Samsung’s Galaxy Buds lineup has been around for awhile now, with the original Galaxy Buds being launched back in 2019 as a contender to the AirPods. But, the market has evolved so much since those early days and now, you have several excellent options to choose from. Samsung, on the other hand, seemed a little lost. Their Galaxy Buds+ were pretty disappointing because it didn’t have ANC, and I’m not sure what on earth they were thinking with the Galaxy Buds Live.
It almost seemed like they were just throwing a whole bunch of different ideas against the wall, hoping for one to stick. First there was no noise cancellation, then they did the dual-drivers, then when they finally did ANC, they put it on headphones that couldn’t fully seal.
Now though, it looks like the experimentation is starting to pay off. The South Korean electronics giant has finally released a pair of earbuds that have proper ANC—and fit in your ears well, to boot. But is it too little too late?
Are these the Buds we’ve been waiting for?
Frankly speaking, I didn’t approach this review with too much optimism. Samsung’s last in-ear headphones release, the Galaxy Buds Live, was probably one of the more disappointing earbuds I’ve tried from a major brand in recent years. A lot of that can be attributed to the strange fit that Samsung adopted with the Buds Live—they sorta hang on the ridges of your ear, a fit that simply didn’t feel right when I used them.
The biggest downside of this design is the underwhelming noise cancelling performance of the Buds Live. You don’t quite get the the seal that you need, and to me, it’s pretty much a deal-breaker for anyone looking for some good noise-cancelling headphones.
Thankfully, Samsung has ditched the bean-like design for something a little more conventional with the Galaxy Buds Pro. As a result, I didn’t have any issues finding the right fit within the three ear tip options that comes in the box, although this might vary from user to user. For example, Rory just couldn’t quite get a good seal when testing the Buds Pro out, although he’ll be the first to admit that he has… weirdly-shaped ears.
What this also means is that I could actually focus on the audio performance from the moment I started using the Galaxy Buds Pro—the most crucial factor when reviewing a pair of headphones for me.
How do the Galaxy Buds Pro sound?
I like to write with music absolutely blasting through headphones, and the Galaxy Buds Pro offer plenty of volume without clipping—even at almost max volume. Compared to the Buds Live, and even to the AirPods Pro, Samsung’s top-of-the-line earbuds offer a little more oomph when it comes to its bass range, and higher frequencies sound clear and crisp. This is probably down to the unique dual-driver setup on the Galaxy Buds Pro, so kudos to Samsung here.
Where the earbuds falter a little is soundstaging, which sounds a little “small” to me. The isolation between different instruments and beats can also be a little muddy for certain tracks, and in general, I do feel that the overall audio can sometimes be a little flat-sounding for certain tracks. Granted, you can’t really expect over-ear headphones staging when it comes to earbuds, but Sony’s WF-1000XM3 still offers better audio quality, in my opinion.
However, Samsung does give you the option to tweak the EQ of your Buds via the Samsung Wearable app, with profiles like Bass Boost, Soft, and Treble Boost available for you to choose from. There is a caveat to this: there is no option to customise your own EQ, which is a really big oversight from Samsung.
I understand that most users might be satisfied with a couple of preset options, but there are plenty of users who would certainly appreciate the ability to fine-tune the EQ balance for their headphones. I mean, these are called the “Galaxy Buds Pro”, so shouldn’t you have “Pro” controls?
You can also choose between ANC mode or Ambient mode, which you can toggle between by using the touch controls on either earbud. Touch controls work well enough, once you get used to the amount of pressure that triggers them. As usual, it’s a single tap to play/pause, double-tap to skip, and press-and-hold to switch between ANC and Ambient modes.
Personally, I find the Ambient mode on the Galaxy Buds Pro to sound very artificial. As per its name, this is the pass-through mode that pipes in audio from the environment around you—it works well enough, but the audio still doesn’t sound as realistic as the AirPods Pro. I’ll caveat this criticism by saying that the AirPods Pro’s ambient mode is particularly impressive, so much so that it’s more of an outlier in the TWS space for now.
However, noise cancelling is pretty impressive here. Provided you get the right fit, the ANC mode deafens you to the outside world, and I’d give it a really solid score: an eight out of ten. I’d say that this gives the Galaxy Buds Pro the edge over every other option in the Galaxy Buds range.
What else can these do?
Samsung has clearly pulled out the stops for the Galaxy Buds Pro. Chief among these new features is a new 360-audio feature that supposedly maps a sound field based on your position relative to the screen, reminiscent of Apple’s Spatial Audio feature on the AirPods Pro and Max.
I’m personally not a fan of these modes, and they tend to sound a little unnatural to me, but it’s nice that there is some attention given to those of you who rely on earbuds for movie-watching. However, you’ll need a Samsung Galaxy smartphone to take advantage of this feature—so if you’re on iOS, or other Android phones, you won’t be able to use 360 audio.
The Voice Detect feature also works as expected. Ironically, I didn’t really expect it to work very well, because… well, I’m a pessimist. But yes, Voice Detect works consistently for me, although there is a short delay from when I start speaking, to the recognition of my voice.
Basically, if the setting is enabled, the Galaxy Buds Pro will detect when you’re speaking, and switch from ANC mode to Ambient sound, while temporarily turning the music down so that you’ll be able to hold conversations. If you’re already on Ambient mode, the headphones will automatically turn down playback volume.
It’s a nifty feature, and kudos to Samsung for introducing a feature that actually works, and consistently too. Plus, Voice Detect is only triggered when the person who is wearing the earbuds speaks—so you won’t have any issues in situations like crowded trains or planes.
The microphones on the earbuds also do a decent enough job for vocals, so you can comfortably use these when making calls (or video calls, as is the norm nowadays). They do sound a little muffled, but that’s mostly expected from a pair of earbuds. Best to hear a sample for yourself, in any case:
Meanwhile, these come with IPX7 rating for water and sweat resistance, and Samsung says that the Buds Pro can be submerged in fresh water at a depth of up to 1 metre for 30 minutes. This does not mean that you can take them on swims, however.
In fact, you shouldn’t wear the earbuds during activities such as swimming, water sports, taking a shower, or even while visiting saunas, according to Samsung. My advise is to treat the IPX7 rating as a form of peace of mind when you’re forced to wear these in the rain, or if you have particularly sweaty ears. If you damage them with water/liquids, you won’t be able to get any help under Samsung’s warranty programme.
Should you buy the Galaxy Buds Pro?
The gist of it is this: if you’re using a Galaxy smartphone, and you enjoy the additional features Samsung has introduced on the Galaxy Buds Pro, this might be one of the strongest contenders out there. It’s the best Galaxy Buds you can get your hands on right now, and crucially, it’s the only option within the Buds family that offers genuinely good noise cancellation.
And if you have a compatible Galaxy smartphone, this really opens up the full experience on the Galaxy Buds Pro—360 audio, an AirPods-like pairing animation, and so on. Voice Detect, on the other hand, works with any other smartphone, and it’s a nice little feature that I haven’t really seen on another pair of earbuds thus far. The main con that you’ll have to live with, as mentioned, is the artificial-sounding ambient mode—although to be fair, most audio pass-through modes on most earbuds have a tinny quality.
Another factor to consider is whether you’re looking for audio performance as a priority—in which case, I’d advise you to pick up the Sony WF-1000XM3, or wait for the rumoured successor, the WF-1000XM4. But if you’re looking for a pair of earbuds that has a little bit of everything, the Galaxy Buds Pro certainly tick most boxes—for most users.
Meanwhile, the headphones are built well, and their rated battery life of up to five hours of playback on a single charge with ANC turned on is significantly better than the AirPods Pro’s promised battery life of 4.5 hours (with ANC turned on). The charging case, which also supports the Qi standard, also adds 13 hours onto battery life (20 hours without ANC)—with a total of 18 hours of battery life with ANC turned on.
Something else which stands the Galaxy Buds Pro in good stead for fashion-conscious users (not that I have any authority on this topic) is the colour options you get. For the two main models that I’ve benchmarked the Buds Pro against in this article (AirPods Pro, WF-1000XM3), you get rather plain options. The Galaxy Buds Pro, on the other hand, have a metallic, glossy aesthetic, and my fiancée (who is a lot more fashion-conscious) has given her stamp of approval to Samsung’s latest earbud design.
I suppose I would consider this as Samsung’s answer to the AirPods Pro, particularly when you take into account the Galaxy-only features I’ve mentioned above. In that same line of thought, if you’re on an iPhone, I’d still advise you to pick up the AirPods Pro.
However, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro have one significant advantage over Apple’s noise-cancelling earbuds: price. At a price of RM799, it’s the premium-priced option in Samsung’s current lineup—but crucially, it’s RM300 cheaper than the AirPods Pro.
Photography by Zachary Yoong with the Sony A7 III.