Like the Google Pixel Buds A-Series before them, the Pixel Buds Pro earbuds are generally very good but they just don’t meet my needs. So I will be returning them and rethinking things. Again.
Cutting to the chase, this all comes down to ANC (active noise cancelation). With the exception of my first-generation Bose Quiet Comfort Earbuds, every set of earbuds I’ve tried has failed the same test: I bring them to the gym, which pipes in loud music everywhere (and often different music in a side classroom at the same time, so the two can fight it out), and they just can’t erase the background noise when I’m working out. The Bose earbuds handle this situation nicely, meaning that they almost completely silence the noise. But with the Pixel Buds Pro, I could very clearly hear the music. Which was annoying since I was trying to listen to a podcast.
So why not just use the Bose? Granted, that is what I’ve been doing, and it’s hard to use a lesser product when something works this well. But the Bose are big and expensive: I don’t want one to fall out and get damaged or destroyed, I don’t want to ruin them from constant use, and their incredibly large case is so awkward to carry that I leave it behind in the car when I go to the gym. Surely, there is a smaller, cheaper set of earbuds with ANC that can meet my needs.
To be fair, I did go into this assuming that the Pixel Buds Pro would offer a less compelling ANC experience than the Bose, and they did, but I was surprised by the difference at the gym. Beyond that, the Pixel Buds Pro are mostly very good, but I was also unhappy with the loose fit in my ears and was always worried that the buds would pop out as I walked outside or worked out. They never did, but I did end up fiddling with them a lot. I get a much more secure fit with the Bose, which offer eartip wings for stability.
And yes, the Pixel Buds Pro do have some advantages that will make the compelling to others.
At $199, they’re cheaper, must cheaper, than the Bose, which cost $299. (And I got my Pixel Buds Pro on sale for just $149.) Or, they did: now that the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are available, you can get the first-generation version for just $179. (That’s even less expensive than the Pixel Buds Pro and is quite tempting.)
The Pixel Buds Pro also offer spatial audio functionality that the Bose earbuds lack. This was initially very interesting to me, but I quickly realized that this isn’t something I’d need all that much in earbuds. Spatial audio is hit or miss with music anyway, and I mostly use the earbuds for spoken word content, which is usually mono. Where spatial audio makes the most sense, of course, is with movies, and I don’t usually watch movies with earbuds, other than occasionally on planes.
The Pixel Buds Pro also provide more on-device controls than do the Bose. There are gestures for tap, double-tap, triple-tap, touch and hold, swipe forward, and swipe back, and each works identically on either earbud. With the Bose, there are separate double-tap gestures for the left and right buds, swipe-up and swipe-down gestures for volume (which are disabled by default), and separate touch and hold gestures on each bud. If you like lots of on-device gestures, I can’t imagine how the Pixel Buds Pro could do more in this area.
Short term, I will likely stick with what I’ve been using—the OG Bose Quiet Comfort Earbuds—but I’d still like to find something else for the gym. I know that Sony makes well-reviewed earbuds with great ANC, and that they are less expensive than the Bose, for example. But I’ll probably hold off for a while.
Regarding the broader Pixel ecosystem, I’m curious to see what Google announces this year. I won’t bother with the first-generation Pixel Watch, but I’m curious about a second-generation version and could see using my Fitbit Charge 5 in the meantime. I’m likewise curious about the Pixel Tablet: the Android sites seem to think that this will finally arrive in May alongside Google I/O, and I wonder if it can replace my iPad Air. Looking further ahead, I will immediately upgrade to the Pixel 8 Pro when that arrives this September/October, if only for its flat display. And I would love to see an Apple TV-class home streaming box: the current Chromecast with Google TV is woefully underpowered.
And who knows? Perhaps there will eventually be a Pixel Buds Pro follow-up with better ANC, better codec support—the current version doesn’t support any lossless or truly high-quality formats—and some very necessary stability wings. I would consider such a product, assuming I don’t move on to something else in the meantime.
I had hoped this would work. And while the Google Pixel Buds Pro are very good, they’re just not quite what I need, and so my search continues.