Solid sound with bass boost on
Excellent Google Assistant integration
No transparency mode
Sub-par battery life
No onboard volume controls
When we reviewed the previous Pixel Buds we bemoaned their lack of features like transparency mode (let alone ANC) at their relatively high price, along with mediocre battery life and some connection woes. While the new A-Series hasn’t upped the battery life or added any new features, they do deliver a bug-free experience with a very similar feature set and design as the 2020 version.
You can currently get Samsung’s Galaxy Buds+ for around the same price on sale, which nets you better per-charge battery life and some better features like transparency mode. On the other hand, the A-Series are likely the better choice for avid Google Assistant users, and their super-sleek design and fine materials do a better job at capturing the minimalist, functional feel of Apple’s original AirPods—while sounding better, too.
About the Google Pixel Buds A-Series
Just like the 2020 P-buds, the A-Series are true wireless earbuds, meaning they have zero wires whatsoever. From a design standpoint, they’re almost an exact clone of their predecessors, though they're lighter and feature some variation in the ear fin design.
Alongside the buds themselves, you’re also getting Google’s pocketable charging case, a USB-C/USB-A charging cable of decent length, and three different silicone ear tip options.
Here are the key specs for the Pixel Buds A-Series:
- Price: $99
- Battery life: Up to 5 hours of playback per charge, 24 hours total with charging case
- Rapid charging: Up to 2 hours of playback on 10 minutes of charging
- Wireless charging: No
- Colors: Clearly White, Dark Olive
- Speakers: Custom 12mm dynamic speaker drivers
- Sensors: Single IR proximity sensor for auto play/pause; motion-detecting accelerometer
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
- Water/sweat resistance: IPX4
- Fit: Small, medium, and large ear tips sizes; stabilizer fins
- Weight: 5.1 grams (per bud), 53.8 grams (earbuds and case)
What we like
Same great design for less
One of our favorite things about the previous Pixel Buds was their sleek, compact design, and you’re still getting that here—but for around $80 less. The new Pixel Buds are a bit lighter in weight overall, and feature some minor cosmetic changes; they're no longer two-toned like the previous iteration, and the ear fin attachment has changed from metal to plastic.
Otherwise, they match the previous model in terms of design and general aesthetics quite nicely. It’s also worth noting just how smooth and free of edges the charging case are: I’m not proud to admit it, but the first thing I did when I picked it up was to fumble and drop it on the floor. It may be a bit hard to handle, but it feels great in your hands and pocket, besting cases such as that of the Galaxy Buds+ for my money.
I’m also quite pleased at the length of the charging cable: while it’s minor, a lot of true wireless buds show up with a charging cable that’s so short it’s impractical. The included USB-C/USB-A cable here is about the same length as the average smartphone cable.
I’m also a big fan of the fit. While the fixed ear fins/stabilizers do a lot of the work keeping these in place, the included ear tip options are (while a standard inclusion with earbuds) always nice to have. I tried the standard size (medium) first, ending up moving up to the largest size to get a better fit and seal. The end result is comfortably snug, and the A-Series buds don’t budge in my ears even with some considerable head shaking and jumping.
The controls haven’t changed much from the previous model. You can still tap either bud to play/pause, tap twice to skip forward, thrice to skip back, as well as answering phone calls. You can also hold either side to activate Google Assistant, but like the previous pair, it's available by saying "Hey, Google." It is definitely worth mentioning that there's no way to control volume from the buds: while the previous P-buds had swipeable volume controls, the A-Series don't. This is something we look for in every pair of true wireless buds, but at under $100 we're less inclined to complain.
Generally satisfying sound—with bass boost on
I didn’t like how the A-Series sounded at first: they seemed too quiet. However, after turning the volume up a couple clicks above the recommended level on my Galaxy Note20, and toggling on the bass boost in the Pixel Buds app, I really enjoyed listening all the way through two of my favorite albums, Close to the Edge and 90125 by Yes.
I’m especially impressed with how well the bass boost function manages to warm up the bass which—with a good fit/seal—provides a satisfying feeling of rumble and movement (and props to Chris Squire for consistently solid bass lines, I guess). There are moments where the added bass seems to rob the treble end of the frequency spectrum of its attack, occasionally making for less-than-stellar cymbals, snare hits, and other higher-frequency sounds, but all in all the audio quality is quite good for $99.
When we reviewed the previous Pixel Buds, we were struck by the lack of bass, and in some ways that holds true here: While the A-Series is perfectly listenable without bass boost turned on, you may want it on all the time once you use it: the added warmth and presence in the bass, and even the midrange, is simply a big improvement.
While the bass boost feature on the A-Series provides extra oomph, I do think a permanently adjustable EQ would be even better. Maybe next time?
Obviously, everyone’s ears are different, and if you’re used to listening at quieter volumes you’ll probably enjoy the standard sound from the Pixel Buds A-Series. It is generally well-detailed and clear, no doubt about it, but if you want more impact and aural envelopment from your music, you’ll probably want to turn on bass boost.
Hands-free Google Assistant returns
One of our favorite things about the previous Pixel Buds was how seamlessly they integrated Google Assistant, and you’re still getting that excellent feature here—again, for $80 less. It’s a nice example of trickle-down software at work.
Akin to the original AirPods and their buddy-buddy functionality with Siri, the Pixel Buds A-Series function pretty seamlessly with Google Assistant: just say “Hey Google” or “OK Google” and you’ll get a very speedy response from your smartphone or tablet, skipping whatever activation rigmarole might have slowed you down before and letting you get on with voice-searching, setting reminders, and so on.
Good features for the money
While we might be over-emphasizing this point, it’s worth mentioning again how cool it is that you’re getting the majority of the convenience features available in the pricier Pixel Buds (with a few exceptions we'll note below). Alongside voice-activated Google Assistant you'll get in-ear detection, proximity pairing, linking across account-associated devices, Google's Adaptive Sound feature, and a Find Device feature. I guess it’s cool for everyone except people who bought the 2020 version.
Bug-free, knock on wood
One of the most troubling aspects of the previous Pixel Buds launch were bugs that plagued many users, including us. We experienced things like stereo playback inexplicably moving between channels, while many users reported problems with Bluetooth connection consistency. Google has since addressed some of the issues via firmware updates, but from a PR perspective, some damage had already been done.
I’m glad to report that—at least so far—the Pixel Buds A-Series have had no such issues. During my time with the A-Series, I experienced zero issues with Bluetooth connectivity or the stereo soundfield, even when out in a congested city area with my phone bouncing around in a fanny pack. So, knock on wood, it would seem that any major bugs have been ironed right out of the A-Series.
What we don’t like
Battery life is still lackluster
It’s fairly clear that Google optimized the Pixel Buds A-Series, working out a lot of bugs, and managing to lower the cost while retaining a lot of what we liked about the previous outing. Unfortunately, you’re also getting the exact same battery life as before—about 5 hours before you need a charge.
This isn’t egregious, but it’s notable when battery life is much shorter than a standard workday in 2021. I can at least report that the quoted time, 5 hours on a charge, is accurate: I listened for 5 hours straight (which should tell you something about the long-term comfort here) and that’s about when they ran out of juice.
That’s far less than the Galaxy Buds+, which net you 8-10 hours per charge for a similar cost (though their original price tag is $50 higher). The P-buds’ 5 hours is certainly a workable timetable, especially considering how easy it is to just charge them in the case in your pocket or purse when you’re not using them (though this holds true for all true wireless buds).
We should also note that it’s also on par with both pairs of Apple's older AirPods, but it’s looking increasingly low in the current marketplace. It’s adequate for the price, but if you need headphones that you can listen to for a whole workday, these might get a little frustrating.
Still no transparency mode
As mentioned, the A-series' features are relatively impressive for the price, but it’s worth keeping in mind what you’re not getting. As you’d expect, there’s no noise canceling at this price, something you can get in the Beats Studio Buds for $50 more. Further, I had a whole conversation with the A-Series plugged into my ears, and they do almost nothing to dampen sound (even at the largest ear tip size), so don’t expect much passive isolation either.
A form of transparency mode—something missing on the previous Pixel Buds, too—would have been a more reasonable inclusion to expect, which could help spur buyers of the older model to give the A-Series a try. Transparency mode allows you to continue listening to music while also utilizing microphones to hear the world around you. It’s convenient, and some might argue a necessary safety feature for certain activities, too.
Instead, Google has something called “Adaptive Sound,” which adjusts the music volume to the sound of the environment around you. While it’s not bad as features go, it’s also not all that useful in practice. I tried it while walking next to some idling cars, and it … lowered the volume of my music? This feature may be entirely meretricious, or maybe it just needs an update.
Last but definitely not least, there are a few features that the previous P-buds boasted that don't come along for the ride with the A-Series. As mentioned, you're losing out on swipeable volume controls, and you're also not getting wireless (Qi) charging or "Attention Alerts," a feature designed to automatically identify environmental sounds like a crying baby or a beeping alarm to help you hear them.
Should you buy it?
Yes—if you want high-end fashion at a low-end price
We love that Google has picked up the older Pixel Buds, dusted them off, and dropped the price while axing very few of their best qualities. While the original Pixel Buds weren't exactly feature-filled for their price, the A-Series maintains an impressive array of functions from the last model at a much lower price, while also appearing to be entirely free of the previous version’s Bluetooth connectivity issues.
Adding transparency mode or longer battery life would have been nice, but it’s possible those features are planned for some kind of Pixel Buds pro or plus model, with the A-Series slotting nicely into a value-facing niche. Getting most of the good stuff from the original model at $80 less is what makes these enticing.
That said, there are plenty of decent true wireless buds in this price range—including the excellent Samsung Galaxy Buds+ (they're often on sale at or around $100) and our top pick amongst true wireless headphones under $100, the Anker Soundcore Liberty 2. And if you really want ANC, you could also pay $50 more for the similarly sleek Beats Studio Buds.
Where the A-Series really stand out is how utterly magnificent their materials and design are. The buds themselves are very comfortable, and—at least with bass boost on—deliver clear and robust sound that you won’t always get for under $100. If you can abide the lack of transparency mode and milquetoast battery life, and especially if you’re all about Google Assistant, the A-Series might be the true wireless buds you’ve been waiting for.
Meet the tester
Editor, Home Theater@Koanshark
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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