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Google Pixel Buds Pro Review: Nearly Perfect, No Thanks to the Sound Quality

Rating: 8/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $200
The Pixel Buds Pro in their charging case.
Andrew Heinzman / Review Geek

The all-new Pixel Buds Pro are packed to the brim with cool features, including a long battery life, hands-free Google Assistant, and finally, an ANC mode. They truly offer an exclusive experience, but at $200, you need to be okay with somewhat-underwhelming sound quality.

Here's What We Like

  • Impressive ANC and Transparency modes
  • All-day battery
  • Hands-free Google Assistant
  • Bluetooth Multipoint support
  • Very comfortable design

And What We Don't

  • Scooped mid-range frequencies, lacks energy and punch
  • AAC and SBC codecs only
  • Some features don't work on iPhone
  • Custom EQ and Spatial Audio aren't available at launch

Comfortable Design, Easy Pairing Process

  • Earbud Weight: 0.22 oz each
  • Case Weight: 1.76 oz (2.2 oz with earbuds)
  • Earbud IPX Rating: IPX4
  • Case IPX Rating: IPX2
  • Fast Pair: Yes

After implementing some questionable design choices with the Pixel Buds and Pixel Buds A, it seems that Google finally has its head on straight. The new Pixel Buds Pro does away with awkward stems and wingtips for a more tapered “bean-like” design. They’re quite comfortable, as the buds sort of “slot” into your ears instead of dangling from the tip of your ear canal.

The Pixel Buds Pro also has a decent IPX4 splash-resistance rating, which is good enough for the gym (unless you sweat like Jordan Peele). And thanks to that tapered design, the earbuds won’t fall out and skid across the floor while you exercise—at least, that was my experience. Google only includes three sizes of eartips, so your mileage may vary.

But I’m honestly more impressed by the pairing process. With Android Fast Pair, your phone will automatically detect the Pixel Buds Pro and ask if you want to use them. There’s also a pairing button on the back of the charging case, which is much more responsive than the pairing I’ve used on other earbuds. Pairing Pixel Buds pro with a new device takes just seconds.

And hey, you may only use that pairing button once or twice. The Pixel Buds Pro supports multipoint Bluetooth, a feature that automatically switches your earbuds between two devices. If you get a call while listening to music on your laptop, for example, the earbuds will switch to your phone. I found that this feature is a bit hit or miss, but it’s better than nothing, and it means that I can have two Bluetooth connections saved to the Pixel Buds Pro.

Impressive ANC and Transparency Modes

Holding the Pixel Buds Pro case.
Andrew Heinzman / Review Geek

  • ANC and Transparency: Yes, but not adjustable

One of the huge selling points for the Pixel Buds Pro (if you’re a Google fan, at least), is that they’re the first Google earbuds with ANC. And to be honest, I didn’t expect much from this feature. I just assumed that Google couldn’t pull off active noise cancelation—I was wrong.

I had to do a double take when I first shoved the Pixel Buds Pro in my ears. The ANC is very effective when you’re sitting indoors. Road noise, fans, and A/C units disappear, and even some higher-frequency noises (like clinking silverware) are dampened by Google’s algorithm. I’ve definitely heard the ANC mess up a few times, and Apple’s ANC is still the winner, but Google’s got something great here.

The Transparency mode also exceeds my expectations. You can definitely wear these earbuds while working at a grocery store or walking downtown. But I do wish that I could adjust the intensity of Transparency mode (something I can do on my Sony earbuds). I don’t want Transparency mode to pump the sound of a range hood into my ears when I’m cooking; I just need to hear if someone’s trying to get my attention.

But Audio Quality Falls Short

The Pixel Buds Pro outside their Charging Case
Andrew Heinzman / Review Geek

  • Drivers: Custom 11mm dynamic drivers
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
  • Microphones: Six mics total with voice accelerometer and wind mesh

Unfortunately, the audio quality falls short of my expectations. The Pixel Buds Pro don’t have a lot of energy, punch, or clarity. Vocals sound muddy, drums are loud but flat, and treble-heavy sounds (like cymbals or really jangly guitars) don’t have enough sparkle. The stereo soundscape is also a bit narrow, which might be a consequence of the sub-heavy sound.

To my ears, it sounds like Google cranked up the sub-bass and a small band of treble frequencies. I’m going to make an educated guess and say that mid frequencies from around 200Hz to 1,500Hz are cut and that there’s an aggressive drop at the top end of the frequency spectrum.

This kind of “U-shaped” or “smiley face” curve can provide a very fun and energetic sound when done correctly, but Google’s implementation is lackluster. The company also includes an “Adaptive EQ” mode with these earbuds, which is supposed to enhance clarity when you’re in a noisy environment. But it just seems to exaggerate the “smiley face” curve. (By the way, if you own an iPhone, you have to enable Adaptive EQ using an Android device.)

The Pixel Buds Pro in black, red, gray, and green.
Google sells the Pixel Buds Pro in black, red, gray, and green. Google

And to my surprise, the Pixel Buds Pro only supports AAC and SBC audio codes. While the AAC codec can deliver high-quality sound, the lack of aptX support seems like a missed opportunity, especially for Android users who may listen to Tidal or other sources that can deliver audio at an aptX-grade bitrate.

I don’t think that the Pixel Buds Pro sound bad, but the audio quality doesn’t match the price. For what it’s worth, these earbuds don’t experience the drop-outs of previous Pixel Buds. They also have some pretty impressive microphones, which I found perfect for phone calls and video chats.

Additionally, Google says that custom EQ settings and Spatial Audio will arrive in the coming months. While I doubt that these features will totally transform the Pixel Buds Pro, they will certainly open the door to improved audio quality.

Intuitive and Responsive Touch Controls

The Pixel Buds Pro earbuds in green.

  • Control Method: Capacitive touch (tap, hold, swipe)
  • In-Ear Detection: Yes

Using the controls on wireless earbuds is usually a nightmare. But once again, Google did something great. The Pixel Buds Pro has a responsive, customizable, and surprisingly broad set of controls. You can tap to pause audio, double-tap to skip tracks, hold to activate ANC or Google Assistant, and swipe to adjust volume.

All of these controls are customizable. And notably, Google lets you turn on-ear detection, which automatically pauses music or videos when you remove the Pixel Buds Pro from your ears. (But iPhone users have to enable this feature on an Android device first.)

I found that the Pixel Buds Pro controls are quite responsive and accurate. Honestly, I’m surprised that the swipe gesture works so accurately. My only problem is that the Pixel Buds Pro are a bit touchy—it’s hard to adjust the earbuds without activating the pause control. (But this is probably just the trade-off for such a low-profile design.)

Now, all of these controls should reduce the need to pull out your phone. But if you want to take things to the next level, you need to be a fan of Google Assistant.

Wonderful Google Assistant Integration

  • Hands-Free Support: Yes, with wake word
  • Touch Control Support: Yes, tap and hold
  • Assistant Notifications: Yes
  • Real-Time Translate: Yes

In my mind, the original Pixel Buds were most notable for their Google Assistant integration. The ability to make calls, compose messages, request songs, control smart devices, set reminders, and pull up Maps from a pair of earbuds is pretty amazing. Especially when you can do it hands-free.

Google continues this Assistant integration with the Pixel Buds Pro. And the results are pretty magnificent. You just ask “Hey, Google” or press and hold an earbud to bring up the Assistant. From there, it’s just like using Assistant from your phone—not that you’ll need to use your phone much if you take advantage of hands-free Assistant.

I’m also a fan of how Pixel Buds Pro handles notifications with Assistant. When you receive an important notification, the earbuds play a chime sound and read you a quick summary. You can press and hold an earbud to hear the notification in full, and if it’s a text message, you can immediately respond. (You only get these notifications with Assistant enabled.)

I should also note that Google’s real-time Translate works on the Pixel Buds Pro. It’s an impressive feature that pumps an interpreter’s voice in your ear. That said, you still need to pull out your smartphone to use this feature.

But the best part of this Google Assistant integration has nothing to do with Assistant. It’s the Pixel Buds Pro’s crazy battery life.

A Battery Life That’ll Last Your Entire Shift

The Pixel Buds Pro on a table
Andrew Heinzman / Review Geek

  • Earbud Playtime: 11 hours (7 hours with ANC)
  • Total Playtime with Case: 31 hours (20 hours with ANC)
  • Charging: USB-C and Qi Wireless Charging
  • Included Charging Cable: None

The Apple AirPods last about 5 hours before they need to sit in their charging case. And hey, that’s not too bad. But it’s not nearly enough for a full day of work, especially if you need to make phone calls (which eat up extra battery life). In this regard, the Pixel Buds Pro absolutely crushes Apple’s AirPods.

According to Google, the Pixel Buds Pro has an 11-hour playtime (or 7 hours with ANC). I tested this claim against my better judgment, and it’s totally accurate. You even get an extra 20 hours with the charging case, giving you a total 31 hours of listening per charge.

Most people aren’t going to wear their earbuds for 11 hours straight. But if you wear earbuds while working, you will be very satisfied by this battery life. And that’s doubly true if you use Google Assistant—you can respond to messages, hear notifications, or skip tracks for an entire shift without using your smartphone. It’s a very smart combination of features.

I’m surprised that these $200 earbuds don’t come with a charging cable, though. But I guess it makes sense. I’m sure we all have a couple of USB-C cables laying around and all that.

I should also note that the Pixel Buds Pro supports wireless charging. This is pretty bog standard for high-end wireless earbuds, but it’s still a nice feature, especially since it was missing from the Pixel Buds A.

The App Is Simple but Effective

In my day-to-day, I usually use Sony earbuds. And I’m sick of Sony’s over-complicated earbud app, which hides some neat features behind a bunch of stupid nonsense. So, Google’s Pixel Buds app is a breath of fresh air.

The Pixel Buds app is just plain bare-bones. There aren’t any wacky pictures or crazy animations—it’s just a bunch of settings. And that’s exactly what I want from an earbud app. Customizing controls, checking the Pixel Buds Pro’s firmware, and performing other basic tasks is a breeze.

Along with some control options, the Pixel Buds app has a “Fit Test” that checks if the earbuds fit properly. Not only will a proper fit improve the earbuds’ audio quality, but it will ensure that ANC blocks as much noise as possible.

I only have a few complaints here. First, the Pixel Buds app looks way prettier on devices running Android 12 or newer. I mainly tested the Pixel Buds Pro on a Galaxy S9, so I got the ugly experience. And more importantly, this app isn’t available on iOS. If you want to adjust any of the controls on the Pixel Buds Pro, you need an Android device.

The Gist: You’re Paying for Cool Features, Not Audio Quality

My cat licking the Pixel Buds Pro
He’s a freak. I hadn’t even tried the earbuds yet. Andrew Heinzman / Review Geek

The Pixel Buds Pro are worthy of their price tag, but not because of the audio quality. All of the other features, especially the battery life, ANC, and hands-free Google Assistant, are the true selling points here.

It’s an interesting situation. I’d happily pay $200 for a pair of earbuds with these features, and I don’t think I’m alone. But the audio quality isn’t up to scuff with competitors like Jabra, Sony, Sennheiser, and Apple.

So, if you’re looking for the best possible audio quality, check out those brands. But those who want to wear earbuds for 11 hours at a time while barking commands at Google Assistant should give the Pixel Buds Pro a shot.

Rating: 8/10
Price: $200

Here’s What We Like

  • Impressive ANC and Transparency modes
  • All-day battery
  • Hands-free Google Assistant
  • Bluetooth Multipoint support
  • Very comfortable design

And What We Don't

  • Scooped mid-range frequencies, lacks energy and punch
  • AAC and SBC codecs only
  • Some features don't work on iPhone
  • Custom EQ and Spatial Audio aren't available at launch

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew is the News Editor for Review Geek, where he covers breaking stories and manages the news team. He joined Life Savvy Media as a freelance writer in 2018 and has experience in a number of topics, including mobile hardware, audio, and IoT. Read Full Bio »