Galaxy Buds Pro Review: Samsung's Real Answer to the AirPods Pro

Illustration for article titled Galaxy Buds Pro Review: Samsung's Real Answer to the AirPods Pro
Photo: Sam Rutherford

It’s been less than six months since Samsung released its last pair of wireless earbuds. But now there’s the Galaxy Buds Pro. By switching over to a more traditional design, keeping built-in ANC, and slapping on a price tag of $200, Samsung has finally created a worthy and more affordable competitor to Apple’s $250 AirPods Pro. 

In a lot of ways, the Galaxy Buds Pro are what you’d get if the Galaxy Buds+ and Galaxy Buds Live had nerdy little audio babies. Similar to the Galaxy Buds+, the Galaxy Buds Pro have soft silicone eartips to help deliver passive noise canceling and a snug, comfy fit. And because the Galaxy Buds Pro are relatively light, their tight fit was more than enough to make sure they don’t fall out randomly, even if you’re jumping around while exercising.

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Meanwhile, Samsung borrowed the built-in vents (to prevent air pressure from building up and becoming uncomfortable), extra mics, and active noise canceling it used in the Galaxy Buds Live and put them in the Pros. The difference here is that because the Galaxy Buds Pros have a closed design, ANC is much more effective at drowning out ambient noise, which definitely helped reduce the annoying rumble of nearby construction that I had to deal with while writing this review. Now if we’re being picky, compared to Sony’s excellent but super bulky WF-1000XM3 wireless earbuds, Samsung’s ANC isn’t quite as powerful. But it’s pretty damn close, and considering that the Galaxy Buds Pro cost significantly less and are much smaller, trading out a tiny bit of ANC performance to create a more compact and easier to wear pair of wireless earbuds is a compromise I’m willing to make.

And like all of Samsung’s recent earbuds, the Galaxy Buds Pro still include handy touch controls built into both earbuds, so you can easily pause, play, or skip tracks, or more easily control volume or toggle ANC and pass-through audio on or off. However, and this is a gripe I’ve had with Samsung earbuds for a while now, you can only set the touch controls to adjust volume or toggle ANC, but not both, forcing you to make a hard choice to go into the app’s settings, which is kind of annoying.

Illustration for article titled Galaxy Buds Pro Review: Samsung's Real Answer to the AirPods Pro
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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The Galaxy Buds Pro are more than a simple remix of Samsung’s previous wireless earbuds. Instead of having a single driver in each bud as on the Galaxy Buds Live, the Galaxy Buds Pro feature an 11mm woofer and a 6.5mm tweeter crammed in each side. And when its new drivers are combined with better ANC and passive noise canceling, the Galaxy Buds Pro pump out even richer and more detailed sound. It’s just enough to make you appreciate the shimmer of a high hat or cymbal more than normal, and while the woofer means low tones are more pronounced, I appreciate that the Galaxy Buds Pro still sound relatively neutral and not overly bass-heavy. Though if you do want extra thump, you can always select from one of Samsung’s other preset EQs (bass boost, soft, dynamic, clear, and treble boost). Just don’t go looking for a custom EQ setting, because it doesn’t exist.

Meanwhile, thanks to the inclusion of three different onboard mics, voice quality is also quite good. Now don’t get me wrong, no one is going to confuse the Galaxy Buds Pro for a high-end lav mic, but even for some amateur filmmaking, the Galaxy Buds Pro can be a quick and easy replacement for more expensive audio gear.

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When the Voice Detect feature is enabled, the Galaxy Buds Pro will automatically activate Ambient Sound (even when ANC is turned on) if it hears you talking.
When the Voice Detect feature is enabled, the Galaxy Buds Pro will automatically activate Ambient Sound (even when ANC is turned on) if it hears you talking.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

The other big new feature on the Galaxy Buds Pro is the addition of voice detection, which allows the buds to automatically turn on its Ambient Noise feature (which amplifies nearby sound and pipes it into the earbuds) when it hears your voice. Admittedly, this doesn’t sound like much, but it quickly became one of my favorite features as it lets me more easily hold a conversation without needing to take my earbuds out.

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Now at this point, some boomers out there might be saying that not removing your headphones while talking to someone is a bit rude, and they might be right, if we were still living in 1965. But in 2021, I’m going to say that most people will understand if you don’t remove your headphones to order a coffee, just so long as you can easily and politely interact with store personnel. And with voice detection that can automatically turn on the Ambient Noise function, that’s exactly what the Galaxy Buds Pro let you do.

While their designs are very different, the Galaxy Buds Pro have basically the same wireless charging case Samsung used on the Galaxy Buds Live.
While their designs are very different, the Galaxy Buds Pro have basically the same wireless charging case Samsung used on the Galaxy Buds Live.
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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That said, the feature isn’t perfect. Currently, you can tell the buds to automatically activate Ambient Noise in 5, 10, or 15 seconds increments, with the latter two generally being long enough to hold a quick conversation. However, if the person you’re talking to is a bit chatty or has a long story to tell you, it’s very possible the Ambient Noise feature will turn off in the middle of their sentence. Samsung says the reason for this is that it’s much easier for the buds to tell when you’re talking, rather than try to guess at which of the hundreds or thousands of nearby sounds is the one you want to pay attention to. But that still means if you don’t pipe up to keep Ambient Noise activated, you might miss a beat.

Additionally, for those who find themselves frequently juggling audio from multiple devices, Samsung has also added a new Auto Switch feature that lets you quickly connect the Buds Pro to a Samsung phone or tablet or a Windows 10 PC when needed. It’s automatic, and in my testing, it worked quite seamlessly, though it did refuse to switch once out of the five times I tried it.

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Illustration for article titled Galaxy Buds Pro Review: Samsung's Real Answer to the AirPods Pro
Photo: Sam Rutherford

All told, the Galaxy Buds Pro’s only real shortcoming is somewhat lackluster battery life. Samsung says the Galaxy Buds Pro provide five hours of music playback with ANC turned on, or around eight hours with ANC disabled. That’s not terrible, but it’s not great either, and even though sometimes I noticed the Galaxy Buds Pro lasting up to five hours and 20 minutes with ANC activated, that’s still not really enough to last a full work or school day without some strategic recharging during breaks. Thankfully, the buds can soak up enough juice for 30 extra minutes of playback with just a five-minute nap in their charging case. And on the flipside, it’s important to remember that Apple’s AirPods Pro are only rated for 4.5 hours of music playback with ANC enabled.

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When compared to rivals like the Sony WF-1000XM3 and Apple AirPods Pro, that’s when the Galaxy Buds Pro really start to show their value. They have great audio quality, a comfy lightweight fit, and slightly better battery life than Apple’s heavily praised alternatives. And even though their ANC might be a touch less proficient than Sony’s or Apple’s, I’m willing to bet most people would have a hard time telling the difference if they took the Pepsi Challenge. And as a new feature to make its earbuds easier to live with, the Galaxy Buds Pro’s Voice Detection feature has been a really welcome addition.

Illustration for article titled Galaxy Buds Pro Review: Samsung's Real Answer to the AirPods Pro
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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Especially for Samsung phone owners—where the Galaxy Wearable app comes pre-installed—the initial pairing couldn’t be simpler. For other Android phone owners, it’s not like having to download a couple of free apps before pairing is really all that difficult. But most importantly, all this comes from a pair of true wireless earbuds that cost $30 to $50 less than their biggest competitors. So even though I’d like a bit more battery life overall and more control over its touch commands, the Galaxy Buds Pro are a great little pair of wireless headphones.

README

  • The Galaxy Buds Pro last around five hours on a charge with ANC turned on (or around 8 with ANC disabled) which isn’t great, but it’s actually slightly better than the 4.5 hours you get from AirPods Pro.
  • Thanks to their lightweight design and three sizes of included eartips, the Galaxy Buds Pro are quite comfortable and easy to wear for long periods of time.
  • Samsung’s charging case stores an extra 13 hours of juice and can be recharged either wired or wirelessly.
  • The Galaxy Buds Pro’s new automatic Ambient Sound activates when it hears your voice, allowing you to have conversations more easily without needing to remove the buds themselves.
  • Samsung created a new 360-degree spatial sound mode, but currently, it’s only available on the new Galaxy S21 phones while Samsung works on porting the feature to older devices.
  • Samsung’s free Galaxy Wearable app is available on both iOS and Android, though you’ll need a Samsung phone if you want to take advantage of some more experimental features like the low-latency gaming mode.
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Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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DISCUSSION

babylonsystem
Babylon System

Thank you for confirming the driver sizes.

How is the max volume level? Can it get loud enough to thump?

I found the previous Samsung buds lacking in MAX volume loudness, compared other TWS earphones I tried.

I might have to this one to my collection. *11mm driver* :)

So far the Sony WF-XB700 and JVC HA-XC90T are my all time favorites for loudness, sound quality and BASS. Their sound signatures are practically the same.

The Sony WF-XB700 leads in comfort and pricing, although it lacks aptX.