The Pixel Buds Pro Are a Good Reminder That Google Can Make Great Hardware, Too

The Pixel Buds Pro Are a Good Reminder That Google Can Make Great Hardware, Too
Image: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Arriving a year after the first Apple AirPods, the original Google Pixel Buds were some of the worst wireless earbuds we’ve ever tested: and they weren’t even truly wireless. Five years later, the new Pixel Buds Pro, which finally introduce active noise cancelling to Google’s wireless headphones, are the completely opposite experience. At $AU299, they’re Google’s most expensive to date, but sound fantastic, feel incredibly comfortable, and do a great job at tuning out the world around you.

Three years after the first ill-fated Pixel Buds, Google completely redesigned the product and delivered a new set of truly wireless Pixel Buds that were an excellent option in the ever-growing and highly competitive wireless earbuds market — despite a faint hiss that marred our review experience, and an expensive price tag that was hard to swallow without ANC. A year later, the Pixel Buds A-series brought with them a similarly solid experience, with a few small sacrifices to hit a very competitive $US99 ($137) price point, but again, no ANC. Our noise cancelling dreams were finally answered when Google announced the Pixel Buds Pro at I/O 2022 a few months ago, and now that we have them in hand, we’ve noticed not much else has changed — but not much needed to.

Google Pixel Buds Pro

WHAT IS IT?

The fourth iteration of the Google Pixel Buds wireless earbuds that finally introduce active noise cancellation.

PRICE

$AU299

LIKE

Decent battery life, great sound, and even better noise cancelling in a highly pocketable egg-shaped charging case that might become your next fidget toy obsession.

DISLIKE

$AU299 now feels on the pricier side for a pair of wireless earbuds, and Google has removed the extra wing that held previous versions securely in the ear.

Minor Hardware Tweaks

The thing that jumps out most about the new Pixel Buds Pro is that there’s really not that much physically different between them and their predecessors. After the disastrous first-gen Pixel Buds, Google is clearly taking an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” approach with the Pixel Buds Pro, and we have to agree with that strategy. The past few iterations have been very good.

The size and shape of the Pixel Buds Pro case makes them very easy to comfortably slip into a pocket. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)The size and shape of the Pixel Buds Pro case makes them very easy to comfortably slip into a pocket. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)

Like the redesigned Pixel Buds and the Pixel Buds A-Series, the Pixel Buds Pro come in an egg-shaped charging case with a slightly textured matte finish that feels great and is easily the most comfortable charging case to slip into a pocket.

The Pixel Buds Pro charging case (left) next to the AirPods Pro charging case (right). (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)The Pixel Buds Pro charging case (left) next to the AirPods Pro charging case (right). (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)

I’ve long preferred the generously rounded design of Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro charging cases over what’s included with every other pair of wireless earbuds I’ve ever tested, but the Pixel Buds Pro’s case is easily my new favourite, and repeatedly snapping its lid open and closed has quickly become my new fidget obsession, replacing the Zippo my family has banned me from ever touching again outside of a campsite.

The Pixel Buds Pro can be charged on a Qi wireless charging pad or with a USB-C cable. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)The Pixel Buds Pro can be charged on a Qi wireless charging pad or with a USB-C cable. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)

Unlike the $US99 ($137) Pixel Buds A-Series, the Pixel Buds Pro’s charging case does include wireless Qi charging alongside a USB-C port, and on the back you’ll find a button for manually activating its Bluetooth pairing mode or factory resetting the buds. Battery life gets a solid bump from five hours with the 2020 Pixel Buds and the A-Series to 11 hours on the new Pros, but that actually gets knocked down to about seven hours with ANC turned on, which most users are going to use all the time. That’s still better than average, and Google promises that a five minute break in the charging case provides enough of a top-up for an hour of listening with ANC active.

Bye-Bye Wings

Google’s hardware designs have never been groundbreaking, and the company seems to have a real aversion to bright, bold colours.

The colour options for the Pixel Buds Pro are very subtle and muted. We were sent the lemongrass option. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)The colour options for the Pixel Buds Pro are very subtle and muted. We were sent the lemongrass option. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)

The Pixel Buds Pro’s charging case is white with a black interior across the board, but the buds themselves are accented with one of four very subtle and subdued colours: charcoal, fog, coral, and lemongrass, which is the light green version we tested. Few people will consider the limited colour options a dealbreaker, but what might deter some longtime Pixel Buds fans is an omission our readers were quick to point out after the Pro’s Google I/O reveal.

Photo: Andrew Liszewski | GizmodoPhoto: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo

I find the Pixel Buds Pro earbuds very comfortable in the ear, and actually slightly more comfortable to wear than the AirPods Pro, thanks to the stemless design that disappears into the ear even better than on previous iterations.

The Pixel Buds Pro (left) are very compact and easy to comfortably wear, and forego the stem design used for the AirPods Pro (right). (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)The Pixel Buds Pro (left) are very compact and easy to comfortably wear, and forego the stem design used for the AirPods Pro (right). (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)

What’s missing this time around is the small silicone wing (or stabilizer arm, whatever you want to call it) that you’ll find on the 2020 Pixel Buds and the Pixel Buds A-Series. Swapping to the smallest of the three included silicone ear tip options provided a very secure and comfortable fit for me, but those who struggle with keeping earbuds in their ears are definitely going to miss that little wing that tucks into the flaps of the ear for an extra secure hold, especially during more physical activities.

Excellent ANC

The real upgrade that will have existing Pixel Buds fans considering the Pros and others thinking about jumping ship to Google’s offerings is obviously the addition of active noise cancellation on the Pixel Buds Pro. And it’s very good.

Three mesh-covered microphones on each earbud offer solid voice quality during calls and excellent noise cancellation capabilities. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)Three mesh-covered microphones on each earbud offer solid voice quality during calls and excellent noise cancellation capabilities. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)

Google made a big deal about the ANC in the Pixel Buds Pro being powered by a custom processor, and the results make a very compelling case to upgrade or switch, providing a very noticeable before and after listening experience when toggling the feature on and off.

The Pixel Buds Pro’s ANC isn’t quite as aggressive as what Sony managed to achieve with its WF-1000XM4 earbuds, which manage to eliminate most lower frequencies while also taking a generous bite out of higher frequencies as well. No ANC solution on the market offers complete silence when activated, and the ANC on the Pixel Buds Pro is still going to let a lot of high-frequency voice chatter slip through in an office or coffee shop setting, but I’m very impressed with how much noise they do cut down given how small they are. The Sony WF-1000XM4s still reign supreme as far as ANC performance on wireless earbuds goes, but hearing the sound of the fan in my office completely disappear through the Pixel Buds Pro is impressive and satisfying. More importantly: I actually like wearing the Pixel Buds Pro, whereas the WF-1000XM4s are bulky and very hard to keep perched in my ears. Sony seemingly prioritised function here, whereas Google has struck a really nice balance with form as well.

The Pixel Buds Pro also easily outperform Apple’s AirPods Pro when it comes to noise cancellation, but that’s not terribly surprising given the AirPods Pro are almost three years old at this point, and ripe for a long overdue hardware update.

Excellent Sound

With 11-millimetre drivers, some of the largest you’ll find in wireless earbuds, the Pixel Buds Pro sound really, really good, but can be a little heavy-handed with the bass when compared to the competition like the Apple AirPods Pro, which provide a more balanced soundscape. The drums at the beginning of Martin Solveig’s Smash are delivered with a very satisfying thumb and snap, but definitely feel like they dominate the track when popping up later on.

11-millimetre speaker drivers inside the Pixel Buds Pro offer excellent sound quality with satisfying bass performance. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)11-millimetre speaker drivers inside the Pixel Buds Pro offer excellent sound quality with satisfying bass performance. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo)

There’s good separation between highs and lows when boosting the volume through the Pixel Buds Pro (full volume was far too loud for my ears to take) although the bass gets a little too dominant when the buds get really loud, and at high volume, they weren’t completely free from distortion, particularly in tracks like Wig Wam’s Do Ya Wanna Taste It, where the electric guitar sounded like it was at war with the singer’s voice. But overall, the buds sound quite good.

Another feature Google likes to emphasise is Volume EQ, which dynamically adjusts the frequency curve of the earbuds to make whatever you’re listening to sound as good as possible no matter the environment. This includes effects like boosting the bass frequencies when the volume is low so it’s still present. I can’t say I noticed a big difference over the competition with lowered volume, but call quality through the buds was excellent either in my quiet office or in a crowded grocery store.

A No-Brainer For Android Users, But Apple Fans Might Want to Hold Off For Now

The Google Pixel Buds Pro sound better and offer much improved ANC performance over the long-in-the-tooth Apple AirPods Pro, and they pair with iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks as easily as any wireless earbuds available today do. But like with AirPods and iPhones, it’s a better and more streamlined experience pairing the Pixel Buds Pro with Android devices.

If you’re an Android user on the hunt for a new pair of buds, the Pixel Buds Pro are an excellent choice and offer Google-centric features like instant access to Google Assistant by just saying “Hey, Google” while paired to an Android device without having to push any buttons. I would even recommend them over options like Sony’s WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds if active noise cancellation is a priority for you, as the Pixel Buds Pro offer competitive ANC performance while being far more comfortable to wear.

Half of my testing with the Pixel Buds Pro was done with an iPhone 12 Pro, and they worked great with the device, but you do sacrifice some functionality like having more advanced settings options besides just toggling between ANC and ambient sound boosting, or being able to voice activate Google Assistant. If you’re all in on the Apple ecosystem, I would recommend holding off for a potential AirPods Pro update later this year before jumping ship to Google, but if Apple continues to let its AirPods Pro languish without a major update as long as the original AirPods did, Google’s new offerings are a seriously tempting alternative.