The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live and Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus may have similar names, and released one after the other, but these true wireless earbuds couldn’t be more different. However, though their looks diverge quite a bit, which is actually better?
Editor’s note: this versus was updated on October 10, 2020, to address user-reported connection issues with the Galaxy Buds Live.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live and Galaxy Buds Plus have profoundly different designs
Let’s get the obvious part out of the way first: These buds basically look like they’re from different planets. The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus look a lot like what you’d expect from a pair of true wireless earbuds. These black plastic nubbins have a primarily glossy finish, with replaceable rubber tips. Their build feels a little cheap, but it also keeps them comfortable and lightweight.
Conversely, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are not at all what you’d expect a pair of true wireless earbuds to look like. Instead of the typical bud-and-stem look, these… well, they look like beans. There are no rubber tips here, either. Instead, these are meant to sit just outside your ear canal, held in place only by your outer ear. Like the Galaxy Buds Plus, these plastic buds have a glossy finish on the outward-facing side, with a matte texture covering the side that faces your ear.
However, where the interchangeable rubber tips made the Galaxy Buds Plus comfortable for a wide variety of ears, Lily found the Galaxy Buds Live uncomfortable after just a little while, as the one-size-fits-all approach caused quite a bit of strain on her outer ears. Your mileage may vary, though—if you’re lucky enough to have the correct ear shape, the Galaxy Buds Live might feel just right.
The charging cases look different, but that’s about it
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live come with a square clamshell style charging case modeled after a jewelry box. It’s covered in a glossy finish matching whatever color you bought the earbuds in (they come in Mystic Black, Mystic Bronze, and Mystic White). The case has a pretty distinctive look to it, especially compared to the Galaxy Buds Plus. The charging case for Samsung’s older true wireless earbuds looks pretty standard. This is a plastic, oblong case that just kind of looks like a tube.
However, while the cases look very different, they have a lot of features in common. Both hold their earbuds in magnetically, allowing clumsier users to not have to worry about failing to charge due to a bad connection. Both cases also support charging via USB-C, as well as Samsung’s Wireless PowerShare service, which lets you charge the case by placing it on the back of a compatible Samsung smartphone, as well as wireless charging with an Qi-certified charger.
These earbuds sport identical connection options, for better or worse
Both the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live and Galaxy Buds Plus are true wireless earbuds, and thus use Bluetooth to connect to compatible devices. Both products support up to Bluetooth 5.0 firmware, and use the Samsung Scalable Codec, which actively balances and re-balances sound based on connection quality. Both also support AAC, which is great for iPhone users, but not so much on Android.
When first announced, Samsung said the Galaxy Buds Plus would support Bluetooth Multi-Point connections, which allows headphones to pair with more than one device at once, to make it easier when switching back and forth. However, by the time the Buds Plus launched, was mysteriously absent. It’s still absent in the Galaxy Buds Plus, and unfortunately absent in the Galaxy Buds Live as well.
Neither the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live nor the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus review units struggled with connection issues during our testing. However, Galaxy Buds Live users have reported connection issues when using the headset outside. We’ve experienced this issue without other true wireless headsets, and it is a common complaint of the technology.
The Galaxy Wearables app brings pretty much all the same features to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus have better battery life
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live don’t necessarily struggle with battery life, lasting for about 5 hours, 15 minutes on a single charge. They’re pretty well squarely in the middle of the pack. The included charging case can hold two and half charging cycles, which makes that a little easier to bear, too.
However, where the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are just average, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus are best-in-class. These true wireless earbuds lasted 11 hours, 44 minutes on a single charge in our testing—more than twice the capacity of the newer product. The charging case unfortunately can only cover one full recharge, but that’s still over 20 hours of overall playback time, compared the Galaxy Buds Live’s just over 12 hours.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus offer more accurate sound
Both the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live and the Galaxy Buds Plus feature speakers tuned by AKG, and while their frequency response charts follow similar patterns, the Galaxy Buds Live is a little more extreme. The Galaxy Buds Plus also feature a dual-driver system, using a discreet woofers and tweeters, which Lily found sounded excellent and really made vocals come through clearly. The dynamic drivers of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live just can’t keep up, especially coupled with how establishing a decent seal is basically a crapshoot.
This discrepancy is reflected in the true wireless earbuds’ frequency response charts. While both buds show a notable over-emphasis in the bass range up until around 200Hz, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are considerably more emphasized. When the curve peaks, around 60Hz the newer earbuds approach 10dB louder than on headphones with a more neutral profile, which means sounds around this will sound almost twice as loud as they should. For reference, 60Hz is roughly at the very beginning of the audible vocal range, so an added emphasis from there on can have pretty noticeable effects.
The story is similar in around parts of the frequency spectrum. Where the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus show a slight over-emphasis around 1000Hz, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live also over emphasize sound, but much louder and for more of the high end, until around 4000Hz. Overall, neither products sound bad, but one is definitely more accurate (hint: it’s the one with rubber tips).
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus have more consistent isolation, even without noise cancelling
If there was one feature the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live touted more than anything, it was a brand new noise cancelling system that didn’t rely on sealing the ear. In fairness, the feature works, but only barely. While the active noise cancelling does a little to block out low end noise, ANC has never been the kind of thing to block out incidental sounds, which usually live on the higher end of the spectrum. It’s for the whirr of a fridge or the hum of an engine, but not so much for a car horn or a person talking to you—those of the kinds of sounds that the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live completely fails to isolate you from.
As the charts show, while the bass range attenuation of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus doesn’t do a lot, the mid and high range sound result absolute dwarfs the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. If anything this just serves as a stark reminder of the importance of achieving an adequate seal in isolating you from sound. A couple of rubber tips will often do a lot more for you than a hybrid noise cancelling microphone array. Obviously when the two work together, the results can be pretty special, but neither of these are doing that. If you want a good example of true wireless earbuds with active noise cancelling, products like the Apple AirPods Pro or the Sony WF-1000XM3 if you’re on Android.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live have more accurate microphones for calling
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live has a very solid microphone array for making calls. However, while its microphone is a little more accurate than the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, they’re the audio quality is pretty well indistinguishable side by side. If you’ve been reading this, desperately waiting for the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live to seize some kind of advantage and come out on top in this Vs, sorry to burst your bubble.
To be clear, neither of these true wireless earbuds have anything approaching broadcast quality microphones—they’re still a little hollow sounding, and little grainy. However, they both do a good job attenuating background noise and just catching the speaker’s voice clearly. Listen for yourself:
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live microphone demo:
Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus microphone demo:
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus are the better option where it really counts
Sure, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are shiny and new, but new isn’t always better. The Galaxy Buds Plus and Galaxy Buds Live share a lot of features. They have identical codec support, similar software features, and even their charging cases do exactly the same thing. On paper, they should be neck and neck, but they just aren’t.
In areas like battery life, sound quality, and isolation—what I affectionately call: “the stuff that matters”—the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus offer a lot more to bargain hunters and commuters alike. They have best-in-class battery life, excellent sound, and very good isolation. In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live have decidedly average battery life, decently accurate sound, and isolation that struggles thanks to an unsealed ear canal.
When we bring price into the matter, it’s that much more lopsided. At full price, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus are $50 cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. Given they’re a year old at this point, further drops and sales wouldn’t be too shocking to see, either.
Frequently Asked Questions
In all likelihood, it didn't cost as much to develop/design/etc. The ANC unit in the Buds Live is fairly unique in the world of true wireless earphones, especially given that it functions on a set of unsealed earphones!