GOogle’s latest Pixel Buds got the ‘pro’ treatment, with better sound, noise reduction, Bluetooth multipoint and a more comfortable design aimed to rival Apple’s AirPods Pro, but for Apple users. ‘Android.
The Pixel Buds Pro cost £179 ($199/A$299), above the company’s £100 Pixel Buds A-Series like Google’s new top model. They will work with any standard Bluetooth device, including PCs and iPhones, but have special features designed for Android.
They’re larger than the A-series headphones, but have an equally understated, friendly look that doesn’t protrude far from your ear. A smooth plastic cap with a subtle “G” mark is all people see when they’re in your ear.
The headphones are held in place with a traditional silicone tip, three sizes of which are included in the box. They feel secure and comfortable to wear even for long periods of time without the “hip” feel of some similar models, but a lack of a stabilizing wing makes them less suitable for exercise.
The colorful cap is tactile for a set of highly effective gesture controls. Press once to pause or play, twice and three times to skip tracks, or press and hold to turn noise cancellation on or off. Swipe forward and back for volume control, which is welcome. Music pauses when you take an earbud out and resumes when you reinsert it.
The Buds Pro last up to seven hours of noise-cancelled playback, which is longer than many rivals. They magnetically clip into a flip-up battery case, which is easily pocketable and can recharge the headphones just under three times for a total of 20 hours of playtime. A five-minute quick charge of the headphones adds an hour of listening time.
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5, SBC, AAC
Battery life: seven hours (ANC) plus up to 20 hours with case
Dimensions and weight of the case: 63.2 x 50 x 25mm; 70%
Headphone dimensions and weight: 23.7 x 22 x 22.3mm; 6.2g each
Water resistance: headphones IPX4 (splash); IPX2 housing
Driver Size: 11mm
Charging the case: USB-C, Qi wireless
Good sound and noise reduction
The Buds Pro are Google’s best-sounding headphones to date. They produce super clear sound with excellent tonal separation, even on complex tracks. The bass is precise and punchy, reaching the deepest notes, the midtones are rounded and the highs are quite detailed, sounding great in most musical genres.
They’re pretty bass heavy and can sound a little too clean in some tracks, lacking a bit of raw grunge energy, but I think most will appreciate them. Volume EQ boosts low and mid tones for better balance at lower volumes. Google promises to add full EQ and Spatial Sound for immersive movie surround sound via updates later this year.
Overall, these are great headphones that take a step up from everyday listening, just short of the best from Sennheiser and Sony.
Noise reduction is also capable, reducing most low rumble, road noise and fan noise, and matching the performance of Apple’s AirPods Pro. They don’t perform as well as Sony’s best, struggling more with higher tones such as keyboard clicks, but are still very good overall. They do suffer a bit from wind noise, and their ambient awareness mode is good but not as natural as the best.
Finally, call quality was very good, sounding natural and clear even in noisy environments, although some background street noise did creep into the call.
Connectivity and Settings
The Buds Pro are standard Bluetooth 5 headphones, supporting standard SBC and AAC audio formats and Google’s Quick Pair with Android. They can be used in mono, which is convenient for calls, and support seamless switching between paired devices. They support multipoint for connecting to two devices simultaneously, such as a phone for calls and a laptop for music.
They have Google’s new automatic audio switching system that connects the Buds Pro to whichever of your Android phones or tablets takes a call or plays media. It doesn’t work with PCs, Macs, or other devices, so multipoint is generally more useful.
Google Assistant is another advanced feature that only works with Android. Touch and hold either earbud or use the wake phrase “Hey Google” to then have it read your notifications or messages, send replies, control music playback, adjust volume, give you directions from Google Maps, perform real-time translation with Google Translate and other tasks.
Google doesn’t provide an expected battery life, but it should last over 500 full charge cycles to at least 80% of its original capacity. Like most wireless headphones, the Pixel Buds Pro aren’t repairable, which ultimately makes them disposable.
The case contains recycled rare earth elements. The company publishes environmental impact reports for some of its products, but not for headphones. It recycle old devices for free.
The Google Pixel Buds Pro cost £179 ($199/AU$299) in a choice of colours.
For comparison Sony WF-1000XM4 cost £199, Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 cost £219.99, Beats Fit Pro cost £199, Apple AirPods Pro cost £239, Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro cost £149, Jabra cost Elite 7 Pro £199, Bose QC Earphones cost £209.95, and Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 cost £99.
With the Pixel Buds Pro, Google has finally nailed Bluetooth headphones.
They’re comfortable, sound great and have solid noise cancellation, and the battery lasts a good seven hours. The controls are excellent, as is the pocket holster. They have useful features such as multipoint connectivity for more than one device at a time and good call quality.
While some flashier features are limited to Android – I wouldn’t recommend buying them if you’re not primarily using an Android phone – the basics work just as well with PCs and iPhones if you have a mix of devices.
They’re beaten on sound quality and noise reduction by the best, but for everyday headphones the Pixel Buds Pro are excellent and also undercut their best price rivals.
You can’t repair the headphones or replace the battery, which ultimately makes them disposable and loses them a star.
Advantages: great sound, effective noise reduction, long battery life, very comfortable, good case, great controls, fast pair, multipoint, fancy Google Assistant functionality with Android.
Versus: no high quality bluetooth audio formats, no cross-platform settings app, pending updates for equalizer and spatial audio, case marks easily, no stabilizer wings for exercise, not serviceable .