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Sound and Vision: Samsung’s wireless earbuds need to go further if it wants to be a true contender

Another Samsung Unpacked event has flown by with the South Korean electronics giant revealing the products it’s releasing for the rest of 2021. The Galaxy Watch 4, Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 took top billing, rendering the Galaxy Buds 2 as more filler than killer.

Samsung has launched a bundle of true wireless headphones in the past few years – by our count, the Galaxy Buds 2 mark the fifth true wireless of the last two years.

To be fair that’s just a couple more than Sony, but Sony has spread them across premium, budget and fitness areas. Samsung has focused more on the mid-range, with the Galaxy Buds Pro sticking their head above the parapet with their £220 price.

As such, when Samsung launches new true wireless, it often feels that it’s either more of the same or functions as an update to a model set to be discontinued. The Galaxy Buds Live are the outlier to this view, taking an ambitious approach with its design but was still a product that missed as much as it hit.

The outside perspective is that Samsung treats true wireless headphones like accessories to the Galaxy smartphones rather than headline features.

There is synergy to be had – the Buds 2 provide seamless switching between Galaxy devices – but when does being wedded to the Galaxy ecosystem become a hindrance, limiting the capabilities and appeal of these headphones?

Even in Samsung’s press releases the headphones feel like footnotes – side courses to the main meal. I’ve never felt there was a clear strategy with regards to its headphones and the Buds Live aside – they all feel like they’re trying to be everyman (or every-Galaxy) type of headphones that robs them of some individuality.

Samsung Galaxy Buds front on green

While the Galaxy Buds range has improved to become solid enough options, as we’ve consistently stated in our reviews there are better-sounding efforts available. Currently they’re not close enough to jostle with the likes of Bose, B&W or Sony.

That also brings into the discussion the role of AKG. AKG is an established audio brand and was one of the bigger names in the headphone market six to seven years ago, but now has drifted under the parent ownership of Samsung. Go to the AKG website to purchase some headphones and you’re shuffled off to purchase them from the Samsung site instead, which feels odd.

AKG’s role with the true wireless efforts appears to be in the tuning of the sound for recent earbuds, but as we’ve noted there are better-sounding options, so how much of an influence can they affect? I’d actually be much more interested if AKG were left to their own devices to create a true wireless and see what becomes of that, rather than one item on a recipe Samsung is assembling.

What Samsung needs is a statement of intent. An AirPods Pro or QuietComfort Earbuds or a WF-1000XM4. What it doesn’t need is another box-ticking exercise as many of Samsung’s earbuds and headphones feel. They need to deliver an outright demonstration of what the Galaxy Buds can be. Given it is Samsung/Harman, they can certainly do innovation and they need to do so to give the class leaders something to think about.

Until it does, Samsung’s headphones will always be pretenders rather than true wireless challengers.

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