Capping off the announcement for the new Pixel phones, Google released wired USB-C earbuds to go along with their new hardware. So are they any good?

Who are the Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds for?

  • Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL owners who don’t want to buy headphones will use these
  • People buying smartphones without headphone jacks need a bargain and want to try out USB-C headphones on the cheap

How do you use the Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds?

When you take the earbuds out, just plug the USB-C cable into the port on the bottom of your Android phone. Hopefully everything’s on the level with the port, but there’s a possibility the buds won’t quite work if you’re not using a Pixel or other big-name phone. Place the buds in your ears, and then push cable near the bud up so that the loop expands to hold the bud in place.

A photo of the Google Pixel 2 XL and its USB-C dongle.

USB-C should be a good option for wired listening, but having only one port complicates matters.

Start up your music app, and if you’re using Google Play Music, open your settings to enable the equalizer. I had the best results using the “heavy metal” tuning, but you’ll want something that boosts mids if you’re using something else. Otherwise, the music sounds muffled and… crappy.

How good are the Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds?

The most common problems people run into with this type of bud are numerous, and extremely annoying:

1. Outside-the-ear buds fall out often

The tough break with outside-the-ear earbuds is that not all ears are shaped the same. If you can’t wear Apple’s earbuds comfortably, there’s a high chance you won’t like the Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds. It’s really that simple.

A photo of the Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds in a dummy ear.

Mashing a rubber cord into your outer ear isn’t exactly the most comfortable means of holding earbuds in.

Some users report discomfort with the ear loops, but the reality of the situation is that they’re there to make sure they don’t fall out of your ears. Despite more companies adopting the AirPods design language, earbuds that sit outside your ear have some serious design issues, and I steer people away from them because they’re simply not a good fit for most people.

2. No seal means no isolation, so unsafe noise exposure is common

Isolation is often the most important performance metric for headphones, because the most isolation you have: the better your music sounds and the less volume you need to achieve a pleasant listening level. However, to have isolation, you need a seal—and that’s something the Google Pixel USB-C buds don’t provide.

Through a phenomenon called “auditory masking,” your brain will mute quiet sounds when a loud one is present. So a bus engine will “mask” that sick bassline and some of the kick drums. Additionally, road noise and airplane engines will make vocals and common melodies sound far quieter than they should.

Most people will note this, then just turn up the volume, but that can lead to noise induced hearing loss. This is precisely why I recommend noise canceling headphones for commuters.

3. Outside noise can make your music sound crappy

No seal means that performance is wildly variable. Whether anybody likes to admit it or not, fit matters… a lot. To get the best sound out of any headphones, you need a proper fit because that’s how each set of cans is laboriously calibrated. These buds, on the other hand, vary in sound quite a bit.

A chart showing the typical and ideal performances of the Google Pixel USB-C earbuds.

Bass can sound up to one eighth as loud as it should be. The greyed out line is the earbuds’ target, the dark line is its typical performance.

Music doesn’t sound so great when every note from the lowest lows to 90% of high flute sounds are far quieter than they should be. It’s especially bad when the units overemphasize the bass inside the housing to compensate, but makes music a lot less clear-sounding in the process. On top of that, it makes your music far easier to mask out. These are not earbuds you use if you want the most out of your music.

If you’re unwilling to deal with any of that, you will experience a mix of all three with the Google Pixel USB-C earbuds. So you may want to avoid USB-C headphones altogether, and just grab some Bluetooth cans (or get a dongle).

A photo of Google's dongle connected to a Google Pixel 2 XL.

You’ll get better results with your old headphones and the Google Dongle.

I’m honestly perplexed by these things—not because they’re any good, but because they invent new ways to be terrible that I don’t know how to properly explain. I know that sounds harsh, but I had low expectations for these lil’ fellers, and they fell far short of even those.

Should you buy the Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds?

A photo of the remote on the Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds.

A simple remote with a multifunction button and volume controls is a welcome addition to the buds.

Save your money. These are only $30 if you buy them on their own, and I can’t really see anyone liking them too much. There are lots of problems with wired USB-C headphones, and if you’re not getting good sound quality out of it: there’s no advantage to having these over bluetooth headphones. If you’re thinking about getting a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, do yourself a favor and try to squirrel away a little more cash to drop into good headphones, because these earbuds won’t carry your music habit for long.

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Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds