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The Galaxy Buds Pro work best with a Samsung phone.
Priced at $200, Samsung’s new Galaxy Buds Pro are meant to be a direct challenge to some of the best earbuds on the market right now, including Apple’s AirPods Pro and Sony’s WF-1000XM3.
This is new territory for Samsung, which typically releases midrange, affordable, earbuds that focus on battery life and bass. This time around, though, the Korean company is hoping to stand out with some eye-catching exclusive features like 360 Audio and Auto Switch.
There has also been a huge improvement in sound quality, with a new 11mm woofer for more powerful bass and a new 6.5mm tweeter for higher frequency sounds. This, combined with improved Active Noise cancellation and a fresh design delivering better passive noise cancellation, has upped the overall listening experience.
But how good do they actually sound? How well do the exclusive features fare? Is it worth buying Samsung’s most expensive earbuds ever over other top-range competitors? I have all of your questions answered.
Rating 4 out of 5
Price $199 | Bluetooth 5.0 | Microphones: 3 and a “voice pick up unit” | Sensors: Accelerometer, Gyro, Proximity, Hall, Touch, VPU | Battery life: 5 hours with ANC on and 13 hours in the case; 8 hours with ANC off and 20 hours in the case | Colors: Phantom Violet, Phantom Black, Phantom Silver| Dimensions: 20.5 x 19.5 x 20.8mm | Weight 6.3g
The new elongated design of Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro is a welcome change from the bulky, angular shape of last year’s Buds Plus. But they are still big headphones and the new spherical form is slightly deceptive.
The anteater-style chassis stretches out the earbud to make it appear to be smaller in profile than it actually is. In reality: the Buds Pro still protrude fairly significantly out of your ear, even if slightly less prominently than the Buds Plus. The difference between the minimized design of the Pixel Buds 2 and Buds Pro—which adhere to the same design principles—is clear.
The smaller design protects the microphones from wind noise.
That protrusion, and the smooth, rounded outer body also adds another issue: touch problems. There isn’t enough non-touchable surface area to handle the buds – like there is on the Buds Plus – without issuing accidental commands.
It’s a delicate process readjusting your buds without touching the capacitive area and causing audio chaos, like a less fun game of Operation. This is exacerbated by the fact that they need a fair bit of fiddling to find the right fit. Perhaps my ear canal isn’t naturally lubricated enough for quick insertion, but fumbling to get them in is an unwelcome dance I have to do on every use. Once in, they remain comfortable for long periods of use.
Users can turn off the touch buttons, but that removes a lot of quick functionality. This was one of the many problems that sunk the original Google Pixel Buds which was rectified by the next generation. Samsung would do well to learn Google’s lessons or introduce a physical button.
The Buds Pro are a good example of getting both passive and active noise cancellation right. They don’t offer the best-in-class on either, but the balance is right and the software features back up an already impressive pairing.
The elongated design I mentioned earlier burrows deep into your ear canal and shuts out other invasive, ambient noise, providing good passive noise cancellation. Samsung claims the Buds Pro filter out 99% of outside sounds when the active noise cancelling feature is set to high (it can switch between high and low), which isn’t something I can properly scientifically test.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro has exclusive features with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
But it is effective. I mentioned in my hands-on that whilst testing the buds I didn’t hear my comically loud doorbell chime scream the house down—this has happened more than once. I can also filter out The O.C. theme song just as it reaches its whiniest crescendo when my partner is on a weekend nostalgia binge. For that, I am grateful to Samsung.
The new voice detection feature plays its part here, too. The Buds Pro will automatically detect if you’re speaking and switch to ambient sound mode so you can hear yourself and your surroundings. It takes a second or two to register that you’re engaged in conversation, which can be a bit awkward in those first two or three seconds, but it works well when in full swing and negates the need to pause your music.
When you’re finished, the music returns to normal volume. It’s smart and genuinely useful. It’s also the kind of feature that requires a delicate interplay between several moving parts to work perfectly, a juggling act that has felled many other Samsung products down the years.
I’m less convinced, however, by the 360 Audio feature that mimics surround sound on compatible Samsung devices. The idea is that if a bullet whizzes past on screen, it will be audibly reflected in the headphones. Or if you turn your head, the direction of the sound will adjust to your new position. Rather than being immersive, it feels a bit jarring and artificial.
You can feel and hear the moment the feature kicks-in with every head movement, which momentarily distracts from the content as you think ‘ah that’s the 360 Audio feature kicking in’. Whilst audio content does sound more spacious and engrossing, it also sounds like audio is being dimmed in one earbud and enhanced in another to achieve the effect.
Like most of Samsung’s earbuds, with the exception of the Buds Live, the Buds Pro offer a balanced audio experience. They do not excel in one area, but they sound good across the board.
The bass is well balanced and satisfying without being too much, handling the punch of the drums in Pusha T and Jay Z’s Drug Dealers Anonymous without falling apart when the exaggerated static effect comes in half way through the track. The clarity of Pusha’s comparatively higher pitched voice comes through cleanly against the other elements and creates a detailed, defined sound alongside the meandering mids and highs of the melody.
Although the Buds can sound a bit flat on electronic/pop tracks that have more complex mids and highs—like The Weekend’s Blinding Lights—in comparison to more accomplished earbuds like the Jabra Elite 85T, but not by much. I do like that the treble is clear and precise. The high-pitched hit of background cymbals on acoustic tracks isn’t drowned out by other instruments in play. What’s missing, though, is the overall richness of the Jabra headphones, which have a fuller overall sound.
The Galaxy Buds Pro cast holds up to 20 hours of charge.
Samsung’s redesigned Galaxy Buds Pro means they don’t offer the Galaxy Buds Plus’ mammoth 11 hours of battery life; the Korean company instead has shifted the power responsibility to the case, which holds up to 20 hours of charge.
The buds themselves last for up to five hours with ANC on (with 13 hours in the case). Samsung says that with ANC off you’ll get 8 hours playback and 20 hours in the case. I haven’t sat and listened to my buds for 8 straight hours, but they do last for days at a time with frequent use between charges.
The Buds Pro support Bluetooth multipoint, which removes the rigmarole of pairing and re-pairing when switching to another device. This is genuinely useful, especially during lockdown as I flit between my phone and laptop regularly when I need some procrastination respite on YouTube.
This is enhanced by Auto Switch, a Samsung-exclusive feature which automatically switches connection between Samsung devices depending on where the audio source is coming from. It works impressively well by quickly snapping between YouTube on two devices with no fiddling or connectivity issues. The catch here, though, is that both devices have to be running One UI 3.1.
I don’t know how common it is to have two or more of the latest Samsung devices in your house. I use a Windows PC and Chromebook as my main computers, so it isn’t a feature I make regular use of and I’m not expecting that to change much. I have a Galaxy Tab S7 that I use for drawing (badly), which is how I tested Auto Switch, but it’s a niche feature that I’m yet to fully benefit from.
The other major advancement is Samsung’s new proprietary scalable codec. The idea is that when listening to content, the codec changes the bit-rate depending on the strength of the Bluetooth connection. The idea is to reduce issues like Bluetooth interference, which occurs when physical objects block signals or the frequency of the signal is overcrowded.
However I have noticed a small number of audio drops when walking around the house. Granted, my home is buzzing with wireless signals slowly frying my brain (according to YouTube), which the Buds have to compete with. I don’t know if this means without the codec the Galaxy Buds Pro would be worse. All I can tell you is that I have noticed connection drops.
Samsung likes to make a strong case for buying into its ecosystem with exclusive features like 360 Audio and Auto Switch. But they don’t massively improve the Galaxy Buds Pro experience. I’m not yet convinced by 360 Audio, and Bluetooth multipoint is a serviceable alternative to Auto Switch.
However, they do sound good, the ANC is impressive and the voice detection feature is genuinely useful. You can get better noise cancelling and audio performance from Sony’s WF-1000XM3 or Jabra’s Elite 85T earbuds for slightly more or slightly less, but Samsung does have a history of eye-watering deals for its wearables. Keep an eye out for major discounts this summer.
I’m a London-based freelance journalist who specializes in all aspects of technology including reviews, investigations, comment and news. I’m a recovering founder of the