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Priced at just $199.99, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are worthy options for Samsung-focused Android users who want a little bit of everything packed into their wireless earbuds, whether it’s attractive audio performance, excellent waterproofing, a comfortable fit, or active noise cancellation. With their unique voice detection feature and impressive waterproofing, they even manage to come out ahead of other earbuds aimed at a similarly wide market. Unfortunately, you’ll need to be fully committed to the Samsung ecosystem if you want to get the most out of them, but their versatility makes them a solid choice for anyone with an Android device.
The right look
They certainly look good. Elements of both the Galaxy Buds Plus and the Galaxy Buds Live reveal themselves in the design, and I consistently found myself admiring the glossy exterior. But I most appreciate them for the many times when I barely noticed them at all. They don’t protrude from my ears as much as Samsung’s previous efforts, and I was able to find a perfect fit among the three silicone tips that come in the box.
And I do mean “perfect.” Whether I was jogging up San Francisco hills or playing tennis, they refused to budge and continued to feel comfortable despite not leaving my ears for a couple of hours. Most impressively, the Galaxy Buds Pro achieve this without stabilizing fins. Nor did I have to worry about them getting wet, thanks to their phenomenal IPX7 water-resistance rating. That not only keeps them safe from any sweat during a workout, but it also allowed me to keep them in while walking through a February rainstorm. That puts them way ahead of competing earbuds like the AirPods Pro and the Jabra Elite 85t, both of which only have an IPX4 rating.
The controls are comfortably familiar to anyone who’s used Samsung’s other earbuds: Tap once to play or pause a song, tap twice to skip to the next song, and tap three times to jump back to the previous song. In the Galaxy Wearable app, you can choose to tie the long press to the ambient mode, your choice of voice assistant, or the volume.
In practice, though, the controls could use some work. For instance, merely adjusting the buds themselves can be easily registered as a command to play or pause the music. And while the play/pause command works well enough, the double and triple taps frequently only register as single taps. It’s the most madding aspect of the Galaxy Buds Pro experience, and I was happy to see that the Galaxy Wearable app at least allows you to turn off touch controls altogether.
Face the music
If there’s any single reason to buy these buds over other multi-featured wireless competitors, it’s the decently deep bass and clear treble they offer, thanks in part to the 11-millimeter woofer and 6.5mm tweeter in each bud. Take Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”—with the Galaxy Buds Pro, the well-known thumpin’ bassline still packs a punch without drowning out the clarity of Stevie Nicks’ vocals. The same goes for Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” which sounds reasonably close to what I hear when I listen to it with some over-ear headphones. I soon found myself turning to the Galaxy Buds Pro just for the pleasure of listening to music through them.
The Galaxy Buds sound great straight out of the box (even on an iPhone, where they’re not supported by any software), but for the best experience, you should head to the Galaxy Wearable app and choose from one of the six preset options. Mind you, the experience isn’t universally satisfying: Some tracks have a tad too much brightness. Even so, the audio is far more smartly balanced than what I’m used to from earbuds, and I’d be happy if the Galaxy Buds Pro were the only buds I had for music.
The impressive audio also carries over to calls—at least from the user’s end. Unfortunately, the recipients of my calls reported an uneven experience, with a few saying background noise was silent until I actually started speaking. Fortunately, my voice usually came through clearly (although some people I spoke with experienced distortion).
It’s a good thing that the music quality is so remarkable, as it does a lot to make up for the Galaxy Buds Pro’s merely adequate active noise-canceling performance. The Buds Pro do a slightly better job of muffling the world around you than the Galaxy Buds Live, but you’re better off sticking with Sony’s WF-1000XM3 or Apple’s AirPods Pro if you’re in search of good ANC above all else. Samsung lets you switch between “high” and “low” ANC performance, but I tended to keep it on high as that was the only mode that adequately masked sounds like my desk fan,or passing cars outside my window, or even the wind. It’s strong enough that I could clearly tell the ANC was on, but not strong enough that I’d like to take them with me on an airplane. (Times being what they are, I didn’t have an opportunity to test this.)
I was far more impressed with the “ambient” mode, which uses the microphones to augment the sounds of the outside world. Samsung offers four settings for this mode ranging from Low to Extra High. I suggest keeping it on High, as the Extra High mode was so loud that I was wincing even listening to normal conversations. The effect still doesn’t sound as natural as what you’ll hear with the AirPods Pro, but it’s a marked improvement over the Galaxy Buds Live.
Also impressive is the “voice detect” feature, which lowers the volume and switches from ANC to ambient mode when the Galaxy Buds Pro sense that you’re talking. The effect persists for around 10 seconds, which is usually enough to hear a reply from whoever you were speaking with. I wish more earbuds had this, as it’s one less reason to reach up and fiddle with the controls. And fortunately, you can disable voice detect in the Samsung Wearable app if you’re fond of singing along to your music.
As with many ANC-enabled devices, actually using the ANC pummels the battery life. I tend to listen to my music at higher volumes, and I was only able to get around four hours of battery life out of the Galaxy Buds Pro with ANC activated. Sometimes I would get even less, depending on whether I was making phone calls or listening to my music at higher volumes. With the ANC switched off, though, the battery life shoots up to a more agreeable eight hours or so, although that’s still short of the 11 hours you can get from the ANC-free Galaxy Buds Plus.
Dropping them in the charging case nets you an extra 18 hours of play if you keep ANC active, while keeping it off boosts that number to 28 hours. The case itself is an adorably small, square thing that slipped neatly into my jeans pocket and supports both USB-C and Qi wireless charging.
No other Samsung earbuds include such an impressive collection of features in one package. Unfortunately, no other Samsung earbuds so fully push users into the Samsung ecosystem. If you’re an Android user who doesn’t have a Samsung phone, you won’t be able to use nifty features like the ability to automatically switch pairing from a Samsung phone to a Samsung tablet (depending on which one you’re using at a time). You also won’t be able to use hands-free voice-assistant activation with Bixby, although you can still use either Google Assistant or Alexa through the touch controls. Samsung even now has a quick-pairing feature that (greatly) resembles Apple’s. Just hold your Galaxy Buds Pro charging case near your Samsung phone with the lid open, and the prompt to pair them will immediately pop up.
The Galaxy Buds Pro also support Samsung’s 3D Audio feature, which riffs on the spatial audio Apple introduced for the AirPods Pro late last year. If you’re watching a film that supports Dolby surround sound, the Galaxy Buds Pro will recreate some of that experience through mere earbuds. Or so I hear. 3D Audio is only available on the Galaxy S21 and not on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra used for this review. I don’t think this should dissuade anyone from buying these buds, but it’s a reminder that you’ll get the most out of them if you’re specifically a Samsung user.
Nothing about the Samsung Galaxy Buds crushes their competition (except, perhaps, their impressive water resistance), but for the price, they offer an appealing mix of good audio performance, serviceable noise cancellation, comfort, and battery life. While their ANC could be better, they’re a particularly smart buy if you’re committed to Samsung devices, as you’ll get a handful of extra features that aren’t available on other Android smartphones.
Leif is a San Francisco-based tech journalist. He's a big fan of fantasy RPGs, and you can find his previous work on IGN, Rolling Stone, VICE, PC Gamer, Playboy, Mac|Life, TechRadar, and numerous other publications.