Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2 Pro offer improved audio and ANC for $230

Samsung typically reveals a new set of true wireless earbuds alongside its latest phones, and today is no different. In addition to the Galaxy Fold 4, Galaxy Flip 4 and new watches, the company is debuting the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, the follow-up to the Galaxy Buds Pro that debuted early last year. While not a complete redesign, this new model offers enough of an overhaul with smaller buds, improved active noise cancellation (ANC), retooled audio and a host of other handy features. All of the upgrades will cost you though: the Buds 2 Pro are $30 more than their predecessor. 

In terms of design, the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are 15 percent smaller than the Galaxy Buds Pro. Samsung says the "new compact, ergonomic design" is built to offer a secure fit that won't move around in your ear, even during workouts. The design should also relieve pressure, thanks to a vent and nozzle grille that facilitate air flow. So while the buds may look similar to the previous model, they are indeed different. The case, on the other hand, appears to be mostly unchanged. Like the previous model, the Buds 2 Pro are IPX7 rated for water and sweat resistance, although Samsung made it clear the same protection doesn't apply to the case. Should you lose an earbud, the Buds 2 Pro can be located with SmartThings Find either in the case or out.

Inside the Buds 2 Pro, two-way speakers (woofers and tweeters) handle the sound. In addition to 360 Audio (Dolby Atmos) that debuted on the Buds Pro, this model also offers 24-bit HiFi audio via Samsung's Seamless Codec (the buds also support AAC and SBC). The company says this produces 256 times "richer sound" than 16-bit audio. When it comes to canceling noise, Samsung explains that three high new mics are capable of blocking subtle and high-pitched sounds with three more decibels of overall reduction. 

There's ambient sound and a new Voice Detect feature on board as well. With Voice Detect, the Buds 2 Pro can determine when you're speaking. The tool temporarily changes to ambient sound mode and lowers the volume so you can have a quick convo without removing the earbuds. Sony has offered something similar with its buds and headphones for a while now, but its Speak-to-Chat tool fully pauses the audio when you talk. And yes, Bixby handles voice control on the Buds 2 Pro, a feature that works across Samsung's phones, tablets and even its newer TVs. The company also says LE Audio will debut on the earbuds later this year, a tool that allows you to capture 360 environmental sounds if you're streaming or recording. 

Unfortunately, battery life is unchanged from the Galaxy Buds Pro. You can expect up to five hours of use with ANC on (18 hours including the case) or eight hours with it off (29 hours with the case). If you were hoping Samsung would reinstate iOS compatibility with this model, you're going to be disappointed. The Galaxy Buds 2 Pro will work with those devices, but with Bluetooth only — there's no companion app to unlock the full suite of features. Those are reserved for Android (Galaxy Wearable app), PC (Galaxy Buds app) and Samsung's 2022 TVs. Speaking of TVs, the company has added those to its compatible devices for audio switching. Basically, you can quickly change between Galaxy phones, tablets and TVs via the Auto Switch feature without having to enter pairing mode. 

When it comes to first impressions, Engadget Deputy Editor Cherlynn Low "loved the fit" and noted that the ANC worked well too. UK Bureau Chief Mat Smith explained that the smaller size is indeed more comfortable and the Buds 2 Pro feel "less obtrusive." He also said Voice Detect worked well, but it could be duped by coughs and humming since it relies on a voice pickup unit to detect vibrations. For what it's worth, this is also a downside to Sony's automatic-pausing speech detection. 

The Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are available for pre-order starting today in graphite, white and Bora Purple for $230 from Samsung, Amazon and other retailers. General availability begins 26th. Both the Galaxy Buds Live and Galaxy Buds 2 will remain in Samsung's true wireless lineup if you prefer open wear or more affordable options, respectively. 

Follow all of the news from Samsung's Unpacked event right here!

Sennheiser promises 60 hours of listening with its new Momentum headphones

Sennheiser hasn't refreshed its over-hear Momentum noise-canceling headphones since 2019, but that changes today. The company has announced the Momentum 4, a new take on its flagship headphones that includes an exterior redesign, new features and a whopping 60 hours of battery life. What's more, Sennheiser is offering this host of updates for $50 less than the Momentum 3 at its debut. 

First, the design Sennheiser had carried through much of the Momentum line since its introduction is gone. The mix of metal and leather with visible cables has been traded for a more simplified, more plastic affair. The new look is decidedly less premium than previous Momentum models. However, what the Momentum 4 may lack in aesthetics is offset by increased comfort. The company notes the new hinge easily adjusts and doesn't exert too much pressure on your head. Earcups also rotate flat now, which makes storage a bit easier. Another big change is the on-board controls: most of the physical buttons have been replaced with a touch panel on the right side.

Sennheiser Momentum 4
Sennheiser

Inside, Sennheiser says it opted for an "audiophile-inspired acoustic system" that relies on 42mm transducers for the sound. The company explains the setup creates "brilliant dynamics, clarity and musicality," plus you can use an EQ, presets and a new Sound Personalization feature to further adjust the tuning. Sound Personalization takes into account your personal preferences and adjusts "the listening experience" accordingly. 

Of course, these are flagship headphones so active noise cancellation (ANC) is on board. The company says its updated adaptive ANC works to maintain sound quality even in the noisiest of surroundings. Transparency Mode is available as well and there's a slider control between it and ANC in Sennheiser's app. In other words, you're not just left with one or the other, so you can mix in a dash of environmental noise if needed. This model can automatically change sound settings based on your location too, a feature Sennheiser first debuted in March.

Sennheiser also offers a feature called Sidetone, which allows you to adjust how much of your voice comes through during calls. It's a tool that helps you feel less shouty and it works on top of automatic wind noise suppression for the Momentum 4's beamforming microphones during voice and video chats. 

Sennheiser Momentum 4
Sennheiser

Sennheiser says you can expect up to 60 hours of battery life on a charge, and that's with ANC turned on. A quick-charge feature gives you six hours of use in 10 minutes. To help you conserve battery, the Momentum 4 is equipped with both automatic pausing and automatic on/off. The company says the headphones will power off when you leave them unattended and turn back on when you pick them up.

The Momentum 4 will be available for preorder in black and white color options on August 9th before shipping on August 23rd. The headphones are priced at $349.95, which is $50 less than the Momentum 3 when it debuted in 2019. 

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Charlie Warzel, Galaxy Brain/The Atlantic

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Recommended Reading: What’s next for DALL-E 2?

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Charlie Warzel, Galaxy Brain/The Atlantic

Warzel dives into questions about DALL-E 2 in his newsletter for The Atlantic, many of which have been voiced by others. Those include what it could mean for the future of art and the potential commercial ambitions of OpenAI, the company that created it.

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Enjoy a bit of nostalgia this weekend with pieces like "Type to Learn became a battle royale in our computer lab" and "Artists somehow keep making masterpieces with Kid Pix and MS Paint." 

‘Operating with increased intensity’: Zuckerberg leads Meta into next phase

Mike Isaac, The New York Times

Before Meta's dismal earnings report this week, there was news of how CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to revitalize the company as it focuses on the metaverse. 

Pixel Buds Pro review: Google’s best earbuds yet

In both 2020 and 2021, Google debuted new versions of its Pixels Buds, the second of which was a $99 model with loads of features. For the third year in a row, the company has new true wireless earbuds, but this time it added a key feature: active noise cancellation (ANC). With the Pixel Buds Pro ($200), Google finally has earbuds that cover all of the bases, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise that they’re also the company’s best yet.

Design

The Pixel Buds Pro look like the more mature sibling of the previous two models. Where the Pixel Buds (2020) and Pixel Buds A-Series were both circular with an eartip off one side and a “stabilizer arc” off the other, the Pixel Buds Pro are more of an oval shape. That fit wing on the back is gone, but the shape of this new version fits nicely in the contours of the ear. Although they don’t have that extra stabilizer, I never had any issues with them jostling loose at an inopportune time. Plus, they’re still quite small, and tuck in securely without the need of additional parts.

There’s still a defined circle on the outside of this IPX4-rated Pro model, and that’s where the earbuds accept taps and swipes for the on-board controls. Those are mirrored on both sides, with single (play/pause), double (skip tracks forward) and triple taps (skip tracks backward) as the actions. A long press will alternate between ANC and transparency modes while swiping forwards or backwards adjusts the volume.

Google’s latest Pixel Buds are its best yet, due mostly to the fact that the company finally ticked a missing box: active noise cancellation.
Engadget/Billy Steele

That long press action can be configured to summon Google Assistant, if you prefer not to activate it with a spoken cue. What’s more, you don’t have to mirror that option, so you can have Assistant on one side and ANC controls on the other. For the sound modes, you can add a third option that turns both ANC and transparency mode off, but by default, it will only toggle between noise canceling and ambient sound.

The IPX2-rated charging case is nearly identical to the one that came with the A-Series. The main difference is the inside doesn’t match the color of the earbuds and the one for the Pro model is a smidge larger. Google moved the status light from inside the case on the 2020 model to the outside in 2021, so you didn’t have to open it to see the battery levels. It’s on the outside here as well, with the pairing button around back and the USB-C port on the bottom edge. Flicking open the flat circular-shaped holder with your thumb is still satisfying and the compact size is easily tucked into a small pocket for transport.

Software and features

Google uses a six-core audio chip that’s powered by its own algorithms for active noise cancellation. The company has also added a feature called Silent Seal that maximizes blocking and minimizes any sound leaks. The tool can adapt to your ear shape when ANC is on, with sensors that “constantly” monitor the pressure and relieve it to keep things comfy. All of this combines to do a solid job battling constant noise like a sound machine or human voices and cackling cartoons on TV.

Transparency mode, however, could use some work. Google says the Pixel Buds Pro “process a wide range of frequencies” to keep things sounding “natural.” During my tests, that wasn’t the case. Sure, the ambient sound option allows you to hear what’s going on around you, but it’s far from natural. It’s muffled, so you’re acutely aware you have earbuds shoved in your ears. And for this reason, it’s easy to raise your voice during a quick conversation.

Google’s latest Pixel Buds are its best yet, due mostly to the fact that the company finally ticked a missing box: active noise cancellation.
Engadget/Billy Steele

On Pixel phones, the Pixel Buds app is system-level software that’s accessible through the Bluetooth menu. Simply tap on the gear icon next to the earbuds’ name and you’ll get access to everything. There’s also a shortcut option in the widgets menu, if going into settings is too much. This allows you to get to the Pixel Buds Pro features with a single tap. On non-Pixel Android devices, you’ll need to download a standalone Google Pixel Buds app from the Play Store, but the features are the same.

Inside, you’ll get battery percentages for both earbuds individually. The level for the case also appears when the buds are connected, but still docked inside. Below that are options for fine-tuning Google Assistant, finding lost earbuds, touch controls, sound modes, an eartip seal check and more. You can also turn automatic audio switching between Android devices on and off, ditto for multipoint connectivity for iOS, laptops and more. Under the sound option, there’s the ability to select ANC, transparency mode and off, as well as the option to disable Volume EQ (more on that in a bit). The Pixel Buds app also lets you opt for HD audio and whether or not you want to use them for calls and media audio.

Google allows you to disable a lot of these features as well, including things like in-ear detection (automatic pausing), touch controls and even Assistant. Most companies will let you turn one or two of these off, but Google gives you the ability to go without even its handiest items should the need arise.

Google’s latest Pixel Buds are its best yet, due mostly to the fact that the company finally ticked a missing box: active noise cancellation.
Engadget/Billy Steele

Speaking of Assistant, hands-free access returns when you say “Hey Google.” Similar to the way Apple lets you summon Siri without pressing a button on AirPods, this works exactly like you’d expect. You can have Assistant read out notifications for as many apps as you like or you can limit it to just a few. Google Translate is still here as well, offering “real-time” help in over 40 languages via Conversation Mode. Simply ask Google Assistant to “help me speak French,” for example, or you can open the Translate app directly to lend a hand. This is a useful feature, and the text translation appears in real-time, but the spoken version via Assistant is slightly delayed. This pause would make an in-person conversation a bit awkward, especially if you aren’t looking at your phone. But, it will help you in a pinch.

One gripe I have with the Pixel Buds Pro is with what should be a simple task: pairing. The Pixel 6a I used to test the earbuds recognizes the case is open in about three seconds, showing a notification at the top of the screen. Even if I put the buds in immediately, they’re still not fully paired, and I had to tap the notification to enter the Pixel Buds app and then tap once more on “Connect.” If the Pixel 6a was the last device I used the earbuds with, this should happen automatically – no additional taps required. Or, at the very least, I should be able to fully connect them from the notification.

Sound quality

Both the Pixel Buds (2020) and A-Series lacked sufficient low-end. The latter had a bass boost option to help matters, but it was an all or nothing setting and it still wasn’t great. Neither set of earbuds had presets or a manual EQ either. On the Pixel Buds Pro, Google has remedied this problem, as its latest version has pleasantly punchy bass across a range of genres. Whether it’s a snappy kick drum in Shane Smith & The Saints’ mix of country and rock, the synth-driven pop hooks of Charli XCX or the booming beats of Kendrick Lamar, what the company has done with the bass here is impressive. It remains clear and tight, and it never becomes overbearing.

Google has also done well to reproduce subtle details. Even in the chaos of Underoath’s Voyeurist, the texture of drums, the grit of distorted guitars and the nuance of the singer’s deep growl are all easily distinguishable. Not only are they there, they’re dynamic. Overall, the audio is big and open, so when a track is meant to be soaring and atmospheric, like parts of “Thorn” on Voyeurist, you get that effect. Not all earbud companies can muster this, but Google does a great job keeping things spacious even if they aren’t “spatial”… yet.

Speaking of, the one big feature that isn’t ready for the Pixel Buds Pro yet is spatial audio. Google says it plans to update the earbuds to support immersive sound this fall, offering it for movies and TV shows on compatible Pixel phones. Details are scarce at this point, but I expect the company will have a lot more to say about it when the time comes. The feature could arrive with the Pixel 7 and Android 13, both of which should also debut around that time. And hopefully some of that info has to do with music.

A new feature Google has added to the Pixel Buds Pro is called Volume EQ. Basically, the tuning adapts when you adjust the loudness, so “highs, mids and lows are balanced and nuanced at any volume.” The company explains that this allows you to hear every aspect of a song even at a low level. Volume EQ does a solid job there, and perhaps the most impressive part is how the bass stays punchy when you turn the sound down. Vocals come through clear and subtlety in guitar tones are still distinguishable in the mix.

Call quality

Google makes some lofty claims about “crystal clear” calls on the Pixel Buds Pro. Most headphone companies do this, and the actual results can vary greatly from what’s on paper. Google says large microphone openings on the outside are covered with mesh to minimize wind noise. Beamforming mics on the inside work alongside a voice pickup unit (bone conduction) so you can be heard in noisy environments.

In practice, things are just okay. Voice quality is decent, but it’s not the clearest I’ve experienced on earbuds by any means. There was even a fuzziness to the audio during a video call in Meet. And while the Pixel Buds Pro do a decent job blocking constant rumbling, like a clothes dryer or noise machine, they’re not as good with things like TV sound and voices. Google could also improve performance here if it fed your voice back through the earbuds, to keep you from feeling like you’re shouting even though transparency mode is active during calls.

Battery life

Google’s latest Pixel Buds are its best yet, due mostly to the fact that the company finally ticked a missing box: active noise cancellation.
Engadget/Billy Steele

Google is promising up to seven hours of listening time with active noise cancellation enabled and up to 11 hours with it turned off. With a fully charged case, the company says you can expect another 13 hours of ANC use or 20 more hours without it. What’s more, Google has included wireless charging, a feature that was missing from last year’s Pixel Buds A-Series after the company offered it in its big 2020 redesign. Lastly, there's a quick-charge feature that gives you one hour of ANC listening time in five minutes.

During my tests, those numbers were nearly spot-on with real world performance. With ANC on, I came 10 minutes short of Google’s rating. Given that neither of the previous two Pixel Buds models had active noise cancellation, Google has more than doubled the non-ANC listening time here and I managed just shy of the stated 11 hours. You’ll even get two more hours than those two sets of buds even with ANC turned on, so the company has clearly improved things when it comes to battery life for its most premium model.

The competition

While it may be enticing to compare Pixel Buds Pro to AirPods Pro, the two sets of earbuds aren’t really direct competitors. Apple and Google are catering to their respective customers, reserving the most attractive features to people who own iOS and Android devices. However, a quick run down the features list will indicate Google has checked nearly every box Apple does for $50 cheaper (at full price). The only real omission is spatial audio, which Google plans to introduce soon.

Once again, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds line is a better foil for Pixel Buds. Though Samsung catered heavily to iOS users in the past, its recent earbuds give the perks to the Android faithful. 2021’s Galaxy Buds Pro offer good sound quality, ANC and several other handy features, but with only five hours of battery life (eight hours without active noise cancellation or Bixby voice commands). Galaxy Buds Pro were also $200 at launch, though we’ve seen them for $125. What’s more, Samsung has an Unpacked event coming up next month where we will probably see a new model. So if you’re considering the company’s earbuds as an alternative to Google, I’d recommend waiting a couple of weeks before making a final decision.

Wrap-up

Google’s best earbuds yet are also its most complete package thus far. All of the features that made 2020’s redesigned Pixel Buds and the A-Series follow-up such compelling options for Android users, especially Pixel owners, are back. And while the Pixel Buds Pro are $20 more than what we got two years ago, the 2022 version is much improved. Active noise cancellation and the refined sound quality are equally impressive, and well worth the extra money. As long as Google can deliver spatial audio quickly and it works well, the only thing lacking is call quality, which may not be a dealbreaker for you.

Pixel Buds Pro review: Google’s best earbuds yet

In both 2020 and 2021, Google debuted new versions of its Pixels Buds, the second of which was a $99 model with loads of features. For the third year in a row, the company has new true wireless earbuds, but this time it added a key feature: active noise cancellation (ANC). With the Pixel Buds Pro ($200), Google finally has earbuds that cover all of the bases, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise that they’re also the company’s best yet.

Design

The Pixel Buds Pro look like the more mature sibling of the previous two models. Where the Pixel Buds (2020) and Pixel Buds A-Series were both circular with an eartip off one side and a “stabilizer arc” off the other, the Pixel Buds Pro are more of an oval shape. That fit wing on the back is gone, but the shape of this new version fits nicely in the contours of the ear. Although they don’t have that extra stabilizer, I never had any issues with them jostling loose at an inopportune time. Plus, they’re still quite small, and tuck in securely without the need of additional parts.

There’s still a defined circle on the outside of this IPX4-rated Pro model, and that’s where the earbuds accept taps and swipes for the on-board controls. Those are mirrored on both sides, with single (play/pause), double (skip tracks forward) and triple taps (skip tracks backward) as the actions. A long press will alternate between ANC and transparency modes while swiping forwards or backwards adjusts the volume.

Google’s latest Pixel Buds are its best yet, due mostly to the fact that the company finally ticked a missing box: active noise cancellation.
Engadget/Billy Steele

That long press action can be configured to summon Google Assistant, if you prefer not to activate it with a spoken cue. What’s more, you don’t have to mirror that option, so you can have Assistant on one side and ANC controls on the other. For the sound modes, you can add a third option that turns both ANC and transparency mode off, but by default, it will only toggle between noise canceling and ambient sound.

The IPX2-rated charging case is nearly identical to the one that came with the A-Series. The main difference is the inside doesn’t match the color of the earbuds and the one for the Pro model is a smidge larger. Google moved the status light from inside the case on the 2020 model to the outside in 2021, so you didn’t have to open it to see the battery levels. It’s on the outside here as well, with the pairing button around back and the USB-C port on the bottom edge. Flicking open the flat circular-shaped holder with your thumb is still satisfying and the compact size is easily tucked into a small pocket for transport.

Software and features

Google uses a six-core audio chip that’s powered by its own algorithms for active noise cancellation. The company has also added a feature called Silent Seal that maximizes blocking and minimizes any sound leaks. The tool can adapt to your ear shape when ANC is on, with sensors that “constantly” monitor the pressure and relieve it to keep things comfy. All of this combines to do a solid job battling constant noise like a sound machine or human voices and cackling cartoons on TV.

Transparency mode, however, could use some work. Google says the Pixel Buds Pro “process a wide range of frequencies” to keep things sounding “natural.” During my tests, that wasn’t the case. Sure, the ambient sound option allows you to hear what’s going on around you, but it’s far from natural. It’s muffled, so you’re acutely aware you have earbuds shoved in your ears. And for this reason, it’s easy to raise your voice during a quick conversation.

Google’s latest Pixel Buds are its best yet, due mostly to the fact that the company finally ticked a missing box: active noise cancellation.
Engadget/Billy Steele

On Pixel phones, the Pixel Buds app is system-level software that’s accessible through the Bluetooth menu. Simply tap on the gear icon next to the earbuds’ name and you’ll get access to everything. There’s also a shortcut option in the widgets menu, if going into settings is too much. This allows you to get to the Pixel Buds Pro features with a single tap. On non-Pixel Android devices, you’ll need to download a standalone Google Pixel Buds app from the Play Store, but the features are the same.

Inside, you’ll get battery percentages for both earbuds individually. The level for the case also appears when the buds are connected, but still docked inside. Below that are options for fine-tuning Google Assistant, finding lost earbuds, touch controls, sound modes, an eartip seal check and more. You can also turn automatic audio switching between Android devices on and off, ditto for multipoint connectivity for iOS, laptops and more. Under the sound option, there’s the ability to select ANC, transparency mode and off, as well as the option to disable Volume EQ (more on that in a bit). The Pixel Buds app also lets you opt for HD audio and whether or not you want to use them for calls and media audio.

Google allows you to disable a lot of these features as well, including things like in-ear detection (automatic pausing), touch controls and even Assistant. Most companies will let you turn one or two of these off, but Google gives you the ability to go without even its handiest items should the need arise.

Google’s latest Pixel Buds are its best yet, due mostly to the fact that the company finally ticked a missing box: active noise cancellation.
Engadget/Billy Steele

Speaking of Assistant, hands-free access returns when you say “Hey Google.” Similar to the way Apple lets you summon Siri without pressing a button on AirPods, this works exactly like you’d expect. You can have Assistant read out notifications for as many apps as you like or you can limit it to just a few. Google Translate is still here as well, offering “real-time” help in over 40 languages via Conversation Mode. Simply ask Google Assistant to “help me speak French,” for example, or you can open the Translate app directly to lend a hand. This is a useful feature, and the text translation appears in real-time, but the spoken version via Assistant is slightly delayed. This pause would make an in-person conversation a bit awkward, especially if you aren’t looking at your phone. But, it will help you in a pinch.

One gripe I have with the Pixel Buds Pro is with what should be a simple task: pairing. The Pixel 6a I used to test the earbuds recognizes the case is open in about three seconds, showing a notification at the top of the screen. Even if I put the buds in immediately, they’re still not fully paired, and I had to tap the notification to enter the Pixel Buds app and then tap once more on “Connect.” If the Pixel 6a was the last device I used the earbuds with, this should happen automatically – no additional taps required. Or, at the very least, I should be able to fully connect them from the notification.

Sound quality

Both the Pixel Buds (2020) and A-Series lacked sufficient low-end. The latter had a bass boost option to help matters, but it was an all or nothing setting and it still wasn’t great. Neither set of earbuds had presets or a manual EQ either. On the Pixel Buds Pro, Google has remedied this problem, as its latest version has pleasantly punchy bass across a range of genres. Whether it’s a snappy kick drum in Shane Smith & The Saints’ mix of country and rock, the synth-driven pop hooks of Charli XCX or the booming beats of Kendrick Lamar, what the company has done with the bass here is impressive. It remains clear and tight, and it never becomes overbearing.

Google has also done well to reproduce subtle details. Even in the chaos of Underoath’s Voyeurist, the texture of drums, the grit of distorted guitars and the nuance of the singer’s deep growl are all easily distinguishable. Not only are they there, they’re dynamic. Overall, the audio is big and open, so when a track is meant to be soaring and atmospheric, like parts of “Thorn” on Voyeurist, you get that effect. Not all earbud companies can muster this, but Google does a great job keeping things spacious even if they aren’t “spatial”… yet.

Speaking of, the one big feature that isn’t ready for the Pixel Buds Pro yet is spatial audio. Google says it plans to update the earbuds to support immersive sound this fall, offering it for movies and TV shows on compatible Pixel phones. Details are scarce at this point, but I expect the company will have a lot more to say about it when the time comes. The feature could arrive with the Pixel 7 and Android 13, both of which should also debut around that time. And hopefully some of that info has to do with music.

A new feature Google has added to the Pixel Buds Pro is called Volume EQ. Basically, the tuning adapts when you adjust the loudness, so “highs, mids and lows are balanced and nuanced at any volume.” The company explains that this allows you to hear every aspect of a song even at a low level. Volume EQ does a solid job there, and perhaps the most impressive part is how the bass stays punchy when you turn the sound down. Vocals come through clear and subtlety in guitar tones are still distinguishable in the mix.

Call quality

Google makes some lofty claims about “crystal clear” calls on the Pixel Buds Pro. Most headphone companies do this, and the actual results can vary greatly from what’s on paper. Google says large microphone openings on the outside are covered with mesh to minimize wind noise. Beamforming mics on the inside work alongside a voice pickup unit (bone conduction) so you can be heard in noisy environments.

In practice, things are just okay. Voice quality is decent, but it’s not the clearest I’ve experienced on earbuds by any means. There was even a fuzziness to the audio during a video call in Meet. And while the Pixel Buds Pro do a decent job blocking constant rumbling, like a clothes dryer or noise machine, they’re not as good with things like TV sound and voices. Google could also improve performance here if it fed your voice back through the earbuds, to keep you from feeling like you’re shouting even though transparency mode is active during calls.

Battery life

Google’s latest Pixel Buds are its best yet, due mostly to the fact that the company finally ticked a missing box: active noise cancellation.
Engadget/Billy Steele

Google is promising up to seven hours of listening time with active noise cancellation enabled and up to 11 hours with it turned off. With a fully charged case, the company says you can expect another 13 hours of ANC use or 20 more hours without it. What’s more, Google has included wireless charging, a feature that was missing from last year’s Pixel Buds A-Series after the company offered it in its big 2020 redesign. Lastly, there's a quick-charge feature that gives you one hour of ANC listening time in five minutes.

During my tests, those numbers were nearly spot-on with real world performance. With ANC on, I came 10 minutes short of Google’s rating. Given that neither of the previous two Pixel Buds models had active noise cancellation, Google has more than doubled the non-ANC listening time here and I managed just shy of the stated 11 hours. You’ll even get two more hours than those two sets of buds even with ANC turned on, so the company has clearly improved things when it comes to battery life for its most premium model.

The competition

While it may be enticing to compare Pixel Buds Pro to AirPods Pro, the two sets of earbuds aren’t really direct competitors. Apple and Google are catering to their respective customers, reserving the most attractive features to people who own iOS and Android devices. However, a quick run down the features list will indicate Google has checked nearly every box Apple does for $50 cheaper (at full price). The only real omission is spatial audio, which Google plans to introduce soon.

Once again, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds line is a better foil for Pixel Buds. Though Samsung catered heavily to iOS users in the past, its recent earbuds give the perks to the Android faithful. 2021’s Galaxy Buds Pro offer good sound quality, ANC and several other handy features, but with only five hours of battery life (eight hours without active noise cancellation or Bixby voice commands). Galaxy Buds Pro were also $200 at launch, though we’ve seen them for $125. What’s more, Samsung has an Unpacked event coming up next month where we will probably see a new model. So if you’re considering the company’s earbuds as an alternative to Google, I’d recommend waiting a couple of weeks before making a final decision.

Wrap-up

Google’s best earbuds yet are also its most complete package thus far. All of the features that made 2020’s redesigned Pixel Buds and the A-Series follow-up such compelling options for Android users, especially Pixel owners, are back. And while the Pixel Buds Pro are $20 more than what we got two years ago, the 2022 version is much improved. Active noise cancellation and the refined sound quality are equally impressive, and well worth the extra money. As long as Google can deliver spatial audio quickly and it works well, the only thing lacking is call quality, which may not be a dealbreaker for you.

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Ultimate Ears’ latest earbuds fit like in-ear monitors

Ultimate Ears brought its in-ear monitor (IEMs) expertise to true wireless earbuds in 2020 with the UE Fits, a set of buds with fancy tech that molds the tips to fit your ears. Despite the interesting premise, the earbuds didn't deliver on a lot of the basics you expect from an audio accessory these days, namely subpar audio and limited features. The Logitech-owned brand is back with a new take on custom-fit buds, only this time the company is making the process more like how you would order a set of IEMs with the UE Drops.

Indeed, the main attraction of UE Drops is the custom fit, which is coordinated via the company's FitKit. Once you place your order, Ultimate Ears will ship you a FitKit that the company says includes the "technology and information" to guide you though the process of taking your "earprint." More specifically, the kit shows you how to take impressions of your ears with an app, just like you would if you were ordering a set of the company's CSX IEMs. A set of eartips are molded to your ears with a warming process that looks similar to the light and heat method for UE Fits, only this time they're attached to a contraption you plug in. You then return the impressions and your pair of UE Drops are built to those specifications. You can expect to receive your pair about 2-4 weeks after the FitKit is received back at the factory. 

Inside, 9.2mm drivers power the sound the UE describes as "revered by music professionals and music lovers alike." There's no active noise cancellation (ANC), but the custom-fitting tips should provide better passive noise isolation than most off-the-shelf earbuds. However, there is a transparency mode, allowing you to tune into your surroundings as needed. Dual beamforming microphones on the water- and sweat-resistant buds are there for calls, plus handy features like on-board controls, in ear detection and wireless charging are here too. 

Ultimate Ears says you can expect up to eight hours of battery life with 14 additional hours in the case. A quick-charge feature offers one hour of use in five minutes. You can check your battery status in the UE Drops app, where you can also choose between sound presets, manage connected devices, configure voice controls and more. 

The UE Drops are now available in the US via the Ultimate Ears website for $449, which means you'll pay a premium for that custom-tailored fit. The company says UE FitKit and UE Drops apps are available for both Android and iOS devices. 

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