Google Pixel Buds Pro review: Has Google finally cracked the premium audio puzzle?
- Comfortable fit that stays in the ear well
- Good battery life with wireless charging
- Range of fun colour choices
- No iOS customisation options
- Competitors have slightly better sound or active noise cancellation
- Limited sound customisation options
Google sure took its sweet time in delivering a "Pro" set of headphones. Leaving aside the truly awful first-generation Pixel Buds, the defining characteristic of Google's approach to audio has long been "decent value, but rarely exciting", as with the Pixel Buds A for example.
Google badly wants to change that perception with the Google Pixel Buds Pro. Google is trying to take on the likes of Sony, Apple, Sennheiser and Bose with a set of improved Pixel Buds, a new design and some genuinely appealing active noise cancelling (ANC) and transparency features.
They're close to the best in market… but not quite the very best, marking them as most suitable for Pixel owners or Android fanatics who like the style as well as the audio quality of the Pixel Buds Pro.
Design: A familiar egg hides a new comfortable design
Out of the box, the Pixel Buds Pro present a very familiar white oval case design that Google's used for the past couple of Pixel Bud generations. If you did have those prior models, it's not inconceivable that you might grab the wrong buds on your way out the door if you weren't careful.
Google sells the Pixel Buds Pro in Charcoal, Fog and Lemongrass finishes in Australia; there's also a Coral option overseas, but not for Australians, it seems. However, that colour choice only applies to the very top of the Pixel Buds Pro, with the rest of the headphone body in a simple black colour.
Where the Pixel Buds Pro stand out is in what at first seems to be missing. There's no stabilisation fin or silicon grabbing bit to secure the Pixel Buds Pro into your ear. In the case, you'll find the expected set of different-sized silicon tips, but the whole idea here is that the Pixel Buds Pro will simply slide into your ears and stay there.
To say that I had my doubts would be putting it mildly. I fully expected the Pixel Buds Pro to come tumbling out of my ears just walking across the room, let alone going for a longer jog.
However, even without having to dip into the alternative tips, I had no issues at all with the Pixel Buds Pro. They're quite a bit bigger than, say the Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro, but I found them to be equally as comfortable for longer term listening and exercising.
With IPX4 resistance, they can stand up to a little sweat – you probably don't want to borrow mine after what I've put them through – but immersion for either the buds or the case would be a very bad idea. Don't swim with them, and try to avoid having them go through the washing machine if you leave them in your pants pocket because they will not survive.
Performance: Balanced audio, but not worth it for iPhone owners
Setting up the Pixel Buds Pro is quite simple if you're on an Android device. I initially configured the Pixel Buds Pro with a Google Pixel 6 Pro.
Like so many of its competitors, if you're within Google's specific ecosystem, you'll get a friendly pop-up window when the Pixel Buds Pro are first detected, followed by a set-up routine that involves testing for best fit and setting up Google Assistant and touch gestures to your liking.
The Pixel Buds Pro support multi pairing across multiple devices, but there is one big catch if you wanted to use them with an iPhone. Setting up pairing is easy enough because there's a proper pairing button on the outside of the case.
However, there's no Pixel Buds app for iOS, which means you're stuck with whatever the defaults are or, at best, whatever someone else has configured the Pixel Buds Pro for on a compatible Android device.
Yes, I know, Apple does the same thing with its AirPods Pro for Android users, but limiting access for audio devices is quite a transparent attempt to lock users into just the one platform, and I'm never going to be a fan of it, no matter which company makes that decision. Bluetooth is a standard, and Bluetooth headphones should both work and be configurable across all platforms. This should not be hard or controversial in any way.
Google hasn't exactly gone all out on customisation options for audio within the Pixel Buds app either. You can quickly switch between active noise cancelling, transparency or off modes, and that's your lot. There are no specific modes to cover different noise scenarios, which would be a nice touch. Equally, there's no inbuilt equalisation if you favour a little noise tweaking action, just a single volume-equalisation switch that warns that it may impact battery performance.
The Pixel Buds Pro's active noise cancellation is quite good in most situations. Sadly, during the review period, I didn't have the chance to jump on a plane to test them, but I did use them for multiple runs and walks around noisy areas as well as more direct testing with a speaker in my home office to put them through their paces.
While they're not the absolute best in class – at the time of writing, and before I've been able to test out the 2nd Gen AirPods Pro, I'd give that plaudit to the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds – the Pixel Buds Pro do quite a good job of filtering out ambient sound. The slightly unusual shape undeniably helps here because it fills your ear canal, creating a level of isolation before the microphones ever step in to actively cancel out any external noise.
While ANC is good but not great, I really did appreciate the throughput of the Pixel Buds Pro's transparency mode, which sent sound through to my ears exactly as if I wasn't wearing them at all. If you're a fan of surreptitiously listening to conversations while it appears that you're listening to music, these do the job admirably.
On the music side, and without specific equalisation in play, the Google Pixel Buds Pro deliver a decent sound across most music genres. They did a fine job separating out the drums, sax and smooth vocals of Sade's "Smooth Operator", managed the more complex multi-instrument load of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and the funk guitar of Prince's "Guitar" with equal aplomb.
Putting them head to head – which is to say, within my own head – to the first generation Apple AirPods Pro, the Bose QuietComfort Buds, the Sony XM4 and the Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro, I'd still plump for the Sony buds for general audio performance. The Pixel Buds Pro are up there and certainly within what I'd expect for this price point in terms of audio presentation, but higher end audiophiles may prefer a more configurable set of true wireless buds.
Battery: Solid endurance in ANC and standard modes
Google's official specifications for the Pixel Buds Pro state that they're good for up to 7 hours of ANC listening and up to 11 hours of listening with ANC disabled. Unless you were desperate for power, I can't imagine why you'd buy ANC-capable earbuds and not use ANC all the time, but in any case, those figures do largely bear out in real-world use.
The Pixel Buds Pro box is quite small, so it's no surprise that there's no inbox charger. Irritatingly, there's also no USB-C cable in the box either, so you'll need to do double duty with your phone's charger, or drop it onto the Pixel Stand 2nd Generation to wirelessly charge it up.
Should you buy the Google Pixel Buds Pro?
- Buy it if you have a Pixel phone and want to keep it all in the family.
- Don't buy it if you want multi-platform compatibility or best-in-class performance.
The Google Pixel Buds Pro are Google's best true wireless buds to date. Given they're Google's first "Pro" set of earbuds, it would be deeply concerning if that wasn't the case.
However, they're far from alone in the pro headphone market space. At $299, their list price is just a tad below many of their competitors, but not by a huge margin – and certainly not by one that might not be wiped out by a sale or discount price point.
They're very close to those competitors, and the appeal for Pixel buyers who want full device compatibility, a use for that dip notch in the Pixel Stand and a style that works well with their existing phones and Google devices will be well served by the Pixel Buds Pro.
For everyone else, while they're good, they're not the best you can get, and it would be smart to shop around and consider your options.
Pricing and availability
The Pixel Buds Pro retail in Australia for $299 outright.
How we tested
The Pixel Buds Pro headphones were tested by me over a week’s extensive testing, using them for listening to music – both streaming and locally stored – as well as gaming, video watching and call taking. To test fit quality, I went running on 3 different occasions to see if they would tumble out, which they didn’t, although they did collect some sweat in the process. The pair of Pixel Buds Pro used for testing were supplied by Google for the purposes of review.
I’ve been working as a technology product reviewer for more than 2 decades now, which means that my audio testing predates a time when Bluetooth even existed as a consumer data standard. I’m a multi-time Australian IT Journo award winner, including awards for best reviewer and best technical journalist.
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