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Google Pixel Buds A-Series
Retail price: $99.99$99.99 at Best Buy
What we like
What we don't like
Google Pixel Buds A-Series
If you’re hunting for a pair of earbuds that you can pop in and forget, then you’ve come to the right place. Google is a master of bringing you powerful devices that blend right into your daily life. It packed plenty of features into the reasonably priced Pixel Buds A Series, and now it’s time to see how the earbuds fare in our Google Pixel Buds A Series review.
Update, November 2022: This review was updated to address the latest firmware that solved volume issues, the launch of the Pixel Buds Pro, pricing updates, and more.
Who should buy the Google Pixel Buds A Series?
- Pixel fans will love the aesthetic and seamless integration with Android at a reasonable price.
- Productivity hounds will admire the smooth integration and simple controls with any Android device.
Headphone buying guide: A beginner’s guide to all things headphones
What is it like to use the Google Pixel Buds A Series?
The Pixel Buds A Series are a cheerful little pair of earbuds, with a clean overall design and a pristine white charging case to match. Google’s earbuds feature small wings that look almost like antennae, and they do just the trick. After all, Google couldn’t get too wild with the design while maintaining a relatively budget-friendly approach. We tested out the Clearly White pair, one of Google’s go-to hues, but you can grab an olive shade as well.
Google stuck with a plastic construction throughout both the earbuds and the charging case, which results in a lightweight final product. There are rubber elements where needed, but mostly to keep the Buds locked in your ears. The charging case’s lid feels a bit flimsy, which may not be great in the long run, but it certainly does not feel as though it will fall off. You can recharge the case via USB-C, and the case packs a small magnet to keep it safely in place while you charge.
While Google is usually on top of organizing its information, the included guide left a lot to be desired. We had to go so far as to search for just about everything, including how to pair the earbuds. Sure it may take a minute to set up, but the payout is worth it: these are some of the most comfortable earbuds around. The earbuds are light as a feather, but the pressure vents are careful to prevent a sense of vertigo. You can get the perfect fit with small, medium, or large silicone ear tips.
Google even added an IPX4 rating, which is not always common on affordable earbuds. So, you can feel safe rocking the Pixel Buds A Series for your workout. The earbuds won’t resist dust — and make sure not to take them for a swim — but splashes and sweat should be just fine. Overall, Google managed to add a dash of just about everything, and it almost gets the formula right (you’ll see what we mean in a bit).
Who needs noise-cancelling with Adaptive Sound?
Adaptive Sound is a handy feature in the Pixel Buds app that compensates for everyday auditory masking. Instead of using noise-cancelling, it gets the job done with even more auditory masking. We already give the volume a boost in loud situations, but now Google does it for you. The Pixel Buds A Series pick up when you’re in a loud place or a quiet place and adjust the volume accordingly. This might be why there are no onboard volume controls on either earbud.
Most other earbuds use a blend of solid isolation and active noise cancellation (ANC) to get the job done. This essentially cuts down on the noise competing for your precious ear space. In contrast, Adaptive Sound tries to beat outside noise by simply being the louder noise. As you might guess, being louder is not always the best answer.
If you’re on a phone call, Adaptive Sound is a great feature. We can’t always ensure a silent room to take a call, so the instant adjustment when a loud motorcycle roars by is great for staying focused. With music, on the other hand, Adaptive Sound can be very distracting. Depending on your environment, it can feel like you’re cranking the volume knob back and forth all the time. If you go from a loud area to a quiet area just as the chorus hits, you may not get the punch you were waiting for.
Do you need the Pixel Buds app?
In a word, yes. Google basically forces the Android-only app on you as soon as you pair the A Series to your phone. The good news is that it’s one of the best features of the earbuds. Seamless integration is a major selling point, and the Pixel Buds app allows you to track the location of your earphones in case you should lose one. You can kick into Bass Boost as well, manage your touch controls, and even fiddle with in-ear detection. Just remember that Google is collecting data any time you access certain features like Find device.
The Pixel Buds app is Android-only, so you won't get the same features on an iPhone.
All of the Pixel Buds app features work as intended. The touch controls are effortless, but you can’t actually customize your setup. Google Assistant is the default for voice commands, or you can activate it with a long press on the G logo. Just remember that the Pixel Buds app is Android-only, so you won’t get the same features on an iPhone.
What is the Google Pixel Buds A Series connection process like?
The pairing process is simple, at least once you figure out how to get started. Pop open the lid of the charging case and press the button on the back. You’ll know when it starts pairing because the small LED light will flash yellow and white. Choose the Pixel Buds A Series from your Bluetooth menu, and voila, all paired. The connection is solid, and Bluetooth 5.0 is reliable.
As far as Bluetooth codecs go, you have just AAC and SBC to choose from. Most people won’t notice a difference between the two on the Pixel Buds A Series, especially if you run into volume issues.
How is the battery life?
Google boasts that you can get five hours of music playback or two and a half hours of talk time. In actuality, a 90-minute phone call will leave you with about 50% of your juice. Our standard 75dB battery test resulted in four hours and 44 minutes of charge, which is close to the estimate and lands them just about in the average range for earbuds.
The Pixel Buds A Series charging case packs quick charging capabilities, with 15 minutes in the case offering up three hours of extra playback. We’ve already mentioned the USB-C charging, but you won’t find a wireless option to go with it. For that, you’ll have to splurge on the premium Pixel Buds.
How does the Google Pixel Buds A Series sound?
If you have firmware version 233 or later, the Google Pixel Buds A Series should sound good. Previous firmware versions made the A Series sound far too quiet. So if you’re experiencing that issue, try updating the firmware.
The Pixel Buds A Series should sound pretty good, as long as you have firmware version 233 or later.
Furthermore, you have two distinct frequency responses to consider. One is without Bass Boost, while the other is with Google’s handy feature. Otherwise, there are no EQ adjustment options. You can use the slider above to compare the two, but you’ll notice the most difference on the left side of the chart.
The default frequency response is generally geared towards speech rather than music. If you wear these earbuds during a Zoom call, you want to be able to hear voices and cut down on background noise. Most people have voices above the sub-bass level, so there’s no need to emphasize that range. In fact, the low bass should help to cut down on things like desk jostling.
Adding the Bass Boost feature gives a solid kick to the audio. It’s much more suited to music than the default, and the neutral mid response means that the Bass Boost doesn’t sound too badly exaggerated.
Lows, mids, and highs
On the default EQ, certain songs don’t sound quite right on the Pixel Buds A Series. For instance, Free by SAULT sounds inaccurate on the A Series, with an overemphasis on the high mids and a “one-dimensionality” that results from not being able to hear any low end. When you boost the bass, you’ll suddenly get the kick drum, bassline, and other elements that had been missing. Unfortunately, even the bass boost does nothing to combat the low overall volume.
If you check out our isolation curve, you’ll notice that isolation isn’t exactly the priority for the Pixel Buds A Series. The vents seem to compromise the seal more so than on the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro or Sony WF-1000XM4, though those are some premium competitors. Google never really promised us isolation though — these ‘buds are more focused on keeping you slightly aware of your surroundings.
Can you fix the volume issues? How?
If you find yourself suffering from the volume woes we’ve mentioned repeatedly, all hope is not lost. Plenty of other Pixel Buds A Series users have cited the same problems. To fix the issue, try updating your firmware version. This should happen automatically, but if it doesn’t, here’s how to do it manually:
- Put your buds into the case.
- Open the Pixel Buds app.
- Tap More settings, then tap Firmware update.
- Hit Update available.
Your Pixel Buds A Series should work at normal volume now. If they’re still quiet, restart your device.
If Google hasn’t released a firmware update in your region yet, you’ll need to dive deeper into your phone’s settings to remedy the issue. It’s pretty involved, but here’s what to do:
- Go to Settings
- Select About phone
- Tap “Build number” seven times
- Tap the back arrow
- Head to System & updates
- Scroll down and choose “Developer options”
- Enable the “Developer options” toggle
- Scroll down and enable the “Bluetooth absolute volume” toggle
Your earbuds should work at normal volume immediately. If not, restart your device.
Is the Google Pixel Buds A Series microphone any good?
Each earbud packs a pair of microphones, and they pick up voices impressively well. Voices sound almost like they would in real life, just with a slight loss in resolution. The microphones also block outside noise reasonably well. However, they’re so good at this that they may occasionally mistake your voice for noise. The A Series handles noise from a fan in our demo, but it also cuts out part of the voice. In a quiet environment, this shouldn’t be an issue. You can listen to our audio sample here.
Google Pixel Buds A Series review: The verdict
Unfortunately, Google still hasn’t fixed a few of the issues we had with the previous Pixel Buds iterations, but it has solved a lot of them. They’re not our first choice to recommend if you want affordable buds, but if you’re a big-time Android fan, you won’t hate them by any stretch — you just may like other wireless earbuds a bit more. There are some advantages over the AirPods, especially when you consider the isolation advantages of silicone ear tips. Of course, the real deciding factor for the Pixel Buds A Series should be what you need in a set of earphones.
The connectivity is seamless, and the earbuds stay connected with no issues. Google Assistant is easy to access, and it can help you track down lost earbuds, too. These earbuds are feather-light and comfortable, so you can wear them for the entirety of the battery life without any issues. However, the difficulties we ran into are a serious point to consider before you drop your Benjamins.
How does the Google Pixel Buds A Series compare to the Google Pixel Buds Pro?
The Pixel Buds Pro ($192.5 at Amazon) look similar to the Pixel Buds A Series and comes in four colors (Lemongrass, Coral, Charcoal, and Fog). They’re notably different because they’re Google’s first attempt at earbuds with ANC. That and their price tag put them into competition with the likes of the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) ($239) and the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro ($199).
As for sound, the Pixel Buds Pro sound quite different to the A Series, which you can see in the chart below. The Pro buds get boosted bass and treble out-of-the-box, though you can EQ them using the Pixel Buds app. Google has also abandoned Adaptive Sound for a new Volume EQ feature. With it, bass and treble change as you increase or decrease the volume.
And the ANC does well, especially in the low-frequency range, as you can see in the chart above. However, their passive isolation performance is less consistent, and it can be tricky to get a good fit from the Pixel Buds Pro versus the A Series. Namely, that’s because the Pro earbuds don’t have any wings to secure them in place.
The Pixel Buds Pro also come packed with sensors that measure the pressure in your ear canals to help compensate for the “plugged up” feeling some people may experience. Other sensors handle wearing detection and automatic play/pause. Furthermore, they have a transparency mode to help you hear your surroundings. And they’re a bit more durable, with an IPX2-rated case and IPX4-rated buds, meaning both have some water resistance.
The Pixel Buds Pro are about double the price of the A Series, but Google fans are likely to appreciate their ANC, wireless charging, and better battery life worth the cost. However, they are a bit less secure, so joggers and athletes may find them a bit less than ideal.
What can you get instead?
If the smooth Android integration and Google Assistant are what drew you to the Pixel Buds A Series, you may want to consider the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 ($111.18). They have ANC, AKG tuning and multiple EQ profiles to choose from, we never ran into any volume issues in our testing, and the microphone is a solid performer as well. If you want the latest and greatest, you can move up to the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro ($227.99), which have some of the best ANC around these days. Both will give you the best experience on Samsung phones, but non-Samsung devices still get a few benefits.
If you can move yourself away from Google slightly, there’s also the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd gen) ($69.99) to consider. These buds are normally slightly more expensive (especially if you opt for the wireless charging option), but they give you excellent Alexa integration, noise-cancelling, and even an ear tip fit test to really nail down the isolation performance. There are also the Jabra Elite 3 ($59.35), which use Bluetooth 5.2, support aptX and SBC, and feature an IP55 rating. The lack of AAC is less than ideal for iPhone users, but Android owners should find them a solid set of basic buds.
Finally, if you want to spend a bit more, you can try the OnePlus Buds Pro ($99.99). They’ll give you ANC, a handy mobile app, good battery life, and solid sound quality.
Frequently asked questions about the Google Pixel Buds A Series
The Pixel Buds have been discontinued, so it could be tricky to find a pair these days.
No. The Pixel Buds A Series are IPX4 rated, however, which means they can withstand sweat and drips, but not anything more than that.