Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro Review

Impressive features and sound quality make these earbuds some of the best

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4

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

What We Like
  • Rich, balanced sound quality

  • Pretty comfortable

  • Excellent build quality

  • Tons of extra features

What We Don't Like
  • Lackluster battery life

  • Active noise cancellation is limited

  • Design isn't for everyone

While there are a few drawbacks to these earbuds, they are truly impressive on sound quality alone.

4

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

We purchased the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro so our reviewer could put them to the test. Keep reading for their full product review.

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are, in a lot of ways, the first truly competitive Bluetooth earbuds dedicated to the Android platform. That isn’t to say the original Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Buds Live aren’t excellent true wireless headphones. But with the latest Pro-level release, Samsung is finally bringing the full slate of features into the mix, making them a viable option for those who want the convenience of AirPods Pro but own Galaxy devices.

Features include active noise cancellation (ANC), audiophile-style drivers, and tons of extra controls specifically for the Samsung platform. I’m primarily an iPhone user, but my main tablet is a Samsung Galaxy Tab S7, so I grabbed a pair of the earbuds to test with both a Galaxy-native workflow and a Bluetooth-only experience. Here’s how it all panned out.

Design: Very glossy, very Samsung

The design of the original Galaxy Buds is something I would call “simple and sleek." This holds true for the “Plus” version, but when Samsung dropped the Galaxy Buds Live, the infamous bean shape took consumers by surprise. Some people loved it, others hated it.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

The thing I find most distracting about the design of the Buds Pro was the insanely shiny metallic plastic used on the outside. To be fair, this is the design language that Samsung uses on many of their flagship phones, so it’s no surprise to see glossy, colorful options here in the Galaxy Buds Pro. While the bean shape is no more, there’s just no mistaking that these glossy earbuds will stick out when you’re wearing them.

I do like the profile and shape of the earbuds, cleverly hiding a rubbery bulge that adds stability and sits nice and flush in your ears. The case is also pretty solid, measuring only a couple of inches in each direction. So, particularly if you go for the black version I purchased, the design does feel sleek and modern for the most part. But if you prefer a matte finish on your earbuds, you won’t find it here.

Comfort: Pretty nice, but a little tight

Thanks to the subtle ear fins, the original Galaxy Buds provided a nice, sporty fit that worked well for my ears. When I first unboxed the Buds Pro, I was disappointed to see that Samsung did away with the ear fin. But if you look closer at the shape, you’ll see a slight bulge that takes on the shape and rubber exterior that an ear fin would, and this actually provides a nice hold in your ears, as long as you appropriately twist them when inserting the earbuds. 

The other side of the comfort coin is how they feel pressed into your ears. Samsung has taken an interesting approach here. These earbuds do fall into the tighter camp, sitting pretty far into your ears. While this is normally a larger issue for me (I don’t like stiflingly tight fits for my earbuds), Samsung has added a metal grill that acts as an air vent.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

This means that the earbuds, though tight, provide a degree of breathability. It also has some implications for sound quality, which I’ll get into later. Overall, at less than half an ounce each and occupying a small footprint, these earbuds are about as comfortable as you’d expect from the premium price point, but not quite my favorite.

Durability and Build Quality: Built to last

One of the biggest reasons to go with earbuds from Apple or Samsung is that they bring a lot of premium materials over from their smartphone and tablet manufacturing. The first aspect you'll interact with in a pair of true wireless earbuds is always the case, and how a battery case is built tells you a lot about the quality of the overall product.

The case that comes with the Galaxy Buds Pro is sleek, compact, and offers a nice, satisfying snap when you close it. It is a little difficult to open if you aren’t pressing your fingers under the lid at just the right angle—meaning the magnet is a tad too strong. But overall, it feels good.

Samsung has built in IPX7 water resistance on the earbuds themselves, too, which means you can submerge them for up to 30 minutes in 3 feet of water without issue.

The Buds themselves are also nicely built. Most of the construction consists of a thick, soft-touch rubbery material. Even the super-glossy plastic on the outside feels really durable, even though it looks a little chintzy for my tastes. This glossiness does seem like it’s prone to scuffs and scratches, so be aware of this when putting the earbuds down on a table.

Samsung has built in IPX7 water resistance on the earbuds themselves, too, which means you can submerge them for up to 30 minutes in 3 feet of water without issue. This has been tested in a lab with clean water though, so I don’t recommend submerging them intentionally. But, you’ll likely be totally fine in the rain.

Sound Quality and Noise Cancelling: Impressively well-rounded

The “Pro” distinction with these earbuds is probably most apparent in their sound quality. Samsung has opted for a double-driver build with these headphones. There’s an 11-millimeter main driver that will support most of the spectrum in your music, plus a 6.5-millimeter tweeter that has been optimized for the upper end of the spectrum. These two speakers have been tuned with best practices supported by AKG.

Plus, the air vent Samsung has added allows for the sound stage to “breathe” a little, making for much better presence in sound. All of this amounts to a balanced sonic response, particularly thanks to the dual-driver build. Any time you focus two different speakers on two distinct parts of the spectrum, you take the pressure off either of them having to support the whole spectrum. This allows for truly nuanced sound, and in practice it impressed me.

The active noise cancellation involved here wasn’t nearly as impressive, unfortunately. I think this has just as much to do with the lack of physical isolation from that air vent as it does the noise cancellation technology. To be clear, the earbuds do blot out a good amount of consistent room tone, but they just aren’t anywhere near the level that Apple AirPods Pro or Bose QuietComfort Earbuds offer. The transparency mode, on the other hand, is perfectly serviceable, making these earbuds great for walking around.

There’s an 11-millimeter main driver that will support most of the spectrum in your music, plus a 6.5-millimeter tweeter that has been optimized for the upper end of the spectrum.

The last point to mention in this section is the 360-degree audio. Activated through the Samsung Wearables app, you can set up the earbuds to “position” your source device in one spot, and the 360 audio will track that spot when you move your head. It’s a cool little gimmick, but nothing super useful in reality, in my opinion.

Battery Life: Nothing mind-blowing

With headphones like the Galaxy Buds Pro, you’d expect to see the absolute best in all categories, but one key aspect that’s lacking here is long battery life. The earbuds themselves seem to offer about 5 hours of use on a single charge, with an additional 18 using the charging case. To be fair, these numbers aren’t the worst I’ve seen, but they are far from the best.

Things like active noise cancelling, proximity sensing, and 360-degree audio all seem to drain the batteries pretty heavily.

What’s more disconcerting is that these hour totals swing wildly when you use the extra features a lot. Things like active noise cancelling, proximity sensing, and 360-degree audio all seem to drain the batteries pretty heavily.

It’s not all bad news, though. Samsung’s impressive fast charging capabilities will allow the earbuds to load up an hour of play time with a simple 5-minute charge. This performance is best seen when using a direct USB-C connection, but the case is Qi wireless-enabled, so you can just drop the battery case on your charging pad at night to juice them up. These extra features are nice, but I just can’t help thinking these earbuds would be more compelling with even an extra few hours of listening time.

Connectivity and Codecs: A nice overall experience

One of the best reasons to go for a Galaxy Buds product over another brand is the ease of connectivity to Samsung Galaxy devices. Mimicking what Apple offers with AirPods, simply flipping open the Galaxy Buds’ case will trigger a popup prompt on your Galaxy devices, allowing you to easily connect them without fishing through a Bluetooth menu.

This works only for Galaxy devices, however, so even other Android phones can’t take advantage of this. Once the earbuds are connected, you won’t find much of a signal drop out, and I found very few of the hiccups I’m used to with other true wireless, Bluetooth earbuds.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

The other factor to consider here is codecs. Bluetooth, as a technology, forces your music to be compressed in order to instantaneously transfer audio. The usual codecs that do this are SBC and AAC, and those two are found on most earbuds (including the Buds Pro). But both of these codecs do create some minor loss to your source audio file’s resolution.

Many earbuds opt for the third-party Qualcomm aptX codec, but Samsung appears to go for a proprietary “Samsung Scalable” codec. In general, this codec feels pretty efficient, and I found both the latency and sound quality to be impressive on my Galaxy Tab S7. I did notice a slight change when using the earbuds on a non-Samsung device (my iPhone in this case), but it isn’t the biggest deal. The moral of this section is: If you are a Galaxy user in general, the Galaxy Buds Pro will connect easier and sound just a little bit better.

Software, Controls, and Extras: More than you’ll probably need

With some of the drawbacks on battery life, it’s clear Samsung is making a choice here: More features equals a better product. When paired with the Galaxy Wearables app, these earbuds do offer quite a bit for the money. I’ve already discussed the adjustable ANC and transparency modes as well as the 360-degree audio.

One interesting point with the transparency mode is this “speech recognition” option. When enabled, the earbuds will register when you are talking and will pause your music for a predetermined amount of time and automatically toggle on the transparency mode. The theory here is that you’ll start talking only when you want to have a conversation, at which point, the earbuds will get out of the way. This feature is sort of hit or miss and can be annoying if you just want to say a few quick words to a friend (rather than a whole conversation), but it’s nice to have the option.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

There are also lots of little extra features. You can turn on a “Block Touches” mode which prevents the sometimes-annoying mistouches on the earbuds. You can mold the EQ to your needs, set your Bixby/voice assistant preference, and even locate lost earbuds.

There’s a section in the app called “Samsung Labs” which will, theoretically, feature new experimental features down the road. Right now, the only option on my list is a “Gaming Mode” which purports to better sync your audio when playing mobile games. Overall, the package is really nice, but it comes at the expense of the battery life.

Price: Steep but manageable

Apple AirPods Pro come in well over $200, and it’s nice to see that Samsung launched the Galaxy Buds Pro at $199. However, at the time of writing this review, you can purchase the earbuds from the Samsung site for $169.

This is par for the course for Samsung, so if you’re in the market, it’s not a bad idea to wait a few weeks for Samsung to run a sale. Overall, the price for the feature set is perfectly reasonable. There are some drawbacks—I don’t love the design and the battery life isn’t exactly “pro-level”—but the price is definitely not unreasonable.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs. Apple AirPods Pro

The two smartphone titans are competing directly against each other on feature set with these earbuds. Both headphones work best with their home ecosystem, they both sound great, and they both cost right around $200. The AirPods do a bit better in the noise cancelling department, but to my ears, the Buds Pro feel just a little more balanced in sound quality.

Final Verdict

The pro earbuds Samsung fans have been waiting for.

The original Galaxy Buds just offered sound isolation, while the Galaxy Buds Live offered a transparency mode. Now that the Buds Pro are out with active noise cancellation, a transparency mode, a comfortable fit, and really impressive sound quality, it finally feels comfortable saying that Galaxy Buds offer a pro option. Better battery life would have made these a complete no-brainer, but if you are already in the Galaxy ecosystem, the Buds Pro really are an excellent buy.


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Specs

  • Product Name Galaxy Buds Pro
  • Product Brand Samsung
  • MPN SM-R190NZKAXAR
  • Price $199.99
  • Release Date January 2021
  • Weight 0.2 oz.
  • Product Dimensions 0.81 x 0.77 x 0.82 in.
  • Color Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, or Phantom Violet
  • Battery Life 5 hours (earbuds only), 23 hours (with battery case)
  • Wired/Wireless Wireless
  • Wireless Range 30 feet
  • Warranty 1 year
  • Audio Codecs SBC, AAC, Samsung Scalable
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