Samsung Galaxy Buds Live Review
The Galaxy Buds Live are an interesting set of true wireless earbuds, featuring an atypical bean-shape design. On paper spec sheet is impressive and matches, if not beats, their main AirPod competition. But sadly, they still fail to fully deliver in one crucial area: audio.
- Comfortable fit
- Improved audio quality on previous gen’
- Decent battery life
- Lack detail on complex genres
- ANC isn’t terribly effective
- Review Price: £179
- 20 hour battery life
- Bluetooth 5.0
- USB C and wireless charging
- Capacitive touch controls
The Galaxy Buds Live are Samsung’s latest Android challenger in the true wireless earbud market.
They differentiate themselves in a competitive space with a top-notch specs sheet and a unique bean-shaped design.
In many ways they deliver on their opening promise, offering decent battery life, an ergonomic fit plus the added bonus of wireless charging. Audio quality is also a step up on the Galaxy Buds Plus. But a few small flaws stop them from matching the performance of rivals such as the Technics EAH-AZ70W and Sony WF-1000XM3, which stops them quite earning a place as one of the best wireless earbuds on the market.
- The Galaxy Buds Live have a kidney shaped design that’s perfect for people that don’t like the feel of traditional tipped in-ear sets
- The Galaxy Buds Live have fairly finnicky touch controls
- The design is comfortable, but means they aren’t great for gym use
The Galaxy Buds Live have an atypical design compared to most traditional true wireless earbuds. They come in a shiny rounded pebble case and look like kidney beans. According to Samsung the shape is designed to ergonomically sit in people’s ears, providing a rock solid fit and seal without the need for “intrusive tips”.
With real world use there’s truth to that claim. The buds fit neatly into my ears and remained firmly in place during a run and while doing a quick high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session, something I wouldn’t expect from a set without tips. The only downside was the seal wasn’t airtight.
The IPX2 water resistance rating is lower than most competing true wireless earbuds, which left me concerned about using them as my primary set of gym or running headphones. If that’s what you’re after and you have more cash at your disposal, the Jaybird Vista or Jabra Elite 75T are great options. If money’s tight, the Edifier TWS6 are a solid choice, though they’re not quite as rugged.
Outside of this, the earbuds feel well made and are comfortable to wear thanks to their lightweight design. The only other minor niggle I have is that, like nearly all the true wireless I test, their capacitive touch controls can be finicky to use.
They let you pause/skip tracks, activate Bixby and turn ANC on/off using various combinations of taps. And for basic stuff they’re fine: a single tap will pause/play incoming audio, while a long press will toggle ANC on/off. But using them out and about and the Galaxy Buds Live would regularly misinterpret inputs, particularly when running.
- The Galaxy Buds have ANC (active noise cancellation), but it’s only powerful enough to block very minor noises
- The Buds Live support fast and wireless charging, making it quick and easy to top up their charge if you have a compatible plate
Thankfully they make up for this by offering solid battery life and call quality. The buds are quoted as offering 21 hours listening time – six hours from the buds with ANC on 15 hours worth of juice in the case. With real world use I got around 5-6 hours listening off a single charge with ANC on, which matches most competing sets on the market. The addition of wireless charging also makes topping up the case fairly easy with a compatible charging pad.
Mic quality is one area the Galaxy Buds Live perform well at. The earbuds feature three built-in mics and a Voice Pickup Unit. Taking calls next to a busy road and the person on the other end of the line could clearly understand what I was saying.
Signal stability and ANC performance are a touch behind the competition, though. While I’ve not had the chance to test the Bluetooth 5.0 connection in busy signal areas such as Waterloo and King’s Cross, I’ve experienced a couple more intermittent drop outs than I’d expect from a set at this price.
On paper Samsung claims the Galaxy Buds Live can reduce background noise to levels under 700Hz, which should make it difficult for the hustle and bustle of the morning commute and general office noise to intrude.
However, I didn’t find the ANC terribly effective. The lack of an airtight seal meant background noise still crept in. Switching it on and off and I genuinely struggled to notice a difference in background noise levels. People looking for solid ANC will be better off with the Sony WF-1000XM3.
- The Galaxy Buds Live offer an inoffensive sound that’s fine for casual listeners, but there are better sounds sets that cost the same
- The Galaxy Buds don’t support the aptX codec, which will be an issue for people with Hi-Res audio libraries
Sound quality is an area Samsung headphones have always struggled in, despite their ownership of heavyweight audio brand AKG.
Past Samsung true wireless, like the Galaxy Buds Plus, offered good enough sound for casual listeners, but never matched more established brands. On paper the Galaxy Buds Live fix these issues with support for the Samsung Scalable Codec. It aims to improve quality and stability by adjusting the bitrate of audio based on the Bluetooth connection strength.
The work has definitely paid off as the Galaxy Buds Live offer better audio than their predecessors, and manage to match the performance of the AirPods Pro.
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The low end is more powerful than the AirPods and, while it’s a little flabbier than I’d like, when coupled with crisp highs it makes simpler music genres sound good. The sound works particularly well with bass-heavy rock, metal and pop tracks; with mid-heavy metal guitar parts pleasingly free of the nasally quality you can hear on other wireless earbuds. For casual listeners the Galaxy Buds Live offer an easy, inoffensive sound.
But at this price there are significantly better sounding true wireless sets. The Galaxy Buds Live aren’t as detailed as other premium options, and this is a combination of the slightly flabby bass and under-represented mids. For basic compositions the issue isn’t all too noticeable, but jump to complex prog, post-rock and classical arrangements and you’ll struggle to identify the more subtle parts.
They also lack dynamism. This is particularly noticeable when listening to swooping post rock and classical crescendos, which lack the swell you’ll get on the Technics.
The Galaxy Buds Live are an interesting experiment from Samsung. During testing we found they offer good enough audio quality for casual listeners, a comfortable fit and solid, but not best in class ANC. As a result:
You should buy them if:
- You’re one of the multitude of people that doesn’t like in-ear tips, but fancies the freedom of true-wireless: the Galaxy Buds are one of a select few options on the market that don’t have in-ear tips.
- You’re a casual music listener that wants a lightweight, reliable set of true wireless: For casual music listeners, the Galaxy Buds Live sound is more than good enough with it them generally matching the AirPods Pro in audio quality.
You shouldn’t buy them if:
- You’re looking for a gym set: Gym goers will be disappointed with the Galaxy Buds Live IPX2 water resistance rating which means they can’t survive serious downpours. Their tip free design also makes them prone to dislodging during animated workouts.
- If you’re a serious music fan: If you are a serious music fan looking for best in class performance the Technics EAH-AZ70W and Sony WF-1000XM3 offer better sound quality and ANC.
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The Galaxy Buds Live do work with Apple iPhones. You can connect them using the iPhone’s Bluetooth settings.
The Galaxy Buds Live do have active noise cancellation. They’re the first set of earbuds from Samsung to support the feature.
During testing we found the Buds are prone to falling out if you’re exercising, but offer a reliable fit when used normally.
ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) uses an array of microphones in a headphone to detect the frequency of the sound coming at the listener, with the ANC chip creating an inverse wave (i.e. opposing sound) to suppress any unwanted external noises.
Qualcomm’s aptX codec can support higher quality audio than Bluetooth alone.
Bixby is a digital assistant by Samsung. It offers similar functionality to Google Assistant and Siri, letting you control SmartThings devices or ask them questions using vocal commands.