Google’s Pixel earphones are a major threat to the AirPods Pro

The Pixel Buds Pro are Google’s fourth earbud product since entering the category in 2017, and they’re the first to offer active noise cancellation, as the AirPods Pro already does. Google will sell the new buds for $199 retail (AirPods Pro retail for $249).

The AirPods Pro have been my go-to earbuds since they came out in 2019, so they’ve been my basis for comparison, and I expect millions of earbud buyers to choose between the two products.

Pixel Buds look very different from AirPods. Some reviewers have said that their rounded design resembles that of Mentos (especially unflattering considering they’re lodged in your ears). Not so with the charcoal-colored ones that Google loaned me, which was nice and understandable to me. The buds also come in shades of coral, lemongrass, and fog, all of which offer a low-key, earthy look.

Since I’m used to the AirPods Pro, it took me a little practice to hold the Pixel Buds in my ears. But it’s actually pretty simple: You just point the foam tip toward your ear canal, then wiggle outward until the tip forms a comfortable seal at the opening of the canal.

The Pixel Buds are a bit bigger and more bulbous than the AirPods Pro, but they seem to conform to the space well in my outer ear. They also have a balanced feel to them, which makes it easy to forget about them when you’re running or otherwise walking around.

The AirPods Pro and Pixel Buds both use a design that completely “closes” (or “seals up”) the opening of the ear canal. This is important for a few reasons – it affects audio quality and plays a role in noise cancellation.

The AirPods Pro never fit snugly in my ears. With the various ear tip size options provided by Apple, their rubbery tips never created a pleasant seal in my ear canal. (It’s probably due to my unique ear shape; others have had better luck.) I had better results with the Pixel Buds Pro. Google wisely guessed that there are people like me whose ears seem to resist the tight fit. They use a tip material (which they brand “Silent Seal”) that tends to mold into the ear canal, helping me get a nice snug fit.

That seal is the Pixel Buds . was a big part of the reason was appearing Very good. The sound of the tiny speakers in the Buds went into my ear canals, with very little leaking. This leads to a very satisfying bass response. I heard a strong, but measured, rendition of the low frequencies in rock, hip hop and classical music. (I’ve heard plenty of consumer audio products that amplify the bass so that it dominates and undermines the rest of the mix.) The upper-mid and high frequencies were also well managed. High synths, bells and cymbals sounded crisp but not sharp. If I have any quibble it’s that on some of the rock music recordings I tested midrange sounds (like guitars) could have been a touch more apparent.

A good seal in the ear canal also has a direct impact on the Pixel Buds Pro’s marquee feature, noise cancellation. A comfortable seal can block ambient noise from traveling to the eardrum. This is called “passive” noise cancellation. And as much of the noise is physically blocked, the burden is less on the “active” noise cancellation processing technology in the earphones to block out the rest of the ambient noise.

Not that Pixel Buds noise cancellation is correct. far from it. You can toggle noise cancellation on and off with a long touch on the outside of the Buds, and while you can hear the difference between “Noise Canceling” and “Transparency” modes, it’s not huge. There’s definitely some active noise cancellation going on, but a lot of outside noise is still coming in. I don’t want to rely on the Buds’ noise cancellation on noisy plane flight. I would use my Bose over-ears for that.

I was also fortunate enough to be able to get the Pixel Buds Pro to play nice with my Apple accessories. They paired with my iPhone, iPad, and Mac as easily as AirPods Pro, and they kept the connection. Even when I paired the Buds with my Apple Watch, I didn’t notice any breakup in the connection.

The Pixel Buds, in fact, seemed to be a bit smarter about their environment than the AirPods Pro. Pixel Buds can sense whether they’re in your ear, so your phone knows not to send music or telephone calls if they’re lying on a table. I can’t say the same for the AirPods Pro, unfortunately. I doubt the next version of AirPods Pro will fix this problem.

Google says the Pixel Buds will play music with noise cancellation for “up to 7 hours”. Based on my limited tests, I don’t doubt it. Google says the Buds Carry Case can provide up to an additional 20 hours of power to the Buds on a single charge.

The buds also have an IPX4 water resistance rating, which means you can sweat them or go outside in the rain without worry.

Overall I am impressed with Google’s new Pixel Buds Pro. You get a great design and a lot of technology for a couple hundred bucks. I suspect many Android users will buy them, and probably a good number of iOS users (like me) too. I still prefer my AirPods Pro, but I expect the new Pixel Buds Pro to put pressure on Apple to keep upping its earbuds game a little more quickly.

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