A couple of months ago on The Vergecast, we wanted to answer a question: which wireless earbuds should you buy to use for phone calls, Zoom meetings, or chatting with your voice assistant? So The Verge’s Chris Welch went to a noisy coffee shop in Brooklyn and hopped on a call with Vergecast co-host David Pierce to test out a bunch of wireless earbuds in a tough noise environment.
The pretty clear winners of that test were the Apple AirPods Pro and the Sony LinkBuds, which had the clearest detail in the voice and took out a fair amount of background noise.
But since that test, two new pairs of flagship earbuds have launched: the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro and the Google Pixel Buds Pro. So, obviously, we had to put them to the test, along with the winners of the last round.
This time, we wanted to up the ante, so we put Chris on a boat. The New York City Ferry, to be exact — a very noisy environment, with engines, waves, chatter, helicopters, and wind. It’s not a fun place to take a phone call.
You can listen to that full segment around 24 minutes into this Wednesday’s Vergecast, but I wanted to share some of the results we found here.
The first part of the test was at the dock waiting for the ferry, with bustling city noise paired with nearby boat engines, a helicopter pad, PA speaker announcements, and all the unpredictable sounds of downtown Manhattan. Here is an unedited audio sample of the dock, recorded with a stereo microphone:
Here’s how the Apple AirPods Pro handled the dock:
Here’s how the Sony LinkBuds handled the dock:
Here’s how the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro handled the dock:
We then had to board the ferry. We sat down at a table inside the boat, pretty close to the engine, which is quite loud if you’re not wearing noise-canceling earbuds. Here’s an audio sample of inside the ferry, recorded with a stereo microphone:
Here’s how the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro handled inside the ferry:
Here’s how the Google Pixel Buds Pro handled inside the ferry:
Here’s how the Apple AirPods Pro handled inside the ferry:
Here’s how the Sony LinkBuds handled inside the ferry:
After that test, we eliminated the Sony LinkBuds and the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, as they did not pass David’s stress test. Chris then went to an even worse location — the top of the ferry, in the open air — to compare the call quality of the AirPods Pro and the Pixel Buds Pro.
There was heavy wind on top of the boat — not an ideal situation for chatting on the phone with earbuds, though a blustery day phone call is sure to be a scenario you may come across while wearing these. Here’s an audio sample of the top of the ferry, recorded with a stereo microphone:
We heard a big difference between the two models. Here’s how the Apple AirPods Pro handled the top of the ferry:
And here’s how the Google Pixel Buds Pro handled the top of the ferry:
Let’s be clear: neither sound great, and nobody on the other end of your call will be psyched to talk to you in this situation. But you can hear how the AirPods cut out a lot of the speech and struggled with the wind and other elements on top of the boat. The Pixel Buds Pro held onto Chris’ voice surprisingly well and would actually be able to take a phone call without much problem.
Sure, the New York City Ferry is not a common place a majority of the population would be using their earbuds to make calls or join a Zoom meeting. But this scenario groups together multiple elements you might face while out in the world communicating: windy days, an active city, public transportation, and all sorts of machines surrounding you. So if microphone quality and isolating noise are what you factor in your purchase, the Pixel Buds Pro seem to be a cut above the rest.
We’ll be sure to test out more earbuds, headphones, and other microphones in future episodes of The Vergecast, so let us know what you want to hear!
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