Why I'm super excited for the Google Pixel Buds 2
Anyone who took even a passing interest in the headphones market at CES 2020 will tell you one thing, absolutely everyone is going true wireless. And yet, with the market bursting with new products, there's one pair of true wireless earbuds I'm waiting for - the Google Pixel Buds 2. Here's why.
When we reviewed the first-generation Google Pixel Buds at the start of 2018, we initially were excited about trying them but ultimately our tests ended in a mixture of poor quality and disappointment. Google has been quietly working away on a follow-up, and come spring we should have the Google Pixel Buds 2, a true wireless pair of earbuds, out in the wild. Personally, I can't wait.
I really like the design
I'm one of those people that wears headphones almost permanently when I'm not at home or in the office. I wear them when I go food shopping, on my commute, when I run, everywhere. When true wireless earbuds started to emerge I was instantly interested. They offered me a solution to the annoying wires of regular earbuds, and I include neckband products in that category, and the problem of sweaty ears and sideburns during the summer months when wearing wireless over-ear headphones can be uncomfortable. Basically, I was sold on them.
But then I tried true wireless. I reviewed several pairs and casually tested plenty of others at trade shows like IFA and as new pairs came into our editorial office. What frustrated me most was clunky design, uncomfortable fitting buds, and that earplug feeling which was the only way to get any decent noise isolation.
With the Pixel Buds 2, Google seems to have solved a lot of these problems. The design is slim (sure, it looks like a Mento in white, though) in the sense that the buds remain quite flat to the side of your head. There's a stabilizer arc at the top to give you a more secure fit when exercising and a spatial vent at the bottom to relieve that earplugged sensation. There are soft-fit ear tips to give you a good seal in the eardrum, something that made a huge difference to the AirPods Pro. Everything I want from a pair of true wireless earbuds, design-wise, is in place here.
All the features you could ever want
When it comes to true wireless earbuds, the feature-set of the upcoming Google Pixel Buds 2 is unmatched. I'm particularly interested in how Google is handling noise isolation. Rather than go down the active noise cancellation route, down which Apple leads the way with its AirPods Pro and everyone else is duly following, Mountain View is taking a different approach. They're calling this Adaptive Sound, and the idea is that the Pixel Buds 2 will dynamically adjust the volume as you move from a quiet environment to a noisy one, so you don’t have to constantly tweak the volume yourself. If this works well, it could be a safer, more convenient alternative to ANC in day-tod-day life. I'd still want proper ANC on a flight, though.
Then there's the long-range Bluetooth stuff. Google says that your phone and Pixel Buds 2 can be 100 yards (91 meters) apart and they'll still sound clear and stay connected. That means you could leave your phone in a locker at the gym, for example, and wear your Pixel Buds 2 whilst working out still. You've got Google Assistant onboard to control everything, after all.
The return of live translations, which we saw shown off on the original Pixel Buds too, I'm less excited about. It's not that I don't think this is a cool feature, I just think it's not going to be fast enough or accurate enough out of the box. It wasn't on the original Pixel Buds and it wasn't on the LG Tone SE. Even as someone who lives in a country where the first language is not the same as my native language, I'm skeptical as to whether the live translation technology is ready for mainstream use and how useful this will be at first.
With Google having a tendency to do 'Feature Drops' for its Pixel products, the potential for additional new features is also there. My only concern is that everything that we've seen shown off so far is the end goal, and what we'll get out of the box initially will be only part of this. The wait for these headphones has been long as it is, and any further delays to features would be a frustration.
And yet, the Pixel brand will never be cool
Despite my excitement for the new true wireless Pixel Buds, I have refrained from talking about how these can 'beat the AirPods Pro' and other nonsense. They may well be a better product, we'll have to wait and see, but the Pixel brand is never going to be cool. Nobody is ever going to sell dummy Pixel Buds that don't play audio that teenagers will buy. Google will probably not sell that many pairs of the Pixel Buds 2, either. A new cultural trend is not coming. The wider social impact of the Pixel Buds 2 will be non-existent.
Pixel products will remain the stuff for the tech nerds, and that's fine. Journalists and enthusiasts like myself will love them, but we won't be holding our breath for these to take off. I couldn't be more excited for the Google Pixel Buds 2, I just hope they don't let me down.
Are you looking forward to seeing what Google can do with the Pixel Buds 2? Let us know in the comments section below.
What is putting me off about them is the ambient vent where will automatically allow some background sound in, undermining passive noise isolation and requiring you to turn up the volume. Without active noise cancellation combined with the ambient vent, it won't be the best earbuds to use in noisy environments. It would have been much better to add transparency microphones like Bragi Dash and Samsung Buds. Another thing is they's using a cheap Chinese branded chip from a largely unknown company which means no major codecs like Aptx and which cannot avail of the massive battery life achieved by the new Qualcomm chip of 9 hours that is found in the Cambridge Audio buds. Between everything, I'm very doubtful the sound will be great. Nice features but if the sound is going to be both bad because of low bit rate codecs and a lack of noise isolation, they're not worth the price. I'm sure this is the reason why they didn't want anyone to hear the sound in the prototypes last October as they didn't want criticism months before they even release. They're clearly no confident about the sound
Nice article, I'm interested in these as well!
Just one note, the airpod pros are not nearly the first ear buds to have ANC, so don't give credit where it's not due. Bose would be the major brand I'd think of offhand, although I'm sure others will chime in for other brands.
If you meant 'smartphone manufacturers' specifically then yes I guess, but then competing manufacturers aren't actually 'following' yet (ie Google or the big one, Samsung).
Sony and Amazon being others