While criticisms over Apple’s AirPods have been mixed, there’s no denying the consequential impact the buds have had on the true wireless earbuds market. Recently, however, Samsung has stepped up to the plate with its answer to the AirPods: beans—or as its buds are formally known as, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, which are in fact shaped like beans.
Equipped with comparable feature sets at a sub-$200 price, you may be wondering which is the better buy? In this Apple AirPods vs Samsung Galaxy Buds Live article, we’ll break down all the features each product offers to see which is worth your hard-earned cash.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on January 16, 2021, to mention the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2.
Simple designs and unique fits
Since the release of the first AirPods, its minimalist design has become iconic among true wireless earbuds as it sports a sturdy, white plastic construction that extends down the length of its elongated stem where the microphone is housed.
With the Galaxy Buds Live, Samsung has opted for a unique, kidney-bean-inspired design. On the other hand, the design of the Galaxy Buds Live has caught the attention of the tech industry due to its unique kidney-bean shaped design, wrapped in a glossy bronze, black, or white veneer. Cooking-related jokes aside, this unique approach to earbud construction allows the Galaxy Bud Live to sit inside your ear, rather than stick out like the AirPods.
Neither earbud will provide an adequate seal
It’s worth noting that both earbuds forgo the use of ear tips, in favor of a one-size-fits-all design. This unfortunately leads to an inadequate seal, allowing ambient noise to interfere with your music.
Learn more: How your in-ear fit matters a lot
The lack of a proper fit also means that your earbuds are likely to fall out of your ears. However, between the two earbuds in this comparison, the Galaxy Buds Live does a better job of staying in your, even during light exercise. This is in contrast to the AirPods, where its stem sticks out and can be accidentally knocked out of your ears, or when toweling off from a long workout.
Both earbuds feature touch sensors, allowing you to control playback directly from your earbuds. However, the AirPods lack any on-device volume adjustments, forcing you to use Siri to control your volume. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Buds Live afford more onboard controls, including volume adjustments and a toggle for active noise cancelling (ANC). You may also customize the controls in the Galaxy Wearable app; this is true for Android or iOS, whereas only iPhone users may remap the AirPods’ controls.
The AirPods and Galaxy Buds Live also feature automatic ear detection. The AirPods’ implementation of this is more versatile: media playback automitically pauses when one bud is removed, and automatically resumes when reinserted. The Galaxy Buds Live require you to remove both earbuds at once for auto-pause functionality, and you must tap either touchpad to resume playback. Apple’s implementation of the feature seems to work more consistently than the Galaxy Buds Live, though this could always be improved with future firmware updates.
The charging case of the AirPods and Galaxy Buds Live are comparable in regards to build quality and functionality. Samsung opted for a jewelry-box inspired case while Apple sticks to its minimalist design language: a clean, Tic-Tac-inspired case with rounded corners. Both cases are built with a hard plastic that is guaranteed to protect your precious earbuds, giving you peace of mind.
Both cases also feature magnets that allow you to securely insert your earbuds, without the risk of having them fall out when holding the case upside-down. However, because the Galaxy Buds Live are placed in the case flat, as opposed to the vertical placement of the AirPods, you may find yourself having to fiddle with the positioning of the Galaxy Buds Live to ensure that the metal charging contact points are aligned.
One notable advantage of the Galaxy Buds Live is that its included charging case supports Qi-wireless charging, which can even be charged using the Wireless PowerShare feature on Samsung Galaxy smartphones. Apple does sell a Qi-wireless charging case for the AirPods, though that will run you an extra $70.
These may not be your next workout earbuds
If you’re thinking of using either of these earbuds for your next gym session, think again. The AirPods feature no water or dust resistance, which is quite concerning since many people are seen using the AirPods at the gym. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Buds Live have an IPX2 rating, which is good enough for a run, but not for an intense 45-minute training session.
Related: Best true wireless workout earbuds
If you’re looking for a pair of workout earbuds that are guaranteed to last, make sure to invest in a pair that has an IP rating of IPX4 or higher.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Compatibility and software features
When it comes to compatibility, each earbud has its own pros and cons on both iOS and Android.
With the AirPods, Apple has never wavered from their walled garden, limiting the complete AirPods experience to iOS devices. While it’s possible to connect the AirPods to an Android device, like any other pair of Bluetooth earbuds, you won’t be able to access key features like touch control remapping or firmware updates. iOS 14 has also introduced some new features to the AirPods, including volume monitoring to indicate hearing health, low battery notifications, and automatic device switching—all exclusive to iOS.
On the other hand, the Galaxy Buds Live are compatible with both iOS and Android, with no major feature limitations on either platform. The earbuds are managed through the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app, which is available on both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Inside the app, you have access to features including EQ presets, firmware updates, touch control remapping, notifications and voice assistant controls.
The app also includes access to Galaxy Labs, which allows you to enable experimental features such as Gaming Mode for minimal audio-video lag—perfect for gaming and video streaming. Galaxy Labs provides users with an interactive sneak peek into potential software updates that could be made available for products like the Galaxy Buds Live.
With the Galaxy Buds Live, there are some device-specific features to be aware of. For starters, direct Spotify access and notification readouts are only available on Android devices. In addition, hands-free access to the Bixby voice assistant is exclusive to Samsung Galaxy devices.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Connection quality and Bluetooth codec support
Since its introduction, the AirPods have presented the tech industry with one of the most seamless device connection processes anyone’s ever seen, thanks to the use of Apple’s proprietary H1 chip.
To connect to the AirPods on an iOS device, all you need to do is open the lid of the charging case next to your device. After a few seconds, a card will appear on your device’s screen, prompting you to connect to the AirPods. Once connected, you get a listening experience with a strong and stable connection with little to no audio lag or cutouts.
If you’re an Android user, the connection process for the AirPods works like any other pair of Bluetooth earbuds. Open the lid of the charging case and hold down the button on the back of the charging case to enter pairing mode. Afterwards, tap on your AirPods in your list of available devices to connect.
Dive in: Understanding Bluetooth codecs
Once connected, you’ll soon realize that the connection quality of the AirPods on Android pales in comparison to iOS. Our tests of the AirPods on Android led to occasional dropouts and audio lag, Sure, you can fix these issues by pausing and playing your music, though this gets quite annoying over time. Tests by our team here at SoundGuys also showed lower audio quality, which can vary depending on the device you’re using. A lot of these connection issues have to do with the fact that the AirPods only support Apple’s processor-intensive AAC codec, which Android has yet to properly implement.
With the Galaxy Buds Live, Samsung is taking Apple head-on when it comes to connection quality and codec support. For starters, the Galaxy Buds Live features a fast pairing process with devices running Android 5.0 and later—similar to Apple’s process. To connect, enable Bluetooth on your smartphone and open the charging case of the Galaxy Buds Live. After a few seconds, a pop-up card which will allow you to connect with the tap of a button.
To connect to an iOS device, simply open the charging case and select “Galaxy Buds Live” from the Bluetooth menu. You should be paired with your earbuds in a matter of seconds.
In terms of codec support, Samsung has skipped support for aptX, opting for AAC, which allows for seamless connectivity with iOS devices. For Samsung Galaxy users, you reap the benefits of the Samsung Scalable Codec, which adjusts the stream quality between 96-512kbps, leading to few or no connection dropouts.
For other Android users, the Galaxy Buds Live streams content using the standard SBC codec. While it may not be as fancy as AAC or Samsung’s Scalable Codec, we doubt you’ll hear any significant differences in audio quality, especially if you’re a casual listener.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Isolation and noise cancellation
One of the hallmark qualities of a good pair of true wireless earbuds is isolation. If your earbuds are designed to create a good seal with your ears, you can expect an enjoyable music listening experience with little to no distractions from ambient noise. Unfortunately, as we’ve already mentioned, both these earbuds miss the mark when it comes to isolation.
Because of the one-size-fits-all design of the AirPods and Galaxy Buds Live, noise such as light winds, cars passing by, and people conversing behind you can easily drown out your music. If you’re indoors in a quiet space, background noise may not be much of an issue. However, if you’re outdoors or in some other loud environment, such as in an airplane cabin, you’ll notice a reduced presence in the sound of vocals or instruments due to auditory masking.
While the AirPods may succumb to the effects of inadequate isolation, the one redeeming factor of the Galaxy Buds Live is its inclusion of active noise cancellation. While it doesn’t hold a candle to the performance of higher-end noise cancelling true wireless earbuds, such as the Sony WF-1000XM3, the Galaxy Buds Live attenuate low-frequency ambient noise, though to what degree depends on how well the earbuds fit.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Both the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live and AirPods have a consumer-friendly sound signature. Let’s start with the AirPods: as you can see in the frequency response graph, these earbuds are designed with an emphasis in the lower frequencies. Unfortunately, due to the poor isolation of the AirPods, kick drums and bass lines are hard to perceive, again because of auditory masking.
Low-mids are amplified with the AirPods, helping vocals come through clearly in both songs and phone calls. High frequencies are also given a slight boost to help sounds such as hi-hats and cymbals stand out, though you may hear a lack of detail—especially when listening to the attack and reverb tail of those instruments.
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With the Galaxy Buds Live, its sound quality is comparable to the AirPods. Though the Galaxy Buds Live suffer from the same isolation issues as the AirPods, the inclusion of active noise cancelling makes it easier to hear low notes as their tuned to sound.
Lower frequencies on the AirPods are hard to perceive, but the Galaxy Buds Live low-end emphasis remains audible. In fact, it can even lead to masking of midrange notes. This effect can make it hard to hear fundamental vocal notes and other popular sting instruments like guitar when accompanied by a complete band.
The treble amplification makes it easier for our brains to process clarity, and can give the illusion of a more detailed sound compared to the AirPods. This may be ideal for fans of electronic or hip-hop music, but not for those who prefer more acoustic-driven tracks.
One of the most notable features of the AirPods is its excellent microphone quality when compared to other true wireless earbuds.
AirPods microphone demo
As you can see from the frequency response chart, the dual-beamforming microphones included with the AirPods emphasize a broad range of frequencies, with frequency drop-offs occurring below 100Hz and above 1500Hz. This allows the microphone to clearly capture voices of virtually any pitch with a high degree of presence and clarity, ensuring that the receiver of your call can actually hear you.
Background noise rejection is excellent, though you can definitely hear some over-processing done to the audio, as evident by the robot-like sounds at the tail end of a person’s speech.
Meanwhile, the Galaxy Buds Live have arguably the best embedded mic system that’s ever been developed by Samsung. Each earbud is equipped with a three-mic array that combines beamforming and bone conduction technology to provide clear audio, all while doing a good job rejecting background noise.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live microphone demo
While the microphone will be more than satisfactory for a phone call, the slight de-emphasis between 200-400Hz may result in a decreased vocal presence for people with deeper voices. A slight de-emphasis can also be heard in the higher frequencies, which leads to a loss in clarity for people with higher-pitched vocals.
Winner: You can decide by voting!
As a general rule true wireless battery life isn’t great, but there’s a clear winner when pitting the Apple AirPods vs Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. To test the battery life of true wireless earbuds, each product is subjected to a constant 75dB(SPL) output until battery depletion.
Between the two earbuds, the Samsung Galaxy Buds came out on top with a tested battery life of 5 hours, 15 minutes with ANC enabled. Without ANC, you get an extended playback time of up to 8 hours, which is closer to the battery life of wireless earbuds (or neckbuds). The charging case stores 21 hours worth of battery, with 5 minutes of charging in the case resulting in an hour of playback time.
The AirPods, on the other hand, lasted 4 hours, 7 minutes when using an iOS device. On Android, playback time was reduced to 3 hours, 29 minutes. However, the charging case of the AirPods can store up to 24 hours worth of battery, with 15 minutes of charging in the case providing you with 3 hours of listening time.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Apple AirPods vs Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: What should you buy?
We’re handing this win to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. Samsung’s offering is an overall better product than the AirPods, equipped with features that make using the product a seamless experience, regardless of your platform of choice.
While the Galaxy Buds Live suffers the same isolation issues as the AirPods, its inclusion of active noise cancelling helps compensate for its inadequate fit. Moreover, the ability to control and customize the Galaxy Buds Live using Samsung’s app on iOS makes these earbuds ideal for even iPhone users. If you’re the proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy device, you enjoy additional benefits including hands-free access to Bixby and support for the Samsung Scalable Codec.
Despite its shortcomings, AirPods still present features that may entice users. For example, the pairing process and reliable connectivity offered by the H1 chip is still unmatched, even compared to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. If you already own an iOS device, you may be comfortable buying a pair of AirPods since you’re already familiar with Apple’s hardware and software integration.
Don’t want either set of earbuds? Consider these alternatives
If you’re looking to stay within the Apple ecosystem, consider the AirPods Pro, which features improved isolation thanks to its implementation of ear tips, in addition to active noise cancelling. Noise cancelling performance is much more effective with the AirPods Pro than with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, because the soft ear tips create a comfortable, stable seal to the ear canal. They’re also more water-resistant, and warranted an IPX4 rating (compared to the Galaxy Buds Live’s IPX2 rating).
For Samsung users who’d rather avoid the bean-shaped design of the Galaxy Buds Live, take a look at the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, sporting similar functionality and improved isolation, though lacking active noise cancelling. You get virtually the same experience as far as software goes, including direct Spotify access and the ability to reassign touch controls. The Galaxy Buds Plus are some of the most comfortable earbuds around, and stay in thanks to the ear and wing tips.
A wonderful budget alternative is the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2. These stemmed buds don’t have active noise cancelling but they isolate better than either of their more expensive competitors here. They have an IPX5 rating and aptX support, and their sound signature can be EQ’d in the companion app.
Frequently Asked Questions
On iOS and Android, firmware updates are handled through the Galaxy Wearable app. Once installed, launch the app and if an update is available, a prompt will appear on your screen. Tap "Update earbuds software", then follow the installation instructions.
Firmware updates for the Apple AirPods are automatically downloaded and installed when you're connected to your iOS or iPadOS device. To check the firmware your AirPods are running, launch the Settings app then go to General, then About, then tap on your AirPods. You should then see the version number in the box labelled Firmware Version. Note that firmware updates are only available when paired with a device running iOS or iPadOS.