Let’s just get to it: Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro are the best true wireless earbuds the company has made to date. For an asking price of $ 200, you get a comfortable fit, efficient noise cancellation, and good, exciting sound quality. These earbuds build on Samsung’s previous efforts with smart features like a speech detection mode that automatically cuts your music and lets you hear the outside world as soon as you start speaking.
But they also bring Samsung closer to a secluded, Apple-style world, where the best experience is reserved for people who stick to Samsung-branded devices. Features like 3D audio and auto device switching – sound familiar? – It only works if you use these earbuds with a Samsung phone or tablet. Most people will not be shopping with the Galaxy Buds Pro and AirPods Pro since they are designed for different operating systems for mobile devices, but Samsung has never leaned towards its ecosystem with headphones quite like this. Thankfully, there’s enough good for everyone that the Galaxy Buds Pro still works.
Buds Pro is a mixture of Galaxy Buds Plus – They have an in-ear design with silicone tips – and outdoors Galaxy Buds Live, From which they borrowed some style cues. The outer shell is a great mix of matte and glossy finishes and has been redesigned to stand out below your ear. Samsung says this refurbished coating also “reduces the contact area between your ear and buds, which improves comfort and reduces any feeling of clogging.”
The tips of the wings have disappeared from the Galaxy Buds Plus; Samsung got a message that some customers have felt uncomfortable with these over time. Instead, you get the usual three sizes of silicone ear tips, which are slightly shorter than before to help with the low-end design. Samsung told me it has considered including foam tips but has stopped so far. You will also notice a section of the grid on the outside. This covers one of the three built-in microphones and exists to act as a windshield for voice calls. (More on that later.)
I really like how these earbuds fit. They feel stabilized and twisted in place to close my ear canal well, without feeling blocked my ear. The ventilation hole and low contact area really seem to make a difference there, and I do appreciate that the Buds Pro doesn’t protrude as noticeably from my ear as some competitors. If I have one, it’s an old criticism: more than a few times, I’ve accidentally activated the touch-sensitive controls when trying to adjust the fit of the earphone. This is life with click gestures, I think. The controls can be turned off if this proves a problem for you.
According to Samsung, the Galaxy Buds Plus is IPX7 rated for water and sweat resistance, which means they can survive half an hour of freshwater swimming – so even the most sweaty runs and exercise shouldn’t be a problem. This is the highest rating among any of the Samsung earbuds and beats the AirPods Pro, Jabra Elite 85t, and Bose Sport Earbuds, all of which are IPX4. Either of the earbuds can be used independently with mono if you prefer this option for voice calling or cycling.
The cool pocket-sized Buds Pro charging case is so close in size and shape to the Buds Live that the accessories for the latter fit the former, and it still charges via both USB-C and Qi wireless charging. But endurance is one area where these earbuds settle at very average numbers. Samsung promises up to five hours of playback with ANC enabled (or eight hours with it off). The case caps make you up to 18 hours of total battery life or 28 hours without noise canceling. That’s basically on par with the rest of the industry, but it doesn’t hold up to 11 hours of continuous audio that the Galaxy Buds Plus can do. Sadly, it turns out Buds Pro have a smaller battery capacity (61mAh per bud versus 85mAh) as well as an energy-hungry ANC feature.
Galaxy Buds Pro has two-way speakers in every ear: there is an 11mm woofer and a 6.5mm woofer. Those are larger than what was in the Buds Plus, although they are smaller than the Buds Live’s 12mm single driver; In this case, Samsung has put more emphasis on getting satisfying bass from an open earpiece. Here, it aims for the “most comprehensive sound in the Galaxy Buds line yet.” I can’t say what “all-in” is supposed to mean, but the Buds Pro are fun to hear with good bass, treble and fun sound / photography range.
Many earbuds can make you feel as though everything is happening in the middle of your head, but they do a strong job of keeping the instrumentation and vocals distinct. Sturgill Simpson’s “Oh Sarah” and Troye Sivan’s “Easy” (with Kacey Musgraves and Mark Ronson) offer beautiful displays – in very different genres – of how the Buds Pro can get layered.
Bass heads may want to use the “bass boost” setting, and the speakers can sometimes give too much brightness and whistle to certain 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 matches the same accuracy as something like Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2, but that stuff is nearly $ 100 more expensive. I would be completely satisfied with Buds Pro as an everyday earbuds.
The active noise cancellation on the Galaxy Buds Pro is a lot better than the Galaxy Buds Live, as it hardly appears to do anything since there is a lot of outside noise to contend with. Samsung claims the Buds Pro can cut “up to 99 percent” of the noise “at 118.43 Hz,” which is very specific and won’t mean much to most people. In my experience, Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds, Sony’s WF-1000XM3 Earphones, and AirPods Pro all beat Samsung at calming the world around you, but Samsung does a perfectly good job of silencing street noises and household distractions. You can choose between high and low levels of noise cancellation in case you are sensitive to the effect.
Samsung’s latest Transparency / Surround mode still doesn’t look as natural as Apple and Bose have achieved, but it’s a clear improvement over the ultra-digital version of the Galaxy Buds Plus. One of the best things about the Galaxy Buds Pro is the great Voice Detection feature, which automatically turns the volume down and switches from ANC to ambient when you start speaking. Sony did a similar thing on its 1000XM4 headphones, but I hadn’t seen this comfy trick on many earbuds, and now I hope they at least had a choice.
Samsung uses a “sound pickup” – the accelerometer that detects jaw motion – to know that you are talking and not someone close to you. After a few seconds you stop talking, the ANC comes back and your music is played back. Sound detection works as expected, but if you have a tendency to talk to yourself or sing to your music, you may want to keep it off and set the ambient sound to a long press on one of the earbuds. The controls work the same way as other Samsung headphones, with one click 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 tri-microphone system and uses beam configuration to isolate your voice from your environment. The Buds Pro’s lower profile helps combat wind noise, and the mesh-covered room does a good job of filtering out any gusts if you’re talking to someone outside. Clarity is good too, as you should be able to hear it in Becca’s video review above. Speaking of audio, the Galaxy Buds Pro still has hands-free “Hey Bixby” capabilities.
Pro like … AirPods Pro?
There’s no denying that some Galaxy Buds Pro features are heavily influenced by Apple’s AirPods Pro. The first is 3D audio, which is what Samsung is taking advantage of the immersive spatial audio capabilities of AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. Upload a movie with Dolby Surround, and Buds Pro will try to cram your surround sound listening experience into a pair of earphones.
Samsung says the 360 audio system uses Dolby Head Tracking technology, which “enables you to stay in the center of the scene when watching a movie or TV show.” In concept, this sounds similar to Apple’s approach, which uses sensors like accelerometers and gyroscopes in earphones and an iPhone or iPad to keep the audio source anchored to your device – even when you turn your head side by side.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how convincing Samsung 3D audio is or whether it compares favorably with spatial audio because it requires OneUI 3.1, which is currently only available in the new Galaxy S21 lineup. The $ 1,300 Galaxy Note 20 Ultra that Samsung sent for this review doesn’t have this update yet.
The second AirPods feature that Samsung has tried to face directly is Auto Switch. Apple earbuds can switch between iPhone, iPad or Mac depending on which device you are using at that moment without having to manually make the change. Samsung says it has now done the same trick, so Buds Pro should automatically switch between your Galaxy smartphone and tablet. Unfortunately, the laptop is left out of Samsung’s equation entirely, which makes the feature somewhat less useful. Hope more earbuds could give us multi-point bluetooth pairing with two devices simultaneously; Jabra is still the lead out there. Auto switch appears as a workaround so Samsung can access multiple points.
Both of these capabilities require you to be somewhat entrenched in Samsung’s ecosystem. 3D Audio only works on Samsung devices, so if your Android phone is from different brand, you will lose it completely. The same goes for automatic switching. If neither feature is important to you, it may not be that important, but this is something to keep in mind.
It’s also worth noting that Samsung doesn’t offer the same level of iOS support it kept for Buds Plus and Buds Live: the current iOS app doesn’t work with Buds Pro, so you can’t use features like audio detection on the iPhone. I’m not sure why this is but maybe Samsung’s internal data shows that not many people pair their earphones with Apple devices. You can still pair them and use noise cancellation and ambient modes – just like how the AirPods Pro work on Android.
Galaxy Buds Pro faces stiff competition everywhere you look, and you can find superior ANC sound quality elsewhere. But with these latest earbuds, Samsung has mixed a lot of what worked best for Buds Plus and Buds Live. Battery life is only average, but that’s the only real annoyance I have. They don’t necessarily win in any one category, but the Galaxy Buds Pro strikes an excellent overall balance. And you can clearly see that Samsung is trying to recreate some of the ecosystem “magic” that AirPods owners are now accustomed to.
Buds Pro headphones feel great in your ears, sound better than any Samsung earbuds so far, and they have comfortable tricks to complement decent noise cancellation. There is still a place for the Galaxy Buds Plus if all you want is wireless earbuds with a battery that works and goes, and Buds Live remains the top pick if you need to be environmentally conscious at all times. But if you’ve been acquiring Buds Pro as a pre-order bonus for the new Galaxy S21, you should be more than satisfied.