Shopping for wireless headphones can be a stressful endeavor. There are a number of excellent options, but prices can range from dirt cheap to exorbitant. Striking a balance between quality and value is something that many of the top brands struggle with, which is why Google’s new Pixel Buds A-Series manage to stand out in an increasingly crowded field.
Google introduced the world to the first-generation Pixel Buds back in 2017, but like many “wireless” headphones at the time, they had a cord running from one earbud into the other. They did not make much of a splash, but two years later, Google returned with a more compelling product. The second-gen Pixel Buds ditched the cord, added a “stabilizer arc” to improve the fit, and improved the sound quality. They were a drastic improvement over the original earbuds in virtually every way, and now Google is expanding the Pixel Buds line with a more affordable option.
At a glance, the Pixel Buds A-Series are nearly indistinguishable from the 2020 Pixel Buds — with or without the charging case. Of course, the most important difference is on the price tag, as the Pixel Buds A-Series will retail for $99. That’s $79 less than the flagship product, despite the fact that the design and many of the standout features are still intact on this “budget” model.
The design of the earbuds is unchanged, with a disc-shaped exterior that narrows to a tip. Google brought back the stabilizer arc as well, and while it unquestionably serves its purpose of keeping the earbud firmly planted within the ear canal, I found the A-Series uncomfortable to wear for extended sessions. Everyone’s ears are unique, so your experience could differ from mine, but after about an hour and a half, the discomfort was noticeable, and I had to take them out.
The charging case also looks the same as it did last year, but the indicator light has moved outside of the case to make it easier to determine the battery level of the case and to see the light pulsing when you hold down the pair button on the back of the case.
Before I move on to the many things that impressed me about the Pixel Buds A-Series, I should also note that the button within the disc that can be tapped to pause, skip, and rewind to a previous song are incredibly responsive, but might be a touch too sensitive.
I’m an adjuster — whether it’s glasses, backpacks, or headphones — and almost every time I reach up to adjust the fit of the A-Series, I end up accidentally pausing a song or a podcast. It’s great that I can tap almost anywhere on the outside of the earbuds to interact with them, but I wish I could absent-mindedly fiddle with them without the song I’m listening to suddenly stopping.
In spite of these gripes, I still found the Pixel Buds A-Series to be some of the most intriguing wireless earbuds that I’ve ever used. Quality is a word that I have already used a couple of times in this review, and while the sound quality might not match that of headphones that cost twice as much (or more), I found the quality of both music and phone calls to be more than adequate. The sound was perhaps a bit metallic when compared to the AirPods Pro, but had I not been swapping back and forth between the two, I’m not sure I would have been able to detect any major differences.
Even more impressive was the adaptive sound feature that Google claims can automatically increase or decrease the volume based on your surroundings. I walked around the noisy streets of NYC to put this feature to the test, and the A-Series did an admirable job keeping outside noise from overtaking whatever song or podcast I was listening to. It’s certainly not the noise canceling of the AirPods Pro, but for a $99 pair of earbuds, the adaptive sound feature is more than enough.
Pixel Buds A-Series also give users hands-free access to Google Assistant, and while nothing in my personal or professional life would have me talking to my headphones, it was just as responsive as I wanted it to be when I uttered: “Hey Google.” Also, as long as you have a phone running Android 6.0 or newer, you can say “Hey Google, help me speak [a language]” and Google Assistant will help you have a conversation in another language. Notably, while the Pixel Buds A-Series will work with your iPhone, Google Assistant does not, so don’t start talking to your earbuds.
The good continues to outweigh the bad, as these $99 earbuds are also water- and sweat-resistant. This came in handy when I finishing moving over the weekend and got a bit toasty while clearing out the old apartment without any air conditioning.
The battery life could be seen as a drawback, with five hours of listening time on a single charge, but the only time the battery ever dies on any of the wireless headphones I’ve owned is when I forget to charge them. If you plan on taking 5+ hour hikes this summer, you may want to shop around, but I haven’t managed to kill the battery on the Pixel Buds A-Series yet.
As crowded as the market has become, choosing a pair of wireless earbuds can be a chore, but for the price, Google’s Pixel Buds A-Series are going to be hard to beat. They sound great, look great, and feel great (for about an hour, in my case). That said, these are easy to recommend for anyone that uses an Android phone, and are worth a look even if you own an iPhone.
Pixel Buds A-Series will be available in Clearly White and Dark Olive colorways for $99 starting on June 17th. You can preorder a pair right now on Google’s website if you live in the US or Canada.