The Samsung Galaxy Buds is still an excellent pair of true wireless earbuds to accompany the popular Samsung Galaxy smartphone line. Whether you’re a casual listener or a true wireless fanboy, the Galaxy Buds are an excellent choice with a few forgivable foibles.
Editor’s note: this Samsung Galaxy Buds review was updated on September 7, 2020, to reflect changes in pricing, update frequency response and isolation charts, and include a new mic demo.
Who are the Samsung Galaxy Buds for?
Seeing as the Galaxy Buds were a freebie for those who pre-ordered the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+, they are explicitly for Samsung Galaxy S10 owners. However, that doesn’t preclude the earbuds from being used with other Android devices or iPhones. As a matter of fact, these true wireless earbuds are compatible with the AAC Bluetooth codec, minimizing perceptible lag when used with iPhones.
What are the Samsung Galaxy Buds like?
Much like the Jaybird Vista, the Galaxy Buds sport an all-plastic design. The edgeless shape of the earbuds creates a whimsical look and rounded triangular touch panels grant enough real estate to make commands without frequent mistakes. A marked difference between the Galaxy Buds and the Gear IconX is the lack of onboard storage.
Samsung integrated a dual-microphone array, which operates by alternating between the microphones to attenuate background noise and clearly relay your voice. In practice, this worked well. Unfortunately, the earbuds still struggle outside if there are high winds but can combat background chatter if you’re in a coffee shop.
The dual-microphone array adapts to your surroundings, effectively lessening background noise.
The charging case is a plain, oblong plastic piece that opens hamburger style. Its interior has just enough room to house the necessary inlets for charging the earbuds. On the outside is a single LED indicator, which glows red, green, or yellow to notify listeners of its battery level while the back houses a USB-C input for charging. However, if you misplace the cable or don’t feel like using, you can place it atop your Samsung Galaxy S10 variant just make sure the Wireless PowerShare option is activated from the notification tray beforehand.
You should use the Galaxy Wearable app
Touch panels facilitate call and playback controls, virtual assistant access, and Ambient Sound mode activation. Just like the Sony WF-1000XM3, the Galaxy Buds let you hear your surroundings, keeping you safe. By using the Galaxy Wearable app, you can customize the left and right ear panels’ playback controls. For instance, our review unit is set up so holding the left earbud initiates Ambient Sound mode and holding the right earbud accesses Google Assistant, not Bixby.
From the app, you may set your preferred EQ option: bass boost, soft, dynamic, clear, or treble boost. Below that is a menu where you can choose which notifications are read aloud to you from the earbuds. Then there’s Ambient Sound mode. Rather than temporarily activating it from the earbuds, you can permanently activate it from the app. It lets you adjust how much amplification external noise receives and whether or not voices should be amplified.
Then there are the usual features, like “Find my earbuds” and the option to check for and install software updates. It’s a comprehensive app that I actually found myself using. Granted, it was mainly to toggle Ambient Sound on for running, which is now streamlined with the April 27, 2020, update. Users can benefit from automatic Ambient Sound mode, direct access to Spotify, and Microsoft Swift for quick switching between Windows 10 PCs and mobile devices.
Good for workouts
Speaking of running, these are a fine pair of earbuds for general athletes. While it’s disappointing that they received just an IPX2 certification, it should be enough to sustain arduous workouts. Just keep them out of the water. I really enjoyed using these in the gym; the provided wing tips worked wonders. I only wish that volume controls were also included like with the RHA TrueConnect 2.
Does Samsung include accessories?
Listeners receive the IPX2 water-resistant earbuds, three pairs of silicone ear and wing tips, a 252mAh charging case, and a USB-C charging cable. The included wing tips allow for a secure fit while the malleable silicone remains comfortable for all-day listening. What’s more, the various ear tips are equally as comfortable but may not fit every listener’s ear. If you’re unable to get a good seal with the included options, try looking at third-party tips.
How good is the battery life?
One of the biggest improvements made to the Samsung Galaxy Buds from the Gear IconX is the improved battery life. Our objective testing yielded 6.53 hours of playback on a single charge from the 58mAh earbuds. The 252mAh charging case provides an additional seven hours of playback and 15 minutes in the case affords up to 1.7 hours of playback according to Samsung. Once the case and earbuds are both depleted, charging the devices is easy via the included USB-C cable.
Do the earbuds stay connected?
Unlike many true wireless earbuds, these maintain a stable connection thanks to the Bluetooth 5.0 firmware, but they lack aptX support which is a bummer for non-Samsung Android users. On the flip side, AAC is supported to the main benefit of iPhone users.
After using these for a few weeks (software version: R170XXU0ASC4), it’s apparent that connection stability still has a ways to go with the Galaxy Buds. While it remains reliable in closed environments, taking the earbuds outside welcomes a host of stutters and hiccups. There have been a handful of times when I’ve completely unpaired and repaired the Samsung Galaxy Buds with my galaxy S10e because the issue persisted spanning the length of a few songs.
Samsung does, however, implement its proprietary Scalable Codec. This is compatible with limited Samsung devices operating on Android 7.0 or later. Much like aptX Adaptive, this codec is constantly optimizing bitrate to negotiate between stable connectivity and sound quality.
What do the Galaxy Buds sound like?
The dynamic drivers are tuned by AKG and reproduce a consumer-friendly sound signature that amplifies bass notes above all else. This is good for listeners who listen to a lot of hip-hop and pop, but may not be preferred by those who have eclectic music libraries. Bass notes sound almost twice as loud as mids, which could lead to noticeable auditory masking during percussion sections of your favorite tunes. Isolation performance is above par as these are able to passively insulate the listener from her surroundings if the right ear tips are used.
Editor’s note: media playback for the following section was through the Samsung Galaxy S10e, which is compatible with Samsung’s Scalable Codec.
Lows, mids, and highs
The Punch Brothers’ twangy ballad Jumbo, sounds excellent through the Samsung Galaxy Buds. I was nonplussed by the excellent instrumental reproduction of the mandolin, banjo, and cello. The song begins with each band member playing his respective part: violin, guitar, bass, mandolin, and banjo. Five seconds in, the first guitar slide occurs simultaneously with a banjo strum. At this moment, both sounds remain audible without any egregious masking.
During one of the choruses at 2:37, Chris Thile sings, “Here comes Jumbo, American as gumbo,” which is heavily underscored by aggressive bass picking and strumming of the guitar and banjo. It’s this moment that the song is most at risk of turning into an unclear din, but the Samsung Galaxy Buds handle this moment well, too. Granted, there is some frequency distortion that occurs, mainly to the bass: its harmonic resonance is nearly unidentifiable.
Is the microphone any good?
Since the point of the integrated microphone arrangement is to record the human voice and clearly relay it, rather than record music, we decided to narrow down the microphone frequency response chart to the bounds of the human voice. This one performs well but can’t combat problem sounds. For instance, plosives and fricatives [f, s, th, sh, z, sh] will come through a little louder than other consonants and vowels. In all fairness, this is something that nearly all microphones struggle with even professional ones.
Samsung Galaxy Buds microphone demo:
How do the Samsung Galaxy Buds compare to other true wireless earbuds?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds have seen significant price cuts since their release, making them just over $100 as of November 18, 2019. If you want a premium pair of true wireless earbuds for less than the competition, the Galaxy Buds are the earphones to get. However, if you want to save even more money, there are other fantastic choices like the Creative Outlier Gold. We’re quick to recommend these earbuds because they’re feature-packed and perform consistently well by every measure. Battery life is superb for cheap total wireless earbuds (7.78 hours) as is sound quality, contingent on you enjoying bass-heavy sound.
Related: Best AirPods alternatives
If you want something with a more polished aesthetic, consider the Master & Dynamic MW07 Go. These fashionable earbuds are small and pack a mighty accurate sound signature, boding well for every genre of music. Plus, battery life is remarkable and supplies just over nine hours of playtime on a single charge. Alternatively, a similarly priced smart headset are the Amazon Echo Buds. These earbuds retail for $130 and feature Alexa integration; they’re great for listeners already heavily invested in Amazon’s smart home ecosystem. You don’t, however, get to enjoy sound quality that’s as good as the Galaxy Buds.
Which is better, the Samsung Galaxy Buds or Apple AirPods Pro?
Due to the fact that they can isolate you from the outside world, have better battery life, and better audio quality: the Samsung Galaxy Buds are absolutely better for most than the Apple AirPods (2019). However, the advent of the Apple AirPods Pro makes the Samsung Galaxy Buds a harder sell.
The AirPods Pro noise cancelling true wireless earbuds feature a completely rethought design that includes dedicated nozzles for proper isolation. Apple also uses an advanced DSP to automatically adjust the sound based on live measurements of external noise and noise within the ear canal, allowing for optimal audio reproduction. What’s more, the included Apple wireless charging case is compatible with Qi wireless charging mats. The Apple AirPods Pro are hands-down the better earphones for iPhone users, but they’re also more than twice as expensive than the Samsung Galaxy Buds. Listeners who want a smooth Apple-like experience on their Android smartphones should consider the Google Pixel Buds.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Buds?
Yes, these true wireless earbuds are still an excellent choice for Android users, specifically for Samsung Galaxy S10 owners. The earbuds are remarkably comfortable to wear for hours at a time even with glasses. While the lack of aptX support is a glaring oversight, it makes sense from a Samsung perspective as the company likely aims to push its proprietary Scalable Codec, which works wonders with a Galaxy S10 device.
If you happened to be an early bird, who snagged a pair of free Samsung Galaxy Buds with your purchase, congrats on your excellent true wireless earbuds. Perhaps you’re someone who’s debating the earbuds with a non-Samsung device, though; if that’s the case, the earbuds are still a good deal with solid battery life.
For better battery life and microphone quality, get the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus
Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Plus boast better standalone battery life (11.73 hours on a single charge), and improved call quality thanks to the new microphone array. Although the earbuds are nearly indistinguishable from the first-gen Galaxy Buds, the Buds Plus have neat features like Spotify integration for Android users, which is now available on both generations of the Galaxy Buds headsets. Sound quality has also changed a bit in the update: the Buds Plus place more emphasis on the low-end, making for a more consumer-friendly sound. That being said, if you don’t need the huge battery life improvement or microphone quality, the Galaxy Buds are at an all-time low while offering much of what the new model brings to the table.
What about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live?
The Galaxy Buds Live are Samsung’s newest release. They don’t seal to the ear, but feature active noise cancellation, which is quite a peculiar combination of features. Because of the lack of sealing ear tips, their noise cancelling is unpredictable and inconsistent across individuals. The Galaxy Buds Live and Galaxy Buds Plus have very similar features, but all in all, the Galaxy Buds Plus are the better buy. They boast better battery life, audio quality, and isolation, even without any ANC. The Galaxy Buds Live have very slightly better microphone quality, but the Galaxy Buds Plus are cheaper. To read more on how the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus compare to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, check out our in-depth versus article.
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Frequently Asked Questions
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live have been floating around and are rumored to have a bean-like shape to them. Rumors suggest the Samsung Galaxy Buds X (Galaxy Buds Live) will include active noise cancelling. We expect that other features such as Wireless PowerShare will remain available. Otherwise, we don't yet have a clear understanding of the specifications, and won't know yet of the noise cancellation effectiveness until we get them in for testing. Listeners who know they don't need or want noise cancelling technology will still enjoy the Samsung Galaxy Buds or the premium Galaxy Buds Plus.
Our sister site Android Authority has a comprehensive breakdown of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus vs the Jabra Elite 75t, but the results are similar when throwing the first generation Galaxy Buds into the mix. The Samsung Galaxy Buds have better battery life and more software features, but the Elite 75t buds are no slouch: they last for more than 7 hours on a single charge, and have one of the best wireless headphone apps out there. In short, listeners who value durability and microphone quality should go with Jabra. Those who value comprehensive software updates and comfort should go with Samsung.
In order to get a proper fit with the Samsung Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Buds Plus, you have to take the time to test the included ear tips. If the ear tips are too small for your ear canals, you'll hear background noise and won't feel a suction-like sensation. Conversely, if the ear tips are too large, the earbuds may come loose with even the slightest movement. You can also test out the wing tips: you want them to create some tension against the contour of your outer ear but not so much that they pop out with minimal movement.
In addition to the fact that each earbud must have its own battery, it's also an unfortunate reality of modern true wireless earphones that most designs rely on one earbud to receive the music from the phone and relay it to the other earbud. That means that the "master" earbud—usually the left one—will require more juice to transmit and receive data.