Google Pixel Buds Pro Review: Amazing hardware with terrible out-of-the-box tuning
Google’s been in the audio game for quite a while now, and the Pixel Buds Pro is the latest addition to the company’s portfolio. We’ve had Pixel Buds before, and the company has launched the Buds-A series in the past as a complement of sorts to the likes of the Google Pixel 6a. The Pixel Buds Pro is the first all-out attempt from Google, and while it’s an admirable effort, the company is really just playing catch up.
The Google Pixel Buds Pro has a few neat features that put them above the rest, though there are some confusing omissions. It features a comfortable design that stays put in your ears, has great touch controls, decent active noise canceling, multipoint support, and long battery life. There are some things it doesn’t have that you’ll notice though, such as no higher-quality codecs like LDAC and no built-in EQ (yet). The tuning out-of-the-box is terrible, so you either need to not care, or know what you need to change.
In short, the Google Pixel Buds Pro do a great job at being good earphones, but they’re costly and merely represent the company playing catch-up rather than innovating the space. If these earphones were released a year or two ago, they’d still merely feel on par with the rest of the competition. They do everything else so well, and the sound quality is great (with some tweaks), but it’s the out-of-the-box tuning that makes these earphones sound a lot worse than they should. If you’re not an audio snob then you probably won’t notice it, but otherwise, you’ll likely need to use an app like Wavelet.
Google Pixel Buds Pro: Specifications
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About this review: I received the Google Pixel Buds Pro for review for IrishTech on the 28th July, 2022. While Google sent us these earphones for review, it had no input into the contents of this review.
Google Pixel Buds Pro: Price & Availability
The Pixel Buds Pro comes in four colorways — Charcoal, Fog, Coral, and Lemongrass — at a price of $199/£199/€219. They are available for purchase now on Google’s own store and on Amazon in a wide range of regions, including the United States and across Europe.
Google Pixel Buds Pro: Design
The Google Pixel Buds Pro has a rather unique design, especially for earbuds. Ignoring the fact that the company launched funky colors like the lovely “Coral” pair that we received, these are a design that we haven’t really seen anywhere else. The orange top functions as a touch panel for inputs, whereas the earphones themselves are longer, designed to be twisted into the ear rather than placed in it.
I didn’t have to downsize or upsize to the other tips provided in the box, but there are other sizes if you need them. There’s never going to be a “one size fits all” solution to earphones, but that’s fine so long as there are additional options in the box. Transparency mode is also fine, though I tend to find that feature subpar on practically any pair of earphones that I’ve used.
Google Pixel Buds Pro: Sound quality
When I first used these earphones, I had come off previously using the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2. They support the LDAC codec, which is a high-bitrate codec that supports up to 990Kbps of audio. The highest bitrate of MP3 that you’ll get is 320Kbps, which leaves room for a lot of overhead but ensures that you’ll get the full quality of your audio transmitted to your ears. Prior to that, I had used the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro, which supports the AAC codec at 264 Kbps.
Having used both of those earphones recently, I expected that the Google Pixel Buds Pro would sound completely fine. When I set them up for the first time, I listened to music and assumed they had defaulted to SBC, as it sounded as if I was listening to low-bitrate MP3 files. That turned out to not be the case, and I couldn’t figure out why they sounded the way they did.
I compared these earphones to the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2, with a FreeBuds Pro 2 in one ear and a Pixel Buds Pro in the other. I listened to hand crushed by a mallet by 100 gecs which is a song that has a fantastic dynamic range. I noticed that a hi-hat I could clearly hear on the FreeBuds Pro 2 was barely audible on the Pixel Buds Pro. I also noticed a much stronger bassline on the Pixel Buds Pro, one that seemed to drown out the kick drum. That’s when it clicked with me: these earphones have a terrible out-of-the-box tuning. The highest frequencies drop off terribly, the mid-range is a bit too high, and the bass overpowers the mix.
For context, compressed MP3 files are compressed by removing frequencies above a certain frequency range. A 320Kbps MP3 removes frequencies from roughly above 19.5kHz, which doesn’t hugely matter as human hearing generally only maxes out at 25kHz, anyway. However, compressing audio down to 192Kbps removes frequencies above 18KHz, and 128Kbps removes frequencies above 16KHz. Both of these tend to be noticeable. There is an element of subjectivity when referring to frequency ranges, but the low-end refers to bass, and the high-end refers to treble. Treble is where the likes of cymbals, high-hats, and other high-frequency instrumentation can be heard the most, though the removal of some of the highest frequencies in the 10kHz-20kHz range may not be immediately apparent.
I found that I could use Wavelet to boost the 19.2kHz frequency band significantly, reduce the 9.6kHz band, and reduce the low-end significantly, and these earphones became a whole lot more tolerable. Boosting 19.2kHz alone won’t do a whole lot for the audio, but because it’s a frequency band that encompasses a wide range of frequencies from above 9.6kHz, it also boosts frequencies going back to there, too. After doing that, they sound nearly on par with any other pair of earphones that I use now when previously it felt like I was listening to a radio directly in my ears.
It’s crazy just how much tuning matters when it comes to earphones, and it’s disappointing that Google shipped these earphones with this tuning. Google has promised to add a full five-band EQ to the Pixel Buds app, but until then, you’re going to have to resort to the likes of Wavelet to make these changes. Previously, the bass very much overpowered the audio experience, and the rest of the audio experience felt hollow.
Once I applied my changes, however, these earphones sound really, really good. They’re loud, they’re clear, and they’re comfortable. They’re great for listening to all kinds of music, and the great audio hardware combined with proper tuning makes these an excellent pair of earphones. It is disappointing to not have many codecs supported out of the box, but AAC is a universal one that will work on pretty much anything.
Nevertheless, a lot of this experience is still inexcusable. The hardware is amazing, but it needs some work on its tuning.
On the bright side, the call quality is decent. I can be understood completely fine pretty much anywhere when using these earphones on my phone, and haven’t had any problems with having conversations when using them.
Google Pixel Buds Pro: Software, settings, and battery life
On the software front, the Google Pixel Buds Pro benefit from both simplicity and direct Android integration. The setup process is easy thanks to Google’s Fast Pair (with fast switching, by the way), and the software controls for these earphones will be built into your phone — if you use a Pixel, anyway. If you don’t, then you can install the Google Pixel Buds app from the Google Play Store, and it will provide you with the same interface as you’ll get on a Pixel phone.
As you can see, there are quite a lot of features and controls to choose from. The biggest addition here that you’ll find that other earphones don’t have is the Google Assistant. Simply saying “Hey Google” will activate it, and you can ask any questions that you would normally of the Google Assistant. It’s a great way to check things when you’re out and about if you need to, and you can enable reading your notifications out to you if you want. That way then you won’t have to take your phone out if you’re walking down a busy street or carrying something.
The other major addition is “Multipoint”, which makes use of Google’s Fast Pair quick switching technology. Essentially, you can connect to up to two devices at a time, and seamlessly transition between the two. If you’re playing media on one device, you can stop playing media on that device and then switch over to the other and start playing, too. However, if you get a phone call on one device while watching a video on the other, your earphones will intelligently decide to switch over to the device receiving the call, because it’s assumed that you’d want to take the phone call.
In terms of battery life, these earphones are excellent. I can keep them in my ears all day and they just go, and go, and go. The case honestly feels like it needs a slightly bigger battery, though that’s probably because I get so much life out of the earphones.
Should you buy the Google Pixel Buds Pro?
The Google Pixel Buds Pro is an excellent pair of earphones that cost a lot of money, in the same price range as the best wireless earphones. Coming in at $199 puts these well above the likes of the OnePlus Buds Pro, on-par with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro (at launch), and a little bit below the AirPods Pro. Google is making a statement by selling these earphones at what is essentially a flagship earphone price.
For what it’s worth, I love the Google Pixel Buds Pro after making my equalization changes. The tuning on these earphones out of the box is extremely bass-heavy with a massively reduced treble, and it ends up creating an effect that sounds like it’s a low bitrate. You can remedy it with the use of third-party software, but generally speaking, that’s not merit you should ever buy a product on. There is a five-band EQ said to be coming to the Google Pixel Buds later this year, and that’ll be the way that you should make those modifications from then on.
If you don’t consider yourself an audiophile, then you’ll love the Google Pixel Buds Pro. I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to audio as I have a musical background, but that also meant I knew what I was able to change to make these earphones sound good. If you don’t think you’ll care, then these are definitely a great pair of earphones to pick up. Alternatively, you can copy my settings and they might fix them for you as well.