Time really can fly when it’s the summer, product events keep popping off, travel happens, and everywhere you turn there’s another device to add to the review list. I mention all of that because we gave you our “first listen” thoughts on the Google Pixel Buds Pro almost a full month ago. I have no idea where the past several weeks went, but I can imagine some of you want to get those final thoughts on whether or not Google really nailed it with their most expensive earbuds to date.
What are the Pixel Buds Pro?
To quickly recap, the Pixel Buds Pro are Google’s latest earbuds and first true wireless earbuds with Active Noise Cancellation (ANC). They also happen to be quite expensive at $199.99. They come in four colors: Charcoal, Lemongrass, Coral, and Fog.
Google rates these new Pixel Buds Pro has having up to 31 hours of battery life with ANC off and up to 20 hours with it on, thanks to the extra charge you’ll get from the battery in the case. During a single listening session, that should mean 11 hours (ANC off) or 7 hours (ANC on) of use.
Each bud features touch controls with swipes of forward or backward (volume up or down), single/double/triple taps, and a long-press or touch & hold. Nothing can be customized outside of the touch & hold, where you can set that action to either toggle Google Assistant or ANC settings. These settings can be different on each bud.
The included case has wireless charging and also charges via USB-C port. The connection to your phone or computer is via Bluetooth 5.0, there’s IPX4 water resistance in the buds (IPX2 in the case), and 3 microphones with wind-blocking mesh covers to help with your conversations. You also get access to a Pixel Buds app that lets you control those touch controls I mentioned, turn on or off the smart Volume EQ setting, access Multipoint and Audio Switch toggles, and more.
Finally, the ANC options include ANC on or off as well as a Transparency mode. This mode tries to amplify noise in the world in real-time to help you, you know, cross the street safely or carry on a conversation from someone in the room with you.
So, are the Pixel Buds Pro any good?
For this review period, I’ve used two different pairs of the Pixel Buds Pro, the Charcoal pair that Google sent me to test and a Fog pair that I purchased to use going forward. For the first week or two I used the Charcoal pair and have since been on the Fog pair. There are no differences in the two other than the external color. They have the same case, same sets of features, and to my ears, sound the same.
How they fit
I’m going to poach from my “first listen” here and say that I still think these sound pretty phenomenal. Again, though, Google’s Pixel Buds all seem to fit my ears perfectly out of the box and that doesn’t change with the Pixel Buds Pro. The sound and fit experience may differ for you, but I couldn’t really have asked for a better out-of-box start.
That fit, which doesn’t use any sort of wing tips (it does come with difference sizes of ear tips), magically squeeze into my ears and rarely wiggle or budge. I’ve worked out in the gym, taken them for runs, used them in my office, and done outside housework and haven’t had a bud fall out yet. I really don’t think I could move in any other ways to get them to fallout unless I tried hanging upside or something. I’m not going to do that – I’m old and would hurt myself.
If there’s a negative to how the Pixel Buds Pro fit, it’s probably in their overall size. These are big ol’ buds, which I get because of the ANC and batteries, but they are beefy. Previous Pixel Buds all had this lightness to them that allowed me to wear them for extended periods of time without any fatigue. Over several weeks now, I’ve certainly experienced some ear fatigue after extended listens (an hour or more). I may be able to get more used to their size with daily lengthy listens or their weight and bulk may always give me some problems. Tough to know just yet.
So while the Pixel Buds Pro fit like a glove out of the box and don’t budge no matter what I’m doing when wearing them, they are a bit heavy and bulky in my ears. They may sound great, but wearing them for hours on end could be tiring.
Speaking of how they sound…
Several weeks into this test and my thoughts on how the Pixel Buds Pro sound basically match what I said out of the gate. In case you missed it, here’s the big part of that initial listen:
There is a smooth, deepness to the bass that really holds up in satisfying ways that most true wireless earbuds can’t. Highs have a richness and clarity that’s intoxicating. There’s an excitement when you throw a big booming song at the Buds Pro. Yes, I ran my typical test of The Weeknd’s “High For This” and these passed with flying colors. I threw a bunch of Labrinth and his wild digital beats and heavy bass at them, once again coming away happy. I brought out Jeff Buckley for the first time in a while to try and feel that emotion and your boy is tearing up now. OK, that’s a bit much. Old Caamp, after overplaying it the past two years, sounded fresh again. This is head-filling sound at its best.
I’ve since added the whiny awfulness that is old Dashboard Confessional “Unplugged,” Ray LaMontagne, Ghostface Killah, and more at these Buds Pro and my takeway remains that I love the sound. If I want clear rawness, soulful elegance, or one of the greatest rappers of all time to bless my ears, I’d happily reach for the Pixel Buds Pro and turn on ANC. Nothing sounds phony or too digital or like the ANC is distorting sound in unflattering ways that an algorithm thinks you might enjoy.
For sessions where I want richly pleasant audio and the outside world to disappear a bit, I’ll probably continue to use the Pixel Buds Pro going forward. I’m thinking about when in my office or on an airplane or the couch at night while my wife consumes Virgin River and I need a way to remain present in spirit, I’ll use these. For a more active experience, like when out on a run, I think the weight and size might keep these away from my ears and I’ll probably go back to my cheap Pixel Buds A on occasions.
Other things I like
- Battery life: I haven’t had any issues with battery life, probably because I’ll never hit battery limits when using a pair of earbuds. I don’t live the type of life that requires earbuds in for more than an hour or an hour and half at a time at max. I work from home, don’t commute, and step out in public by myself infrequently enough that wearing earbuds isn’t generally something I do that often. But when I have worn these, I’m getting right around what Google promises for battery estimates. I’ve had ANC on for the past 30 minutes and I’m down 7%. Calculate that out and I’d hit 7 hours of use before they died. With ANC off, my tests have always approached the 11-hour mark.
- Touch controls: Google brought back forward and backward volume controls that I’ve missed while using the A-Series. These touch controls are so good and really just work. They are sensitive yet not too sensitive in a way that could be annoying. Taps are precise, the swipes give you easy access to volume, and the long-press to switch ANC modes or fire up Assistant have brought no issues. These are the best touch controls in the business (still).
- The case: The case that Google used for the Pixel Buds Pro is a lot like the case from the Pixel Buds (2nd Gen). That’s a good thing, as this case is clicky and flippy in addicting ways, it charges quickly, and has a nice weight to it. When you hold these buds or toss them in a pocket or bag, they feel premium, like you are getting what you paid for. The addition of wireless charging is also a nice bonus.
- Firmware updates: In this first month of ownership, Google has sent at least two or three updates to the Pixel Buds Pro already. If there’s one thing you know you’ll get with a Pixel product, it’s great software support. Assuming there are no hardware defects on the Pixel Buds Pro, these really should only get better and better. That’s exciting,
- Google Assistant: It works really well on these earbuds. You can say “OK, Google” without shouting and it’ll fire up quite quickly. While I don’t use it for a ton of actions, setting reminders, asking about my day, or checking notifications work as seamlessly in my day with these in as a Nest Hub or my phone.
- Multipoint connections: The Pixel Buds Pro allow you to connect to two Bluetooth devices at a time and will try to intelligently or automatically switch to one of the devices if a call comes through. You can also quickly switch between the two as an audio source. In my limited testing (because I rarely take or place calls), this works well. If anything, I can tell you that switching media sources is super simple and works as advertised.
- Calls: Here’s one of my review flaws when it comes to earbuds and I know you’ll be upset about this, but yeah, I only took a couple of calls on these and probably can’t offer you a proper take. I just don’t call or talk to many people on the phone, unfortunately. However, I did talk at length with my dad on these and could hear him clearly. He also didn’t say anything about the connection being poor on his end. This is simply one of those areas you’ll have to rely on other reviews and what they say. Apologies.
What could use some work?
- Real EQ settings or presets: Google may one day give us EQ settings for Pixel Buds, but they haven’t yet. And I’m well aware that most phones from companies like Samsung have built-in EQ options, so maybe Google doesn’t need to do that. But I’d really like for the Pixel Buds app to offer some presets or something. When you listen to the Pixel Buds Pro, you have no control over the sound. There’s a “Volume EQ” option, but it’s sole task is to “enhance bass and treble frequencies at lower volume levels.” I want to be able to further tweak the sound to my style or depending on the type of music.
- Transparency mode is OK: Transparency mode is supposed to help you still hear your surroundings while providing a high-end audio experience. It’s worked OK for me during testing. For one, there’s a noticeable humming when the mode is turned on, probably because it’s actively listening for your surroundings. But sounds like a person talking or a car driving come through inconsistently. For example, as I’m typing this review, I’m sitting outside and my wife is watering her flowers and (I think) talking to me. The conversation is mostly one-sided because I’m not hearing much of her, the hose, or any of the other sounds she’s making. Google can probably continue to tweak this, so I’ll give them a chance to do so.
We buying or what?
As mentioned above, I already bought a pair and plan to use the Pixel Buds Pro when I need a high-end audio experience in wireless form. And while they worked just fine during my workouts or runs or when on-the-go, the weight and beefiness of them was a bit tiring at times. However, I’ll continue to test in those situations to see if my ears will get used to them, because the sound is quite lovely and I’d rather not go back to the lower-end Pixel Buds A sound, even if those do fit lighter.
For you, the questions probably start at what your budget is. At $199, these are not cheap. You do get a lot of the high-end features you would expect at $200, along with ongoing software support. They also clock in $30 cheaper than Samsung’s new Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. My ears love these and for the price, I think they are worth it.