Galaxy Buds Plugin
The Galaxy Buds Plugin allows you to use features such as device settings and status view when connected to a Galaxy Buds device.
This application does not work alone because this is a component of the Galaxy Wearable application.
The Galaxy Wearable application has to be installed first for the Galaxy Buds application to operate normally.
※ Please allow the permissions of the Galaxy Buds Plugin in Android Settings to use all the features in Android 6.0 or later.
Settings > Applications > Application manager > Galaxy Buds Plugin > Permissions
※ Access rights information
The following permissions are required for the app service. For optional permissions, the default functionality of the service is turned on, but not allowed.
- Phone: Purpose of checking the version update information of the device
- Storage space: Purpose of storing music in external storage to use music transmission function
- Schedule: Purpose of checking schedule contents for using voice notification function
- Contact: Purpose for checking contact information when receiving a call to use voice notification function
- SMS: Purpose for confirming SMS contents for voice notification
If your system software version is lower than Android 6.0, please update the software to configure App permissions.
Previously allowed permissions can be reset on Apps menu in device settings after software update.
I've been a fan of Samsung's recent Galaxy true-wireless earbuds. The Galaxy Buds Plus fit my ears really well and has become one of the better true-wireless values, selling for less than $100 online. And the Galaxy Buds Live, also discounted a bit since its original debut, feature a discreet and innovative "open" design and I like to use them for running and biking. Now the Galaxy Buds Pro -- Samsung's long-awaited active noise-canceling model -- has arrived with upgraded sound and high expectations. (Yes, the Buds Live also have noise canceling, but it's pretty modest.) They're available now for $200 (£219, AU$349). I'm mostly impressed, but just how good you think they are will ultimately depend on how well they fit your ears.
- Attractive design with small charging case
- Excellent sound
- Active noise canceling
- Good headset performance for calls
- Voice-detection feature
- IPX 7 water-resistance (fully waterproof)
- 360 virtual surround for Galaxy S21 models
- May not fit everyone's ears equally well
- Without a tight seal, noise-canceling performance drops
- Currently, 360 Audio virtual surround only works with new S21 models
- While Bluetooth audio works with iPhones, Galaxy Buds app for iOS isn't supported
The Galaxy Buds Pro have a totally new design. They sort of seem like a cross between the Galaxy Buds Plus and the Galaxy Buds Live and while the earbuds look different from the Buds Live, the charging case is essentially the same. It's nice and compact -- it looks a little like a ring box -- and has USB-C and wireless charging.
The Buds Pro come in three color options -- phantom black, silver and violet -- and they're fully waterproof, with an IPX7 rating that's the highest yet for a set of Samsung earbuds. (IPX means they can be fully submerged in 3 feet of water for 30 minutes.) I got the black version and the buds fit my ears securely -- I was able to run with them without a problem. But the Buds Plus fit me a little better overall. They just kind of nestle in my ears and they have a little rubber fin that helps lock them into place. There's no fin on the Buds Pro.
Samsung told me that some people felt the Buds Plus' tips probed into their ear canal a little too deeply. So it went with this new design that doesn't have quite as deep a fit. The problem is, however, that I couldn't get a really tight seal with any of the included ear tips. The nozzles and tips have an oval shape and for whatever reason, I didn't get a tight seal and it really impacted the noise-canceling performance more so than the sound quality. I thought to myself, "Damn, the noise canceling sucks even though Samsung says it cancels out up to 99% of external background noise." I had some similar issues with the Jabra Elite 85t earbuds, which also have oval nozzles and tips.
Since I know my ears are unique to me and that this problem might only affect a small percentage of users, I went hunting for some new tips, which I happen to have a lot of because I'm always testing new earbuds. I ended up trying an extra-large pair of tips from the Beats Flex, stretching them over the oval nozzle, which allowed me to get a tight seal (and the buds still fit in the charging case even with the jumbo tips). Suddenly the noise canceling worked a lot better.
I have a noisy HVAC unit in my apartment that blows air and I went from hearing it a little too clearly to having the sound muffled really well, basically on par with the noise canceling of the AirPods Pro. The noise canceling isn't as effective, however, as in the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, which is currently the best noise canceling in the true-wireless category.
You may very well get a good fit with the included ear tips, but I'm just pointing all this out because it's pretty crucial to get a tight seal, especially when it comes to noise canceling.
As far as the sound goes, I did lose a little bass without a tight seal, but after I switched over to the bass boost mode in the app, they sounded just fine. And once I stuck on the big Beats tips, I turned off bass boost to get more balanced sound.
Samsung told me it's focused a lot on the sound quality and says these have an 11-millimeter woofer for deeper bass and a 6.5-millimeter tweeter for richer treble. I did hear the difference in my listening tests and they do sound better than both the Buds Plus and Buds Live. The bass is a little deeper and is better defined than the bass on the Buds Plus and the treble does have a little more sparkle to it. The Buds Plus still sound quite good. They just end up coming across as warmer, more forgiving headphones if you compare them to the Buds Pro.
The Buds Pro aren't quite there with some of the very top-sounding true wireless buds like the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless II and Grado GT220, which offer slightly more refined sound. But with a tight seal they're among the best sounding true wireless earbuds, particularly under $200, and they sound more detailed and dynamic than the AirPods Pro, with punchy bass and relatively open sound. They should work well with a variety of music genres and, as I mentioned, you can tweak the sound in the app a bit with some equalizer preset modes. Aside from Bass Boost, I mainly stuck with the default sound profile.
You can also customize the touch controls a bit in the app. As with the Galaxy Buds Plus and Buds Live, the touch controls work well and are responsive, but if you fiddle with an earbud to get it to sit better in your ear, you can end up pausing your music. If you want, you can turn off the touch controls in the app.
OK, let's move on to features. Along with the active noise canceling, you get an Ambient mode that lets you hear the outside world, as well as a couple of notable bonus features. The first recognizes when you're talking and automatically lowers the volume of your music and fires up Ambient mode, so you can have a chat with someone. It's the same feature that's on the Sony WH-1000XM4 over-ear noise-canceling headphones and it's pretty cool unless you talk out loud to yourself a lot or have frequent one-sided conversations with your pets. In that case, you'll want to turn it off in the app.
The feature works with all Android phones, not just Samsung's Galaxy models, but it isn't supported with Apple iOS devices. That's because unlike the Galaxy Buds Plus and Galaxy Buds Live, these earbuds don't link up with the Galaxy Buds app for iOS, though you can stream Bluetooth audio just fine from an iPhone (you just don't get any extra features).
I should point out something about the Ambient mode. You can adjust the amount of amplification, with the low setting sounding more like a transparency mode that lets you hear the outside in a more natural way while the extra high mode really does amp up the amplification and augments little sounds. That said, the Ambient mode even in the low setting doesn't sound as natural as the AirPods Pro's transparency mode, which is arguably best-in-class.
The other bonus feature is something similar to Apple's Spatial Audio virtual surround feature, called 360 Audio. Samsung says it features Dolby Head Tracking technology, which enables you to stay at the center of the scene when you're watching a movie or TV show. I haven't tested it yet, because it currently only works with the brand new Galaxy S21 models and isn't available yet for legacy Samsung smartphones and tablets like the Note 10 or Tab S6 that I'm using. That'll happen down the road, with the Note 20 probably next in line for an update for 360 Audio. And sadly, it doesn't work with any non-Samsung Android devices. As soon as I try it, I'll update this review with comparisons to Apple's spatial audio, but apologies for not covering it in depth at this time. (CNET's Patrick Holland, who is reviewing the Galaxy S21 models, has tried 360 Audio and says it does work, but he hasn't spent time comparing it yet to the AirPods Pro's spatial audio.)
Like with previous Galaxy Buds, there's also a low-latency gaming mode, and the earbuds will automatically switch between your Galaxy devices and automatically pause your music when you take one out of your ear. There's no true multipoint Bluetooth pairing, however, for switching between say, a computer and your phone. While these support Samsung's proprietary Scalable codec streaming audio format for Galaxy devices, they don't support the aptX streaming audio codec that is supported with some Android devices. It's also worth noting that you can use the left or right bud independently as a single bud. Some people like to use a single bud for making calls or just listening to audio in one ear.
Not surprisingly, the Buds Pro performed very well in my voice-calling tests. Samsung says they have three microphones, plus a Voice Pickup Unit, and they're equipped with noise reduction technology that helps eliminate wind noise in particular. Callers said my voice sounded a touch clearer when I was using the AirPods Pro, but the noise reduction was good with the Buds Pro and people said they could hear me well even in fairly noisy environments.
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Battery life with noise canceling on may seem a bit disappointing to Buds Plus owners. You can get up to five hours of playback at moderate volume levels with ANC and Bixby voice wake-up on, and you get 13 hours extra battery life in the charging case. The number jumps to eight hours with noise canceling and Bixby wake-up off, and you get 20 hours extra battery life in the charging case.
That noise-canceling number is similar to what you get from other noise-canceling buds like the AirPods Pro. But the Buds Plus are known for having stellar battery life -- up to around 11 hours at moderate volume levels.
In the end, I'd have to say that the best thing about the Galaxy Buds Pro is their sound and call quality. Their noise canceling is also effective if you have a tight seal. They fit me pretty comfortably, but as I said, the Buds Plus fit me a little more comfortably.
If you own the original Galaxy Buds, you should strongly consider upgrading to the Buds Pro or the Buds Plus, which are a nice value at around $100 or even less online. If I owned the Buds Plus, I'd certainly be tempted to get these, because they are a step up in sound quality, but after using them for several days, I wouldn't necessarily be racing out to buy them.
For those who don't have the Buds Plus or Buds Live and have been waiting for the Buds Pro to arrive, these are mostly excellent and should improve with firmware updates and also come down in price a bit. But like the Buds Live, which fit some ears better than others, as I said, how they fit will ultimately determine just how good you think they are.
Galaxy Buds Pro specs
According to Samsung:
- Speaker: Two-way (11mm woofer + 6.5mm tweeter)
- Earbud weight: 0.2 ounces (6.3 grams)
- Charging case weight: 1.58 ounces (44.9 grams)
- Microphones: Three mics (two outer and one inner), voice pickup unit and wind shield
- ANC: Cuts up to 99% of external background noise, adjustable to two levels
- Ambient sound: Amplifies up to 20 decibels, four adjustable levels, voice detect
- Battery life with ANC or Bixby voice wake-up on: 5 hours with 13 hours extra battery life in charging case
- Battery life with ANC and Bixby voice wake-up off: 8 hours with 20 hours extra battery life in charging case
- Bluetooth 5.0
- IPX7 water-resistance rating (fully waterproof)
- Colors: Phantom black, silver and violet
- Price: $200, £219, AU$299
- Available now
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Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 specs
Colors: Graphite, Lavender, Olive, White
Battery life (rated): 5 hours with ANC on (20 hours with charging case), 7.5 hours with ANC off (29 hours with charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
Processor: Not stated
Size: 0.7 x 0.8 x 0.8 (per bud), 1.9 x 2.0 x 1.1 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.2 ounces (per bud)
You’ve likely seen the rumors and leaks by now, but the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 is now official. Samsung made the announcement during its Unpacked August 2021 event, along with several other product reveals, including the highly anticipated Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3. The Galaxy Buds 2 adopts many of the same traits as its high-end sibling, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, and will launch at a much more accessible price point: $149.
That means you can expect effective ANC, hi-quality sound, intuitive controls and unique listening modes in a practical and inexpensive package. It also means dealing with some of the series’ existing flaws, including a restrictive feature set and subpar battery life, to name a few.
Does its overall performance place it among the best noise-cancelling earbuds? Read our full Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review to find out — and you might also want to check out our Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 vs. AirPods Pro face off, to see how it fares against one of its main competitors.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Price and availability
- $149 MSRP — $50 less than Galaxy Buds Pro
- Choice of four color options
You can pre-order the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 for $149 from Samsung, ahead of the release date on August 27. The pre-order page claims orders will ship "by August 25."
You have a choice of four colors: Graphite, Lavender, Olive, and White. You get a wireless charging case, USB-C charging cable, and three different sizes of ear tips with the purchase.
The Galaxy Buds 2 shares the same MSRP as another pair of popular entry-level wireless ANC earbuds, the Beats Studio Buds. It also comes in at a lower price point than the Galaxy Buds Pro, which originally hit store shelves at $199, but is currently on sale for $169 at Best Buy. Furthermore, you can score these buds for much less than category leaders like the $249 AirPods Pro and $279 Sony WH-1000XM4.
For all of the latest wireless earbuds sales, bookmark our best headphones deals page.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Design and comfort
- Similar shape to Galaxy Buds Pro...
- ...but with a lower-quality feel
The naming convention would have you believing this pair of buds share the same design as the original, but it doesn't. Instead of the oval shape with reflective, triangular touch pads, the Galaxy Buds 2 takes on the longer, low-profile appearance of the Galaxy Buds Pro, only with tinier mic holes, no small speaker grille, and less premium craftsmanship. The Galaxy Buds Pro is composed of rubberized plastic and a shiny metal material, whereas the Galaxy Buds 2 dons a plain plastic exterior with matte finish.
These buds also come with an IPX2 rating, a vast downgrade from the Galaxy Buds Pro’s IPX7 certification. In short, they can resist small drops of water, but are not splash- or sweat-proof. We don't recommend taking these out on a run or into the jacuzzi.
Samsung decided to keep the clamshell-like charging case. This was a smart call; it’s one of the most portable designs in the category, and it feels incredibly light in your hands and pockets. The magnetic lid is strong to keep the buds secured, and the plastic frame is durable, though it scuffs and scratches easily.
I found the Galaxy Buds 2 provided a more secure fit than the original. The tips created a tight seal that kept the buds locked in when manoeuvring around the house. There's even an Earbud Fit Test in the Galaxy Wearable app to help you determine the best fit, though I questioned its validity. The program analyzed my ears a whole lot faster than other ear tip fit tests, which immediately raised a red flag in terms of accuracy, and it gave me the same results when trying on all three different-sized ear tips: Good Fit.
Comfort is moderate. I wore the buds for several hours a day, usually 2-3 hours straight before any soreness was felt around the concha.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Touch controls and digital assistant
- Tap gestures don't always work
- Digital assistants are effective
The Galaxy Buds 2’s control scheme consists of tap/hold gestures, motion detection and digital assistance. Tap input works about 70% of the time, but you can use swipe gestures instead, which I found more serviceable for playback. For some odd reason, you must turn on the multi-tap gestures in the app; other models make them accessible right out of the box.
On-ear detection operates differently on the Galaxy Buds 2. Instead of removing one bud from your ear to auto-pause, you’re required to remove both. That was just one problem I had with the feature. The other two were that it operates on a 2-second delay and doesn’t auto-play when placing the buds back on your ears.
Siri, Google Assistant, and Bixby are all compatible with the Galaxy Buds 2 and can be activated through the touch-and-hold gesture, which can also be assigned to raise/lower volume or enable Spotify. Wake-word activation is only available for Bixby (“Hi Bixby”), and while it’s fun to use, I still prefer Google Assistant or Siri as my native digital assistant due to its much larger commands list. Luckily, Samsung’s mics are powerful and pick up vocals clearly and precisely, no matter which AI bot you use.
Samsung grants users the option to access and control the Galaxy Buds 2 directly on any Galaxy Watch 4 smartwatch as well.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Sound quality
- Powerful and customizable sound
- Low-latency gaming mode
- No Samsung 360 Audio support
When it comes to audio, Samsung always hits a home run, and the Galaxy Buds 2 is no exception. AKG-tuned drivers power the sonics on these tiny in-ears and pump out energetic, detailed sound that can be customized through the Galaxy Wearable app via Equalizer. Six presets are selectable: Normal (the default), Bass Boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear, and Treble Boost. Each of these serves well when paired with the appropriate music genre.
Clear was perfect for harmonic records like Silk Sonic’s “Skate,” emphasizing both Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars’ vocals, while treating percussive elements with delicacy to maintain the production’s upbeat tempo. Switching to Bass Boost, the distorted guitar riff on the beginning of Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” was impactful, but it was the hard knocking 808 drum pattern that sumo-splashed my eardrums to stimulate rhythmic head-nodding. As awesome as this sounded, I preferred listening to the record in Normal since it offered better midrange; the rising synths were loud and striking.
In fact, you’re bound to stick with Normal for its strong overall sound. Records like Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” showcased the buds prominent low end, producing excellent reverberation that had my hair standing with every strum from the iconic bass riff. Highs are also well represented, something you’ll notice most on jazz classics. I loved how crisp and detailed the hi-hats sounded on Kenny Burrell’s “Midnight Blue,” though it wasn’t until I played low-fi gems such as Joe Venuti & Eddie Lang’s “Black and Blue Bottom” where the buds demonstrated their frequency range. Hearing the clean and bright violin play over a static-heavy background was remarkable.
The Galaxy Buds 2 comes with a Gaming mode to decrease latency for synchronized gaming sound. It’s exclusive to Samsung smartphones, though I tested the mode on a few games and noticed very little difference in quality compared to when it was switched off. The footsteps and shooting effects when playing Critical Ops lagged, but the drifting and power-up effects in Mario Kart Tour sounded spot-on.
What about 360 Audio? You’ll have to invest in the pricier Galaxy Buds Pro to use Samsung's equivalent of spatial audio, as it's not supported on the Galaxy Buds 2.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Active noise cancellation
- Strong ANC effect
- Ambient mode works well too
Samsung claims that its ANC technology “cuts external background noise by up to 98%.” I’m not sure how this was assessed, but my ears and several years of experience testing noise-cancelling headphones say this percentage is lower: more like 85%. This is close to the AirPods Pro and lower than ANC giants like the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and Sony WF-1000XM4.
Nonetheless, the Galaxy Buds 2 does a fairly good job of reducing unwanted noises. I was able to work peacefully and block out common distractions like loud TVs and talkative relatives. The droning noises coming out of our centralized AC and laundry room went unnoticed as well. High-frequency sounds didn’t fare so well, as my infant’s babbles and hunger cries were audible from several feet away.
Using the buds outside was much of the same. Rambling joggers on their AirPods and speeding cars never grabbed my attention. Certain landscape tools (e.g., lawnmowers, electric hedge trimmers) went silent, though leaf-blowers were the exception. Sirens were another disturbance that broke my concentration when sitting peacefully on a park bench.
Those with selective hearing might find the Accessibility setting in the companion app useful. You can assign ANC to one earbud to prevent discomfort. There’s also a sound balance slider below it to emphasize sound on either bud or leave in the middle for equal results.
Ambient Sound is designed to give users greater awareness of their surroundings. There are three settings – Low, Medium, and High – each one set to increase the amount of sound that comes into the mics. High should be your default because it’s the only setting where you can hear anything, granted you’ll need to keep the volume between 30% and 50%. Doing this let me communicate clearly with my wife about baby duties during office hours, as well as hear incoming packages via doorbell and traffic on nightly walks.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: App and special features
- A few software tricks, but nothing very advanced
- Smartphone widget is handy, though
The Galaxy Wearable app places several features at your fingertips. If you haven’t downloaded it already, you’ll be required to, along with the Galaxy Buds 2 plug-in. Opening the app presents you with a battery level indicator for the buds, user manual, toggle controls, the Find My Earbuds setting, and all the extra features in the Settings page. These include the aforementioned Bixby voice wake-up function, Equalizer, Earbuds Fit Test, Gaming Mode, and Accessibility.
This is a generous number of features here, but other competitor apps like JBL Headphones and Sony Headphones Connect offer much more. The Labs section seems to have been abandoned with Gaming Mode being the only available feature. Luckily, the app supports firmware updates, so I hope that Samsung rolls out more features in the coming months.
Outside of the app is where you’ll find the Galaxy Buds 2’s most unique features. Samsung programmed a resizable widget that can be placed on your smartphone home screen to instantly enable the listening modes and touch controls. This is a faster solution for toggling either function, though I wish Samsung let users customize the selections: Gaming Mode seems more ideal than touch controls.
Other notables include the aforementioned Galaxy Watch control access and wireless PowerShare to power up the buds by placing the charging case on the back of a compatible Galaxy smartphone.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Battery life and charging case
- Short ANC uptime, both from buds and case
- Much better fast-charging speeds
Samsung rates battery life at 5 hours with ANC and 7.5 hours with ANC off. When comparing ANC playtimes, this is just a marginal advantage over the AirPods Pro (4.5 hours) and much less than the WF-1000XM4 (8 hours). Even more disappointing is the 20-hour charging case, which falls short of the average industry time set by the AirPods/AirPods Pro charging case: 24 hours. Not using ANC extends use to 29 hours, but let’s be honest: you’re likely purchasing these to use ANC as much as possible.
Those who are not thrilled about the playtimes can take solace knowing the Galaxy Buds 2 has some of the strongest quick charging available, netting you 1 hour of use on a 5-minute charge. Battery optimization has also been improved to squeeze every bit of juice out of the battery for optimal use.
On top of that, the charging case can be wirelessly charged in two ways: PowerShare, via supportive Galaxy smartphones, or any Qi-enabled wireless charging pad.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Call quality and connectivity
- Decent, but "machine learning" feature doesn't do much
- Susceptible to wind noise
As a calling headset, the Galaxy Buds 2 is a disappointing step down from the Galaxy Buds Pro. According to Samsung, the newer pair of buds uses a “machine learning-based solution" that filters out background noises for clearer calls. I don’t know if this requires breaking in the Galaxy Buds 2, but after four days of several voice and video calls, nothing noticeably changed. The mics snag a lot of ambient sound, especially wind, which my wife said sounded harsh on her ears. The buds didn’t perform any better in quieter outdoor settings; complaints of muffling were common.
Stepping inside, the missus found call quality to be steadier, but not a vast improvement. The Galaxy Buds 2 performed much better on video chats with several friends mentioning how loud and clear I sounded.
Wireless performance is still a hallmark of the Galaxy Buds series. Opening the case automatically enables Pairing mode and shows the product on the available devices lists. Samsung also developed an Easy Pairing Mode for hassle-free manually pairing.
Range is adequate with the buds achieving close to 40 feet of wireless listening. Connection strength is also better than older Samsung models, letting you jump from room to room without stuttering, if you stay within range.
Multipoint technology is absent, but the Galaxy Buds 2 has impressively robust auto-connect capabilities. You can unpair from one device and the buds will immediately pair to your last recognized device if Bluetooth is enabled. This makes swapping between devices seamless.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 offers plenty of functionality at an attainable price. Sound is both versatile and vibrant, ranking just below the Galaxy Buds Pro, which is impressive. Despite falling short of its claims, Samsung’s ANC technology is still a viable option for blocking out unwanted noises. The different audio settings allow for unique personalization when indulging in music and videos. You’ll enjoy great all-day comfort as well.
However, with a lower price comes compromises, and the Galaxy Buds 2 makes quite a few. Battery life, call quality, and design all take major steps back from the Galaxy Buds Pro, which also keeps 360 Audio to itself. Non-Galaxy smartphone owners also lose out on special features tied to the Galaxy ecosystem, such as Gaming Mode and PowerShare.
If you’re on a budget and remain a loyal Galaxy smartphone user, then the Galaxy Buds 2 will provide a pleasant mobile listening experience without breaking the bank. Even so, you may want to wait for the Galaxy Buds Pro to go on sale; for potentially just a few dollars more, you could secure yourself a significantly better set of earbuds.
Those who don’t own a Galaxy device should look at competitors in the same price range that offer slightly better performance; the Beats Studio Buds is a prime example.
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A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review
Someone get the can opener, because the beans are in. The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live have attracted plenty of media attention for their kidney bean-shaped design, and rightfully so: these non-sealing, noise cancelling earbuds are unlike any other earbuds on the market. Samsung may have bitten off more than it can chew with the Galaxy Buds Live, so we’re going to see how these buds held up in the real world. Grab your spoons, and let’s dig in.
Editor’s note: this Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review was updated on July 26, 2021, to update scoring, add context to the battery life section.
Who should get the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live?
Opening the charging case for the first time felt like digging into a new pair of earrings.
- Samsung Galaxy smartphone owners will benefit the most from the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, because the company’s handsets support the Samsung Scalable Codec for optimal audio quality and connection stability. Samsung smartphone users also get to use Wireless PowerShare; otherwise, the experience is very similar on Android and iOS.
- Anyone considering the AirPods should get the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live instead. These have the same open-air fit that allows you to remain aware of your surroundings, but don’t fall out of your ears.
What are the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live like to use?
Each earbud is absolutely packed with sensors and vents.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are meant to afford a luxurious and simple user experience, which is generally the case. Your first interaction with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live isn’t with the earbuds at all; rather, the experience starts with the squared-off, plastic charging case. Don’t let the material choice turn you off to the buds, though: it has a nice sheen and semi-matte finish that makes it enjoyable to use, especially compared to the glossy veneer of the Galaxy Buds Live. No buttons exist on the or in the case, just two LEDs to indicate the case and earbuds’ respective battery levels.
Each half of the jewelry box-inspired charging case has a lip that makes it very easy to open the case with one or both hands. Samsung added an extra reflective finish to the Mystic Bronze color variant, but the Mystic Black, Mystic White, and Mystic Red options are treated with the same glossy finish. When I opened the earbuds for the first time, it felt like I’d just unboxed a pair of earrings or a ring box.
Magnets keep the earbuds in place, which allowed me to be imprecise about dropping the buds into their cutouts. Sometimes, though, I had to push the earbuds up, so the contacts would touch the pin connectors for charging.
How do the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live fit?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live don’t look like they should stay in place, but they do.
Now, onto the earbuds. They’re shaped like beans, and I was skeptical about the fit. The earbuds lack ear tips, which means they don’t seal to your ear canal and passively block background noise out. Knowing that, I thought these would be even less comfortable and less stable than the AirPods, which I can’t wear. Yet, I was happily proven wrong: the Galaxy Buds Live stayed in my ears during an assortment of exercises like rock climbing, and running. No matter how much I jumped or shook my head, they never fell out.
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They weren’t always comfortable: the one-size-fits-all approach is nice in theory, but leaves a lot of us unsatisfied. After 1.5 hours, I had to remove the earbuds, because my outer ears were a little sore. This happened whether I used the small or large-sized ear stays. There’s a learning curve to placing the earbuds in correctly, but it soon becomes rote memory. If you’re unsure of how to install the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, Samsung provides directions on how to wear them in the Galaxy Wearable application.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live chipped away at my skepticism, and proved to be a fine pair of buds for the right consumer.
Touch panels make it easy to operate controls without reaching for your phone, and someone out there is could be excited to know that direct voice access to Bixby is here. Non-Samsung users can control media playback, make volume adjustments, and toggle noise-cancelling all from the headset. The inward-facing IR sensors also detect when the earbuds are in and out of your ears, which allows for auto-pause functionality. To resume playback, you must tap either earbud. Automatic ear detection isn’t the Galaxy Buds’ strong suit, and pales in comparison to the OnePlus Buds’ response time. If you want to remap any of the controls or delve further into the earphones’ feature set, get the companion app.
Should you get the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app?
You can use the Galaxy Wearable app for the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live and Buds Plus.
The Samsung Galaxy Wearable app is worth downloading if only for firmware update access. You may also select from six EQ presets (Normal, Bass boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear, and Treble boost), remap the touch controls, enable incoming notifications to be read aloud, toggle hands-free Bixby access on/off, and enter the Galaxy Labs tab where Samsung stores experimental features.
Galaxy Labs is where you’ll find Gaming mode which minimizes audio-visual lag, perfect for gaming and video streaming. Labs also has an ambient sound option that is supposed to mitigate that clogged-ear feeling. Of course, you can also update the earbuds’ software and take a guided tour of your earbuds via the illustrated user manual.
Learn more: Headphones are collecting too much personal data
iOS and Android users can access the app, but some features are limited to Android (e.g. direct Spotify access, and notification readouts). Only Samsung Galaxy devices support hands-free, direct Bixby access with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live noise cancelling works
Because testing an unsealed ear necessarily introduces a type of selection bias, we’ve opted to hold off on publishing measurements on the ANC performance of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. Instead we will post scores, but no charts. We absolutely do not want this kind of thing passed around until we can verify a range of reasonably representative outcomes in normal use. The problem is twofold: because the earphones don’t seal the ear, a number of variables we can’t control (like the size and shape of your ear, distance of the Buds to your ear canal, etc.) will dramatically change the performance for you—much more so than earphones that seal the ear canal. Because whatever chart we posted would not reflect your experience, its utility is very limited here.
While the noise cancelling doesn’t meet the hubristic claim of muting 0-600Hz frequencies, the technology quiets low-frequency noises to the point where they sound about 1/2 as loud as they would without ANC enabled. The ability to dispel low frequencies without a proper seal is no small achievement: having an unsealed ear canal makes it nearly impossible to combat outside noise in real time. Let’s not mince words—the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live’s noise cancelling performance is nowhere near the best, but it is impressive when you consider the conditions it operates under. The software has to work much harder to reduce background noise without the help of good passive isolation.
Samsung braved new ground with its earbuds, and took a risk in a time when everyone is following Apple's lead.
The noise cancelling performance is impressive given the conditions, but there’s no getting around the fact that passive isolation is the cornerstone of all the best cancelling headsets, and that requires a proper seal to form between the earbuds and your ear canal. If said seal isn’t created, well, that introduces outside noise to your music. No matter how effective a noise cancellation system is, it can’t completely make up for a tenuous fit.
I prefer traditional noise cancelling earbuds, but I understood the Galaxy Buds Live’s appeal most when walking around. I really enjoy being able to hear my surroundings without any sort of software passthrough, which normally sounds unnatural and grating. Even then, I didn’t notice a big difference between enabling and disabling noise-cancelling, I just really enjoyed the fit.
You can learn about the ins and outs of feedforward and feedback noise cancelling, but all you have to know from this Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review is this: the noise cancelling works, but will not mute your surroundings.
How to pair the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live on Android
As long as Bluetooth is enabled on your Android phone, the Galaxy Buds Live will send a pop-up request to initiate pairing.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus streamlines the pairing process with Android devices running Android 5.0 and later, much like the Google Pixel Buds (2020). All you have to do to pair the earbuds is enable Bluetooth on your Android smartphone, and open the charging case. A pop-up card will appear and read, “My Galaxy Buds Live” at the top. Once you tap “Connect,” a connection will then establish between your smartphone and the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live.
Streamlined pairing processes like this make wireless headsets accessible. Even the least tech-savvy among us can get to using the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live right out of the box with little effort.
Unfortunately, the Samsung Galaxy Buds lineup still doesn’t support Bluetooth multipoint, so you must manually switch from one device to another. Device switching is very easy though: just select the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live from the desired source device’s Bluetooth menu. This quick switching requires you to have already established an initial connection between the headset and smartphone, though.
How to pair the earphones with an iPhone
Pairing the Bluetooth earbuds with an iPhone is a bit more involved, but easy nonetheless.
- Enable Bluetooth on your iPhone.
- Open the charging case.
- Select “Galaxy Buds Live” from the list of available devices in your iPhone’s Bluetooth menu.
- A connection will then establish between your iPhone and the earbuds.
To enter pairing mode directly from the onboard touch controls, tap-and-hold both touch panels at the same time until a beep resonantes. Then, follow the steps for your respective device.
How good is the connection quality?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live support mono listening.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live uses Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and forgoes aptX support in favor of AAC, which is good news for iPhone users interested in these earbuds. Samsung’s Scalable Codec is also supported, and rather than hopping between static streaming rates, the Scalable Codec operates on a sliding scale from 96-512kbps. It balances sound quality and connection stability, so listeners using a Samsung device experience few if any connection stutters.
This proved true during my review period as I used my personal Samsung Galaxy S10e and experienced only a few hiccups, namely when in my backyard and my phone nearly five meters away from me. When streaming from my Microsoft Surface Book, connection pauses were more prevalent but were generally a non-issue.
Absent aptX support isn’t as big of a deal as you might expect
Although the absence of aptX support is disappointing, its presence wouldn’t have made much of a practical difference: high-quality Bluetooth codecs require all of the basics to be optimized first. In other words, you need to achieve a proper fit with a seal between the earbuds and your ear canal. Music is subjected to plenty of auditory masking: loud external sounds make it hard to perceive relatively quiet sounds, and even quiet ones will impact sound quality to varying degrees.
This means any detail gained by using a high-quality Bluetooth codec to stream your music (compared to SBC) would be rendered null, because environmental noise masks music detail. In this particular instance, AAC, SBC, and the Samsung Scalable Codec are fine for sound quality purposes; no high-quality codec will magically make audio from the Galaxy Buds Live make you forget an audiophile setup.
How good is the battery life?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live lasted 5 hours, 15 minutes on a single charge with noise cancelling enabled. Our testing methodology subjects every audio product to the same rigors: a constant 75dB(SPL) output until battery depletion, so if you listen at quieter volumes, you’re bound to get closer to the specified 6-hour playtime from the earphones. Quick charging the earbuds takes just five minutes for one hour of listening.
Listeners who plan to exclusively listen with ANC enabled will enjoy an additional 2.5 charge cycles from the branded case, while disabling ANC entirely affords approximately 8 hours of standalone playtime and 2.63 extra charge cycles. Samsung’s case retains wireless charging capabilities, and is Qi wireless compliant. You may also top up the case directly from your Samsung Galaxy smartphone via Wireless PowerShare.
Do true wireless earbuds batteries degrade over time?
Samsung hasn’t announced any plan to optimize battery life as Apple has with iOS 14.
This decrease in capacity is exacerbated by the constant deplete-and-recharge nature of true wireless batteries. Most all of us place the earbuds back in the case when we’re not using them. While this makes for a convenient organizational tool, it also means the earbuds are always charging to 100%, and rarely hitting 0%. Right now, most totally wireless earbuds have an expiration date before the two-year mark. With that in mind, be sure to adjust your budget for earphones accordingly.
Apple is attempting to soften this issue with software: its iOS update now instructs the AirPods line of earbuds to communicate with the case, preventing them from charging beyond 80% capacity, until you plan to use them. This slows down the degradation process by learning your usage habits. If you consistently listen to your earbuds on the train to and from work during the week, the earbuds will only top-up in preparation for that event. That’s just one example of the technology, and it will become familiar with each user’s habits over time.
How do the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live sound?
Bass notes sound twice as loud as midrange notes, which makes it hard to hear detail from music.
Sound quality is relatively okay from the Galaxy Buds Live, but again: your mileage will vary based on fit, outside noise, and other consequences of an unsealed ear canal. The 12mm dynamic drivers have been tuned by AKG and have a consumer-friendly sound that handles popular genres of music like hip-hop, pop, and rock, but we suggest playing around with the app if you find that the sound isn’t what you want out of the box. Obviously, these are not audiophile products given their likely use, but not everyone needs a set of high-performance audio products when they’re out and about.
We’re going to caution you again to take any charts posted of the measurements with a truckload of salt, because the nature of an unsealed ear canal means that the fit can’t be controlled for. However, the most repeatable result is shown above. On top of that, you’re unlikely hear your music quite as the chart depicts because of how auditory masking works: the loud external noises of your environment make it hard to process the sounds from your music. This happens because our brains have limited bandwidth for auditory processing, and they prioritize threatening sounds (e.g. a screeching car, or a roommate washing dishes) over quieter ones (e.g. music playback). Our brains do this as a means of survival, but it can make it difficult to enjoy music to the fullest when out and about.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus (left) have ear tips that help block out background noise more reliably than the Galaxy Buds Live.
The sound is good for general consumers, and falls in line with what we’re accustomed to hearing: amplified bass and high notes. Bass emphasis isn’t as egregious as I expected it to be, though voices are hard to hear during instrumentally busy parts of any song like choruses.
Related: How to read charts
When you’re listening to your music out on the street, or even as your roommate goes about loading up the washing machine, clarity will be lost; your brain will be more focused on picking up those external, loud sounds than on parsing apart tonal resonances.
These bean-shaped buds stayed in my ears while exercising—which didn’t happen when I wore the Apple AirPods.
That said, the familiar sound will attract listeners of all sorts. Bass emphasis like this actually helps your ability to drown out noise near you, given that at your ear canal they’re about 1.5 times louder than low-midrange notes, which masks some instrumental detail and vocal resonances. How AKG tuned these 12mm dynamic drivers won’t give you a surgically-accurate representation of what your music sounds like, but it’s a pretty typical sound target for consumer audio products. If you usually buy your audio products from big box stores, you’ll be at home with this kind of sound that plays kindly with pop, hip-hop, and electronic music.
Lows, mids, and highs
Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable app differs from other companies’ headphone applications.
Angie McMahon’s song Slow Mover begins with a C-F chord riff on electric guitar, and the on the upstroke of the strumming pattern, string-muting is audible, but just barely. This sound is relayed very clearly through the AKG K371 headphones. What’s more, the reverb effect from the guitar amp is also very hard to hear when listening to Slow Mover.
McMahon’s low register is reproduced rather well enough, and her high pitched resonances are reproduced well. To hear this, skip ahead to 1:26, as she sings, “He thinks we can make it work.” Here her pitch raises at the end of the word “work,” and you can hear the squeak of the letter -k. Throughout most of the song, though vocal detail is masked by the accompanying instruments. It’s easy to forget the voice is a sort of string instrument, and has resonances of its own which often fall victim of the Galaxy Buds Live open-type design. Highs were difficult for me to discern during the song’s chorus, too, particularly cymbal hits at 1:58.
How good is the microphone?
All frequencies are relayed with relatively equal loudness, but the sound comes out a bit “hollow.”
Microphone quality is excellent, as Samsung used an advanced array with its noise cancelling true wireless earbuds. Each earbud is decked out with internal hardware, among which are three microphones. Two of the microphones are beam forming and the third is an inward-facing voice pickup unit; this is a fancy name for an accelerometer that detects vibrations from your jawbone and uses bone conduction to turn it into audio signals. All of this combines to transmit clear audio while rejecting background noise. Microphone quality is one of those things that improves over time with firmware updates, so I expect this will only get better as the months pass.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live microphone demo:
Background noise rejection is pretty good when inside, but like all embedded microphone systems, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live struggle with combating wind noise. If you like to pass personal calls by going on walks, make sure you check the weather first. A gust of wind may not be so loud to you, but could irritate your friend on the other end of the call.
As of March 30, 2021, around 75% of our readers rate the above sample as somewhere between “okay” and “good,” with 22.1% giving it a rating of “okay” and 52.2% giving it a rating of “good.” This is in line with other higher-end true wireless earphones, but the technology is limited at best. We’re not surprised by these results, but all they mean is that the Buds Live are best suited to phone calls and not music production.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live vs. Apple AirPods
Now, nothing about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live makes sense, because anyone who had a hand in engineering the audio portion of the Galaxy Buds Live knows that noise cancelling is at its most effective with a good seal. Clearly there’s no illusion of that here: the open-fit is marketed as a huge plus, and the noise cancelling promises the best of both worlds. Still it seems an odd move by Samsung, but a calculated one to compete with the AirPods. It had to find a way to regain its foothold in the audio market, and settled on this shiny bean.
The Galaxy Buds Live provide a more stable fit than the AirPods
The earbuds are comfortable at first but may cause outer ear pain to those with smaller ears.
Neither the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live nor the Apple AirPods provide a comfortable all-day fit or award-winning sound quality, but I would recommend the Galaxy Buds Live over the AirPods any day of the week. It all boils down to fit, and the Apple AirPods and nearly any variant of its design fail to stick in my ears. If you’re someone who can run and jump around without them falling out, disregard this: the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live stay in my ears, and the AirPods don’t. It’s as simple as that.
If you want to break down other features, the AirPods don’t have noise cancelling but that’s what the AirPods Pro are for. Sound quality is clearer with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, and are more durable than the AirPods which don’t warrant an IP rating.
Apple’s UI is smoother than Samsung’s
User experience is very smooth on each headset’s main operating system, and microphone quality is similar between headsets. Battery life is better with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, even with noise cancelling enabled. Fast charging is supported by both headsets, and its performed at the same rate. The AirPods (2019) require you to select—and pay more for—the wireless charging case, while Samsung includes that to boot.
For the best look at Sony, Jabra, or the AirPods Pro
If you want Samsung earbuds, just get the Galaxy Buds Pro. Not only will you get more reliably good sound, but you’ll also get better isolation and a better fit, too.
The Jabra Elite 85t (bottom) are much more effective at blocking out background noise than something without ANC like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus (top).
For the best portable noise cancelling experience, don’t even consider the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. Instead, get the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, Sony WF-1000XM3 or Apple AirPods Pro—both of which fit most consumers well and have much better sound quality than the Galaxy Buds Live and AirPods.
Alternatively, the Jabra Elite 85t have very good noise cancelling and are more durable than either of the alternatives suggested. These earbuds can withstand nearly any workout, and stay in place no matter what. You can field any kind of conference call from these earbuds, and take them anywhere. The case also supports wireless charging, which can’t be said for the Sony WF-1000XM3 case.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live?
Galaxy how to buds fit
If you have ever used a pair of earbuds, especially the wireless kind, you will know that they don’t like to sit nicely in the ear canal. This is because every person’s ear canal is unique and manufacturers can’t make a one-size-fits-all pair of earbuds like they do with headphones. If you want to buy high-quality Samsung earbuds, you might ask “Do Galaxy Buds fall out easily?”
The Samsung Galaxy Buds don’t fall out easily; in fact, they are quite comfortable and stable in the ears. They come with a few different ear tip and wing tip sizes to get the right fit for your ear canals so that they sit perfectly in your ears.
But why do earbuds fall out easily for some but not for others? How do you know which wing tip and ear tip size to use? Is there anything that you can do to make earbuds fit better? You can learn the answers to these questions by reading the whole article.
Do Galaxy Buds Fall Out Easily?
If you wear earbuds on the regular, you will know that they like to get loose, especially when walking and running. And you also probably know that not all earbuds fall out at the same rate. Putting the earbud back in as it starts getting loose once or twice in an hour is not the same as constantly having to worry that your earbuds will fall out.
The Galaxy Buds fall into the former category. They have very nice ear wings and ear tips that allow them to stay snug inside your ear canal while doing any sort of activity. However, they can still fall out during vigorous exercise, especially if you are not using the right size of ear wings and ear tips.
But this is not an excuse to shove them into your ear as deep as they could possibly go as this may result in temporary or even permanent damage to your eardrum. Speaking of the eardrum, the reason why earbuds are different from headphones is that they have to go into the ear and get much closer to the eardrum so that you can hear them.
Headphones, on the other hand, are more like small speakers that sit on top of your ears but don’t go quite inside of them. If you prefer one over the other, that is completely fine. But you can’t argue against the convenience of earbuds. So, is there anything that you can do to make Galaxy Buds sit more snug in your ear?
In addition to getting the right size of ear tips and ear wings, one thing that might help is to reduce the buildup of earwax. If you use your earbuds every day, you might push the earwax deeper into your ear, which can cause said buildup. Simply not using the earbuds for a few days to allow your ears to self-clean is a good idea, or seeing a professional.
How to Choose the Right Ear and Wing Tip Size
The best way to find out what ear tip and wing tip size to use is by trial and error. You will have to test out all the possible combinations before deciding which one is the best. If you have a large ear canal but rather small ears, you will likely use the largest ear tips and the medium or small size wing tips to get a snug fit.
Another possible solution would be to purchase a different ear tip. You can find tons of ear tips online made of different materials. Memory foam ear tips generally fit better and make the Galaxy Buds fall out less often. But keep in mind that you must buy ear tips that are compatible with the Galaxy Buds because some ear tips are too large and won’t allow your case to close.
Wireless earbuds are one of the most common ways to listen to music. It does not matter if you use your Galaxy Buds in the gym, on the street, or at home, you want them to stay inside your ears. If they fall out easily, you will get annoyed and stop using them in the end. Thankfully, the Samsung Galaxy Buds are one of the most comfortable wireless earbuds.
They come with different sizes of ear tips and wing tips that you can experiment with to get the perfect fit. The wing tips will make sure that the earbuds stay in place, but the ear tips should be your primary concern when it comes to this. If you are not getting a snug fit when you put the earbuds in, you might want to buy different ear tips.
If you like listening to music while running, a pair of lightweight and durable wireless earbuds is a must-have. Since Galaxy Buds 2 is just released, with a lot of premium features and a good price, you may wonder if it is suitable for workout. Well, that depends, considering the improvements Galaxy Buds 2 have made and some features they still lack.
On the one hand, Galaxy Buds 2 is smaller and more lightweight compared with Galaxy Buds+ and Galaxy Buds Pro so that you’ll find it easier to insert them into your ear canals. Since the ear tip is a key factor when consideing whether the earbuds fit your ears, the Galaxy Buds 2 this time come with ear tips in small, medium, and large size. You can have a fit test on the Galaxy Wearable app to see how well the earbuds fit your ears and make adjustment accordingly.
On the other hand, Galaxy Buds 2 is rated IPX2, which means they can resist water hitting at an angle less than 15 degrees. In other words, you can wear them for regular workout, but in the cases when you sweat a lot or go to the pool, the sweat or water will probably cause damage to your earbuds. Another feature worth mentioning is that Galaxy Buds 2 don’t have fins or stabilizers that can help them hook inside your ears, so you may have to look elsewhere if you aim for heavy workouts.
For professional earbuds for workout, here’re some recommendations: Jaybird Vista 2, Beats Powerbeats (2020), and Bose Sports Earbuds. People have different ear size and shape, so there’re no one-size-fit-all earbuds, and it’s best to get ones with ear hooks to prevent them from falling out. Compared with buying online, you’re more likely to find a pair that fit your ear shape and ear size perfectly in the earbuds’ store, as you could try the earbuds on personally.
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Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review: the right balance
Let’s just get to it: Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro are the best true wireless earbuds that the company has made yet. For their $200 asking price, you get a comfortable fit, effective active noise cancellation, and good, punchy sound quality. These earbuds improve on Samsung’s prior efforts with clever features like a speech detection mode that automatically lowers your music and lets you hear the outside world as soon as you start talking.
But they also inch Samsung closer to a siloed-off world, not unlike Apple, where the best experience is reserved for people who stick to Samsung-branded devices. A few features like 3D audio and automatic device switching — sound familiar? — only work if you’re using these earbuds with a Samsung phone or tablet. Most people aren’t going to be cross-shopping the Galaxy Buds Pro and AirPods Pro since they’re designed for different mobile operating systems, but Samsung has never leaned into its own ecosystem with earbuds quite like this. Thankfully, there’s enough good for everyone else that the Galaxy Buds Pro still come out a success.
The Buds Pro are an amalgam of the Galaxy Buds Plus — they have an in-ear design with silicone tips — and the open-air Galaxy Buds Live, from which they borrow some style cues. The outer casing is a tasteful mix of glossy and matte finishes and has been redesigned to protrude less from your ear. Samsung says this revamped shell also “reduces the contact area between your ear and the bud, improving comfort and minimizing any clogged-up feeling.”
The wing tips from the Galaxy Buds Plus are gone; Samsung got the message that some customers experienced discomfort from those over time. Instead, you get the usual three sizes of silicone ear tips, which are a bit shorter than before to help with the low-profile design. Samsung tells me it has considered including foam tips but has so far held off. You’ll also notice a section of mesh on the outside. This covers one of the three built-in microphones and is there to act as a wind shield for voice calls. (More on that later.)
I really like how these earbuds fit. They feel stable and twist into place for a good seal in my ear canal, without making my ears feel too plugged up. The air vent and reduced contact area really do seem to make a difference there, and I appreciate that the Buds Pro don’t noticeably jut out from my ears like some competitors. If I have one critique, it’s an old one: more than a few times, I accidentally activated the touch-sensitive controls when trying to adjust the fit of an earbud. Such is life with tap gestures, I suppose. The controls can be turned off if this proves a problem for you.
According to Samsung, the Galaxy Buds Plus are rated IPX7 for water and sweat resistance, which means they can survive a half-hour swim in fresh water — so even your sweatiest runs and workouts shouldn’t present any problem. That’s the highest rating among any of Samsung’s earbuds and beats out the AirPods Pro, Jabra Elite 85t, and Bose Sport Earbuds, which are all IPX4. Either earbud can be used independently with mono audio if you prefer that option for voice calls or biking.
The wonderfully pocketable Buds Pro charging case is so close in size and shape to the Buds Live case that accessories for the latter will fit the former, and it still charges over both USB-C and Qi wireless charging. But endurance is one area where these earbuds settle for very average numbers. Samsung promises up to five hours of playback with ANC enabled (or eight with it off). Case top-offs put you at 18 hours of total battery life or 28 without noise cancellation. That’s basically on par with the rest of the field, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the 11 hours of continuous audio that the Galaxy Buds Plus are capable of. Alas, it turns out the Buds Pro have a smaller battery capacity (61mAh for each bud versus 85mAh) on top of their more power-hungry ANC feature.
The Galaxy Buds Pro have two-way speakers in each earbud: there’s an 11-millimeter woofer and 6.5mm tweeter. Those are larger than what was in the Buds Plus, though smaller than the single 12mm driver from the Buds Live; in that instance, Samsung was most focused on getting satisfactory bass out of an open-style earbud. Here, it’s aiming for “the most comprehensive sound in the Galaxy Buds line yet.” I can’t speak to what “comprehensive” is supposed to mean, but the Buds Pro are enjoyable to listen to, with a good bass thump, crisp treble, and a pleasant soundstage / imaging.
A lot of earbuds can make it feel like everything is happening in the middle of your head, but these do a solid job keeping instrumentation and vocals distinct. Sturgill Simpson’s “Oh Sarah” and Troye Sivan’s “Easy” (with Kacey Musgraves and Mark Ronson) make for nice showcases — in very different genres — of how layered the Buds Pro can get.
Bass heads might want to go for the “bass boost” EQ setting, and the tweeters can occasionally give off a little too much brightness and sibilance for some tracks like Jason Isbell’s “Be Afraid,” but for the most part I was very pleased with the sound signature. I don’t think Samsung hits the same fidelity as something like Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2, but those are nearly $100 more expensive. I’d be perfectly content with the Buds Pro as my daily earbuds.
The active noise cancellation on the Galaxy Buds Pro is much better than the Galaxy Buds Live, where it seems to barely do anything since there’s so much outside noise to contend with. Samsung claims that the Buds Pro can cut down on “up to 99 percent” of noise “at 118.43Hz,” which is wildly specific and won’t mean much to most people. In my experience, Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds, Sony’s WF-1000XM3 earbuds, and the AirPods Pro all outperform Samsung at quieting the world around you, but Samsung does a perfectly adequate job at muffling street noise and household distractions. You can choose between high and low levels of noise cancellation in case you’re sensitive to the effect.
Samsung’s latest transparency / ambient mode still doesn’t sound as natural as what Apple and Bose have achieved, but it’s a definite improvement over the very digitized version from the Galaxy Buds Plus. And the fantastic “voice detect” feature, which automatically lowers audio volume and switches from ANC to ambient mode when you start talking, is one of the best things about the Galaxy Buds Pro. Sony did something similar on its 1000XM4 headphones, but I haven’t seen this convenient trick in many earbuds, and now I wish all of them at least had the option.
Samsung uses a “voice pickup unit” — basically an accelerometer that senses jaw movement — to know that it’s you talking and not someone nearby. After a few seconds of no more talking, ANC returns and your music gets turned back up. Voice detect works as expected, but if you’ve got a tendency to talk to yourself or sing to your music, you might want to keep it disabled and assign ambient sound to a long press of one of the earbuds. Controls work the same way as other Samsung buds, with a single tap to pause / play, double to skip to the next song, triple to go back, and a customizable long press that can be used for volume, voice assistants, or ambient mode.
For voice calls, Samsung has a three-mic system and uses beamforming to isolate your voice from your environment. The lower profile of the Buds Pro helps combat wind noise, and the mesh-covered chamber does a good job filtering out any gusts if you’re talking with someone outside. Clarity is also good, as you should be able to hear in Becca’s video review above. Speaking of voice, the Galaxy Buds Pro still have hands-free “Hey Bixby” capabilities.
Pro as in… AirPods Pro?
There’s no denying that a few features of the Galaxy Buds Pro are heavily influenced by Apple’s AirPods Pro. The first of these is 3D audio, which is Samsung’s take on the immersive spatial audio capabilities of the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. Load up a movie with Dolby surround, and the Buds Pro will attempt to cram a surround sound listening experience into a pair of earbuds.
Samsung says that 360 audio uses Dolby head tracking technology, which “enables you to stay at the center of the scene when you’re watching a movie or TV show.” In concept, this sounds similar to Apple’s approach, which uses sensors like accelerometers and gyroscopes in the earbuds and your iPhone or iPad to keep the sound source anchored to your device — even when you turn your head side to side.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how convincing Samsung’s 3D audio is or whether it compares favorably to spatial audio because it requires OneUI 3.1, which for now is only available on the new Galaxy S21 lineup. The $1,300 Galaxy Note 20 Ultra that Samsung sent for this review doesn’t have that update yet.
The second AirPods feature that Samsung has tried to directly counter is automatic switching. Apple’s earbuds can hop between an iPhone, iPad, or Mac depending on which one you’re using in that moment without you having to manually make the change. Samsung says it has now pulled off the same trick, so the Buds Pro should automatically switch between your Galaxy smartphone and tablet. Unfortunately, the laptop gets left out of Samsung’s equation completely, which makes the feature somewhat less helpful. I wish that more earbuds would just give us proper multipoint Bluetooth pairing to two devices at once; Jabra continues to be the standout there. Automatic switching feels like a makeshift solution until Samsung can get to multipoint.
Both of these capabilities require you to be fairly entrenched in Samsung’s ecosystem. 3D audio only works on Samsung hardware, so if your Android phone is from a different brand, you lose out on it altogether. Same goes for auto-switching. If neither feature is important to you, that might not matter, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Also worth mentioning is that Samsung isn’t extending the same level of iOS support it has maintained for the Buds Plus and Buds Live: the existing iOS app doesn’t work with the Buds Pro, so you can’t use features like voice detect on iPhone. I’m not sure what the reasoning is there, but maybe Samsung’s internal data shows that not many people are pairing its earbuds to Apple devices. You can still pair them and use noise canceling and ambient modes — much like the way AirPods Pro function on Android.
The Galaxy Buds Pro face stiff competition everywhere you look, and you can find superior ANC and sound quality elsewhere. But with these latest earbuds, Samsung has blended much of what worked best about the Buds Plus and Buds Live. Battery life is merely average, but that’s the only real gripe I’ve got. They don’t necessarily win at any one category, but the Galaxy Buds Pro strike an excellent all-around balance. And you can clearly see Samsung trying to recreate some of the ecosystem “magic” that AirPods owners are now used to.
The Buds Pro feel great in your ears, sound better than any Samsung earbuds to date, and have convenient tricks to complement their decent noise cancellation. There’s still a place for the Galaxy Buds Plus if all you want are wireless earbuds with a battery that just goes and goes, and the Buds Live remain the better pick if you need environmental awareness at all times. But if you’re nabbing the Buds Pro as a preorder bonus for a new Galaxy S21, you should be more than satisfied.