Google’s Pixel Buds have seen a few iterations, most of which have fallen flat on their faces. Until now, that is. The Pixel Buds A-Series—the newest and most affordable set of Pixel Buds—get a lot right. They’re comfortable, sound good, and come in at just $99.
Of course, there a few corners that had to be cut here—there’s no ANC (active noise cancelation) or transparency mode, nor do they have wireless charging. But that’s okay because they absolutely nail the basics. Which, for the price, is pretty much what you should expect anyway.
Note: While the full name of these is “Pixel Buds A-Series,” I will refer to them simply as Pixel Buds for the duration of this review. If I reference the older, more expensive Pixel Buds, I will make that clear. Otherwise, assume that all references to “Pixel Buds” mean “Pixel Buds A-Series.”
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To look at the Pixel Buds is to immediately know they’re different than other earbuds, mostly thanks to their built-in “wings.” (Google actually calls this a “stabilizer arc,” but pretty much everyone understands “wings,” so that’s what I’m going with.) I will never understand why more earbud manufacturers don’t adopt wings because they provide better comfort and a more stable fit.
They ship with three sets of silicone ear tips—small, medium, and large. As with most other earbuds, I find the large to offer the best fit, but of course, your mileage may vary. There’s nothing in the Pixel Buds’ settings that offers a fit test, which has become a bit of a mainstay with many modern earbuds, so you’ll have to find your perfect fit the old school way: by feel. Yeah, I know. It’s rough.
Once you find a comfortable fit, however, they should stay in place really well. I’ve read that some people have issues with the wings hurting their ears, but my colleague Justin Duino tells me that they’re more comfortable than the pricier Pixel Buds because the wings are softer and more flexible. I imagine they could potentially cause issues if you have little bitty ears—something I know nothing about (as indicated by the fact that I wear large tips).
One thing you’ll notice with the Pixel Buds (both the A Series and the, uh, regular ones) is that you never get that “clogged ear” feeling. With many other buds, this is an issue—if you use tips that provide the best seal, your ears feel clogged. The Pixel Buds have “spatial vents” that keep this from happening, and boy, does it work. This also helps maintain awareness without the need for transparency mode. However, I still wouldn’t suggest these for running/cycling/any other outdoor activity that also involves other people or cars.
In terms of features, the Pixel Buds have a few (and I mean a few) tricks up its sleeve. To start, these support fast pair on Android, so all you have to do is open the case, and your phone should see them. No need to jump into the Bluetooth menu or anything else. Just a tap or two, and you’re done.
Once paired, you get a few features right there in Android’s Bluetooth menu. You can quickly see the battery status for each bud at a glance, though you have to open the case with the buds in it and leave it for a few seconds to see its battery status. This is also where you’ll find Google Assistant settings, touch control tutorials, device location features, ear detection, and sound settings.
Unfortunately, these are all very basic. For example, the Sound section has an “EQ,” but it’s little more than a bass boost toggle. This is also where you can tweak Adaptive Sound features, which raises and lowers the volume in your earbuds in relation to ambient sounds. I found this to be finicky at best, as it would often change the volume for no real reason while I was sitting at my desk working. I disabled it pretty quickly.
And really, that’s all you get in terms of options. Like Pixel phones, Pixel Buds are designed for simplicity and meaningful features—you don’t buy Pixel products because you want the kitchen sink when it comes to options. You buy them for a clean, minimal, and thoughtful experience.
While they provide that, I would love to see a few more options—like a real EQ (even if it’s just a handful of presets!) and the option to change the touch controls. As of now, you can disable them or enable them, and that’s it.
Of course, the latter makes a bit more sense, as the Pixel Buds A-Series lacks any way to control the volume directly from the earbuds—that feature is reserved for the regular Pixel Buds. Weird flex, but okay. You still get play/pause (single tap), track controls (double and triple taps), and call controls (tap to answer, double/triple to deny). You can also interact with Google Assistant with a long press.
But again, they’re touch controls. I hate touch controls. You have to touch in just the right spot before they work. Tap too high or low, and you’re out of luck. Think you tapped the wrong spot, so you quickly tap again to make sure? There’s a good chance you just double-tapped. Ugh, touch controls. Buttons, man. I’m telling y’all. Buttons are where it’s at.
Finally, let’s touch on the case real quick. It’s a small, oval case. It’s roughly the same size as the AirPods Pro case, just slightly more egg-shaped and a lot less glossy. It’s similar to the regular Pixel Buds’ case, though the A-Series case lacks wireless charging (and before you ask, no, they’re not interchangeable). That’s a bummer, as it almost feels like a must at this point. I’ve tested more affordable earbuds that include the feature, too, so the omission here can’t be justified by price alone.
I have a confession: I started this review immediately after I finished writing the Sony WF-1000XM4 review. Those are the best-sounding earbuds I’ve ever heard, so it took a few days to get acclimated to the Pixel Buds. Compared to the Sonys, which are three times the cost, they don’t sound great.
But after I got over that short adjustment period, I actually really started to enjoy the Pixel Buds. I like clear audio with defined bass (and no mud), and I am by no means an audiophile. And for me, the Pixel Buds have very good sound quality. With the aforementioned bass boost toggle flipped on, I’m quite pleased with what the low end provided.
For reference, I turn to my favorite least-favorite song: Fireflies by Owl City. If you’ve read any of my other headphone or earbud reviews, you’ll know that I loathe this song, but it’s such a great track for testing speakers that I can’t quit it. Out of the box, the Pixel Buds are pretty underwhelming in the bass department, but as soon as you hit that little Boost toggle, all is well. The whole low end becomes pronounced and sounds great.
And that’s good because there aren’t any other adjustments past that—from here on out, you get what you get. Fortunately, what you get is quite good. It’s worth noting that these use the same drivers as the more expensive Pixel Buds, so if sound quality is the determining factor, there is literally no difference.
Past sound quality, however, well … there isn’t much else. There’s no ANC or transparency mode, though the spatial vents do help you hear what’s going on around you without removing the buds from your headholes (to an extent, anyway). When it comes down to it, the Pixel Buds A-Series are pretty basic ‘buds.
The whole time I was working on this review, I thought about my time with the Skullcandy Indy Fuel earbuds. I can’t believe it’s been a full year since I reviewed those (time flies when you’re having fun, right?)—at the time, they were incredibly impressive for $100. They even have a wireless charging case.
But today? Not so much. Especially when you put the Pixel Buds in the $100 conversation. These may be lacking wireless charging, but they sound significantly better. I say if you’re looking for a set of buds in the $100 price range and aren’t completely married to wireless charging, you can do much worse than the Pixel Buds.
And, really, it’s pretty hard to do better.
Here’s What We Like
- Extremely comfortable
- Good sound quality for the money
- Spatial vents are the real deal
And What We Don't
- No ANC or transparency
- No wireless charging