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 answer 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’ll be available to preorder alongside the also new Pixel 6A smartphone starting July 21st and in stores a week later on the 28th.
Both the earbuds and case closely resemble the 2020 Pixel Buds — the carrying case looks practically identical — and the Pro earbuds will come in black, blue, green, or red. Compared to the older buds, you’ll notice more microphone inlets around the exterior of these, and they’re meant to sit deeper in your ear canal than previous Pixel Buds.
Some people don’t like the feeling of an in-ear seal from silicone tips, but it sounds like Google has done a lot of work to make these 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-vent systems for similar purposes, but I can’t recall actual sensors being dedicated to this purpose before. As is standard, three sizes of ear tips will come in the box, but Google claims its “Silent Seal” software algorithms can “adapt to your ear, maximizing the amount of noise that’s canceled.”
Google says that the hardware inside the Pixel Buds Pro is all custom, from the six-core processor and the drivers to the aforementioned algorithms that run on the earbuds. During a recent media briefing, Google senior vice president of devices and services Rick Osterloh called them “the best mobile audio hardware we’ve ever designed.” Signature Pixel Buds features like Fast Pair and Volume EQ — where the earbuds’ loudness automatically changes based on your environment — will also be offered on the Pro model.
Similar to the AirPods Pro, the Pixel Buds Pro are designed to automatically switch between your commonly used Android devices without requiring you to open any Bluetooth settings menus. This “feature” proves a little unpredictable and frustrating on iOS, so we’ll have to see how Google’s version performs come July.
But beyond this “intelligent” audio switching, the Pixel Buds support proper Bluetooth multipoint, allowing you to connect to two audio sources simultaneously. Multipoint is a popular feature among many wireless headphones, but in the world of earbuds, the convenient trick was exclusive to Jabra products for a long time. Over the last couple years, that’s finally started to change as wireless audio chips have evolved, bringing multipoint to more devices.
Based on Google’s estimates, the Pixel Buds Pro will have impressive battery life. The company claims they can reach up to seven hours of continuous listening with active noise cancellation enabled and 11 when it’s switched off.
One specialty of the AirPods Pro that Google doesn’t yet have a response for 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 regular spatial audio music playback, as will the Pixel Buds Pro, but that experience doesn’t change as you move your head around.
The Pixel Buds Pro will support hands-free Google Assistant voice commands, and the company says they perform very well on calls thanks to noise suppression 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 case is rated IPX2.
With the Pixel Buds Pro, Google is going big on features and modest on 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 will work with Apple products, but there’s no Pixel Buds app for adjusting their settings or EQ, for example. Google is really squaring off against Samsung’s Galaxy Buds lineup for earbud ecosystem dominance in the Android universe.
Google’s track record with the Pixel Buds series has been mixed so far. Tea 2020 earbuds suffered from frequent signal cutouts and other bugs. Some (but not all) of those issues were rectified with later software updates. The newer, more affordable Pixel Buds A-Series have fared better in terms of reliability. Hopefully the “Pro” earbuds live up to their name in terms of consistent performance.