I’ve only had the Google Pixel Buds A-Series earbuds for a week, but I can already see that they’re excellent … and that they just don’t meet my needs. So I’ll be returning them, as soon as today. But don’t let that stop you: If you’re a Pixel fan, love a great value, and need a nice pair of earbuds, the Pixel Buds A-Series are a great choice.
Indeed, if we weren’t preparing for a future move and trying to declutter as much as possible, I’d probably hang onto them anyway: the Pixel Buds A-Series aren’t at all expensive, they look great and deliver great sound, and they’re nice and small and sit securely and comfortably in my ears. I really do like them.
But they’re going back. As I noted in my first impressions post, I need a new pair of earbuds for a very specific scenario—I go to a noisy gym 5-6 times per week—and for all its advantages, the Pixel Buds A-Series offers absolutely no noise cancelation at all, not even basic passive noise cancelation. And that makes them a no-go for me.
But before I pack them back up and return them to Google, let me break down what I experienced using these otherwise excellent earbuds over the past week.
Value. While it is possible to find decent earbuds for as little as $50—yes, really—models from premium audio hardware makers (Bose) and premium smartphone makers (Apple, Samsung) tend to cost a lot more. But as it did with it’s A-series Pixel phones, Google is providing a value-oriented alternative that in this case splits the difference between unknown and possibly fleeting companies and the more expensive brands. The Pixel Buds A-Series cost $99 and I think that’s fair, especially if you’re a Pixel fan and want something that integrates seamlessly with your handset.
Design. There are various (truly) wireless earbud designs, but I like Google’s approach the best, as it combines a small, low-profile bud—and not something huge and obnoxious like Surface Earbuds—with just enough hold stability courtesy of two small and flexible, but non-removable, little stabilizer arcs. And while Google has foregone color choices for the most part in its recent A-series phones, the Pixel Buds A-Series do offer some choice, with both Clearly White and Dark Olive options, the latter of which nicely matches my Pixel 5a.
Comfort. This one is mostly subjective, as our ears are all different, and any one-size-fits-all product, like the Pixel Buds A-Series, is bound to hurt some users’ ears. But they fit mine well, and never caused any ear pain, and I never even needed to fidget around with different tip sizes. But Google provides three tip sizes in the box, which is pretty typical, just in case. And they never fell out or got loose during my gym visits or outdoor walks.
Sound quality. While the A-Series buds don’t offer a lot in the way of sound enhancement or customization—there’s not even an EQ control in the app—you can at least boost the bass, which I did, and sound quality across podcasts, music, and phone calls sounded just fine. There is a goofy Adaptive Sound feature that’s supposed to raise and lower the volume dynamically according to changes in your environment, but I noticed that it always lagged behind the actual changes, so I eventually turned it off.
Noise cancelation. This was the sticking point for me. While many earbuds offer at least passive noise cancelation—which basically just blocks some ambient sound because they’re stuck in your ears—the Pixel Buds A-Series pass through sound, so there is absolutely no noise-canceling. This is by design, however: there are vent holes in the buds that prevent in-ear pressure from building up. Some people find that pressure to be painful. And, of course, the ambient sound seepage helps you hear the world around you, so you don’t walk into a bus or whatever.
Controls. Like most modern earbuds, the A-Series supports touch controls, including tap (Play/Pause or Answer call by default), double-tap (Next track/End or reject call), tripe-tap (Previous track), and press and hold (Talk to Google Assistant or hear notifications). Unlike most modern earbuds, however, there’s no way to change the volume, so you have to do so on your phone. This doesn’t bother me at all, but I understand it’s not ideal to some. Note, too, that the Pixel Buds A-Series support in-ear detection, so audio will pause when you take out a bud and resume when you put it back in, which I like.
Battery life and charging. I didn’t have the Pixel Buds A-Series long enough to truly understand the battery, but the 5 hour figure that Google cites, while definitely on the low side, would meet my needs. Plus, the tiny, cute, and—get this—magnetic charging case can add another 24 hours of life, with a 15-minute charge adding 3 hours of battery life. Note that this is over USB-C: the value-oriented A-series doesn’t provide wireless charging.
Connectivity. The Pixel Buds A-Series uses Bluetooth 5.0 to separately connect each earbud to a device. But you don’t have to deal with Bluetooth if you have a compatible phone, like a Pixel, since it also supports Quick Pair: When I opened the case, my Pixel 5a immediately asked me if I wanted to connect them. Nice!
Water resistance. I wanted to use these at the gym so water/sweat resistance was key. And it’s there, though the A-Series only includes IPx4 water resistance, which is about as low quality as that can get: if you were to drop one in water, it would probably fail.
Niceties. Google bundles a USB-C charging cable in the box, but no power supply. The inside of the charging case is color-matched to the Olive Green of the buds. A button on the outside of the charging case can initiate pairing if your device doesn’t support Quick Pair. You can use Google’s Find Device service to find your earbuds on a map, as you can with your phone. And if you’re into Google Assistant, a case could be made that these buds are useful just for that seamless integration.
Well, there you go. I’ll miss the little guys.