Samsung and Sony are two of the biggest names in tech, and today we’re zeroing in on their flagship true wireless earbuds. The Sony WF-1000XM3 has been in the ring for a while now, fending off competitors like Bose and Apple, but this years-old product grows tired. Let’s see if Sony’s earbuds keep up with the shiny and new Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro noise cancelling earphones.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on June 19, 2021, to address the Sony WF-1000XM4 as an alternative.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM3: Fit and hardware
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro leans into a whimsical design without going overboard, and you have your pick of three colorways: black, white, and violet. Samsung ditched the open-fit of the Galaxy Buds Live in favor of a more traditional, sealed fit with the Buds Pro. The sealed design is key to optimal passive isolation which begets optimal active noise cancelling (ANC). You won’t run into an uncomfortable suction sensation with the Galaxy Buds Pro, because each earbud has a pressure-relief vent.
Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, the Galaxy Buds Pro lacks small wing tips and instead relies on rubberized undersides that create just enough friction against your outer ears. This well-engineered design keeps the buds small and secure. An IPX7 rating allows you to sweat without worry when wearing the Galaxy Buds Pro. You can even submerge them for up to 30 minutes, but these aren’t actually swimming earbuds, as they lack onboard storage.
Samsung just loves reflective finishes, and that’s on full display with the Galaxy Buds Pro, where the earbuds’ reflective panels serve as a touchpoint for you to control playback, calls, volume, and more. You can remap the touch controls in the Galaxy Wearable app on Android or disable them altogether. Samsung packed as much hardware as it could into its flagship noise cancelling earbuds, and the proximity sensor enables automatic pause functionality when you remove the earbuds.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 design is starkly different from the Galaxy Buds Pro, as Sony’s buds and case sport an all-black or white matte finish with copper accents. The WF-1000XM3 seal to the ear, and Sony provides a slew of ear tips for you to choose from. Sony didn’t integrate any kind of pressure relief system into its WF-1000XM3 buds, so some listeners may find the seal too strong and uncomfortable.
Similar to the Galaxy Buds Pro, the Sony WF-1000XM3 features a rubberized interior that secures the buds to your ears. Each earbud evenly distributes weight across three points of contact, which makes them very comfortable and secure. The buds lack any kind of water resistance though, so while they may stay in during a workout, they might not endure it if you sweat too much.
You control Sony’s earphones from the touch panel on either bud, and they function similarly to the Galaxy Buds Pro. The touch panels have a more appropriate level of sensitivity than the Galaxy Buds Pro, which often register unintended taps. Sony’s earbuds also support ear detection and automatically pause or resume playback when the buds are removed or inserted. If you want to reconfigure the controls, you must download the Sony Headphones Connect app, which is available on iOS and Android. Currently, the iOS Samsung Galaxy Buds app doesn’t support the Galaxy Buds Pro, though this could change with a future update.
See also: What makes a good set of in-ears?
You’ll find a USB-C charging port on either case, but only the more compact Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro case supports wireless charging. You can also charge the Buds Pro case atop a compatible Samsung Galaxy device thanks to Wireless PowerShare support. Sony doesn’t offer an alternate wireless charging case for its WF-1000XM3 earbuds, so you’re limited there.
Sony WF-1000XM3 vs Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro: Bluetooth connection
The Sony WF-1000XM3 and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro both use Bluetooth 5.0, an energy-efficient firmware, and both are easy to manually connect to a smartphone. Connecting the Galaxy Buds Pro to a Samsung Galaxy handset is the most streamlined and Apple-like option, but this requires you to download the SmartThings app.
Become an expert: Understanding Bluetooth codecs
Both Samsung and Sony’s earbuds support the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. This means that all iPhone owners will enjoy high-quality audio from either pair of earbuds, but non-Samsung Android users are at the mercy of their hardware: not all Android devices properly encode the complex AAC codec, which leads to poor, unpredictable streaming quality. If you own a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, you can enjoy high-quality Bluetooth audio over the Samsung Scalable codec, which effectively works like aptX Adaptive and makes constant adjustments to streaming and connection qualities for the best experience.
Neither headset supports Bluetooth multipoint, but Samsung has a trick up its sleeve in this department too: the Galaxy Buds Pro communicates with a Samsung Galaxy device for automatic device switching as long as every device is registered with the same Samsung account. This technology allows the earbuds to automatically detect and switch to the most recent device for audio playback, and is again, very Apple AirPods-like. To switch source devices with the Sony WF-1000XM3, you must manually disconnect from the first device before you connect the earbuds to the desired device.
Both pairs of earbuds support full mono listening, so you can use either earbud in mono mode. This is a great feature for the hearing impaired, or for listeners who just like to alternate between the left and right bud every now and then.
Do the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro or Sony WF-1000XM3 have better software features?
All Android devices have access to the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app, which supports the Galaxy Buds Pro. The App Store’s Samsung Galaxy Buds app doesn’t provide support for the Buds Pro, but we may see this with a future update. This makes the Sony WF-1000XM3 the more universal headset, as the Sony Headphones Connect app is uniform across operating systems.
The Samsung Galaxy Wearable app lets you toggle between noise cancelling and ambient sound modes, enable Bixby voice access, remap touch controls, choose from different EQ presets, and more. The Galaxy Labs section is where you’ll find experimental features like Gaming Mode (limited to Samsung handsets). The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro can even detect when you’re in a conversation (via its voice pickup unit) and automatically enable ambient sound mode. You can choose the duration of this function through the Galaxy Wearable app.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro support smart assistant voice access, but it’s limited to Bixby.
The Galaxy Buds Pro also supports 360 audio mode through the Wearable app, which is limited to Samsung devices running One UI 3.1 or later. Samsung 360 audio is just another surround sound standard that uses head tracking and verticality for audio processing. It’s a great feature for avid movie watchers but only works with Dolby Atmos content.
The Sony Headphones Connect app is great for audio tinkerers as it provides a custom EQ module where you can make granular adjustments to the sound profile. For a faster approach, you can choose from a handful of presets too. You can also use the app to remap the onboard controls, adjust ambient sound levels, prioritize sound quality or connection stability, and more.
In order to enable Sony 360 Reality Audio, Sony’s object-based audio standard, you need to let Sony analyze your ears from the Headphones Connect app. You can then enable 360 Reality Audio, which is limited to just a handful of music streaming services (Tidal, Deezer, and Nugs.net). Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is more useful to those who listen to music more often than they watch movies, whereas Samsung’s 360 audio solution is better for movie buffs.
Both noise cancelling earbuds have good battery life
The Sony WF-1000XM3 lasts 4 hours, 46 minutes on a single charge with ANC enabled, a whole two minutes less than the Galaxy Buds Pro’s recorded 4 hours, 48 minutes of playtime with ANC enabled. Both cases can fast charge their respective earbuds, with Sony just 10 minutes of charge provides 90 minutes of playtime. When you place the Galaxy Buds Pro in the jewelry box case for 10 minutes, you get 85 minutes of playtime.
Related: How we test
Sony’s charging case is larger than Samsung’s and provides an extra three charge cycles, up to 18 hours of reserve battery. You get a few extra charge cycles from the Galaxy Buds Pro case, or up to 13 hours of extra juice. Again, the Galaxy Buds Pro supports wireless and USB-C charging, while Sony’s case only supports the latter.
Which headset has better noise cancelling?
Both the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3 feature noise cancelling and Samsung’s is better. The higher up the dotted cyan line, the more attenuated a certain frequency range is. Sony was early to jump aboard the noise cancelling true wireless earbuds train, and reigned king of the hill for a while. But newer competitors like the Galaxy Buds Pro and even the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) outperform Sony today. Sony’s noise cancelling just can’t block out low and midrange sounds as effectively as Samsung’s earbuds.
Passive isolation is also better with the Galaxy Buds Pro than it is with the WF-1000XM3. When a pair of earbuds can effectively block out your surroundings just from the reliable seals it forms to your ear canals, high-pitched noises like slamming file cabinets and chatty cubicle neighbors are quieted. ANC doesn’t do affect incidental sounds above 1kHz quite as effectively as lower, predictable ones. All of our charts, be it noise cancelling, isolation, or frequency response, depict performance under ideal conditions. In order to achieve ANC performance reflected by the charts for either headset, you need to use the best ear tips for you, and crank ANC intensity up as high as it will go.
Both Samsung and Sony’s true wireless earbuds amplify bass notes
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro frequency response follows our house curve (pink line), what we posit as the platonic ideal, more closely than the Sony WF-1000XM3. Since there’s less deviation between the bass and midrange reproduction with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro than with Sony’s earphones, the Galaxy Buds Pro is more suited for a variety of music genres. The Sony WF-1000XM3 is a bit more bass-heavy, which many listeners prefer.
The good news is that with either headset you have some degree of EQ adjustment. Sony lets you play with a multi-band EQ module in the Sony Headphones Connect app, while Samsung lets you choose from a handful of sound profiles to best fit your listening preferences. Some smartphones even have their own software equalizer systems built in.
Sony has a trick up its sleeve with DSEE HX processing, which upscales compressed audio to render it near-high resolution quality. This can improve the sound quality of low-quality audio files, but you won’t experience much difference when DSEE HX processing is applied to well mastered, high-quality tracks.
Both earbuds sound very good, and you won’t experience much auditory masking with either headset’s default sound profile.
Is the Sony WF-1000XM3 or Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro better for phone calls?
Samsung spared nothing when engineering the Galaxy Buds Pro’s microphone system, and it shows; this is the best mic quality within the Galaxy Buds line. Samsung integrates mesh hardware to reduce wind noise, which helps when you answer a call outdoors. Sony’s microphone system is very good too, but someone on the other end of a call is more likely to tell you your voice is muffled through Sony’s microphone array. In our test demos, the Sony is louder, but less clear.
Take a few seconds to listen to our microphone samples below and help other readers decide which sounds better.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro microphone demo:
Sony WF-1000XM3 microphone demo:
Should you buy the Sony WF-1000XM3 or Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro?
The last bit of information we need to slot in is cost: the Sony WF-1000XM3 ($228 USD) is usually a bit pricier than the Galaxy Buds Pro ($179 USD), but as of June 18, 2021, Sony’s headset costs just $179 USD making it a bargain.
Generally speaking, unless you absolutely love all things Sony or are partial to the WF-1000XM3 design, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is a better pick for most listeners. The Buds Pro are more durable, support more modes of charging, and boast a uniquely small footprint. Still, it’s not perfect, and the lack of support on the iOS Galaxy Buds app makes these a non-starter for iPhone owners.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 remains among the best true wireless earbuds you can buy, despite its age. Sony’s earbuds are as handsome as they come, and still rock clever processing tricks like Sony DSEE HX. If you need the ability to create a custom EQ or subscribe to a Sony 360 Reality Audio supported service like Tidal, then the WF-1000XM3 is still a great buy. If you want a more compact design and significantly better noise cancelling performance, save up for the Sony WF-1000XM4. These true wireless earphones outperform the Apple AirPods Pro and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro’s ANC.
iPhone owners actually have access to Sony’s companion app to boot, and can take advantage of all the earbuds’ software features. Even still, if you have an iPhone and are ready to pay this much for earbuds, the AirPods Pro is a great headset with better mic quality.