Google's Pixel Buds Pro arrive in a competitive market and the standout feature is an AirPods Pro-beating 31-hour battery life – but if Google is to challenge the class-leaders, the sound quality needs some work.
Good noise cancellation and transparency profiles
Impressive battery life
Touch controls work well
Sound is a little wooly and compressed
Suffers for timing
Fit feels insecure
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Google Pixel Buds Pro: two-minute review
Google's Pixel Buds Pro are at risk of flying under the radar, with the company's other earbuds humbly merging into the supporting cast as flashy stars from Sony, Bose, Sennheiser and Cambridge Audio take the limelight in our best wireless earbuds and best noise-cancelling earbuds roundups. Is that about to change with the Google's first Pro-suffixed proposition?
Well, nobody can knock the Google Pixel Buds Pro for useful and unexpected perks at the level: ANC, wearer detection, a dedicated app and multipoint technology with automatic audio switching (so the Pixel Buds Pro can stay connected to two different devices simultaneously and switch easily between them), a 31-hour battery life when listening without ANC activated and combined with the charging case (which can be charged wirelessly), Google Assistant support and customizable on-ear touch controls make for a tempting proposition for just $199/£179 (around AU$299). On paper, they're viable rivals to the Apple AirPods Pro for Android users.
And the positive side of our Google Pixels Buds Pro review is that for noise cancellation and transparency profiles, we think they're worth it. The on-device touch-controls work well and the in-app user experience (the bulk of our testing is done using a Google Pixel 6 Pro smartphone – please note that there's no iOS app, iPhone users) is truly enjoyable too.
The flies in the ointment for us concern none of these admirable features. Our issues are about far more basic requests. We like earbuds that fit securely and sound good, and here there are notable problems with the Google Pixel Buds Pro. Look at your thumb, from nail to knuckle. Now, imagine trying to put this into your ear vertically. That's the level of fit we found here, and despite Google telling us they fit very securely indeed, we beg to differ – although of course, other users may feel differently with their ear shape.
Ultimately though, any set of wireless headphones lives and dies on the strength of its sound quality – and here is our second issue. We listened over a series of days and tried to glean the levels of detail, neutrality, energy and cohesion we know can be achieved at the level, and found the Google Pixel Buds Pro fell short of the class-leaders, including the Sony WF-1000XM4, the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro, and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds.
Google Pixel Buds Pro review: price and release date
- $199/£179 (around AU$299)
- Released on July 28, 2022
Google's Pixel Buds Pro are available in four colorways – fog, charcoal, lemongrass and coral – but your chosen hue adorns just the touch-capacitive top plate of the driver housings.
The rest of each earpiece is black and the case is smooth and white, with a strong hinge. It's a classy aesthetic and feels worthy of the outlay.
Google has undercut the official price of the AirPods Pro (which are officially $249 / £239 / AU$399) and Sony WF-1000XM4 (about the same price officially) a fair bit here, and it's a sensible decision that makes the Google Pixel Buds Pro a competitively-priced alternative, given the feature-set. Having said that, price drops on those earbuds mean you can find them for around the same price as the Pixel Buds Pro's launch price, so it's a more competitive decision than it looks.
Google Pixel Buds Pro review: design and features
- Respectable, dependable noise cancellation
- Strangely shaped earbuds which can feel a little insecure
- IPX4 water resistant earbuds (IPX2 case)
The pebble-like case of the Google Pixel Buds Pro feels robust and cool in our hands and the brushed plastic never collects fingerprint smudges. It charges either wirelessly or via USB-C, although it's important to note that you do not get a charging cable in the box, which doesn't exactly feel premium.
We downsize eartips (three in total are provided) but struggle to get the Google Pixel Buds Pro to fit securely in our ears. The shape is a bit like a tiny flip-top backpack or knapsack, and it doesn't feel particularly well-weighted or ergonomic, although the neck of the buds is nicely slanted to angle into your ear canals.
Despite our best attempts, that "ah, now they're secure" moment alludes us. We certainly wouldn't want to start dancing or to take a trapeze class… so for fit alone, the Google Pixel Buds Pro won't be joining our best workout headphones guide – but then again, hitting the gym is not what they're designed for.
As if challenging our reservations about the design, the Pixel Buds app on our Google Pixel 6 Pro initially runs through a 20-second fit test, telling us we passed with flying colors and our 'earbuds sound great!' We're not so sure…
This issue aside, however, you're getting a lot of perks for the money. The touch controls are very good here, and there's on-ear volume control by swiping forward or back which works very well (something you won't find on the AirPods Pro, Apple fans) plus you can customize these so that a long press on the left earbud is a physical way to summon Google Assistant, and the right scrolls between noise cancellation profiles.
Call-handling is also a seamless experience and those on the other end of the line report that our voice sounds clear, which is doubtless aided by the three mics per earpiece, something Google calls a "voice accelerometer" and "wind-blocking mesh covers".
Active Noise Cancellation? Yes, it's good, as is transparency. You cannot tweak the levels of either further than 'on' or 'off', but that's acceptable here given the efficacy of each.
Google is also providing plenty of user-friendly features here, including super-speedy pairing where the buds simply pop up on your home screen asking to be friends, 'find me' features, and that dedicated app and multipoint technology with automatic audio switching so the Pixel Buds Pro can stay happily connected to two different devices and switch easily between them. We tried it with the Google Pixel 6 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy S21 and even an iPhone 8 with no problems whatsoever, provided you switch multipoint on in the Buds' settings (it's off by default, but this takes seconds to toggle on).
And the battery life is pretty stellar. With ANC off, you'll get up to 11 hours of listening time from the buds, and up to 31 hours total listening time with the charging case. With active noise cancellation on, you get up to seven hours of earbuds listening time and up to 20 hours of total listening time with the charging case – that's much better from just the buds than the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro or AirPods Pro, though is less total life than the AirPods Pro give you.
Furthermore, a five-minute charge of earbuds in the charging case delivers up to an hour of listening time with Active Noise Cancellation on, and a 15-minute jolt of juice with the earbuds in the charging case delivers up to three hours of listening with Active Noise Cancellation on.
- Design and features score: 4/5
Google Pixel Buds Pro review: sound quality
- Better-sounding than Google's older Pixel Buds – but not by much
- 11 mm dynamic speaker driver
- Music sounds somewhat flat and basic
Google launched its original Pixel Buds back in 2020 and followed them with the more affordable Google Pixel Buds A-Series. And the headline is that, even after only a few hours of listening, the sound quality when listening to music is an improvement over Google's previous efforts. But that's where the praise curtails.
Each Google Pixel Buds Pro earbud houses a relatively large 11mm dynamic driver, which should bode well for a talented performance. However, from the very outset of our testing (having run them in fully, you understand) we become aware of several shortcomings in terms of the sonic performance.
When listening to The Waterboy's This is the Sea on a remastered Tidal file, we're missing the sense of growing dynamic build at the top of the track. This song is supposed to build from barely perceptible key progressions, as if starting in the distance, and here the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus clearly outdoes the Google product despite being much cheaper, celebrating shakers and inflections in Mike Scott's vocal in the way the Pixel Buds Pro cannot.
The album This is the Sea continues to The Pan Within, and violins, keys and alternate vocal harmonies are alluded to by the Pixel Buds Pro, but they're unable to shine fully within what is a slightly compressed-sounding mix overall. As an electric guitar holds down a low riff, we also become aware that the track is not as impactful, grippy or weighty through the bass registers as it should be either.
We deploy 'HD audio' throughout our testing (which is defined as AAC audio codec, ie. better than MP3 but still lossy, and it's the best you'll get here) but across the course of our listening the clarity through the leading edges of notes isn't what we'd hope for at this level.
When listening to Sam Fender's Get You Down, there's three-dimensional and impetuous saxophone detail you can glean from the song when using the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro, but here it's underplayed through the treble, to the point that the overall profile sound feels a little muddied and woolly, even through the midrange. We wish there was just a little more space around each musical passage.
- Sound quality score: 3/5
Google Pixel Buds Pro: value
- Well-featured for the price
- Competing products sound better overall
The Google Pixel Buds Pro look sharp and they pack a lot in for the price tag. The ANC is reliable and if you're a Pixel phone owner the intuitive features and app support make them a viable proposition. Oh, and the battery-life is excellent for the level.
But if you prioritize sound-per-pound value above all else in true wireless earbuds, you will want to look to even cheaper options such as the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus or, if they're available in your region, the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro (£170 / €199 / approx. $178 or AU$367).
- Value score: 3.5/5
Google Pixel Buds Pro review: should you buy them?
|Design and features
|We didn't like the insecure fit, but the spec-sheet is comprehensive.
|Good levels of ANC and a decent transparency profile, but the sound is acceptable at best.
|Worth a look if Google smarts and ANC are top of your wish-list.
Buy them if…
You want to say 'Hey Google' to your earbuds
If you own a Google Pixel phone and the Google Assistant is the only virtual voice subordinate you trust, these buds could be the ones for you.
You prioritize active noise cancellation over detailed sound
The Google Pixel Buds Pro's ANC is solid, letting in very little extraneous noise, and the transparency profile is just as good for dipping into conversations.
You need good battery life
The Google Pixel Buds Pro offer up to 11 hours of earbuds listening time, and up to 31 hours total listening time with the charging case. Not bad at all.
Don't buy them if…
You're after the best sound this money can buy
For detail, timing, clarity, agility, bass weight and musicality, you're better served elsewhere. Initially, we'd point you towards Cambridge Audio's Melomania 1 Plus, or Honor Earbuds 3 Pro.
You want the latest Bluetooth codec going
The Google Pixel Buds Pro support Bluetooth 5.0, but if you want aptX, aptX Low Latency, Auracast and/or Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) you'll need Bluetooth 5.2 and above.
You want to get into head-tracked immersive audio
Not possible, sadly. You'll need to look to the LG Tone Free T90, AirPods Pro or AirPods 3.
Think the Google Pixel Buds Pro might not be the true wireless earbuds for you? No stress, here are three alternatives that could offer just the design, feature-set and sound quality you're after.
Honor Earbuds 3 Pro
These five-star earbuds wowed us under intense review for sound quality and the pricing is as close to the Google Pixel Buds Pro as makes little difference. As long as you can actually buy them where you live, these are a viable alternative.
Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus
Excellent audio performance, a helpful app, easy-to-use controls, and a very affordable price. What more could you want? Oh, dual-device connectivity and ANC? You won't get that, sadly… but for sound, these are excellent.
Apple AirPods Pro
Popular and perfect for Apple users, the Apple AirPods Pro offer stellar noise cancellation, impressive head-tracked Spatial Audio and a more stylish fit – and they do work with Android. But don't count on class-leading battery life here.
- First reviewed: August 2022
- How we test: explore TechRadar's review guarantee
Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.
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