The wireless earbuds market is becoming increasingly crowded, with nearly every major tech manufacturer offering some form of Bluetooth earbuds.
Samsung, arguably a pioneer in the space with its Gear IconX buds back in 2016, has mostly stuck to the mid-range earbuds market, with last year’s Galaxy Buds Live being the first exception. The unique-looking, bean-shaped earbuds sound great and are shockingly comfortable, but feature lacklustre noise-cancellation.
This is where the new Galaxy Buds Pro come in. At least right now, it seems like Samsung plans to continue to offer its Galaxy Buds+ — a pair of solid earbuds that don’t feature active noise-cancelling (ANC) — the Galaxy Buds Live and the new Galaxy Buds Pro with ANC.
In several ways, especially design and features, the Galaxy Buds Pro are Samsung’s answer to Apple’s AirPods Pro. The main question surrounding the earbuds is whether they’re capable of matching Apple’s high-end earbuds in the sound quality and noise-cancellation department, as well as if they’re a worthwhile upgrade over the Buds+ and Buds Live.
Surprisingly, the Galaxy Buds Pro actually manage to match or surpass Apple’s AirPods Pro in several ways, especially when it comes to versatility and active noise-cancelling.
However, the Buds Pro are unfortunately uncomfortable, unlike the Galaxy Buds Live.
Comfort and sound quality
I rarely find in-ear wireless earbuds a pleasure to wear, with Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live, Apple’s AirPods Pro and Google’s Pixel Buds (2020) being the only exceptions thanks to their comfort-focused designs and ventilation features. I’ve written this comparison in several wireless earbud reviews at this point — in-ear earbuds often feel like an insect is burrowing into my ear, and I also frequently encounter a strange sensation of pressure.
Unfortunately, Samsung’s Buds Pro rank up there with the most uncomfortable wireless earbuds I’ve placed in my ears. Regardless of if I swap on the small, medium or large rubber ear tips, they never seem to fit properly, forcing me to push the Buds Pro deeper into my ears than I’d prefer to prevent them from falling out. Even then, they often still feel like they’re on the verge of plummeting to the floor. Of course, everybody’s ears are different, so that might not be your experience.
“Nearly every genre I tested out with the Galaxy Buds sounded great, ranging from bass-heavy music to songs with guitar riffs and treble emphasis”
Similar to the AirPods Pro and other high-end earbuds, the Galaxy Buds Pro feature a vented design to mitigate the pressurized sensation a lot of people — including myself — feel when wearing in-ear buds. In my experience, this vent doesn’t make the Buds Pro any more comfortable than standard in-ear earbuds.
Design-wise, I’m also not fond of the mirror finish on the ‘Phantom Black’ Buds Pro because it’s even more reflective and a bigger grease magnet than the Galaxy Buds Live. However, both the actual earbuds and their case feel high-quality and durable.
On the sound quality front, things are far more positive. The Galaxy Buds Pro feature a wide sound stage and a great balance between highs and lows thanks to their 11mm woofer and 6.5mm tweeter. Nearly every genre I tested with the Galaxy Buds sounded great, ranging from bass-heavy music to songs with guitar riffs and an emphasis on treble. Obviously, the sound quality can’t compete with over-ear headphones. That said, they do sound a cut above the Galaxy Buds+, and even the more recently released on-ear Galaxy Buds Live.
It’s worth noting that similar to the Galaxy Buds Live, the Buds Pro feature lacklustre bass. This can be improved by changing the equalizer to ‘Bass Boost,’ but it still lags behind the likes of the AirPods Pro, Pixel Buds (2020) (which didn’t feature great bass) and other earbuds I’ve used in the past year.
Customizable to the max
One of the Galaxy Buds Pro’s most interesting features is the ability to have ANC automatically turn off in place of ‘Ambient Sound’ when you speak through a feature called ‘Voice Detect.’ In my experience, this feature works well as long as you don’t mind waiting roughly 10 seconds for ANC to kick back in again when you stop speaking. As far as I’m aware, Voice Detect is unique to the Galaxy Buds Pro. I’m hoping that this feature eventually makes its way to other wireless earbuds because not needing to take them out to talk to someone is far more useful than I expected.
To my surprise, Voice Detect also works with any device as long as you have the feature already turned on through the Galaxy Buds app. For example, I tried it with the M1 MacBook Pro, the iPhone 12 and the Pixel 4 XL, and it worked perfectly.
Other unique features include the ability to set active noise-cancelling to either ‘High’ or ‘Low.’ Most people will likely want to leave this feature on high. Still, if you prefer ANC that’s a little more subtle, it’s great that the Low option is available. Speaking of noise-cancellation, the Galaxy Buds Pro include some of the best ANC I’ve encountered in a pair of earbuds, rivalling even Apple’s AirPods Pro and arguably Sony’s WF-10000XM3 earbuds.
To place this in context, while the AirPods Pro’s ANC isn’t as great as it was at launch following an update that turned the feature’s effectiveness down in an effort to reportedly save battery life, it’s still some of the best I’ve encountered in the industry.
Like Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live, there are also equalizer settings, allowing you to change the audio tone between several different options, including ‘Soft,’ ‘Dynamic,’ ‘Clear,’ ‘Treble Boost,’ and more. This is something not even Apple’s AirPods Pro and AirPods are capable of — Google eventually updated the Pixel Buds (2020) with equalizer controls.
Other features include Ambient Sound pass-through powered by two external mics that allow the wearer to hear the world around them easily. While Ambient Sound works, a weird underlying hum I haven’t heard from other earbuds is audible in the background. Unlike other wireless earbuds though, you can change Ambient Sound’s intensity to four different levels depending on how important hearing the outside world is to you. Lowering the effectiveness of Ambient Sound does seem to solve the background audio issue a bit.
“While the various gestures used to control the Buds Pro are generally responsive, they can also be finicky, similar to the Galaxy Buds Live”
Other features worth mentioning include customizing various controls like ‘volume up/down,’ Bixby integration (which remains mostly useless), play/pause, and more gestures linked to either the left or right earbud.
While the various gestures used to control the Buds Pro are generally responsive, they can also be finicky, similar to the Galaxy Buds Live. For example, even slightly adjusting the buds in your ear pauses your music. While this isn’t a big problem, it can get frustrating quickly, especially since the earbuds don’t fit snugly in my ears.
The Buds Pro also seamlessly ‘Auto Switch’ between Galaxy devices as long as the feature is turned on in your Samsung smartphone’s Bluetooth settings.
This feature is great and made jumping between the Note 20 and Galaxy Z Flip 5G a breeze. That said, Auto Switch is limited to only Samsung’s Galaxy devices, similar to how Apple’s H1-powered instant connectivity with its AirPods line only works with the company’s products.
Connecting to other devices
Though most people interested in the Galaxy Buds Pro likely own a Samsung smartphone or at the very least an Android device, it’s important to note that like nearly all wireless earbuds, a lot of the Buds Pro’s best features disappear when you use them with a Mac, PC or iPhone.
For example, to get the Buds Pro to swap between devices, I often need to make either my MacBook or iPhone completely ‘forget’ their connection. This doesn’t happen all the time when trying to move between my iPhone 12 Pro Max and my MacBook, but it occurs enough to make the process more frustrating than it should be. I also encounter this issue with the Galaxy Buds Live.
Further, Samsung’s iOS Galaxy Buds app doesn’t support the Buds Pro yet, so if you’re only an iPhone user, you can’t download updates or change the earbuds’ various settings. The same can be said about using the Buds Pro with a Mac or PC when you also have an Android device.
Of course, if you change settings on an Android smartphone and then connect the earbuds to a MacBook or PC, this problem disappears.
This also means you can’t reconfigure touch controls, shift the intensity of active noise-cancelling or change gesture controls unless you’re connected to an Android device.
I’ve reached out to Samsung regarding the Galaxy Buds Pro eventually getting iOS support through the Galaxy Buds app and will update this story with more information when it’s available. It’s also worth mentioning that this could be added before the official release of the Buds Pro, although it did take Samsung quite some time to add the Buds Live to the Galaxy Buds iOS app.
On the plus side, just like other Galaxy Buds earbuds, the Buds Pro stop playing audio when you remove them from your ears, even if you’re using an iPhone or MacBook. It does take a few seconds for audio to stop, and in some cases, both earbuds need to be removed.
One of the most disappointing things about the Galaxy Buds Pro, especially when compared to the Galaxy Buds+ excellent battery life and arguably even the Buds Live, is that they only last between three and four hours. In one instance, I started using the Galaxy Buds Pro at roughly 9am with 100 percent battery, and they were completely dead by slightly past noon. To be fair, I’ve had similar poor battery life experiences with other wireless earbuds that feature active noise-cancelling.
Of course, this changes when you turn off active noise-cancellation, but the Galaxy Buds Pro’s entire point is that they feature ANC. With ANC turned off, you can get roughly eight hours of battery. On the other hand, the case offers 13 hours of charging with ANC on, and 20 hours with the feature turned off.
Other features include ‘360 Audio’ comparable in quality to the AirPods Pro ‘Spatial Audio,’ and ‘Multi Mic’ recording allows users to record audio with both their smartphone and the Buds Pro. It’s important to note that both of these features are only available with Samsung’s more recent smartphones. The Galaxy Buds Pro are also IPX7 water-resistant, allowing the earbuds to withstand being submerged in 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes.
Regarding call quality, the Galaxy Buds Pro seem roughly on par with nearly every other pair of wireless earbuds I’ve used in the last few years. Your voice comes through relatively clear but can still easily get muffled if you don’t have the Buds Pro sitting in your ears properly. There is a fin sticking out from the side of the Galaxy Buds Pro that Samsung says prevents wind from interfering with the mic.
I didn’t test out this claim extensively, but it does seem to minimize the annoying “whoosh” noise the person on the other end of a call can sometimes hear when you use wireless earbuds outside.