I’ve been eagerly anticipating the Apple AirPods Pro 2. Expected to launch at the next Apple Event, which could be in September, the successor to Apple's first Pro earbuds will have a lot to live up to. And not just because it's been a long time since we've seen any major changes to Apple's buds.
Google has seemingly been quietly working away on its own version of noise-canceling earbuds, and surprised many of us by announcing its Pixel Buds Pro at the Google I/O 2022 event on May 11.
I’ve been enjoying the first-gen AirPods Pro for a while now, and have been particularly impressed by the effectiveness of the ANC technology that’s on board to help release me from the tedium of lengthy commutes and transport me to my own personal world away from the noisy hubbub of fellow passengers.
Compared to the numerous rivals we've encountered at Tom's Guide, we haven't exactly been blown away by the AirPods Pro battery life, but I haven’t experienced any issues concerning their mediocre duration so far. And unlike others, I'm fairly ambivalent about the protruding stem design.
There are just are two things that bother me about the AirPods Pro: firstly, the price (and I really don’t see Apple undercutting its $249 / £239 / AU$399 price tag for its next-gen model), and secondly, that they’re only available in white.
White has always been the go-to singular option for Apple ‘buds since it launched its original earbuds in 2001, along with the first-generation iPod. In my view, the look is getting a little tiresome and has become something of a commuter uniform, at least based on its ubiquity among my fellow travelers.
We've previously liked the Google Pixel Buds 2 and Google Pixel Buds A-Series, which moved sound quality on with each new incarnation since the original Pixel Buds, and I'm hopeful that the Pixel Buds Pro continue to follow this trend.
Battery life is reported to be up to 11 hours of listening time on the new model, or up to 7 hours with active noise cancellation turned on. Compare that to just 5 hours for the AirPods Pro with noise cancellation off and 4.5 hours with it on.
The signs are also encouraging when it comes to the kind of tech that's been implemented. Just as the AirPods Pro introduced active noise canceling to Apple’s series, the Pixel Buds Pro introduces active noise canceling to Google's. In terms of technology advances, Google may appear to be a bit out of step with other ANC models, but its new earbuds look like they have the potential to leapfrog the competition, if the advances are to be believed.
Like the AirPods Pro, the Pixel Buds Pro claim to actively adapt their output to get the best sound balance for your particular ear shape, no matter how poorly it's fitted in your ear. As an earbud, I imagine that a selection of different sized ear tips will be supplied to make a snug fit in your ear canal, although I have not yet seen any information about this. But as everybody's ear shape is different, the acoustical seal may not be perfect for all users at all times.
All kinds of factors come into play when fitting earbuds, from the depth of insertion to how well the ear tips make an effective acoustic seal. These are all things that can prevent the driver from delivering its best performance and have a significant impact on sound performance.
To overcome any form of inconsistency or fit irregularities, Google’s Silent Seal tech claims to adapt the audio to your particular ear shape, and the fit, by sensing how much sound manages to escape and adjusting the output to ensure an accurate representation of all the frequencies on whatever you’re listening to. The sensors even measure the pressure in your ear canal, to make sure there's no undue discomfort from pressure levels building up, and to alleviate that plugged-ear feeling some listeners can experience.
External sensors also adapt to windy situations outside to help you place clear calls even if it's loud and, and also offer a Transparency mode so you can hear ambient noises for your own safety.
We won't know for sure just how good the Pixel Buds Pro are, and whether they should be considered among the best noise-canceling earbuds, until we've thoroughly evaluated and listened to them for ourselves — and given they won't actually be available until July, that's still a few months away.
However, the signs are good, and although it's similar tech to what we've seen elsewhere, the choice of colors certainly brings some personality back to the personal sounds market.
And then there's the price: $199 / £179 / AU$299, therefore undercutting Apple's Pro 'buds by about $50/AU$100. Sure, you can pick up the AirPods Pro for a lot less now, more than two years after they launched, but don't expect the AirPods Pro 2 to suddenly challenge the Pixel Buds Pro in this regard when they do eventually arrive.
With that in mind, and assuming their performance matches their potential, I can quite easily see myself being attracted to the Pixel Buds Pro.
You can also read why I wish I hadn't upgraded to the AirPods Pro.