I was very impressed with the Pixel Buds (2020) — Google’s second wireless earbud effort — when they launched last year.
At the time, they were the most comfortable earbuds I’d ever used, which I always value over sound quality when it comes to wireless earbuds (I now find the Galaxy Buds Live to be the most comfortable wireless buds). While the Pixel Buds (2020) also feature great sound, they lack bass, even with ‘Bass Boost’ turned on.
Thankfully, I didn’t encounter the rampant disconnection issues many people report experiencing with the Pixel Buds (2020), despite using them with a Pixel 4, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and a MacBook Pro. Still, a quick Google search reveals this remains a huge problem for a lot of people.
This is where Google’s often-rumoured Pixel Buds A-Series earbuds come in. A mid-cycle do-over of sorts, the Pixel Buds A-Series are positioned by Google as a lower-cost alternative to the Pixel Buds (2020) similar to its Pixel A smartphones, coming in at just $139. This undercuts nearly every other pair of notable wireless earbuds out there, including Apple’s AirPods ($219) and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds+ ($169).
The main question surrounding the Pixel Buds A-Series is what the wireless earbuds sacrifice in order to hit that lower price point. The answer is, surprisingly, not a lot.
To start, the Pixel Buds A-Series are just as comfortable as their more expensive counterpart. They come with three different-sized earbud tips — ‘small,’ ‘medium,’ and ‘large’ — and the same stabilizer arc that tucks under your ear to keep the buds in place. They even feature the equalizing spatial vents that help mitigate the plugged-ear, underwater feeling some in-ear earbuds suffer from.
The buds themselves look identical to their more expensive counterpart save for the fact that they feature glossy plastic instead of a brushed look, and only come in ‘Clearly White’ and a new green ‘Dark Olive.’ The case features USB-C charging and lacks Qi wireless charging like the Pixel Buds (2020), and this time, also includes glossy plastic on the inside. It’s likely the case’s shiny interior plastic will be easier to scratch, but given these are wireless earbuds, that’s not really a significant concern.
Both the Pixel Buds Series-A and their case only feature two magnetic charging attachments instead of three like with the Pixel Buds (2020), but I didn’t find they were any less secure in their case. Further, there’s only one status indicator light on the outside of the Pixel Buds A-Series.
They also still feature ‘Adaptive Sound,’ which automatically adjusts the earbuds’ volume based on the noise level of your environment. This isn’t a substitution for real active noise-cancelling (ANC), but it definitely helps block unwanted noise. Hopefully, Google eventually releases a pair of ‘Pixel Buds 3’ wireless earbuds that add real ANC.
“Despite featuring the same 12mm speaker drivers as the Pixel Buds (2020) on paper, their sound quality doesn’t quite match last year’s Pixel Buds”
The Pixel Buds Series-A even still feature several gestures despite rumours indicating Google planned to ditch this control method entirely to keep the cost down. A simple tap pauses and plays music, a double-tap skips tracks and a triple tap goes to the previous song. However, swipe gesture controls for volume have been removed. In-ear detection returns as well as long as you’re using the buds with an Android 6 and above device.
As a result of this shortcoming, while the Buds A-Series are great for most Android devices, you might be better off with another pair of earbuds if you plan to use them with an iPhone, Mac or PC. This also extends to the Buds A’s Fast Pair features that are only available on Android 6 and above devices. Still, connecting them to a non-Android device isn’t a chore and only requires you to hold down the button on the outside of the case for a few seconds.
Call quality sounds relatively on par with the Pixel Buds (2020) and though it’s passable, audio can still get muffled at times, especially if you’re outside and it’s windy.
Finally, they still feature IPX4 water and sweat resistance, include Bluetooth 5.0, feature Google Assistant voice command compatibility, and measure in with roughly five hours of battery life, just like the Pixel Buds (2020).
What about sound quality?
With all that in mind, the only notable difference with the Pixel Buds A-Series is the quality of their sound.
The Pixel Buds A-Series sound better than I expected, offering a relatively wide sound stage. That said, they feature nearly no bass and lower sounds tend to get muffled together, resulting in very hollow audio. This is improved by turning on Bass boost, but the difference isn’t dramatic. In terms of quality, I’d compare them to the standard, low-end earbuds that come with most smartphones, or even Apple’s lacklustre AirPods.
This means that despite featuring the same 12mm speaker drivers as the Pixel Buds (2020) on paper, their sound quality doesn’t quite match last year’s Pixel Buds, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds+ or even Apple’s AirPods. It’s unclear what the cause of the sound quality downgrade is, but I immediately noted that the audio just isn’t quite as full.
Still, given their $139 price tag, this is to be expected. In fact, you could make the argument that most wireless earbuds don’t really sound that great to begin with given their inherent, in-ear design. If you really care about audio quality, over-ear headphones are what you’re after. With the Pixel Buds Series-A, Google has released a solid, cost-effective alternative to most wireless earbuds currently out there.
The Pixel Buds A-Series are set to release on June 17th for $139. However, if you’re itching to get some Pixel Bud action before then, Best Buy Canada has the Pixel Buds (2020) on sale for $169.99 until June 17th.
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