Pixel Buds A-Series review: When Google released the second generation of Pixel Buds in 2020, it put buyers of true wireless headphones in a quandary. On the one hand, their tiny size, wireless charging, comfortable fit, and great integration with Android and Google Assistant made them an attractive choice. But on the other hand, for their price ($179), Google seemed to miss out on some important features like active noise cancellation (ANC), transparency (surround sound) and the ability to use their outstanding capabilities with Apple’s iOS devices.
A year later, these solutions drove Pixel Buds into an even deeper corner, as new products like the $199 JBL Tour Pro+, $120 Amazon Echo Buds 2, $95 1More ComfoBuds Pro and $130 Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro showed great sound, ANC and transparency.
Clearly, Google has some work to do if it wants the Pixel Buds to remain competitive. In the meantime, the search juggernaut has a new strategy: If you can’t beat them, lower the price.
That’s the obvious philosophy behind the new $99. They look identical to the $179 Pixel Buds, and, with a few exceptions, so do their specs.
But Google still had to cut some fat to achieve a very affordable price for the A-Series. Is this going too far? Let’s check them out.
Same little shape
One of the things Google got right about the previous Pixel Buds is their size and shape. They’re incredibly compact, and that goes for both the headphones themselves and their charging case. The A-series retains all of that, effectively providing the portability and convenience of the $149 less Pro-level AirPods than Apple‘s iconic headphones.
The case is surprisingly sleek, opens and closes easily, and the Pixel Buds fit into the charging jacks with perfect precision.
But the AirPods Pro have wireless charging capability, and that feature has been removed from the A Series case, replacing it with a magnet. Yes, you can attach the case to any black metal, from your refrigerator to your bike handlebars. I’m not sure why you need it, but it’s an interesting feature that I haven’t seen on any other charging case yet.
The Pixel Buds A-Series sit deep in the ear and stay in place thanks to the small rubber stabilizing arcs that remain from the original design. I suspect the headphones would be nearly as secure without them, but it doesn’t hurt to have them.
The headphones use a spatial vent to reduce in-ear pressure, which contributes to overall comfort as well as allowing some outside sounds to pass through. For those jogging, biking, or just walking in areas where traffic can be a hazard, this is a very good thing.
I would still like to have a transparency mode, especially for phone calls.
Google kept the 12mm speakers from the Pixel Buds for $179 for the A Series, and describes the sound quality as “full, clear sound.” That’s not a bad description. The sound in the A-Series is very clear, especially in the high frequencies, making these headphones a great choice for podcasts and dynamic music such as Adele or Lady Gaga pop tracks, or even opera if that’s your thing.
However, that clarity doesn’t extend to the mid and low frequencies, and I suspect it’s because of the vented design. It takes a lot of power to overcome acoustic interference from outside sounds. Other vented headphones, such as the Jabra Elite 85t and AirPods Pro, get around this problem with their superior ANC system, but the A Series can’t lean on it.
Even their Adaptive Sound feature, which automatically adjusts the volume to match your surroundings, can only do so much.
That’s not to say that the A-Series headphones sound bad – quite the opposite, especially when you turn on bass boost mode – but they only perform at their best when you have a quiet place to listen.
By far my favorite feature of the A-Series headphones is the hands-free access to Google Assistant. Being able to say “Hey Google,” followed by any number of useful commands, is fun and very convenient, especially when your hands are busy.
But the last thing I like is that Google still doesn’t support this feature (or any of the A-series extras) on non-Android devices, even if you have the Google Assistant app installed.
This is even more baffling given that Amazon Echo Buds give you word-of-mouth access to Alexa on both Android and iOS.
Solid battery life
The A Series won’t win any awards for battery life, but you won’t feel like you’re desperately wishing it was better than it is either. The charge lasts five hours with the headphones themselves and 24 hours with the case, which is identical to the AirPods Pro. A quick 15-minute charge in the case gives you up to three hours of extra listening time.
Google claims that the A-Series beam-transformed microphones provide clear calls, but I found that this is not always the case. Once again, a quiet environment is best: as soon as the sounds of traffic began to compete with my voice, call clarity sometimes disappeared completely for my callers.
Don’t go too far away
A quick look at my experience with the $179 Pixel Buds reveals problems with wireless connectivity. Some people complain about audio mismatching between the two earbuds, and others note dropped connections even when their phone is in their back pocket. Our own Andrew Martonik initially loved the Pixel Buds, but eventually got tired of these connectivity issues and stopped using them in favor of the Jabra Elite 75t.
Personally, I’ve never had any sync or connectivity issues at close range, but I couldn’t get more than fifteen feet away from my Pixel XL test phone before the A-series headphones started disconnecting.
Google may have fixed some of the Bluetooth issues, but clearly not all of them.
I’m not sure there are many people left who would argue that Pixel Buds at $179 are a particularly good price, but now that I’ve spent some time with the A-Series for $99, I have no doubt that it’s a very good price – if you’re an Android user.