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.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review
Samsung’s Galaxy Buds line has covered a wide range of experiences in the last little while, from the excellent Galaxy Buds Plus to the… ah, not excellent Galaxy Buds Live. Now the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro has arrived, and shows every indication that the company has moved on from its bean-shaped folly.
Rubber tips can go a long way in improving noise cancelling, but are they enough to make these a worthy follow-up?
Editor’s note: this Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review was updated on September 13, 2021, to address the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 and add an updated frequency response chart.
Who is the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro for?
- Everyday listeners who want something straightforward.
- People who want something stylish for their workouts.
What is it like to use the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro?
The Galaxy Wearable app is neatly laid out, and it’s responsive.
If you have much experience with previous entries in the Galaxy Buds line, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro will seem pretty familiar. In a lot of ways, these true wireless earbuds feel like a mash-up of the Galaxy Buds Plus and Galaxy Buds Live. The glossy metallic paint job of the Galaxy Buds Live is back, this time in silver, black, and violet. The beans’ clamshell-style charging case also makes a return. The case is pretty small, but it feels sturdy, and the buds fit snugly in it, secured by magnets (and it can charge wirelessly, too).
Start here: What makes a good set of in-ears?
However, where the Galaxy beans diverge from previous models’ in-ear designs, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro harkens back to them. These are very similar in shape and size to the Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Buds Plus, only with smoother edges and a more pronounced split between the matte and glossy sections. The earbuds still have fin-like protrusions for stabilization, but they’re much smaller and less pronounced. Regardless, these earbuds still feel secure.
The grates on the outside of each bud are the microphones for noise cancelling.
These true wireless earbuds offer a lot of the same features you’d expect from the more premium side of the market. The Galaxy Buds Pro brings the active noise cancelling (ANC) first introduced by the Galaxy Buds Live, and this design seals to the ears this time, it actually works. Establishing a decent seal is pretty easy—especially with the various included silicone ear tips.
Once you find the right size of rubber tips, these earbuds fit securely, and you shouldn’t struggle with them falling out during a commute. Similarly, the buds feel just as secure while exercising, though long-distance runners may put that to the test with excessive jostling. Speaking of exercise, these are also IPX7 rated for sweat resistance, so they’ll hold up to just about whatever you can throw at it in the gym.
These fit pretty securely, provided you don’t jostle things too much.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro uses Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable app for many of its features. This is where you can access the noise cancelling features, turn on ambient sound, set or turn off touch controls, try different EQ profiles, and more. The noise cancelling function has a high and low setting, and you can swap between them at will. Included EQ profiles like Bass Boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear, and Treble Boost are nice, though unfortunately there’s no option to set your own. The app also lets you turn on settings like automatic voice detection and seamless earbud connection, which lets the Galaxy Buds Pro swap between paired audio sources more easily (provided they’re signed in to your Samsung account).
Related: Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
The Galaxy Wearable app also offers something new for Samsung earbuds: 360 Audio. Much like the spatial sound offered by the Apple AirPods Max, or one of the many virtual surround sound standards you’ll find supported by various gaming headsets, 360 Audio creates a virtual surround sound environment with head tracking for media consumption using Dolby Atmos. You can only use it when paired with a Samsung Galaxy phone or tablet, but when you are, you can access surround sound while using streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, and Apple TV Plus. If you don’t have a Galaxy device to pair with, you’re pretty much out of luck.
How do you control the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro?
The Galaxy Wearables app is easy to use and makes customizing your experience a breeze.
Each Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro earbud features a touch-sensitive panel on the side that covers the typical range of playback controls. Tapping either earbud once starts or stops the music you’re playing, double-tapping skips a song, and triple tapping goes back. By default, you can raise and lower the volume by tapping and holding the right and left earbuds respectively, but you can change that feature in the Samsung Wearable app. The also lets you shut off touch controls entirely, if that’s something you want.
It all works pretty smoothly. I have yet to run into any issues with touch detection. In fact, the controls are maybe a little too sensitive. Almost every time I adjust the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro—whether that’s taking them out, putting them in, or just wiggling them a bit to get the fit right—the earbuds react by either pausing what I’m listening to, or playing music over whatever I’m doing.
|Two taps||Track forward/answer call/end call|
|Three taps||Track back|
|Touch and hold||Decline call/activate preset feature|
Most of the time, it’s not really a big deal, but these earbuds react a little oddly when your device has more than one media source open or suspended at once. Tapping or nudging the earbuds while watching Youtube does nothing, but tapping while watching videos on less popular apps like Dropout will trigger music from Spotify to play over the video. Obviously, this isn’t something tons of people will run into, but don’t be surprised if a rogue tap sends music blaring into your ears over whatever else you’re listening to.
What Bluetooth codecs does the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro support?
AAC means these play well with Apple products.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro uses Bluetooth 5.0, and supports three Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC, and the Samsung Scalable Codec. Samsung’s proprietary codec effectively functions like aptX adaptive, and constantly adjusts the transfer rate. This codec makes adjustments to improve both audio quality and connection stability, so it should keep things sounding as good as possible all time. iPhone users can enjoy consistent high-quality audio over the AAC Bluetooth codec, too.
Just like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, and the Samsung Galaxy Bud Plus before them, the Galaxy Buds Pro can be used in mono mode with either earbud. This is a great feature for anyone who lives with a hearing impairment.
Additionally, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro can automatically switch between any Samsung Galaxy device without manual intervention. If you want to go from listening to music on your Samsung Galaxy phone, to watching TV from your Galaxy tablet, just turn on auto-switch in the Bluetooth settings of your Samsung Galaxy device (and remember that seamless connection setting the wearables app). All your Galaxy devices must be associated with the same Samsung account for this to work.
How long does the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro battery last?
The case supports charging via USB-C and wirelessly with Qi-compatible devices.
On its website, Samsung claims these earbuds will last up to 5 hours on a single charge, with about 13 hours of additional charge in the case, and in our testing, we found that wasn’t far off. At a consistent output of ~75 dB(SPL), the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro can last up to 4 hours, 48 minutes with ANC turned on. The case also definitely has enough juice for a few charge cycles.
Learn more: How long do AirPods last, and can you make them last longer?
While this kind of battery performance isn’t terrible, it’s a far cry from the best around. That’s a little disappointing, given that the best around in this respect is the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, which offers more than double the battery life—admittedly, the lack of ANC no doubt helps the older model last quite a bit longer. This performance is only a few minutes shy of the Galaxy Buds Live, so not too far out of our expectations.
How does the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro sound?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro (cyan) closely follows our house curve (pink), with slightly more bass and low-midrange emphasis.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro offers very accurate audio output. There’s a notable boost in bass range sound, and a spike in the very high range, but otherwise everything should sound pretty much like it’s supposed to. For the most part, a frequency response like this means music should sound great pretty much all the time. Every now and then, you may notice particularly bass-heavy tracks make some vocals a little less clear because of auditory masking. However, that kind of bass boost is pretty well within the norm for more consumer-friendly headphones, so you’ll probably only notice it when bass comes through with a bit more oomph.
Lows, mids, and highs
The Black Sabbath anti-war classic War Pigs sounds great on the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. Geezer Butler’s bass noodling over the droning crush of guitar at the beginning of the song comes through clearly, and continues to do so even as Tony Iommi’s guitar playing gets louder and more dominant throughout the rest of the song.
Even on the normal EQ setting, the increased bass makes for a more consumer-friendly sound.
The accurate mids mean the warbling tones that play underneath the affected piano in Modulogeek’s One Day We’ll be Okay (2:45) come through clearly, despite the difference in relative loudness. However, the clapping noise that starts a little over halfway through the song (4:45) comes through very loudly, to the point of being a little unpleasant to hear.
Does the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro have good noise cancelling?
With ANC on the highest setting, the Galaxy Buds Pro can render low, droning sounds three times quieter than they’d sound otherwise.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro offers pretty much standard isolation for a pair of true wireless earbuds with rubber tips, which is to say: it’s pretty good. Turns out sealing the ear improves isolation—go figure—and good isolation is generally more important for keeping high-end, dynamic sounds out. The buds also sport two active noise cancelling settings, which you can toggle between in the Galaxy Wearable app. Both of these settings offer better noise cancelling performance than most true wireless earbuds, but the high setting offers a rather large boost to bass range attenuation, admittedly at the expense of mid-range performance.
ANC performance like this means you shouldn’t have any trouble with the typical engine hum of a bus, or any low-end ambient noises you run into outside. Both ANC settings struggle with things like nearby speech compared to over-ear options like the AirPods Max or the Sony WH-1000XM4, but these earbuds should still offer some level of noise cancelling there too.
How is the microphone?
Each Galaxy Buds Pro earbud houses a slew of sensors for 360 audio, automatic ear detection, and more.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro features a very good microphone for a pair of true wireless earbuds. From a frequency response perspective, the mic is very accurate, offering neutral-leaning output across the vocal range. There’s still a little bit of muffling due to it being an embedded microphone, but not nearly as bad as many other options on the market. Additionally, the microphone actually does a pretty good job cutting background noise out if you’re far enough away. Listen for yourself:
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs Samsung Galaxy Buds 2: What’s the difference?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 is a watered down version of the Buds Pro.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 is a watered down version of the Buds Pro with its middling ANC and less secure fit. The Buds 2 features a less promising IPX2 rating and lacks 360 Audio support, but what it does have over the Galaxy Buds Pro is a more reasonable price. Samsung originally retailed the Buds 2 for $149 USD. Each Buds 2 earpiece has a touch panel for you to control playback, take calls, and more—and yes, the touch controls are hypersensitive here too.
Related: The best true wireless earbuds under $200
Like the Galaxy Buds Pro, the Galaxy Buds 2 isn’t supported on the iOS Galaxy Buds app, so this is really a pair of earbuds for Android phone owners, more specifically Samsung phone owners. Listeners who are considering the Galaxy Buds 2 are better off saving for the Galaxy Buds Pro, which costs just $20 more and often goes on promotion anyway.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro?
If you want a pair of good noise cancelling true wireless earbuds and you don’t want to cross that magical $200 line, you should consider the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro.
If you’re looking for something solely for exercising, there are probably better options, but this is still a good switch-hitter.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are great true wireless earbuds. They’re comfortable, they sound great, and they offer solid noise cancelling performance. At $169 USD, these are a little on the pricey side, but far cheaper than competing products like the Apple AirPods Pro, Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen), and Sony WF-1000XM4, and they pretty much offer all the same features (and better noise cancelling). The lack of a codec like aptX is a bummer, but the Samsung Scalable Codec covers for it nicely.
However, it’s worth noting that these are considerably more expensive than previous Galaxy Buds products, which might still be worth considering. If noise cancelling isn’t something you really care about, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus still has the best battery life on the market for a pair of true wireless earbuds, and they’re easy to find for less than half the price these days.
Ultimately, if you want a premium true wireless experience, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro might be one of the cheapest ways to get it. These buds check off most of the boxes you’d want, and execute on them solidly across the board.
Next: Best Apple AirPods Pro alternatives
What should you get instead of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro?
The redesigned AirPods Pro has dedicated nozzles that insert into the ear, making for a more stable fit and improved audio quality.
There are plenty of viable alternatives to Samsung’s lead noise cancelling earbuds, and one of the most obvious competitors: the AirPods Pro. Apple’s noise cancelling isn’t quite as effective as the Galaxy Buds Pro, but it’s a much better fit for iPhone owners. In the same way that Samsung limits some of its software to Samsung Galaxy hardware, Apple does the same with its AirPods software features.
If you want to look beyond Apple’s AirPods line of headsets, consider the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. These earbuds merit an IPX4 rating and are extremely comfortable for all-day wear. The StayHear Max ear tips create a more secure fit, which may be important to athletes. Sure, you could just get the Bose Sport Earbuds, but then you’d miss out on some very good active noise cancelling.
Pairing the earphones is easy after the first time.
There’s also the Sony WF-1000XM4 which compares well to the Galaxy Buds Pro. With Sony’s earbuds you get access to its 360 Reality Audio, which is similar to Samsung 360 Audio, it’s targeted more towards music lovers, rather than movie fans. You can take advantage of this standard through premium streaming services like Tidal, Deezer, and Nugs.net. The earbuds feature a more mature design and secure fit, but they’re a bit pricier than the Galaxy Buds Pro.
See: AirPods Pro vs Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)
On the other hand, the Jabra Elite 85t takes a business-friendly approach to its ANC true wireless earbuds. You can connect the Elite 85t to two source devices at once, making it a great productivity tool. If you’re an audio tinkerer, you’ll enjoy Jabra’s five-band EQ module in its mobile app, available on both Android and iOS.
TODAY'S BEST DEALS
The best way to describe the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is they’re pretty much theApple AirPods Pro equivalent for the newSamsung Galaxy S21 series of phones. But that doesn’t quite encapsulate everything thesetrue wireless earbuds can do.
Yes, both the AirPods Pro and Galaxy Buds Pro earbuds offer active noise cancellation. Yes, they both have some form of spatial audio support that can make TV shows and movies more immersive. And sure, they both have five hours of battery life before they need to be recharged.
However, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro go far beyond these standout features for folks who own a Samsung phone and tablet – for them, these earbuds are the missing puzzle piece that really does tie everything in Samsung’s world together.
To cater to the people who already have a Samsung phone, the Galaxy Buds Pro offer multipoint pairing, hands-free Bixby support (but not Google Assistant) and the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app – this is only available on Android that you’ll need to use to unlock the Buds’ best features.
The Galaxy Buds Pro also use Samsung’s proprietary Scalable Audio, which supports UHQ audio streaming over Bluetooth at up to 24-bit / 96kHz, SmartThings Finder and multi-mic recording that allows you to use the Buds as a lapel mic stand-in when you shoot videos on your Samsung phone.
The double-edged sword of the Galaxy Buds Pro being so highly tailored to Samsung devices is that they don’t work as well with other devices, both other Android phones and iOS devices that currently don’t have an updated Galaxy Buds app. (And yes, we admonished Apple for the same thing in our Apple AirPods Pro review.)
The upside is that, if you’re looking for full-featured wireless earbuds that sound good, fit well and are going to work well with your Samsung smartphone – and don’t mind spending a bit more money on them than, say, for the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live – the Buds Pro are a significantly better option, and are worth recommending to your friends and family who absolutely love their Samsung smartphones.
The Galaxy Buds Pro aren't Samsung's latest (or greatest) anymore, however. The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 feature a number improvements over the Buds Pro, including overall better sound and slightly improved active noise cancellation. They're also a good deal cheaper than the Galaxy Buds Pro, so if you're willing to wait a little while, the Galaxy Buds 2 are certainly Samsung's best pair of earbuds yet.
[Update: A new Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro update is bringing some features first seen from the newer Samsung Galaxy Buds 2, including a new Noise Control option. This allows you to control the active noise cancellation and ambient sound settings from one specific earbud, which is handy if you prefer to wear one bud at a time.]
Price and availability
- Release date was January 14, 2021
- Available for $199 / £219 / AU$349
- Not much more expensive than the Galaxy Buds Live
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro launched alongside the Samsung Galaxy S21 smartphone on January 14, 2021 (the day it was announced at Samsung Unpacked) on Samsung's website and became widely available starting on January 15, 2021.
In terms of price, the Galaxy Buds Pro will set you back $199 / £219 / AU$349. That's pricey, but it makes sense that they'd cost a little more than their predecessors, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, which cost $169.99 / £179 / AU$319 at launch. Considering how much better these are, they’re well worth the upgrade.
Of course, Samsung’s putting us in a weird position releasing these true wireless earbuds so close together – the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro's release date comes just five short months after the South Korean company launched the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, and less than a year after the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus. It’s unclear why Samsung is in such a rush to get these out the door, but it’s causing a bit of a traffic jam.
That said, if you’re looking for cheaper alternatives, you don’t have to look far: the Sony WF-SP800N and Jabra Elite 75t both offer active noise cancellation for $50 less if you don’t mind skipping out on the Samsung-specific features, and there are more new arrivals (like the Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro and Philips Audio T8505) coming everyday.
- Available in three colors
- They're long for earbuds and bulge out of the ear
- Equipped with loads of sensors and mics
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are available in three colors: Phantom Black, Phantom Silver and Phantom Violet to match the new Samsung Galaxy S21, and the color of the Buds will match the color of the charging case that comes along with them.
Speaking of the case, it’s sort of shaped like a little treasure chest – there’s a concave lid that unhinges in the middle and flips up. It’s fairly compact, which is nice when you want to slip it into your pocket, and has a status LED on both the inside and outside of the case that turns green, yellow, and red depending on how much battery is left in the case itself.
As for the Buds themselves, they’re a far cry from their bean-shaped predecessors. The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are back to their usual form as eartip-equipped funnels of sound.
Funnel is probably the appropriate word to describe them as they’re fairly long for earbuds, measuring in at just under an inch (20.8mm) long. The Buds need all that real estate however for their bevy of sensors, pogo pins, and microphones.
The outside of the Buds have a glossy, reflective plastic coating that is touch-capacitive and two more microphones with a wind guard that reduces ambient noise when walking outside. All of that houses the 11mm woofer and 6.5mm tweeter that we’ll talk about more in the performance section down below.
So how do they fit? Well, despite their almost futuristic appearance, the way the earbuds jut out of your ear makes them look bulky and awkward. Wearing them to bed would be uncomfortable at best, and painful at worst. And because they lack a way to actually ‘lock’ them into your ear, they do shift periodically, which means you’ll have to readjust them or else the seal will weaken and noise cancellation will slowly diminish as you wear them.
To help alleviate some of these issues, inside the box are two additional sets of eartips to help you get a better seal, which are absolutely essential. You’ll also find a USB-C charging cable without a head – part of Samsung’s move to reduce waste (yay!) and a potential hurdle to folks just picking up their first earbuds (boo).
Learning to control them isn’t hard, and can be mastered quickly: the default controls include a single touch to play/pause your music; a double touch plays the next song or answers/ends a call; a triple touch plays the previous track; and a touch and hold activates your preset feature, which by default switches between ambient and noise cancellation modes.
That last command can be customized, but you’ll need the Samsung Wearable app to do so.
Overall, they’re surprisingly comfortable to wear for extended periods of time and don’t suffer from pressure build up thanks to the external vent, but because of the way they jut out of your ear, they aren’t the most attractive-looking earbuds or very comfortable to wear in bed.
- Basic noise cancellation needs to be stronger
- IPX7 rating is class-leading, however
- SmartThings Find is niche, but could be a lifesaver
The two big marquee features of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are its active noise cancellation and IPX7 waterproofing, the highest rating so far for Samsung earbuds.
Up to this point, Samsung’s earbuds have only been IPX2 or IPX4 water-resistant. That meant that they were good for a few drops of rain or a bit of sweat, but they weren’t the kind of things you’d want to have around you during intense workouts.
With IPX7 certification, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are protected against fresh water immersion for 30 minutes at a depth of up to one meter - i.e. if they fall into the bathtub for a minute or you want to clean them under some running water you won’t have to worry about them. It’s a big step up for Samsung, and rivals the highest standards of other earbuds.
So how good is that noise cancellation? Well, it’s good… for Samsung. The three built-in microphones definitely help the Galaxy Buds Pro do a better job of keeping out noise than the Galaxy Buds Live, but they’re not better at noise cancellation than, say, the Sony WF-1000XM4 or most flagship over-ear headphones with ANC.
Just wearing them around the house for a few days, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro were able to drastically reduce the sounds of loud air purifiers and humidifiers, but didn’t stand a chance when someone else in the house was playing music. They’re good enough that you won’t be able to hear nearby conversations in another room, but anything louder than someone speaking will be audible through the ANC.
The flip side of active noise cancellation is audio amplification – also known as audio passthrough – that can be accessed by pressing and holding the touch capacitive panel. The Galaxy Buds Pro can take outside audio and pipe it into your ears, amplifying sound by as much as 20db, making them convenient to wear in airplane terminals while waiting for your flight to be called over the PA system or at the deli counter.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro also has a few Samsung-specific features worth calling attention to - there’s a hands-free Bixby mode, which works exactly like you’d expect, and a Find My Earbuds feature powered by SmartThings Find.
SmartThings Find, located inside the SmartThings app, can show you a map of where your devices are, even when they’re offline and disconnected from Bluetooth. That should give you peace of mind should they ever get stolen and, at the very least, help you track them down if you can’t remember where you left them.
Last but not least, if you have multiple Galaxy products, you can switch devices seamlessly with the Buds Pro thanks to an Auto Switch feature. Say, for example, you listen to music via your Galaxy Tab S7 Plus and receive calls via your Samsung Galaxy S20 – Auto Switch, means the earphones can be used automatically for the phone call, and connect themselves back to the tablet after the call. It’s a bit of a niche feature, but it’s nice all the same.
- Sound was tuned by AKG
- Overall balanced, pleasant sound
- But lacks details and presence
The Samsung Galaxy Buds aren’t designed exclusively by Samsung – audio manufacturer AKG, a subsidiary of Harman (which is, in fact, a subsidiary of Samsung) – also helped tune these headphones to get the EQ just right.
So how did they do?
Well, the Buds Pro do have balanced sound quality that doesn’t skew too sibilant in the trebles or too bloated in the bass, which we really like, but they are missing some clarity in the mids and highs, and have a smaller, isolated soundstage. The flat sound is really centered and not nearly as rich as we’d like it to be.
In plain language it means that you’ll be able to hear both the smooth bass lines in a song like Hotel California by The Eagles as well as the hi-hats, but the sounds will only have left-right directionality. The result is a workman-like representation of the audio that pleases, but doesn’t quite wow you like some higher-end earbuds would.
Thankfully, if you’re the kind of person who likes to tweak the EQ of your Buds, the Samsung Wearable app does allow you to go in and tweak the sound however you like (we actually quite liked the Dynamic setting) but none of them offer a wider, fuller soundstage. That said, that could change when Samsung introduces 360 Audio support later this year, which it says will bring “theater-like, multichannel sound” to the buds – but that feature wasn’t available to us during our testing process.
For now, you’re stuck with simple stereo sound.
Worse, if you’re not using a Samsung Galaxy device, the sound will be transmitted over SBC or AAC, both of which are lossy codecs. That means there’s a marked difference using them with Samsung’s Scalable Codec devices – like say the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G – and a device that uses SBC, like the Google Pixel 3.
While that is another advantage the headphones have for Samsung smartphone owners, it really puts the earbuds in a bind when it comes to other platforms. Had Samsung also licensed aptX HD from Qualcomm or utilized the newer Bluetooth LE codec, you’d have more widespread HD support, but we suppose some UHQ audio support is better than none.
When talking to friends and family, they said we sounded fine while using the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, though they thought we sounded a bit clearer using our smartphone’s built-in microphone instead. That’s not a knock against the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro – as most earbuds don’t sound as good as a smartphone’s microphone – but it does mean you should be slightly cautious of buying these exclusively for taking phone calls.
- Five hours per charge / 13 hours from the case with ANC on
- Seven hours per charge / 20 hours from the case with ANC off
- That's about average for noise cancelling earbuds
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro’s battery life is good for active noise-cancelling earbuds, but a real step down from the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus that offered 11 hours of playback time on a single charge. Still, you’re getting ANC here and Bixby, and they’re both power hogs.
Samsung promises five hours of listening pleasure on one cycle, after which the charging case can provide an additional 13 hours if you have ANC turned on. If you turn it off the buds will last seven to eight hours, and you can get upwards of 20 hours of battery from the case.
In real-world testing, we found that the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro lasted about three days of constant use (more than five hours of listening a day) or a bit less than a week when we were only listening to them in our free time (three-ish hours a day).
If you ever find yourself without juice, the Galaxy Buds Pro supports fast charging and within five minutes on the charger there should be enough battery available for one hour of playback. Fast charging takes place via the USB-C port, but wireless charging is also possible, although it’s a bit slower.
So how does this stack up against other earbuds? It’s fairly competitive. The Sony WF-SP800N we mentioned earlier provides about nine hours of battery life via the earbuds and has another nine in the case, while the Jabra Elite 75t are good for eight hours of playback with 20 more hours of charge inside the case. It’s a close race with no clear winners.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro?
Buy them if…
You’re a ride-or-die Samsung Galaxy fan
If you live, breath, eat and sleep with your Samsung Galaxy phone, there should be nothing to dissuade you from buying the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro.
You’ve accidentally soaked earbuds in the past
If you’ve ruined a pair of earbuds because they didn’t have water resistance, then you should seriously consider the IPX7-rated Galaxy Buds Pro. They’re good for rain and sweat, and should be able to keep up with the most intrepid of outdoor explorers.
You’ve been known to misplace your earbuds
It’s not going to be a selling point for most folks, but if you’re the kind of person who’s been known to lose your earbuds, the SmartThings Find function is extremely helpful. It shows where the earbuds are – both left and right buds – regardless of whether they’re on or off.
Don't buy them if...
You want – or even need – some peace and quiet
Noise cancellation really isn’t the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro’s strong suit. What they offer is solid noise reduction but it’s never going to be absolutely silent while you've got them on.
You want engrossing sound quality
We have to give some props to AKG on the tuning of these headphones – they’re nicely balanced and quite comfortable to listen to. That said, the sound quality isn’t really engrossing. It’s lacking in details and the soundstage is too limited.
You’re used to using Google Assistant or Siri
For now, it seems the only smart assistant the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro supports is Bixby. That means, if you’re tapped into the Google or Apple ecosphere of products, you won’t be able to control them with a hands-free assistant. That’s not a deal-breaker on its own, obviously, but it might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for you.
Both Jarno Stinissen and John McCann contributed to this review.
TODAY'S BEST DEALS
If you're on the hunt for some way above-average headphones, the popular Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, which our own David Carnoy reviewed positively earlier this year, are currently down to the lowest price we've seen. The powerful in-ear 'phones are down to $125 on Woot, which is the lowest we've seen 'em drop and a healthy discount on a pair of top-shelf earbuds. The Buds Pro had been hovering around $170 since their release and are on sale for $140 on Amazon, for comparison.
These buds are brand-spankin' new and available in silver, black or violet at this all-time-low price, but only for today or until supplies run out.
Samsung's Galaxy Buds Pro are all about adding noise cancellation, which is new to the Galaxy Buds line with this model. These earbuds claim eight hours of battery life and offer three different tips in the box for different ear sizes, though in Carnoy's review he mentions neither of those sizes felt "just right" for him and affected noise cancellation as a result. If you're looking for inexpensive Bluetooth 5.0 earbuds from a trusted name in the true wireless earbud market, Samsung is usually a safe bet. And at this price, it's hard to say no.
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