Today, after several attempts at making wireless earbuds, Google is announcing its most premium product in the category yet: the $199 Pixel Buds Pro. Designed as a direct response to Apple’s AirPods Pro, the Pixel Buds Pro offer active noise cancellation, a transparency mode, multipoint Bluetooth connectivity, and an IPX4 water resistance rating, among other features. They will be available for pre-order along with the also new Pixel 6A smartphone from 21 July and a week later in stores on 28 July.
Both the earbuds and case are very similar to the 2020 Pixel Buds – the carrying case looks practically identical – and the Pro earbuds are available in black, blue, green or red. Compared to the older earbuds, you’ll see more mic inputs on the outside of these, and they’re meant to sit deeper in your ear canal than previous Pixel Buds.
Some people don’t like the feel of an in-ear silicone tip seal, but it sounds like Google has put in a lot of work to make it as comfortable as possible for everyone. The Pixel Buds Pro actually have sensors that “measure the pressure in your ear canal so the earbuds can actively relieve it and stay comfortable.” Other high-end earbuds include micro-ventilation systems for similar purposes, but I don’t recall any sensors being used for this purpose before. As standard, three sizes of earbuds come in the box, but Google claims the “Silent Seal” software algorithms “can adapt to your ear, maximizing the amount of noise that gets canceled.”
Google says the hardware in the Pixel Buds Pro is all custom, from the six-core processor and drivers to the aforementioned algorithms running on the earbuds. At a recent media briefing, Rick Osterloh, Google’s senior vice president of devices and services, called them “the best mobile audio hardware we’ve ever designed.” Signature Pixel Buds features such as Fast Pair and Volume EQ – where the earbuds’ volume changes automatically based on your environment – are also offered on the Pro model.
equal to the AirPods Pro, the Pixel Buds Pro are designed to automatically switch between your frequently used Android devices without opening any Bluetooth settings menus. This “feature” is proving a bit unpredictable and frustrating on iOS, so we’ll have to see how Google’s version performs in July.
But other than this “intelligent” audio switching, the Pixel Buds support proper Bluetooth multipoint, allowing you to connect to two audio sources at the same time. Multipoint is a popular feature among many wireless headphones, but in the earbud world, the nifty trick has long been exclusive to Jabra products. In the past few years, that has finally started to change as wireless audio chips have evolved, bringing multipoint to more devices.
Based on Google estimates, the Pixel Buds Pro will have impressive battery life. The company claims they can enjoy up to seven hours of uninterrupted listening with Active Noise Canceling turned on and 11 when it’s turned off.
A specialty of the AirPods Pro that Google doesn’t yet having an answer is spatial audio head tracking – but it’s coming. The company says its own head-tracking solution will be ready later this year. All earbuds and headphones support normal spatial audio music playback, just like the Pixel Buds Pro, but that experience doesn’t change if you move your head.
The Pixel Buds Pro supports hands-free Google Assistant voice commands, and the company says they perform very well on calls thanks to the noise reduction of background distractions like wind and traffic. The earbuds themselves are rated IPX4 for water resistance, enough to make them suitable for exercise, and the housing is rated IPX2.
With the Pixel Buds Pro, Google goes big on features and modest in price, undercutting Apple’s AirPods Pro by $50. Not that many people will be cross-shopping between the two: as is the case with AirPods and the iPhone, Android users will get the best experience from the Pixel Buds Pro. These earbuds work with Apple products, but there’s no Pixel Buds app to adjust their settings or EQ, for example. Google is really taking on Samsung’s Galaxy Buds lineup for dominance of the earbud ecosystem in the Android universe.
Google’s track record with the Pixel Buds series has been mixed so far. The 2020 earplugs suffered from frequent signal dropouts and other bugs. Some (but not all) of those issues were resolved with subsequent software updates. The newer, more affordable Pixel Buds A Series have done better in terms of reliability. Hopefully the “Pro” earbuds live up to their name in terms of consistent performance.