I’ve been using Google’s Pixel Buds since their first iteration a few years back, and just picked up the newest version, the Pixel Buds Pro (seen above in their “Lemongrass” colorway) because I was curious how this new “premium” version of the buds, complete with active noise cancellation, stacked up to the previous versions I’ve had. I got them today and have been fiddling with them since; here are some first impressions.
1. To begin, the ear buds themselves are both larger and have a different shape than the previous versions of the Pixel Buds, in part to accommodate the active noise cancellation. I understand that, but I preferred the previous design, in no small part because the last two iterations of the buds included little plastic “wingtips” that helped secure the buds into the ear. These don’t, and I’m already having problems with the left bud, because my left ear canal shape is such that non-secured buds of any sort have historically never stayed put without effort. I went for a short walk and the left bud fell out twice.
Some of that I can probably fix by changing the little rubber flange that fits inside the ear to a different size (the buds come with three different sizes for these), but it would have been even nicer — for me, anyway, your mileage may vary — if Google could have kept the wingtip design feature. As it is, for now I’m unlikely to use these particular buds for vigorous exercise or running.
2. Does the new active noise cancellation make up for the (slight) inconvenience of the missing wingtip? I suspect for a lot of folks, the answer will be yes. The ANC is pretty decent; it doesn’t block out noise like my Sony wh-1000xm4 headphones, but then I didn’t expect them to, because these are earbuds and the Sonys are over-the-ear headphones. A one-to-one comparison isn’t fair. The Pixel Bud Pros do bring the outside noise way down; I can still hear the world with the noise cancellation on (provided I’m not blasting music at a ridiculous level, which I don’t do much anymore because I am old and my hearing is a precious resource), but it’s unobtrusive and easy to ignore.
When one does need to pay attention to the outside, the Pixel Bud Pros come with a “transparency” mode, which is different from simply just turning off the noise cancellation mode — in my experience it bumps up frequencies for speech, and one presumes some other critical noises, so they can cut through whatever else you are listening to. I tried it to speak to my wife and mother-in-law while listening to music; it does the job just fine. You can swap between noise cancelling and transparency modes with a long touch on the buds. One may also simply just turn off noise cancellation entirely in the settings.
3. With regard to music, it sounds pretty good out of the buds. Again, these are earbuds with tiny drivers, so don’t expect monster bass response, but by and large everything I threw at the buds sounded decently full (especially electronic/EDMish things), and I could pick out little details in the music that I would miss with lesser earbuds or if I’m listening to something off my two-watt computer monitor speakers. They’re the best-sounding Pixel Buds, certainly, and I’m happy to listen to my music with them. I also used them for a phone call with Krissy earlier in the day; again, they did perfectly well in letting me hear her, and they had no problem picking up my voice to talk to her.
4. The buds are touch sensitive and you can control volume, pause, play and noise cancellation with them (you can also assign touch for Google Assistant if you want it). All of these work perfectly well, as they did with previous versions, but I’d also add the caveat that if you have to fiddle with the buds to any extent — hello, weirdly shaped left ear canal! — you’re gonna trigger the hell out of these various functions as you fiddle, which is vaguely annoying.
On the subject of Google Assistant, I have it set to be voice activated, and in the times I used it, it worked exactly how it was supposed to, without any hiccups or problems. Google Assistant is simultaneously the most useful and most colorless of all the virtual assistants, and that’s fine with me. I don’t need it to be vivacious and interesting, I need it to access things on my phone when I want it to. It does that really well.
5. Speaking of things done really well, the Pixel Bud Pro integration with my Pixel 6 Pro (yes, I’m well sucked into the Google ecosystem) was flawless and ridiculously easy; I literally just flipped open the lid of the Pixel Buds Pro holding case and my phone said “Oh, hey, look, Pixel Buds, you want I should connect?” Why, yes, Pixel 6 Pro, I do, thank you. So much easier than having to do the usual Bluetooth sacrificing of chickens to get something to connect, or whatever. And there’s no lag or (so far) any dropped connections or connectivity static that was a problem with earlier Pixel Buds before software/firmware updates.
For things that aren’t Pixel Phones (or Pixelbooks, as I understand the integration there is similarly easy), there is regular Bluetooth connectivity available. You’ll have to check with someone else about how it does with that. I’ll be over here, enjoying my seamless connection experience.
6. Other things: I’ve had these for less than a day so I can’t speak to battery life, but Google claims an up to seven-hour listening session before they need to be slipped back into their case for recharging, which is something like a 40% boost from the previous iterations, and the case will handle 20 hours of charging before needing a recharge itself. Google’s previous versions of the buds/cases hit their advertised marks in this respect, so I don’t have any reason to doubt this estimation.
The carrying case for the Pro Buds is marginally larger than the ones for previous iterations but not by enough that I could see it by looking at it on its own; I had to actually put the Pixel Buds A case up next to it to see it. This iteration of the case can wirelessly charge if that’s a thing you want. The buds come in four colorways; I got the “lemongrass” colorway because it stands out, and that way when my left bud falls out of my ear I can find it more easily on the floor.
7. Are the Pixel Buds Pro worth the $199 Google is charging for them? If you’re as deep into the Google ecosystem as I am and you want noise cancellation in your earbuds, I’d say yes; even with my annoyingly troublesome left ear canal, at this early stage I’m very much enjoying the overall sonic experience they provide. If you don’t care about noise cancellation, still want Pixel Buds and want to save $100, you’ll be fine with the Pixel Buds A iteration, which is still available for purchase, and with which my user experience was perfectly good.
But, yeah: So far, the Pixel Buds Pro are pretty nifty. More updates as warranted.