencies are definitely a bit muted. And it sometimes feels that Google’s trying to mask the low resolution by turning the treble down in the mix. When the treble does surface it makes these buds sound a bit worse for this price. Google has one feature to boost bass and treble at lower volumes so if you listen to music at lower volumes, this might be helpful. And that combined with the lack of EQ, make these firmly a B+ for sound.
But if the Pro isn’t for sound – what is it? Let’s talk about noise canceling and transparency performance.
A solid Pro on ANC and transparency
The noise cancelling is legit top tier stuff! In 2022 we have a lot more excellent noise cancelling options than we did before, but we were very impressed with the low end noise reduction on the Pixel Buds Pro. We could see these being a very comfortable set of buds for a commute since engine and air conditioning noises are all but absent. When it comes to voices, they are a bit more present however. They are definitely turned down, don’t get us wrong, but it doesn’t do as good a job on those sounds as it does on the engine sounds.
For reference – the ANC is comparable to the best in the business for low end ANC. And yes we include the Sonys and the Bose in that list. If you’ve got ANC on and you’re in the wind then they’re similar to most top tier buds. Mostly blocked out, although we hear it a little bit from certain angles.
The transparency on these is also very good. Voices sound clear but not really up to the AirPods Pro or Galaxy Buds Pro level. Also, there’s VERY low white noise in transparency which is impressive. What this means is that if you’re using this in a quiet space like an office or a home, you can have these on transparency pretty much all day long since there’s almost no additional noise you’re hearing. The only thing we can fault these on ANC and transparency is that they have absolutely no customisation. It’s either on or off and that’s it. No sliders, levels or any kind of adjustment to either the transparency or the ANC. Reminds us very much of the AirPods Pro. And you know what – that’s all right by us.
Let’s also talk a little bit about the occlusion effect – you know, that feeling of hearing your own voice through your skull. The Pixel Buds Pro does a decent job at trying to reduce this, but by no means have fully gotten rid of it.
The Pixel Buds Pro comes with three microphones in each earbud, a voice accelerometer, wind-block mesh covers and a ticket to Mr Beasts’s Willy Wonka chocolate factory. Ok not that last one – but we’re not easily impressed by specs and marketing speak. Take a listen for yourselves HERE (headphones are recommended).
So here’s our conclusion guys. First off, we’re very happy we chose these three earbuds, because each of them has a very different philosophy when it comes to cancelling out noise. In terms of quiet conditions, we would be happy with any of these buds. The Sony LinkBuds S tries to cancel out all the sounds, the Samsung Buds Pro kinda lets you hear all the sounds and the Pixel Buds Pro is somewhere in between. And in terms of the vakman controls, they’re not bad. Except for being able to mute, you get the basics to answer or hang up and volume controls.
The fit is on point
The comfort and fit have been on point so far. The buds don’t fall out and seem pretty comfortable if you’re ok with the penetrative style silicone tips that have pretty much become standard across the board.
However maybe it’s the design or the penetration level, after using these for an hour or so there was some definite feelings of violation of our earholes. We didn’t think they were the most comfortable – but of course – your conchas may disagree with our conchas. And it’s a free world. For conchas at least.
Anyway, where were we? You get only three tips in the box and the tips and the design led to a very secure fit and we can see ourselves using these for workouts. And you know what – this is a small touch, but THANK you Google for giving us that little cylinder to hold and store the tips. Most other companies give you flimsy plastic bags or one time paper storage, so this is really nice – no fiddling about and the tips can go right back where they came from.
Pro Build and Battery
And speaking of workouts, the numbers here are unfortunately the bare minimum. IPX4 water resistance for the earbuds that should work well against a light sweat or a bit of a drizzle, but nothing heavier. The case is IPX2 rated which means it’s protected at water spraying at 15 degrees vertically? So maybe a very specific kind of rain? Either way, we’ll take what we can get when it comes to the case, though the buds are strictly the bare minimum.
But we love everything else about the build and design. The touch controls are responsive and work very well. Swipe forward and back for volume is different from anything else we’ve tried. And it works pretty well. However the only gesture you can customise is the touch and hold gesture. As we said we use one bud for the Google Assistant and the other to switch noise canceling modes.
The buds look smaller in person than I expected. Most of the tech seems to be stuffed into the part between the touch surface and the eartips, so what you see in your ears isn’t invisible but also isn’t ginormous. *Cough* Bose Quiet Comfort *cough*. Google has 4 colors for the buds only – charcoal, grass, lemongrass and Coral. We have the lemongrass here.
Because of that design, the adjustment surface area is different from the control surface area. What do we mean? Say the buds get loose after a while – you can easily adjust the buds. No accidental touches while doing so. This is one thing Samsung got wrong because if you don’t get an optimum fit on the Galaxy Buds Pro, adjusting the fit always leads to some accidental touches which gets annoying because – first they don’t fit and -then they pause your audio?
And on the subject of the case, its size and shape is something we can appreciate. Skinny jeans might be out of fashion, but if they ever do come back, you can still rock this case in the front pocket and not be fired from work for being too suggestive.
The battery life is a respectable 7 hours with ANC turned on and 11 hours without. Total battery life with the case is 31 hours. Wireless charging is also on board.
The Pixel Buds Pro is… limited. It lets you do the basics and not much else as we’ve pointed out. And should we even bother saying it… no it’s not available on the iOS App Store for those of you with your fruit-emblazoned devices.
And speaking of the fruit company, Google also has a deeper integration for the Pixel Buds Pro on Pixel devices. So as soon as you hit that gear icon on the Bluetooth menu next to the Pixel Buds Pro – all options become immediately visible. On a Samsung phone, only a few of the options are visible at first glance. For things like touch control, sound settings, eartips seal check and more advanced features, you will have to open the Pixel Buds app.
Interestingly, on the Google Pixel 6A we have, we could not uninstall the Pixel Buds app, but only disable it. Again – a very clear ecosystem play from Google. Here’s a thought – the ‘pure Android’ experience you’ve been talking about has just been a ‘pure Google’ experience. Chew on that.
I must say that the Android app-switchy-thing which is connected to your Google account works quite well. IF anything it works annoyingly well. If you have two Android phones, the notification keeps popping up that you have a device available and it kinda got on my nerves when I didn’t want to see it. But you know what – this is not a Pixel exclusive. Sony earphones, among others can do this as well.
And then there’s multipoint. This is just plain’ ol regular multipoint and can be used across any source device that support Bluetooth – Android, iOS, Windows, MacOS, washing machines… But in our experience, being connected to a Mac and Android, it wasn’t quite as reliable. So – pretty much par for the course when it comes to multipoint these days.
Also if you don’t like multipoint or want to connect to more than 2 devices, you can still pull connection from a third device which you’ve paired these buds with. This is brutally underrated and you don’t have to go through the whole rigmarole of pairing these buds again.
And lastly, but not leastly? Last but not least – the case has a physical button that can help out with putting these buds into pairing mode if things start malfunctioning.
When it comes to extra features, the Pro buds do them all. In-ear sensor? Check. Single bud use? Check. Wireless charging? Check. The one annoying thing is the loud tone it plays to indicate that it’s connected – every time you put these things in your ear. Hey Google – can you fix that?
So should you buy the Pixel Buds Pro? Well – that depends. What Kind of Pro are you? If audio is not going to be the main reason why you buy buds, then these are a pretty good bet. Don’t get us wrong – this is a fantastic product for most people. But if you’re an audio nerd, this isn’t going to be what you want.
Except for audio, it’s very pro on all other fronts. If you’re the kind of Pro who needs the fantastic ANC and transparency, great design, incredible battery life, above average calls, then these are very much Pro level buds. But if sound is solely what you want – you can get much better sound for much less.
You’ve been reading another PROlific review, and we’ve been DHRME. Namaste!