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Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro Review

Samsung's back with its Galaxy Buds Pro, and they once again have designs on enticing buyers from the competition with their "intelligent" active noise cancellation, AKG-tuned audio and custom features for Galaxy phone owners.

Verdict

Samsung’s third attempt at dethroning the Apple AirPods, the Galaxy Buds Pro, is the company's finest yet. They're the best sounding Samsung set I’ve tested since the first-gen Galaxy Buds, offering solid noise cancellation, decent mic quality and a robust water-resistant build. The only downside is that their shape can make getting a solid seal tricky, which is a particular annoyance given the sensitivity of their touch controls.

Pros

  • Robustly built, water resistant design
  • Nice neutral audio profile
  • Decent mic quality
  • Reliable ANC

Cons

  • Lack of aptX will be an issue for serious listeners
  • Earbuds shape can make getting a tight seal and reliable fit tricky

Key Specifications

  • IPX78 rating
  • 28-hour battery (18 with ANC)
  • Qi-certified
  • Scalable Samsung Codec, AAC, SBC
  • Intelligent ANC and Ambient mode
  • Auto and manual ANC controls
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Earbud: 19.5 x 20.5 x 20.8mm, 6.3g; Charging Case: 50 x 50.2 x 27.8mm, 44.9g

The Galaxy Buds Pro are Samsung’s latest true wireless earbuds, sitting at the top of their wireless earbud tree.

The buds aim to entice buyers away from the competition by offering listeners “the most intelligent” ANC (active noise cancellation) on the market, AKG-tuned audio and gym-ready IPX78 water-resistance.

After a month testing the earbuds as my primary workout and day-to-day set, I can confirm the Pro are the best Galaxy Buds ever. They’ll be a solid option for most buyers, especially if you own a Samsung Galaxy S21 phone. But a few niggling issues with their fit and touch controls stop them from achieving true perfection. Here’s why.

Galaxy Buds Pro design

  • Similar charge case to the Galaxy Buds Live, but the earbuds have actual ear-tips
  • IPX78 water-resistance makes them one of the most rugged around

Opening up my review unit’s packaging, I was treated to a charge case familiar in design to the Galaxy Buds Live. Square in shape, there’s a single USB-C charge input on its back and the Samsung logo on top. It also supports Qi wireless charging, a blessing if you have a compatible plate.

I was pleased to see the Galaxy Buds Pro ditch the Live’s tip-free, kidney-bean shape and return to a more traditional form factor. While the Live’s tip-free design was a blessing for those who don’t like in-ear tips, in my opinion it was a key factor that hindered achieving a decent seal, impacting audio quality.

Outside shot of Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

Once swapped to an ear-tip that fitted – three silicon options are included – I was able to get a much tighter fit than I could with the Live. However, even with this change the seal wasn’t perfect, due to the lack of wing-tip options supplied with the buds. This is a shame, since the Pro’s IPX78 water-resistance rating makes them more than rugged enough for gym use.

The buds are resistant to water splashes from any direction and can survive submersion at depths of up to 1 meter in water for 30 minutes. I didn’t test the functionality by trying to swim, but they generally stayed secure during my morning ride on an exercise bike.

However, the buds frequently needed reseating during runs, falling out of my ears every five seconds through more animated workouts such as working a boxing bag. If you’re after a pair of buds for gym use then I’d suggest opting for the Jaybird Vista, or BeoPlay E8 Sport.

The Galaxy Buds Pro do feel well built, though, with the plastic material proving suitably scratch-resistant. The case survived an episode of my cat mistaking it for a new toy without any permanent damage. A minor issue is the buds do have a tendency to fly out of the case when met with even moderate force or motion. One tap of my cat’s paw was more than enough to give it a new smaller toy to chase across the lounge.

Galaxy Buds Pro with cat

I’m also not completely sold on the Galaxy Buds Pro’s capacitive touch controls, which enable you to pause incoming audio with a single tap of a bud, or skip tracks with a double touch. The controls work, but in use I found them a touch too sensitive. All too often the buds would respond to an accidental stroke while I was reseating them mid-run, or recognise my palm brushing them as a command.

Galaxy Buds Pro features

  • Supports Qi wireless charging and Samsung PowerShare
  • Solid call quality and voice recognition

Thankfully, the latter issue isn’t a deal-breaker as the buds come with a few cool extras that, for the most part, make up for these minor annoyances. The biggest upgrade on past Galaxy Buds was the addition of ANC.

The Galaxy Buds Pro are the second pair of Samsung in-ears to support ANC. Bose and Sony have traded blows in setting the gold standard for ANC with Apple not too far behind with the AirPods Pro. Samsung has attempted to make its own space in the market by creating what it claims is the world’s smartest ANC.

QI wireless case for Galaxy Buds Pro

ANC is an audio technology that cancels out noise detected by the the earbud’s microphones by creating an inverse wave to block it from interrupting your music.

Working from home through the pandemic, I wasn’t able to test the ANC in all the situations I normally would – on the London Underground, for example. But on the occasions I did engage it, the ANC performed admirably. The Pro easily cancelled out the rumble of a tumble dryer running at full spin in the adjacent room. I was also left ignorant to a war between my two cats that resulted in more than a few items being thrown to the floor.

However, what sets the buds apart from most of the true wireless I’ve tested are the “intelligent” ANC features Samsung has added. Specifically, they have an intelligent Ambient mode and controls for ANC levels. Ambient modes are becoming a common feature on ANC headphones and earbuds. They let in background sound so you can safely use the buds where it’s important to hear oncoming traffic, for example.

The Galaxy Buds Pro aim to take this to the next level by letting the mics detect and adjust both the ANC and volume of audio based on your surroundings. For example, there’s a setting in the Galaxy Wearable app for “voice detection”. This lets the buds tweak the settings when they hear your voice or people in a bid to avoid that awkward moment where you shout a reply after realising someone’s talking to you while listening to music.Galaxy Buds Pro app

If anything, in some scenarios I found the feature worked too well. It kicked into gear the moment it detected my other half talking to me, playing music again once she stopped, saving me from having to remove the buds. But during workouts, I found the mics super-sensitive, activating the Ambient mode if I uttered even the faintest sigh or grunt. This was particularly annoying mid-run as it broke my rhythm.

For those who just want the most powerful ANC all the time there are also manual controls in the Wearable app that let you lock the setting to its highest option, although this eats into the buds’ battery life.

Samsung quotes the buds and case as offering a total of 28 hours of battery with ANC off and 18 with it on. During testing, with ANC on I’d generally get 1.5-2 charges from the case before topping it up, and between 4-6 hours with volumes at around 40-60%. Turning on the Intelligent mode, I was able to extract an extra two hours or so of listening time.

This isn’t a terrible result, but it does put the Galaxy Buds Pro a smidgeon behind other sets I’ve tested, such as the Cleer Audio Ally Plus and Technics EAH-AZ70W, which offer 2.5-3 extra charges out of the case.

Galaxy Buds Pro charge share

Thankfully, the Buds Pro are quick and easy to charge, especially if you have a Qi wireless charge plate, which simply requires you to place the case on top. If you have a recent Samsung S-phone your Galaxy handset can top up the case with Samsung’s PowerShare feature.

This works in the same way as Huawei’s reverse wireless charging, enabling you to top up the Galaxy Buds Pro case using your phone. The feature is simple enough to use: simply pull down Android’s notification panel, click a shortcut and place the buds case on the phone’s back. In my time with the buds, I didn’t find much use for the feature, but I can see it being a last resort if you forget to charge your buds ahead of a long train journey or flight.

Call quality and voice recognition were solid, thanks to the earbuds’ clever mic arrangement. The buds come with three mics and a Voice Pickup Unit (VPU) designed to eliminate background noise. Using the buds to take calls throughout the day, the system worked great and, aside from the occasion I used them mid-run during a particularly windy day, there were no noise issues at either end of the line.

The only custom feature I’m not 100% sold on is the new 360 audio tech. This lets them detect head movements and adjust the audio for the illusion of true 360 sound. Designed to add a layer of immersion for games and films, I found it was a little heavy-handed in tracking your movements, sending incoming sound flying from one bud to the other with the slightest of head tilts.

Galaxy Buds Pro sound quality

  • The Galaxy Buds Pro are Samsung’s best sounding true wireless
  • They offer solid ANC, if you can get a good seal
  • They’re still not the best sounding true wireless…

Audio quality has been a key area in which Samsung Galaxy Buds have struggled. The original Galaxy Buds suffered tonal balance issues and signal dropouts. The Galaxy Buds Plus were too bright and blighted by similar connectivity issues. The Galaxy Buds Live’s design meant it was impossible to get a solid seal and decent noise isolation.

Thankfully, the Galaxy Buds Pro fix nearly all the above issues and are the best true wireless earbuds Samsung has made yet. They feature a two-way speaker setup that combines an 11mm woofer and 6.5mm tweeter.

During testing I found the Pro offer a much more balanced audio profile than past Samsung buds. Listening to complex Jazz fusion arrangements, the alto sax highs didn’t have the overtly bright tone displayed on the Plus. Mid-piano sections also managed to hold a precise, audible part of the sound thanks to the Pro’s more precise low-end. The double bass didn’t have the oomph of more expensive sets such as the Beoplay E8 3rd Gen, but it was suitably clear and precise to get my foot tapping. All-in-all, tonal balance in the Galaxy Buds Pro is a clear step up on Samsung’s past efforts and will be more than good enough for casual listeners.

The only time I noticed any issues was when listening to very bass-heavy tracks. Listening to industrial music, the booming low-end did intrude into mids, and some sibilance creeped into the highs. But, being fair to Samsung, these issues are often heard with such extreme tracks in earbuds.

Galaxy Buds Pro out

Aside from this, the Galaxy Buds Pro offer a suitably detailed listening experience on complex, layered neo-classical and post-rock tracks to give each section enough space to breathe. The only sets I’ve tested that offer a better experience are the more expensive Beoplay E8 3rd Gen and Technics EAH-AZ70W.

A minor complaint is that the buds don’t support Qualcomm’s aptX-HD codec, which will put off serious listeners looking to enjoy the benefits of Hi-Res Audio. However, this issue is partially countermanded thanks to the Galaxy Bud Pro’s compatibility with Samsung’s proprietary Scalable codec.

This codec uses a few tricks to improve signal stability and improve Bluetooth audio quality. Throughout my time with the buds, the tech worked well enough streaming tracks from Spotify and YouTube music – but you will need to pair the buds with a compatible Samsung phone to take advantage of it. Additionally, I suffered signal dropouts running around Deptford park with the Buds Pro connected to the Garmin Fenix 6 Solar running watch, which is an ongoing annoyance with Samsung true wireless.

ANC performance is equally good – but not best in class. During testing, the ANC was powerful enough to drown out the sound of traffic on a nearby road while I was sitting on my balcony. It also managed to just about disguise the rattling of the washing machine when the ANC setting was maxed out. But, high-frequency noises that competing sets, such as the Technics EAH-AZ70W and Sony WF-1000XM3, managed to deal with noises that occasionally overcome the Galaxy Buds Pro. The seal also remains an issue, with a tendency to dislodge making the ANC a moot point on occasion.

Galaxy Buds Pro conclusion

My experience with the Galaxy Buds Pro has been extremely positive. The buds are the best Samsung has made, offering significantly improved audio over their predecessors, reliable ANC and a wealth of extras for Galaxy phone users. As such, the Galaxy Buds Pro are a solid all-rounder.

You should buy the Galaxy Buds Pro if:

  • You’re on the market for an all round solid pair of true wireless
    They aren’t the best wireless earbuds, but if you’re a casual listener looking for a reliable pair of true wireless earbuds then the Galaxy Buds Pro are a brilliant option.
  • You own a Galaxy S21, or other recent Samsung phone
    The Galaxy Buds Pro come with a few cool features that only work with modern Samsung phones. The biggest is support for the Korean firm’s Scalable codec, which during testing markedly improved audio quality and signal stability.

You shouldn’t buy the Galaxy Buds Pro if:

  • You don’t own a Galaxy phone and listen to Hi-Res Audio
    The Galaxy Buds Pro don’t support the aptX HD codec, which will be a pain for serious listeners. If this is a deal breaker then you’d be better off looking at buds such as the Technics EAH-AZ70W and Sony WF-1000XM3.

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