Pixel Buds Review: Two is Better Than One

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Google first announced the second-generation Google Pixel Buds way back in October 2019 and, since then, we've been eager to get our hands on them. Featuring a new design, carrying case, and improved all-around performance, the new Pixel Buds looked to be something very special. But would their performance match Google's presentation? I took them for a test drive to find out.

Google Pixel Buds (Gen 2)
Google Pixel Buds (Gen 2)

The Good

Overall, the original Pixel Buds were decent, but with some noticeable flaws. The design wasn't my favorite, the fit wasn't a good match for my ears, and the case was objectively not great. This time around, there's a lot more to like with far fewer drawbacks.

For starters, the Pixel Buds are now true wireless earbuds, which means they resolve one of my biggest complaints about the original: the cable. It's a personal preference, but I am strongly against cables for earbuds. They're bothersome, they often get in the way, and, to me, there's something so annoying about the way they bounce off your neck when you're exercising—I can't stand it. The new Pixel Buds don't have a cable, so right away, I was feeling very good about them.

Another big fix is the case redesign. Not only does the new case enable wireless charging, it's also way less awkward than the original. If you owned the first-gen Pixel Buds, then you know that storing them in the carrying case was like performing minor surgery—at least, that's how I remember it. But no such issues this time around. The new case is excellent. It's portable, looks cool, makes storing the earbuds super easy, and provides enough juice to drive the total battery life up to 24 hours. It's a win all around.

Now, as far as sound quality goes: The second-gen Pixel Buds are pretty good overall, and with the right genre of music, they're great. Which genres? Well, they definitely do a really good job of separating vocals and different instruments, so nothing gets lost—there's a good, clear balance. As part of my review, I listened to Josh Ritter's album The Animal Years, which has a lot of different elements that the Pixel Buds brought to life in a way that other earbuds I've tested don't. Similarly, the acoustic and lo-fi tracks I listened to sounded overall pretty great. My playlist included songs from Juliet Baker, boygenius, the Avett Brothers, and the Mountain Goats and, on the whole, I was very pleased with the sound quality of each.

The Brad

Now, for those genres that didn't work quite as well, we have to turn to Brad Jordan. You might know him better as his stage name, Scarface, the prolific rapper, record producer, and long standing member of legendary hip hop group the Geto Boys. To test the bass quality of the Pixel Buds, I queued up several of Mr. Scarface's greatest hits, all of which have a significant bass presence. Listening to those songs on the Pixel Buds, they didn't sound bad—not at all—but you didn't get the full essence of the song. There was some missing oomph behind the music. Similarly, when I jumped over to tracks with heavier guitars—songs from Coheed and Cambria, Wolf Parade, and Muse—there was some missing punch. Again, none of those tracks sounded bad—far from it. There was just some missing drive behind the heavier riffs. I'm not sure you would even notice it unless you were listening to a song for the express purpose of getting hyped up. 

However, there weren't many downsides to the new Pixel Buds. At 5 hours per charge, the battery life is fine. It's not as good as some, but it's definitely in line with most of the pack. I did notice that Pixel Buds let in a little bit of outside noise, but that really wasn't an issue for me, because I've been stuck in my relatively quiet apartment for weeks now (though, I am curious to see how they fare once we're allowed back into the world). Other than that, the Buds don't really have any obvious flaws. 

And the Snugly

With the original Pixel Buds, I was never sure if it was the pull of the connection cable, my oddly shaped ear canals, or just a suboptimal design that made them uncomfortable for me to wear at times. Whatever the cause of that discomfort, Google not only fixed it, but went one step further by adding in a new "stabilizer arc" to the Pixel Buds that I really liked. Along with some new silicone ear tips, the stabilizer arc creates a secure fit that's reliable and comfortable—for me, anyhow. As much as I dislike a cable resting against my neck, I also don't care for earbuds that are drilled into your ears or are so slight they feel like they might fall out at any second. The Pixel Buds are the right in-between size. With the stabilizer arc, the Pixel Buds feel secure, but not uncomfortably so.  

Best Buds

Considering Google's well-earned rep for developing innovative products, the original Pixel Buds were something of a letdown. They weren't bad, they were just kind of OK. The second-generation Pixel Buds, however, are much better and much closer to the kind of product we expect from a company like Google. With great overall sound quality, a vastly improved and more comfortable fit, and the best digital assistant integration on the market, they rank in the top tier of wireless earbuds. There are some features that I would like to see improved (better iOS integration, some level of noise cancellation, and a lot more bass), but for Android users, non-hip-hop heads, or anyone who's OK with a little less dress drive in their block-rockin' beats, the second-generation Pixel Buds are a very good pair of true wireless earbuds.

Questions about the second-generation Pixel Buds or wireless headphones in general? Be sure to let us know in the Comments section.

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