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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Google discontinues Pixel Buds, so here’s a ‘Pro’ model wish list

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Google‘s 2020 Pixel Buds, despite some notable flaws, are some of my favorite Bluetooth headphones — and I say that as an audiophile who’s persnickety about sound quality. They had a balance of sound quality, features, comfort, and smarts that few headphones can match to date.

Unfortunately, Google appears to have just killed them. I can only hope that’s because there’s an even better follow-up on the way.

As noted by Android Police, Google has removed the Pixel Buds’ product page from its online store in the US and Canada. You can’t easily find a link to the Pixel Buds. Going there directly just tells you the product is out of stock and redirects you to the cheaper, $99 Pixel Buds A-Series.

As much as I personally loved the 2020 Pixel Buds, their likely retirement makes some sense. Many users experienced connectivity issues with the earbuds even after numerous updates, and that ultimately made them harder to recommend than they should have been. For this reason, the A-Series are, in practice, the better headphones.

Though they lost the volume gestures and wireless charging, they offered similar smarts, comfort, and sound quality, and (in my experience) superior microphone quality and connection stability. Considering wireless charging is something most people could live without and ‘hey Google’ detection is remarkably reliable for volume controls when you don’t have access to your phone, it made little sense to opt for the more expensive buds.

I’m hoping the removal of the ‘regular’ Pixel Buds means some kind of revision or Pixel Buds ‘Pro’ is on the way, which better differentiates the two tiers along the lines of Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro. There’s no firm indication that’s happening this year, but here’s what I’m hoping for from a potential update:

Active noise cancelation

The 2020 Pixel Buds notably omitted active noise cancelation, a feature present in many earbuds at its price range. That made it a tough sell against some of the competition. For some users, the lack of ANC is a dealbreaker, so Google would undoubtedly introduce ANC on a potential Pro model. Preferably, this ANC would be adjustable, so you could set it just right for your preferences.

Ambient transparency mode

Along with noise cancelation, an ambient sound mode can be very useful when you want to listen to music or an audiobook while still being aware of your surroundings; you might appreciate that when walking down a creepy alley at 3 AM, for example. Even if the headphones were to come without noise cancelation for some reason, I’d appreciate the addition of an ambient mode to make the headphones a little more versatile.

Spatial sound

If it sounds like I’m just copying features from the AirPods Pro… well yes, I kind of am. Spatial sound is the future of headphone audio, and Google would be remiss to release a premium set of headphones without some kind of implementation — especially with more streaming services supporting this immersive feature.

Music has traditionally been optimized for speaker listening, but spatial audio evens the playing field for headphones. When done right, it can add a ‘3D-ness’ to sound which can outperform even the best surround speaker setups.

A largely unchanged design

The Pixel Buds and Pixel Buds A-Series are probably the most comfortable true-wireless headphones I’ve worn. Comfort will of course vary from user to user, but part of this is simply because the Pixel Buds are so much smaller than the majority of competitors; they’re among the few that can fit people with small ears, in my experience.

Pixel Buds and Pixel Buds A-series
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