Google Pixel Buds 2's killer feature outsmarts noise — and the AirPods Pro

google pixel buds 2 adaptive sound
(Image credit: Google)

The Google Pixel Buds 2 have a not-so-secret weapon to fight Apple AirPods, and it's called Adaptive Sound. Yes, because any tech giant worth its stock price can come up with its own elegant completely-wireless headphones, Google has found a new way to attack Apple, by outsmarting AirPods Pro's Transparency mode.

And it sounds pretty cool. Take, for example, when you're out for a walk. According to Google, "Adaptive Sound dynamically and subtly adjusts the volume as you move between quiet and noisy environments". This means you don't need to keep tapping at the volume or settings to hear the noise around you — your headphones just adjust to let you hear what you need to hear.

The big example I can think of is when I'm at the grocery store, and when I get to the checkout. When I start talking to the clerk, and raise the ambient noise in my immediate vicinity even higher, the Pixel Buds' Adaptive Sound should lower my music accordingly, so I don't shout over my headphones and look inconsiderate. 

Adaptive Sound is supposed to kick in not just when it detects sound, but "sustained noise", skipping any "one-off background noise", like my keys clunking inside a door lock, or a simple muttering. On the other hand, my AirPods Pro just have Transparency mode, which just lets all ambient sound in and can even amplify it a little bit.

If it works as advertised, Adaptive Sound is a great feature for the $179 Google Buds 2, which are priced a bit higher than the simpler $159 AirPods, and below the $249 AirPods Pro, which boast active noise cancelling (ANC).

My biggest concern about Adaptive Sound: what about when I'm listening to a podcast? I don't want audio to lower then! Well, Google says that when you adjust the volume "Adaptive Sound will be temporarily disabled to respect your settings".

You don't need a super modern Android phone to enjoy this Pixel Buds 2 feature, either. Adaptive Sound is supported by devices running Android 6 (Marshmallow) and later, which first came out in 2015.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.