It's all been leading up to this. As with Samsung's first few Android phones, its first couple attempts at building wireless earbuds were ambitious but rife with problems: the original IconX, from 2016, had terrible battery life. The successor, a year later, had finicky controls. The first pair of true wireless earbuds to sport the Galaxy brand, 2019's Galaxy Buds, experienced major connectivity problems that required months of updates to fix.
It wasn't until 2020 that Samsung's true wireless earbud line hit its stride with the austere, affordable, and ridiculously long-lasting Galaxy Buds+ in February followed up by the now-iconic (and still-weird) bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live in August. The Buds+ laid solid sonic foundations while the Buds Live introduced a welcome redesign to the case and, more importantly, active noise cancelation.
Now we have the $200 Galaxy Buds Pro, and in the ways it counts, I'm floored. Samsung continues to respect its customers by not clouding music with unnecessary equalization
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro
Bottom line: With the Buds Pro, Samsung made almost every necessary improvement over the Buds Plus — better sound, more comfortable fit, improved design, sweat-resistant waterproofing and, best of all, active noise cancelation that's pretty damn good. These are among the best wireless earbuds you can buy right now.
- Excellent sound
- ANC is effective in most environments
- IPX7 rating makes these great workout headphones
- New design is very comfortable
- Excellent microphone quality
- Battery life takes a big drop over Buds+
- Touch controls are still very unreliable
- Transparency mode isn't great
- Voice detect feature is gimmicky
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro Price & Availability
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are available to purchase as of January 15, 2020, starting at $200 at most retailers, though Samsung itself is chopping $50 off the price if you trade in an older pair of Samsung earbuds, or $30 off for any other brand.
The Buds Pro are available in three colors, including Phantom Black (seen here), Phantom Silver, and Phantom Violet.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro What I like
There is one product and one alone for whose proverbial jugular the Buds Pro are aiming: AirPods Pro. The top-selling true wireless earbuds in the world, Apple's "pro" model introduced proved a significant jump in every area over their cheaper counterparts, and Samsung wants a piece of that action.
It's taken until now but the Buds Pro pretty much deliver on that promise. Let's start with the sound quality. Like the Buds Plus, this is a dual-driver setup, with a larger 11mm "woofer" that drives the bass and sub-bass, and a smaller 6.5mm "tweeter" that brings the mids and highs. I can't say whether these are newer parts than the Buds+, but the Pro definitely sound better to my ears, which is at least in part down to the design.
I never had success achieving a seal between the Buds+ tips and my ear canal, so I was constantly adjusting and fidgeting with them (I ended up having to replace the tips with larger ones from another pair of earbuds); the Buds Pro, with their larger surface area and more oblong tip shape, sit nearly perfectly in my ears. That secure seal leads to better passive isolation (the thing that blocks external noise from interrupting your listening, as well as preventing sound from leaking out to bother others nearby), and makes the ANC more effective.
Don't buy these for the noise cancelation, but appreciate that the ANC doesn't mess with the superlative audio quality.
And you'll want to keep that ANC turned on, because it's clear Samsung optimized the sound profile for the standout new feature. The earbuds are articulate, perfect for spoken word to layered music tracks. There's sub-bass here that was missing in Samsung's previous earbuds, but the low-end never gets boomy or overpowering. Tracks with forward vocals let the singer shine, and the wide-for-an-earbud soundstage lets you precisely place instruments in the mix.
Listening to Nina Simone's 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' (2013 Remaster)', where Simone's gravely voice is just left of center, the timbre of the drums is felt as much as heard and the bass just floats, it's reminiscent of listening to a good pair of over-ear headphones.
The Buds Pro are suitable for all genres of music, too. I bounced from Blackstar's 'Definition' to Andrew Bird's 'Left Handed Kisses' and both sounded warm and inviting. These are among the best-sounding true wireless earbuds I've heard, rivaling more expensive options like Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless 2 for depth and clarity.
The active noise cancelation, while good, isn't quite up to the same standards. It effectively blocks out low frequencies like the vibrating rumble of trucks or a persistent air conditioner, but it doesn't do particularly well with low-mid frequencies like voices. I compared the Buds Pro to the AirPods Pro, Sony's WF-1000XM3, and the recently-reviewed Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro, and while they're the best-sounding of the bunch, the noise canceling is the least effective.
Samsung offers two ANC modes, High and Low, with the latter coloring the sound less with a lower noise floor, but ultimately I kept it on High because I didn't notice much of a difference.
Controlling the Galaxy Buds Pro through software is pretty intuitive with Samsung's Galaxy Wearable app — it's the same one you'd use to oversee a Galaxy Watch or another pair of earbuds — and if you're using a Samsung phone, popping open the case next to it initiates pairing. Samsung obviously wants to make using the Buds Pro better with its own phones than a competitor's, but I found the pairing process just as easy, though slightly longer, on a Pixel 4a 5G, and once the app is set up, the differences are minimal.
Like the AirPods with iOS devices, though, Samsung allows you to easily switch between two of its own devices; if you're watching something on Netflix on a Galaxy Tab and receive a phone call on your Galaxy S21, the earbuds jump between them seamlessly, which is a nice touch but its requirement for both devices to be running One UI 3.1 means I can't try it yet.
Similarly, the launch of 360 Audio, which uses Dolby Head Tracking to manipulate the placement of a movie or music track as you move your head, only works with Samsung's newer devices. I'll update this review when they're both ready, but needless to say they're direct salvos against Apple's increasingly sticky ecosystem.
Samsung's improved call quality over the Buds+, and while they're not AirPods or Jabra good, no one's going to complain they can't hear you.
There are other things I can test, and they're mostly good. Samsung's once again improved the quality of its phone calls — yes, folks, I made multiple phone calls for you — by leaning on a high-sensitivity external microphone to block out unwanted background noise for those on the other side. People told me I sounded "good, but a little muffled" when I chatted in my high-ceilinged office, and "no, I can't hear anything" as cars ambled by me on a busy Toronto street. Definitely an improvement.
Samsung also claims to have fixed the issues with its Ambient Sound mode, which uses the earbuds' multiple microphones to pump in external sound. They have, I guess, but it still sounds artificial and robotic. There are four settings — Low, Medium, High, and Extra High — and I found only one, Medium, to be comfortable for regular conversations. Low is too... low, and both High and Extra High are distractingly, menacingly overamplified. The only benefit of the Extra High setting, it seems to me, is to snoop in on conversations at far distances.
Moving to hardware, I really like the look of the Buds Pro case. It's identical in size and shape to last year's Buds Live, but covered in a matte plastic that doesn't scuff quite as easily. The Buds themselves nestle into magnetic indentations in the case, and the magnets are strong enough to keep them secure. The case also supports wireless charging, and a few minutes of top-up through the included USB-C cable gets you an extra couple of hours of playback.
The IPX7 rating on the Buds Pro makes them perfect for working out, or working out in the rain.
Finally, the new IPX7 rating means that you can submerge the Buds Pro in one meter of water for 30 minutes, something you shouldn't necessarily do but it's comforting to know it'll survive an accidental cycle in the washing machine and, more importantly, work well as a pair of regular workout headphones. I worked out while wearing the Buds Pro every day for a week straight and they stayed put during runs and didn't seem to sweat the sweat from a long bike ride.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro What I don't like
There isn't much to dislike with the Buds Pro, which is a testament to how far Samsung has come with its accessory game. My main frustration is with the regression in battery life over the Buds+ — I got around four and a half hours per charge with active noise canceling enabled, and just under seven hours with it disabled, less than Samsung's advertised five and eight hours, respectively. I did receive a software update the day before publication that may have improved things, so if I see any long-term improvement in battery performance I'll update this review to reflect it.
My one other complaint is the same one I've had with Samsung's wireless earbuds since the IconX: the touch controls are just plain bad. They're simultaneously too sensitive and imprecise; the touch-activated area is very small, likely to minimize mispresses, but when I consciously tap that area to pause or play a song, it often doesn't register.
Other times, it will register a tap as a tap-and-hold, which will raise or lower the volume when I don't want it to. Samsung isn't the only company to struggle with capacitive earbud controls, but I wish the company would learn its lesson and engineer a better solution.
Voice Detect feels like a gimmick, but it's possible I just haven't been out in the real world enough to appreciate it.
There's a new feature on the Buds Pro called Voice Detect that ostensibly uses the external microphones to naturally switch on Ambient Mode when someone is chatting to you, and then re-engaging noise-canceling after between five and 15 seconds. I tried it for a few minutes and then turned it off because it kept detecting my very quiet throat-clearing as someone else's voice. It may prove useful when I can once again hang out at a coffee shop, but at this point it feels more gimmick than anything else.
Finally, and this may just be my weirdly large ears, but none of the three silicone tip sizes included with the Buds Pro gave me a secure seal. The largest of the three fit well but eventually, after several minutes, require a readjustment. I ended up stealing the tips from my Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, which are wider, and that helped secure a perfect seal. The good news is that, unlike Apple's AirPods Pro, you should be able to buy third-party tips for these without too much trouble.
The Galaxy Buds Pro are clearly AirPods Pro competitors, or vice versa — the spec sheets are nearly identical — but if you're an Android user, I don't recommend considering Apple's wireless earbuds.
While I think Samsung's taken the crown back from Jabra for the best wireless earbuds, I would still recommend giving the Elite 85t a look before ordering the Buds Pro, especially for their better sound quality and cleaner transparency mode. At $230, they're a bit more expensive but often go on sale during the year.
At $110, last year's Galaxy Buds+ are still a viable and affordable alternative to the Pro if you don't need active noise cancelation or heavy water resistance, and prefer a bassier sound profile and long battery life.
On the complete other side of the spectrum, the $279 Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are possibly the best-sounding and most noise-canceling wireless earbuds I've ever heard. The buds themselves are massive and have giant wing tips that secure them in your ear, but nothing comes close to providing the level of isolation in this form factor.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro Should you buy them?
You should buy these if ...
- You have a Samsung phone
- You prefer a neutral, clean sound profile in your earbuds
- You may work out in them
- You prioritize a low-profile earbud form factor
You should not buy these if ...
- You require the best noise cancelation
- You prioritize battery life
- You dislike touch controls
Samsung did it again. For $200, Android users (and even some iPhone owners) now have one of the best-sounding, elegant-looking pairs of true wireless earbuds on the market. I love listening to music with the Galaxy Buds Pro, and the very good noise cancelation, high-quality phone calls, low-profile design and matte case finish justify the slightly higher asking price.
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