Google Pixel Buds Pro: first high-end True Wireless on par with the best

Google Pixel Buds Pro

After the Pixel Buds and their more affordable version, the Pixel Buds A-Series, Google is now returning to the high-end segment with the Pixel Buds Pro. 

Google Pixel Buds Pro: first high-end True Wireless on par with the best
Google Pixel Buds Pro: first high-end True Wireless on par with the best

This is the first pair of true wireless headphones from the brand to offer active noise reduction (ANR), which is also adaptive, and a multipoint connection. These are new features that allow Google to join the ranks of premium headphones. 

Can the Google Pixel Buds Pro hold their own against a competition that has been offering such features for a long time?

  • Pros Comfortable and discreet design, active noise reduction at the top level, good audio quality, solid battery life, natural transparency mode, intuitive touch controls, multi-point connection
  • Minus No aptX or LDAC compatibility, no manual RBA adjustment, latency too high on PC and in video games, treble rendering could be better
  • Summary Google is upping its game with its first Bluetooth headphones with active noise reduction. At €219, they come to play in the pre-square of the high-end references of Sony, Sennheiser and Apple.

A design that gains in comfort and discretion

Appearances can be deceiving. In the case of the Pixel Buds Pro, the charger case looks exactly like the Pixel Buds, with its matte white finish and black trim on the cover. But the similarity ends as soon as you see the headphones, which have been significantly redesigned. 

They are longer than the previous Pixel Buds, and no longer have the stabilisation wing that used to sit in the ear. Despite this, the Buds Pro fit very naturally in the ear and sit firmly in place.

They are also less prominent and therefore more discreet. Three sizes of silicone tips are provided and you can check the effectiveness of the passive isolation with the in-app test to make sure you've chosen the right one. We found the Pixel Buds Pro to be even more comfortable to wear and more stable in prolonged use than the Pixel Buds and A-Series Buds, which do not fall short in this respect.

On the left, the Pixel Buds 2 with the integrated stabilisation wing. On the right, the Pixel Buds Pro. The ergonomics of the Pixel Buds Pro (left) have changed significantly to improve stability and comfort.
On the left, the Pixel Buds 2 with the integrated stabilisation wing. On the right, the Pixel Buds Pro. The ergonomics of the Pixel Buds Pro (left) have changed significantly to improve stability and comfort.

To return to the charging case, it's a little overweight compared to the other two models, but its pebble shape is still compact and easy to slip into a pocket. The matte white finish may look flimsy and prone to smudges, but our prolonged experience with the Pixel Buds and then the A-Series Buds has shown us that this is not the case. 

The Buds Pro case is splash-proof (IPX2), a plus over the A-Series Buds. It offers just under two full charges and supports charging via USB-C and Qi wireless. "5 minutes of charging the headphones in the case gives you up to 1 hour of listening time when active noise cancellation is on," Google says. We were able to confirm this performance in our test.

The earphones themselves are sweat and splash proof (IPX4, same as the Pixel Buds A-Series), so they can be used for sports, provided they are properly cleaned after training.

Noise reduction: a successful first

The Pixel Buds Pro introduce the first active noise reduction system on Google headphones. And it proves to be as effective as the AirPods Pro, Sony WF-1000XM4 and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3. Provided you've taken the time to adjust the passive isolation with the right earpieces, the Buds Pro's RBA creates a real immersive bubble that blocks out most sounds, especially in the bass.

Some shrill or metallic noises are sometimes a little less well attenuated, but the overall experience is excellent. We were able to appreciate this effectiveness by listening to music without being bothered by the clatter of a jackhammer going off one floor above us. For a first attempt, Google has succeeded.

Some may regret the lack of a manual setting for the intensity of the noise reduction, but the effectiveness of the adaptive system is such that there's really no need to fiddle with the settings. The transparency mode that accompanies the RBA also pleasantly surprised us with its very natural, breathless sound. 

To switch between these two modes, all you have to do is press and hold on one of the headphones. The hands-free function was also praised for its clear sound during phone calls. The Buds Pro are a little less comfortable in noisy environments, as some of our interviewees perceived. However, they are among the best in their class and can be used for teleworking without any problems.

Listening: pleasant and versatile sound

On the left the Pixel Buds Pro case is a little wider than the Pixel Buds 2 case, Testing the fit helps optimise the performance of the Pixel Buds Pro
On the left the Pixel Buds Pro case is a little wider than the Pixel Buds 2 case, Testing the fit helps optimise the performance of the Pixel Buds Pro

The Pixel Buds Pro are equipped with 11 mm drivers that have been specially developed for these headphones. In short, these are the best true wireless that Google has ever offered. The audio quality is far superior to that of the Pixel Buds A-Series, with a much warmer and richer sound. The bass is particularly pleasing: well-defined, enveloping and deep.

The stereo separation is well defined. 

We were able to appreciate these sonic qualities when listening to several tracks from Ben Harper's latest album, Bloodline Maintenance, on Qobuz, as well as Haim's Summer Girl. Prince's Kiss was another fine example of the dynamism and presence that Buds Pro can offer. 

On the other hand, Purple Rain allowed us to put our finger, or rather our ear, on a lack of treble which did not fully restore the vocal energy of the Minneapolis Kid. The same feeling of lack when listening to La Grange on ZZ Top's RAW album where Dusty Hill's big bass solo could be more powerful.

Also missing is support for the aptX and LDAC audio codecs for Bluetooth streaming which are supposed to offer better audio with high definition sources such as those offered by streaming services like Amazon Music, Qobuz or Tidal. Nothing really detrimental though. The versatility of these headphones allows you to enjoy all musical styles in very good conditions.

Pixel Buds Pro feature quick pairing with Android devices
Pixel Buds Pro feature quick pairing with Android devices

To enter the comparison game, let's say that the Buds Pro don't offer as high an audio quality as the WF-1000XM4, Momentum True Wireless 3 or Bang & Olufsen Beoplay EX, but they are not far off and are in any case superior to the AirPods Pro. For the more discerning user, a five-band equalizer will be available this fall via a software update.

Google is also planning to introduce a 3D surround sound "Spatial Audio" mode for movies and TV shows that should work with some of the newer Pixel smartphones. We'll probably know more about this when the new Pixel 7 is unveiled this autumn.

Battery life: one of the best on the shelf

The Pixel Buds Pro have very good battery life. Google claims seven hours at moderate volume levels with noise reduction and 11 hours without. That's what we got in our test. This puts these headphones among the longest lasting in their class, with Sony's WF-1000XM4 still holding the top spot in this area. With the two extra charges offered by the case, the total battery life of the Pixel Buds Pro is 20 hours with RBA and 31 hours without. That's plenty of time for long-distance travel.

In terms of functionality, the Pixel Buds' full touch interface is present, including the horizontal swipe volume control, which is, in our opinion, the most intuitive of the existing solutions. The touch controls are responsive, complemented by wearable detection that mutes the music when an earbud is removed and resumes it as soon as it's back in place.

The Buds Pro are Bluetooth 5.0 compatible. 

The Buds Pro are Bluetooth 5.0 compatible, so there's nothing to worry about in terms of range or signal robustness. The multipoint connection allows automatic switching between two devices, whether they are Android, iOS, macOS or Windows terminals. 

We tried it with a Pixel 6 Pro and a Windows 11 desktop and it worked as advertised, allowing you to switch between the two depending on your usage and needs. The latency level was correct on the smartphone with the usual applications (such as YouTube and Netflix which apply latency compensation), no concern about image/sound desynchronisation in video. On the other hand, on PCs where there is no latency compensation, there was a noticeable lag. The same applies to video games. 

Hands-free access to the Google Assistant is also included, with passive listening that allows you to activate it at any time with a "Hey Google" to adjust the volume, change the song, reply to an SMS or launch the real-time translation service.

Facing the competition

At €219, the Pixel Buds Pro are up against the Sony WF-1000XM4, AirPods Pro, Momentum True Wireless 3 and the Oppo Enco X2.

The Sony and Sennheiser are superior in terms of audio quality, but the gap is not huge. The Buds Pro are close in terms of RBA and offer the best battery life on the shelf, just behind the WF-1000XM4. The Enco X 2s shine on audio quality and comfort, but fall behind the Google headphones on battery life and noise reduction.

Conclusion

It's fair to say that Google has made a successful entry into the world of high-end noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones. 

The Pixel Buds Pro are comfortable, durable, have very good sound quality and RBA worthy of the best. 

Android users looking for maximum integration of Google services will find the most complete headset available.

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