Google has taken its time to find form in the wireless earbuds space. That time was used well by Samsung, Sony, Jabra and Sennheiser, and Apple, to get the premium buyers on their side. The Pixel Buds Pro will join the battle in the premium segment, which inevitably compares itself to the Apple AirPods Pro. These carry the mantle of being Google’s first wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation.
To put the competition in context, the Pixel Buds Pro are priced at ₹18,999, which gives it an immediate advantage over the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 (around ₹21,990). Sony’s very competent and latest gen WF-1000XM4. Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro, which started out around ₹15,990, are now available for half that price depending on deals and offers. Jabra’s Elite 85t now costs around ₹16,000 having started out with a similar price tag to the Pixel Buds Pro. It is choices aplenty, if you have the cash to splash.
Design improvements but a distinct lack of experimentation
Google has taken some crucial design decisions, which have worked out for the best. The removal of the stabilizer arcs (you may also refer to these as wing tips) mean these earbuds will fit better in more ear contours. Each earbud is quite compact and lighter than we had expected, which would theoretically be good news for comfort, particularly if you are wearing these for hours on end.
It is perhaps a bit perplexing that Google hasn’t attempted anything different with the eartips – they are the standard silicon material that we see on most wireless earbuds, including the most inexpensive ones. Sony tried (and succeeded to a large extent) with the polyurethane foam eartips in the WF-1000XM4.
The Pixel app has a helpful feature called Eartip Seal Check, which will run a series of sound tests and point you to the right eartip size. You’d be surprised how many of us use the wrong eartips size, compromising comfort and allowing the ambient din to sneak in.
Jack of all trades? Custom audio hardware in the Pixel Buds Pro
If you look carefully at the list of premium (or “pro” moniker) wireless earbuds, each tends to be good at something. For noise cancellation, Sony has a distinct advantage, while nothing comes close to Apple’s Transparency Mode. Sennheiser has that welcoming sound signature (without leaning towards warmth, the way Bose does) while Samsung’s earbuds sound the most excitable.
Google’s attempts with its own audio processing silicon and algorithms in the Pixel Buds Pro may prove to be crucial. That’ll include the ability to make tweaks and add new functionality with future software updates too.
There is an 11mm audio driver in each ear, which is larger than the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 (7mm) and the Sony WF-1000XM4 (6mm). Mind you, this isn’t a binary case of more is better, but a lot depends on how the hardware has been tuned. Sony’s may be the smallest audio drivers in this category, but they sound wider and more dynamic than a lot of the rivals. In Google’s case, there is the immediate delivery of a wide soundstage which builds the foundations for detailing. The Pixel Buds Pro does not have a neutral sound signature out of the box at all.
In fact, you’ll appreciate the liveliness in the music, particularly with the lower frequencies. These wireless earbuds don’t need a bass boost mode, they do well without it. Same is the case with vocals, which is a testament to how well the sound processing has been tuned. However, it is hard to ignore the very perceptible loss of detail and definition with mid-range frequencies. This is noticeable in most music tracks (across genres) and gives the perception of a more V-shaped audio equalizer preset, than it actually is.
This is also a factor of a single audio driver at work – dual-drivers tend to work better, when one can focus on lower frequencies while the other delivers the mids and vocals. That said, single driver earbuds, including the ones the Pixel Buds Pro is competing against, have proved one isn’t necessarily a problem either.
It is perplexing that the five band EQ option as well as bass boost, are missing for the Pixel Buds Pro within the Pixel app. That means the more affordable Pixel Buds A-series have more functionality that can be played around with, than the more expensive buds.
How important will the codecs be?
It may be disappointing to the more discerning buyer that the Pixel Buds Pro only support the SBC and AAC audio codecs. That means formats for high-resolution music, such as LDAC, are missing. This puts these buds at par with the Jabra Elite 85t, but at a possible disadvantage against others.
Is noise cancellation better than Sony and Apple’s efforts?
That’s the benchmark Google is working with – noise cancellation that’s as good as Sony manages to tune, and transparency that the Apple AirPods Pro still don’t have a rival for.
Our experience points to the Pixel Buds Pro achieving a very acceptable result with noise cancellation, but there is still some way to go before it can close in on the benchmarks. Some ambient noises tend to filter through more than others (they shouldn’t, ideally), and that includes the sound of drill machine in full form, at work a few floors below.
The transparency mode does not have the same natural feeling which the AirPods Pro generate, but there is a definite processing audible for any voices that you hear.
This may be subjective, but there is the sense that the Pixel Buds Pro caused a bit more ear pressure with active noise cancellation, than the AirPods Pro do. One factor is the lack of an air vent, which means the algorithms must resort to using sensor data to measure ear pressure and the ANC level. All said and done, there was a very distinct feeling of pressure in the ears that lasted a few minutes after the buds were removed and placed back into their charging case.
How good is the battery life?
The advantages of having full control over hardware and software, are immense. None more so than optimizing power consumption. The Google Pixel Buds Pro work a bit more than 7 hours on a single charge (It’ll be about 11 hours, with ANC off) of each of the earbud’s batteries, with ANC active. That’s almost 3 hours more than the AirPods Pro in the same state of tune, but just lesser than the Sony WF-1000XM4.
Does Android finally have its AirPods Pro moment?
We were wondering earlier in this review – what is that one thing which the Google Pixel Buds Pro do best? We have the answer. Do not think of these as precision tuned wireless earbuds, in perhaps the same way as Apple or Sennheiser do. Instead, the way Google has tuned them means the sound you hear is definitely energetic and in a way fun. Peppy, for the lack of a better word.
It is worth complementing that these earbuds are effectively replicating for Pixel phone users (Chromebooks, Windows PCs and even the upcoming Pixel tablets should be queueing up) and indeed all Android phone users, the same formula of what the Apple AirPods Pro have done for Apple’s ecosystem. They simply work, while staying out of the way.