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Samsung’s take on the AirPods Pro is a winner

  • January 26, 2021

Pros

  • Clear, detailed sound

  • Plenty of features

  • Stylish, micro-sized design

Cons

  • No separate volume

  • Pedestrian battery life

  • Still sorting out some bugs

The Galaxy Buds Pro don’t offer quite enough bounty to take down our favorite wireless earbuds overall, the near-perfect Jabra Elite 85t—especially for users of phones not made by Samsung. But with a better sound profile than their AirPods rivals, plenty of ways to dial in settings via Samsung’s Wear app, and proprietary features for Galaxy phone users like automatic setup when you open the case, the Galaxy Buds Pro finally give the Samsung faithful their own AirPods Pro experience.

About the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

Galaxy Buds Pro case open

Before we dig in, here’s a snapshot of the basic specs:

  • Price: $199.99
  • Battery life: up to 5 hours with noise canceling, 8 hours without; up to 18 hours with charging case with ANC, 28 hours without
  • Rapid charging: Claimed 5 minutes charge for up to 60 minutes of playback
  • Wireless charging: yes, Qi-compatible case
  • Colors: Phantom Silver, Phantom Violet, Phantom Black
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
  • Audio codecs: SBC, AAC, Samsung Scalable Codec
  • Water resistance: IPX7
  • Ear tips: three sizes
  • Weight: 6.3 grams per bud, 44.9 grams case

The Galaxy Buds Pro arrive in the kind of micro-sized box we’ve come to expect from the majority of flagship true wireless earbuds (that is, those without any wires at all). Accessories include three sets of oval-shaped ear tips packed into the teensiest paper box you’ll ever see (you may be seeing a pattern here) and a USB-C to USB-A charging cable.

A cubed charging case the size of a macaron opens to reveal metallic-finished buds that look (unsurprisingly) like a beefed-up pair of Galaxy Buds+. Notable design traits include an 11mm woofer and 6.7mm tweeter in each bud to provide power and clarity across frequencies; a three-microphone system for adjustable active noise cancellation (ANC) and boostable ambient audio; and a wide array of regular and Samsung-only features, a la Apple.

What we like

A micro-sized, stylish design

Galaxy Buds Pro case side

The Galaxy Buds Live didn’t offer the package I look for in versatile true wireless buds, but their unique design was, aesthetically anyway, inspired. As noted in Samsung’s reviewer guide, the Buds Pro take design cues from both the Live and the cheaper Galaxy Buds+, adding up to stylish micro buds that look familiar, while striking their own chord. The case is adorable, and easily fits in any pocket, and the buds look good in your ears without sticking out too far.

The fit doesn’t quite match my favorites in the genre; it’s pretty comfy in the near term but can become less so over time. While designed to keep you from the “plugged up feeling” of most earbuds, it’s not as natural feeling as Jabra’s similar design technique—or Apple’s for that matter. But the Buds Pro slip into the curve of my ear easily, and though they’re a little rigid, the fit is secure and stable.

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A rich and sweet sound profile

Galaxy Buds Pro listening

The Galaxy Buds Pro’s dual drivers create an expansive and powerful sound signature that does a good job accentuating details. The bass is deep and punctual while the midrange is smooth, yet zippy for a lively sound. The upper midrange and treble can get a little spindly at times, similar to Samsung’s other buds, but it’s never sibilant or sharp and helps create some impressive stereo separation and clarity up top.

The Buds Pro do a good job serving up different audio environments, coloring in the details with precision and letting each instrument fill out its own space. They also give subtle moments their due, from a powdery ride cymbal to the long reverb tail of a vocal as it slides from left to right. The overall effect, when added with the silence provided by the noise cancellation, lets you revel in the complexities of well-produced recordings and gives each instrumental attack its own moment in the spotlight. Brass sings with metallic gleam. Synths are laser etched. It’s a fun ride that outdoes Samsung’s Bose and Apple rivals for me, and matches up well with the Elite 85t.

Streaming Netflix is also quite enjoyable. I found myself struck by the effortless detail provided by the light touch of the upper register even in comedies like Schitt’s Creek. The earbuds flesh out dialogue well and elevate basic effects like the page turn of a magazine or the clunk of boots on a wooden floor. Overall, it’s an obvious step up from Samsung’s other earbuds, and many other buds in their class, too.

Good call quality

The Galaxy Buds Pro’s call quality is among the top in their class. I never had any issues hearing the other party or vice versa, and while I wasn’t able to summon a ton of wind over the past week with the earbuds, they do a pretty good job buffering small gusts.

Respectable active noise canceling

Galaxy Buds Pro bud interior

While the Galaxy Buds Live offered a tease of noise cancellation, Samsung needed to focus on snuffing out exterior sounds for the modern, work-from-home user, and the Galaxy Buds Pro finally fill that niche. It can be difficult to rank noise canceling on a granular level, but there’s a vast difference between “mediocre” and “good” in this genre, and while the Galaxy Buds Pro don’t reach the quality of the best noise cancelers we’ve tested, Bose’s QuietComfort earbuds, they definitely climb into the “good” segment, providing a viable way to shutter the exterior world.

While Samsung says the Buds Pro cancel “99% of external background noises,” that seems like a stretch in real-world testing. The buds work best at killing drone noises, especially lower frequencies, even besting Jabra’s Elite 85t in that department. But they’re less effective for midrange disturbances, from the crunch of leaves to a barking dog, especially with audio paused. No wireless earbuds can silence the world entirely, but the similarly priced Elite 85t offer more intimacy, especially with loud noises like a leaf blower or a vacuum. Like the AirPods Pro, the Galaxy Buds Pro tend to kick up some white noise with those loud whining sounds.

Suffice to say that, while it’s not the best ANC out there it gets the job done and, as expected, it’s a vast improvement over the Galaxy Buds Live.

Top-notch water resistance

I’ve been patiently waiting for a flagship pair of true wireless noise cancelers to top IPX4 water resistance—designed to shield the buds from splashes, but not jet sprays or dunks. I was pleasantly surprised to see Samsung take the win with IPX7 water resistance. There’s only one other pair of ANC earbuds I’ve tried from a top-tier brand that matches them here: Jabra’s Elite Active 75t, which added digital ANC in a firmware update. While you may not need dunkable earbuds, it’s nice to have a pair primed for workouts, cleanup, and awful weather alike.

A sizeable heap of features

The Galaxy Buds Pro are loaded with features, checking most of the squares we look for in flagship earbuds and adding some useful extras. You’ll get the headliners like ANC, ambient sound, single earbud playback, and the ever-handy Find My Earbuds. But you’ll also find adjustable Voice Detect, which lowers volume and swaps noise canceling for ambient sound when you speak for a period of five, 10, or 15 seconds (though any more than five feels awkward).

I found the voice detection overzealous at first, but perhaps in one of the three firmware updates Samsung rolled out since I started testing, it seemed to become less touchy, no longer engaging whenever I cleared my throat or took a deep breath. In the pandemic era, it’s also a good way to analyze just how much you actually talk to yourself (don’t judge me).

Samsung’s Wear app is better than ever for the Galaxy Buds Pro, letting you choose between EQ presets, customize the touch controls (though only one of them can be swapped), and tailor several other features. As with Jabra’s Sound+ app, you can adjust ambient sound, boosting it far beyond your normal hearing (though it never sounded as natural as Jabra or Apple’s). While I had no real cause to use it, it’s intriguing to see such sensory enhancements creep into flagship buds.

Also handy is Gaming Mode, which allows you to decrease audio lag for mobile gaming (though I’m not sure why it isn’t always set low). The app also for Galaxy phone setup by simply opening the case, something Apple championed and Samsung wisely aped.

While it’s not really a negative, I do lament that some of the Galaxy Buds Pro’s most intriguing features—including head-tracking 360 audio, auto-switching, and multi-mic recording—were ones I couldn’t try out even with a nearly new Samsung phone. On the other hand, if you just picked up a Galaxy S21, you’re feeling special, I suppose. As with other Galaxy earbuds, there’s no quick way to dial up Siri or Google Assistant, but if you like Bixby, you can choose it as one of your long-press touch controls or turn on voice wake-up.

What we don’t like

Touch controls aren’t comprehensive

Galaxy Buds Pro bud exterior

While I appreciate the Wear app’s intuitive layout and options, I wish Samsung would have deviated from Apple when it comes to onboard controls as well. The flag to follow here is Jabra’s; buds like the Elite 75t and Elite 85t series offer every control you need between two buttons.

The Galaxy Pro’s big miss is a separate volume control, which essentially means you’ve got to give up the ability to give up ANC/Ambient Audio and Bixby wakeup with a long press for onboard volume. All other touch gestures are stuck in the default position and mirrored on each bud.

I was also surprised to find no way to set the earbuds to pause when you pull one out, a nifty feature that comes with most upper-tier buds we evaluate. The earbuds do pause when you pull both out, but it seems odd to not make single-bud pause an option. On the other hand, the Voice Detect feature can be something of a stand-in for both ANC/Ambient noise swapping and quick pause—just use your voice.

Battery life suffers with ANC

The Gbuds Pro claim 5 hours of battery with ANC engaged, and 8 hours without, which is respectable for ANC earbuds, but not great. It falls below Jabra’s Elite 85t and even Sony’s aging WF-1000XM3 when ANC is on, among others. Samsung’s pair do just edge out Apple on paper, but they struggled to reach the full 5 hours with ANC engaged in my testing. On top of that, the case only allows for a max of 18 hours total with ANC, meaning you’ll need to top it off more than most competitors.

It would be nice to see Samsung push those numbers higher, if only for some breathing room ahead of the forthcoming generation (such as the AirPods Pro 2, for instance).

Still a bit buggy?

As isn’t wholly uncommon these days, my first pair of Galaxy Buds Pro were faulty. Specifically, the left earbud made strange squelching noises in an odd cycling pattern at times. The new pair have had no such problem, but there were a few moments when the earbuds seemed to create a strange echo when using ANC, as though they were trying to switch from stereo to dual mono. They also seem to be charging a little sluggishly—I got about 3% for 5 minutes charge (well shy of an hour) in a random test, and around 10% for 10 minutes. I was unable to replicate the audio issue, and Samsung seems to be delivering firmware updates at a lightning pace, so I expect the majority of quirks will be eliminated quickly. I’ll update this section upon further testing.

Should you buy it?

Yes, especially if you own a Samsung phone.

Galaxy Bud Pro in-case side

The Galaxy Buds Pro are Samsung’s best wireless earbuds on multiple levels. Setting aside the first lemon pair I received, they impress with great sound, class-leading water resistance, plenty of features, and a micro design that looks as good as it travels. At $199, their price undercuts most comparable flagship buds upon release, and there’s reason to believe they’ll drop over time. Samsung had an incentive to do this since most rivals (most notably the AirPods Pro) have already dropped in price, but it’s still notable.

If you’re an iPhoner, the AirPods Pro are the clear alternative, of course. But there’s good reason we chose Jabra’s Elite 85t as the top wireless earbuds around: they work equally well with any smartphone or OS. They’re also more comfortable (for me, anyway), easier to control, offer better battery, and their ambient sound mode is more natural sounding. If you don’t need ANC, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds+ are still a fine choice at a lower price, too.

That said, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro offer the vast majority of features and functionality we look for in flagship earbuds wrapped in a well-designed package, making them serious contenders. Samsung Galaxy owners seeking an AirPods Pro experience (and more) need look no further.

Meet the tester

Ryan Waniata

Managing Editor – Electronics


@ryanwaniata

Hailing originally from Montana, Ryan parlayed his time working as a musician and audio engineer into a career in digital media in 2013. Since then he’s had extensive experience as a writer and editor, including everything from op-eds and features to reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more.

Checking our work.

We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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