Last year, when Google launched the Pixel Buds-A in India, the company was hitting the mid-range market in the country. This year, the company takes to the big leagues, going up against the best in the business, which includes the likes Apple, Sony and Bose. The Pixel Buds Pro are the best true wireless (TWS) headphones (earbuds) Google can offer. While it has its downsides, it does hold its own as well.
The Pixel Buds Pro offers better audio quality than the Buds-A, and is comparable to Apple’s Airpods (3rd Generation). However, audio veterans like Sony and Bose still beat both of these headphones in this department. The Sony WF-1000XM4 and Bose’s QuietComfort series deliver punchier bass, and better definition in other audio frequencies too. However, both these will cost users at least ₹5000 more than the Pixel Buds Pro or Airpods (3rd Generation).
Standalone, the Pixel Buds Pro are quite decent. They deliver more powerful bass than the Pixel Buds-A, which addresses one of the primary needs for a market like India. However, the mid-frequencies can sound quieter as compared to the Airpods. In fact, this is the first big weakness of the Pixel Buds Pro — the fact that users don’t get an equalizer to control the audio signature manually.
You can access a feature called Volume EQ on Android devices, but that too claims to enhance bass and treble frequencies at low volume. Which tells me that Google is going for the popular ‘V-Shaped’ audio signature like most other true wireless headphones on the market today. This is an audio signature where the highs (treble) and bass (low frequencies) are enhanced, and the one that endears most listeners. A full-fledged equalizer is said to be in the works too, which will be more useful for audiophiles and those who like more control over how their accessories sound.
On the Pixel smartphones, the Volume EQ is part of the system-level integration for the Buds Pro, but on other Android devices, users will have to download the dedicated Pixel Buds app. The app isn’t available for iOS users or other non-Android devices, where the Buds Pro will work like any other Bluetooth headphones.
Not for the audiophiles
That said, neither Google nor Apple really go after the audiophiles with these devices. The thing to watch in the Pixel Buds Pro is the software, because this may very well be how true wireless earbuds work in future.
That starts with active noise cancellation, a feature that’s missing from both the Pixel Buds-A and the Airpods. This means that Google has dedicated circuitry inside these headphones that are meant to cut out noise. However, Google combines this hardware benefit with software boosts of its own.
A software feature called “Silent Seal” claims to enhance the overall noise cancellation on the Pixel Buds Pro. According to Google, Silent Seal adapts the headphones to the user’s ear, by maximizing the amount of noise blocked based on the “unique ear shape”. It also seeks to reduce the usual plugged up feeling that many get from ANC headphones, by measuring the pressure in a person’s ear canal and toggling the amount of noise cancellation accordingly.
It all seems to make a difference too, in the sense that noise cancellation on the Pixel Buds Pro does work. What’s not clear is how Silent Seal makes these any different from other ANC headphones, like Sony’s WF-1000XM4 or the Apple Airpods Pro.
The Pixel Buds Pro can cut out environmental noise effectively, and is good for use indoors or in offices. But like any other TWS headphones, these aren’t very good with traffic noise and many high-pitched frequencies. The headphones didn’t make me feel plugged up per se, but neither do the others I mentioned above.
On the contrary, the ‘transparency mode’ seems somewhat weak compared to competition. This mode allows environmental noise to pass through when you’re wearing the headphones, and though Google’s version works just fine, it’s only that — fine. It doesn’t quite feel like the headphones are amplifying outside audio. Environmental sounds can sometimes come across a little lower than I’d want.
Silent Seal sounds like a good idea on paper, but it doesn’t feel like something that I’d specifically buy the Pixel Buds Pro for. Which is what I said about Google’s other software features, like Live Translate etc. in the Pixel Buds-A.
Yes, the Pixel Buds Pro also allows users to interact with the Google Assistant by saying ‘hey Google’, and translate other languages on the fly. Neither of these features are truly useful yet in countries like India, but they’ve been getting slightly better with each new device.
Should you buy it?
To top off the features, the Pixel Buds Pro also supports wireless charging and I’ve taken them with me on 10-hour plus flights without having to charge them — same as the third-gen Airpods and other competitors.
At ₹19,990, the Pixel Buds Pro are premium headphones done right. They’re a good option for Android users, and with reports saying that a Spatial Audio feature is in the works too, they’re definitely an option for those who can’t afford offerings from Sony and Bose. But, crucially, these two brands still remain the pick for users who truly care about audio quality.
Also read: Google Pixel 6a review: A phone worth the two-year wait