PineBuds Pro First Impressions

Soon You Can Listen To The FOSS!

my profile picture, me snowshoeing with my parents standing in front of a mountain

 Announced just 8 months ago as part of an April Fools joke, the PineBuds Pro[0] have quickly progressed from an idea to real hardware being shipped to Pine64 customers around the world. In Pine64's fourth community driven project, they've ventured into new audio focused territory, and I couldn't be more excited. Now that I've had my hands on these bluetooth earbuds for a few days, it's time to give them the first impressions review they deserve. Let's jump in!

PineBuds in case against a wooden background outside

Look, feel, and sound quality

 From the outside the PineBuds seem like regular in-ear wireless earbuds, but their sound quality is anything but regular. I'm no audio expert, but as a music lover these are a huge upgrade from my last pair of cheap amazon earbuds.[1] With dizzying bass and high definition sound, I've discovered depth in songs that I never knew existed. They fit snugly in the ear, and arrived with three sizes of ear tips to try (the squishy part of the earbud). I found that the medium size works best for me, but since they're removable I've been able to fit other brands of ear tips on the PineBuds without issue. The branding on the device is present but subtle, with a light gray pinecone printed on each bud's touch sensor. The charging cradle has a unique slide-top lid that I haven't seen on other similar products, and while the case isn't the smallest one I've seen it still fits comfortably in a pocket. The earbuds magnetically click into place and have plenty of room in the case for ear tips of all sizes. While I haven't yet done a full analysis of the battery consumption on the PineBuds, they do last all day with heavy usage 9-10 hours with minimal time in the case. They've got plenty of juice for both normal use and long flights.

 Out of the box, the PineBuds feature two levels of active noise cancellation (ANC), as well as a transparent audio passthrough mode. The first ANC mode is great for taking public transit and blocking out noise to study, as long as there is light music playing in the background. The second ANC mode is far stronger, and produces an almost uncomfortable silence when enabled without music on.[2] I actually tested this mode accidentally by shattering a ceramic plate while doing the dishes, and I heard absolutely nothing. My interest was piqued. I grabbed a very loud popcorn maker and stuck my ear right next to it while I was making popcorn. Again, no sound at all. Your mileage may vary depending on how well the earbuds fit your ears. Make sure to be aware of your surroundings if using this mode in public, because the full ANC mode works better then any earbuds I've tried. The audio passthrough mode isn't anything super special as far as wireless earbuds go, but this can absolutely be improved with time. As it stands, in this mode there is some white noise that isn't noticeable when music or a podcast is playing. I've noticed this with other earbuds' passthrough modes as well, so this isn't a unique issue to the PineBuds. In my minimal testing, conversations come loud and clear even with both earbuds in and music playing at a normal volume level.

 Some songs that I've found sound particularly great on the PineBuds are Midnight by Coldplay, Broken by Tears For Fears, and Knights Of Cydonia by Muse.

PineBuds with a christmas tree in the background

A PineSound foundation

 The PineBuds were announced alongside the PineSound development board,[3] a device based on the Bestechnic BES2300 Bluetooth 5.0 audio processor. The board features enough I/O to be the core for anything from a dedicated pocket sized music player to even a smart speaker. The PineBuds are based on this board, utilizing the same BES2300YP chip providing Bluetooth 5.2, one of the most recent major Bluetooth standards. The availability of the PineSound to developers accelerates the community aspect of project due to it's hackability.

Putting the community behind the wheel

 Speaking of hackability, did you know you can flash firmware to the PineBuds via the USB-C port in the charging cradle?[4] That's the biggest difference between Pine64's latest community driven project and the competition. Pine64 has released an SDK for development purposes[5] that is hackable. While community open firmware is not yet available, it may be on the way as more community members get their devices and start hacking. Depeche Mode might say that Pine64 is putting their community "Behind The Wheel"[6] as with similar projects like the PineTime smartwatch and Pinecil sautering iron.

PineBuds against a smooth wooden background

Wrapping Up

 The PineBuds Pro are a seriously good wireless earbud option from my limited testing, and by buying these buds you are supporting a company and community that truly care about developing sustainable software. With a clever hackable design and amazing ANC out of the box, I can see this device being Pine64's next big community-driven project. Speaking of wrapping up, merry christmas! It's been a while since I posted on the blog, school has been busy and life has been busier. I have an updated todo list[7] with tons of planned articles for the hopefully not too distant future.

[0] wiki.pine64.org/wiki/PineBuds_Pro
[1] amazon.com/TOZO-Cancelling-Headphones-Waterproof-Bluetooth/dp/B085NPCQLT
[2] notebookcheck.net/PineBuds-Pro-PINE64-launches-TWS-earbuds-with-better-ANC-than-Apple-AirPods-Pro.672857.0.html
[3] pine64.org/2022/04/15/april-update-no-more-unicorns/
[4] pine64.org/2022/11/15/november-update-tuned-in/
[5] github.com/Ralim/PineBuds-Open-SDK
[6] I'm so sorry. I saw the opportunity for a Depeche Mode pun and I had to take it!
[7] hamblingreen.com/todo.html