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Google Pixel Buds A-Series review: Can you hear them now?

Google's Android integration and overall design are great, as long as you can hear your music.
Reviews
By
July 13, 2021
Here's a close up of the Google Pixel Buds A-Series on driftwood with a smartphone.

Google Pixel Buds A-Series

If you can come to terms with the often quiet output, the seamless Android integration is worth your money. Google added an IPX4 rating for good measure, and the fit is comfortable. Still, there are other ways to get a great experience without volume issues.

Retail price: $99.99

$99.99 at Best Buy

What we like

Comfortable fit
Smooth Android integration
Intuitive touch controls
IPX4 rating for sweat

What we don't like

Adaptive Sound can be distracting
Not loud enough
Table of contents

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.

Google Pixel Buds A-Series
$99.99 at Best Buy
This Google Pixel Buds A-Series review comes from the audio experts at our sister site SoundGuys. Check out their in-depth take on the Google Pixel Buds A-Series.

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?

Close up on a man with the Google Pixel Buds A-Series using touch controls.

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 approach. We tested out the Clearly White pair, one of Google’s go-to hues, but you can grab an olive shade as well to almost match your Pixel 5.

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.

See also: The best true wireless earbuds

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 — 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?

A man is seated at the beach with a smartphone and wearing Google Pixel Buds A-Series.

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.

See also: The best Google Assistant headphones

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?

A hand holds the open case of the Google Pixel Buds A-Series in front of a beach.

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 lands just about in the average range.

See also: Let’s talk true wireless earbuds and their battery life

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?

In theory, the Pixel Buds A-Series should sound pretty good. However, they’re far too quiet with certain phones. In fact, the earbuds’ initial output is among the quietest we’ve ever tested. Our team at SoundGuys investigated the volume output issue, and editor AJ Wykes explained that the earbuds require three volts to achieve adequate testing results.

In contrast, some earbuds need just 25 millivolts for testing. Basically, this means that the A-Series is nearly one-fifth quieter than the average pair of ‘buds we test. The good news is that you can somewhat fix the audio issues through your phone’s developer settings. We’ll explain that in the next section.

The Pixel Buds A-Series should sound pretty good. However, they're far too quiet with certain phones.

Should you choose to stick with the Pixel Buds A-Series, 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 sound inaccurate on the Pixel Buds A-Series. The overemphasis on high-frequency mids makes it hard to hear the low end, and some might even describe music as “one-dimensional.” 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.

A chart showing the mediocre isolation performance of the Google Pixel Buds A-Series

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 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, you’ll have to dip into the developer options on your phone. This is more involved than most users will like, but it makes your earbuds sound as they always should have.

Here are the steps you’ll need:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Enter About phone.
  3. Tap on the Build number option seven times.
  4. Press the back arrow.
  5. Head down to System & updates.
  6. Select Developer options.
  7. Enable the Bluetooth absolute volume toggle.

Your Pixel Buds A-Series should work at normal volume now. If they’re still quiet, 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

The Google Pixel Buds A-Series are sitting in their case on a piece of driftwood at a beach.

Unfortunately, Google still hasn’t fixed a few of the issues we had with the previous Pixel Buds iterations, so they’re not our first choice to recommend. If you’re a big-time Android fan, you won’t hate them by any stretch — but you may like other wireless earbuds a bit more. There are some advantages over 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.

See also: The best AirPods alternatives for under $100

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 volume difficulties we ran into are a serious point to consider before you drop your Benjamin.

Google Pixel Buds A Clearly White Dark Olive
Google Pixel Buds A-Series
Google's affordable Pixel Buds are all about boosting your productivity. They pack plenty of features and a form factor you know and love. All you have to do is pick a color.

What can you get instead?

Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus true wireless earbuds sitting on top of the Samsung Galaxy S10e.

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 Plus. They should run about the same cost, with 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. You’ll have to upgrade to the Galaxy Buds Pro if you want to add ANC to the mix.

We would also be remiss not to mention the premium Google Pixel Buds (Gen 2). They offer many of the same features with a similar aesthetic, but they cost more and pack a slightly more premium build. If you’re dead-set on Pixel Buds, the high-end pair is worth the splurge.