Boasting almost the same features and almost the same look – with the new Pixel Buds A-Series Google offers a cheaper alternative to the Pixel Buds that appeared just under a year ago. The search engine giant has cut the price in half so that the new Pixel Buds no longer cost 100 Euros. We find out what the differences are in the features and whether the new A series is worth it.
The new A-Series complement Google’s existing portfolio, which means the “big” Pixel Buds will remain with us for the time being.
Differences to the big Pixel Buds
These headphones, available in Cleary White and Dark Olive, don’t differ from their more expensive counterparts in terms of design language. However, it’s immediately apparent that Google has cut corners on the A-Series: The driver openings are no longer made of metal but plastic. In addition, the manufacturer has reduced the number of infrared sensors responsible for wearer recognition from two to one per earphone. And this much is already clear: This saving was sensible because the headphones react just as precisely as the larger Pixel Buds. Also missing is the wireless charging option for the case, which can only be recharged via USB-C cable. Plus, there is only one LED to indicate the battery status, and the charging contacts have been reduced from three to two, which in practice doesn’t really make an impact.
Unfortunately, the A-series no longer uses swipe gestures on the earphones to change the volume, so you either have to reach for your smartphone or – with Android – use your own voice to make this adjustment.
On the software side, you also have to do without some features: For calls, the wind noise suppression and the so-called “noise alerts” which caused the volume to be lowered for a short time if, for example, a baby was crying, a dog was barking and/or a siren was sounding, are missing.
However, the remaining features measure up to the big Pixel Buds as battery power, real-time translation, transcription mode and automatic sound adjustment are all identical or on board.
At this point, we would like to refer you to the review of the Pixel Buds, in which all the important functions are described in detail.
In a small cardboard box, the Pixel Buds A-Series sit together with three pairs of silicone earpieces in sizes S, M and L. Of course, there’s also the charging case including a metre-long USB A-to-C charging cable in white, as well as the usual printed documents.
Nothing has changed in terms of wearing comfort either, and so the A-Series buds are small, light and comfortable. The fixed silicone wings ensure a firm fit, although these narrow stems might be too short for very large ears, and this might restrict the use of these IPX4-certified headphones for sporting activities. Thanks to their slim design, the Pixel Buds A-Series still fit under caps, so pressure discomfort should not occur.
The operation of the Buds leaves a good impression; all tapping gestures worked reliably and were implemented quickly. A single tap – left or right – starts or pauses playback or accepts calls. A double-tap on also causes the title to jump forward and ends or rejects calls; a triple tap jumps back to the previous title. Of course, the Google Assistant is included here, and it can be called up by holding down one of the two Buddies.
Bluetooth & Pairing
With Bluetooth 5.0 and SBC as well as AAC codecs, Google gives the A-series the same wireless connectivity as with the larger model, and so our criticism remains the same as, in addition, we would have liked to have seen a high-resolution aptX codec since some Android smartphones lack AAC so only SBC can be used. Android prioritises the AAC coding differently depending on the connection quality and power settings. Even with AAC, this can then lead to poorer streaming quality.
Pairing the Buds with a Pixel phone (Android 6.0 or higher) should be just as quick and convenient as we are familiar with Apple AirPods in connection with iOS devices: Open the charging case, and everything is done within a few seconds.
While this did not work in our old Pixel Buds test, it now works smoothly with the Pixel Buds A series during initial pairing. However, reconnecting after a forced disconnection did not work and this could only be solved by Googling: One of the earbuds seemed to have been inserted incorrectly into the charging case.
Once the initial connection was established, a setup screen appeared on the Pixel Phone, giving us brief instructions on how to use it. One of the last steps was to configure Google Assistant, which could then be called up – if desired – by a long press on the earbuds. Other Androids have to download the free “Pixel Buds” app for the above-mentioned setup steps – but iOS users are left out in the cold.
In terms of range strength, there are hardly any differences to be found here either: Inside the apartment, the transmission breaks down when entering the third room, while in the open air, we got to about 27 metres away.
Android users will find it necessary to install the above-mentioned app in order to be able to configure the Pixel Buds A-Series properly; Google Pixel users, on the other hand, only need to open the system settings because the “Pixel Buds” app is virtually integrated there. Notifications and Google Assistant settings can not only be managed here, but also they can search for the in-ears or use the automatic pause function. However, the A-series lacks the unlocking function found on the bigger model, which allows the volume of the two earbuds to be adjusted separately, for example, to compensate for hearing deficits or share a pair of headphones with friends. It is also possible to visually display the touch controls, but unfortunately, not to configure them. The user interfaces can also be locked against accidental touching, which is a welcome feature.
Another feature is the so-called “transcription mode”, which requires the Google translation app to be installed. Here, the phone recognises speech and translates it in real-time to feed it directly into the headphones, also presenting the translation in writing. It sounds a bit clunky but works quite reliably when pronounced clearly. This mode currently supports translation from English into French, German, Italian or Spanish.
Unfortunately, all iOS users lack a dedicated configuration app, so one has no choice but to set up the Pixel Buds A-Series via an Android phone.
As alluded to above, Google hasn’t changed anything in terms of runtime. There is mention of up to five hours of pure music playback and two and a half hours of pure talk time. The new ones didn’t quite manage that; at a high volume of about 75%, we got four hours and 40 minutes of pure music playback. The case provides a total of 24 hours of playback and 12 hours of talk time. The quick-charge mode promises three hours of playback or 1.5 hours of talk time after 15 minutes of charging. In our practical test, the left bud had 26% and the right one 30% of battery life remaining after 15 minutes. However, we did not get to three hours.
In terms of sound, Google’s headphones were and are rather inconspicuous, i.e. the manufacturer, fortunately, does without exaggerated bass boosters, although such a function can be activated via a slider on your Smartphone. Without the bass boost, the sound from the Pixel Buds A-series comes from the specially developed 12-mm drivers. And so the mids and highs fit in seamlessly. A direct sound comparison with the larger Pixel Buds shows that there are hardly any differences. Sub-bass is also missing; the bass boost thickens the frequency range but does not manage to provide the necessary thrust that fans of low bass might desire. Nevertheless, we like the boost function here too because Google has done a good job with this EQ intervention.
The mids not only bring out spoken content clearly and distinctly but lead instruments are also given the space they need to assert themselves.
When it comes to treble-heavy audio content (e.g. Madonna “Jump”), this model is again a little too present in the mid-range and treble. There can be some hiss with some speakers.
What the manufacturer has done very well here is the staggering of the individual instruments on the imaginary stage in your head. For an in-ear model, the stage seems very wide, so that events in the stereo field can be followed clearly (Amon Tobin “Goto 10”). Unfortunately, the depth gradation, i.e. how far into the room you can hear, is not particularly pronounced in this model.
The automatic sound adjustment is also found in this model and ensures that the volume is raised or lowered depending on the environment. This works very well in practice; when the volume is changed manually, this function is temporarily deactivated and switched on again when you are in an environment where there is a significantly different background noise.
In conclusion, we rate the voice quality as good to very good. The two built-in beamforming microphones ensured clear speech intelligibility throughout our test calls, despite the fact that the headphones do a good job of filtering out background noise. Unfortunately, they are still susceptible to wind noise.
The new Google Pixel Buds A-Series deliver fully for half the price compared to the Pixel Buds! Here Google proves how sensible cost-saving measures can be, even if we missed things like volume control via swipe gestures as well as wind noise cancellation. Whether three or two charging contacts are installed does not matter (at first) – nor does the lack of a “noise alerts” function. So if you can live with these limitations because you don’t need them, in the future, you can put the Pixel Buds to the side and save 100 Euros with the new A-Series instead.
- Ear couplingIn-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Weight without cableeach 5.06 g, case 42.8 g
- Cable length100 cm
What's in the box
- 3 pairs of earpieces (S, M, L)
- USB-C charging cable
- Charging case
- available in white and green
- BT codecs: SBC, AAC
- BT version: 5.0
- Google account required for full access to features