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Lifewire / David Kukin
Lack of noise cancellation
Samsung Galaxy Buds+ are a good companion for virtually any Android device and can serve you almost just as well on iOS and Windows devices. The battery life is amazing and if you listen to a lot of podcasts—as I do—you’ll be thrilled to find that the Buds+ are rarely out of juice.
With a sub $150 price, perhaps I shouldn’t expect noise cancellation. Still, I want better sound quality and hope that Samsung can fiddle with the software a bit to make that so.
We live in the age of earbuds and like so many other tech categories, most brands and models are merging in features, performance and, to a lesser extent, design. In general, if you pay between $99 and $249, you will get a decent-to-excellent pair of in-ear Bluetooth headphones that check most if not all the necessary feature boxes.
Samsung Galaxy Buds+ ($149), the follow up to Samsung Galaxy Buds, fall somewhere in the middle of the pack on price, performance and features. I’m generally pleased with the design, which is isn’t noticeably different from the original, and they still provide a surprisingly comfortable and secure fit. I like, but don’t love, the sound. I’m happy with the touch sensitivity, but desperately miss the active noise cancellation I find on Apple’s AirPods Pro and even the inexpensive (if bulky) Amazon Echo Buds.
Where the Galaxy Buds+ truly excel is in all-day battery life. That alone should put them on your consideration list.
Before I go much further, though, let’s dig into what makes Samsung Galaxy Buds+ tick.
Instead of a wholesale redesign, Samsung focused on a couple of key areas that may drastically improve the original Buds’ performance. One is, obviously, sound quality. Instead of the single driver, the new Buds+ squeezes in a 2-way dynamic woofer and tweeter. Samsung also significantly increased the battery life, promising 11 hours on the buds alone. You can get one more full charge from the included wired and wireless charging case (for a total of 22 hours of battery life).
The Buds+ are also better listeners, too, with an extra set of microphones to hear and manage external audio during phone calls.
Despite those extra mics, there’s no noise cancellation here, which is an almost inexcusable omission if Samsung has any plans to compete with the Apple AirPods Pro juggernaut.
Despite the extra technology, the new earbuds are essentially the same size as the original Samsung Galaxy Buds. They are also comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time. During my battery test, I wore the Buds+ for six hours straight. It’s a good, tight fit that never fell out of my ears. The Buds+ do ship with extra ear tip sizes (I use medium) and wing tips to improve the fit. I didn’t need the latter.
Setup with any Android phone is straight forward. I downloaded the Wear app and the Buds+ plugin (I wish Android came with at least Wear pre-installed). The app discovered the Buds+ and I tapped once to connect them. I also had the option of connecting directly through the Bluetooth interface, but then I lose some of the Buds+ system-level controls found in Wear.
The Buds+ will also connect to iOS, though with some limited functionality, and even connected to my Windows 10 system.
The Wear app offers details on battery life and settings for notifications, touchpad controls, and the ambient sound settings. A slider lets you set how much ambient noise you want to hear. I used the slider and the toggle control but noticed no difference when listening to music. But enabling Ambient Noise during my phone calls did make a difference: Not only was call quality excellent on both sides, I could clearly hear my own voice during the call and, thanks in part to the beam-forming mics, my wife said she heard me loud and clear. Ambient Noise basically uses the mics to deliver the sound of my voice to me, while filtering out extraneous background noise that I didn’t want to hear during the call.
I left ambient sound on as I headed out of work and onto the bustling streets of New York City. As I started playing a podcast, I was assaulted by wind noise. I realized that the ambient sound setting turned on mics that basically fed the shrill sound of wind buffeting the Buds+ directly to my ears. As soon as I switched off ambient sound, the wind noise stopped.
Even with ambient sound off and a solid seal between the Buds+ and my ears, my podcast and any music I listened to still competed with street sounds. Once again, I really missed noise cancellation.
This is the first set of Bluetooth earbuds I’ve used that includes a software equalizer. The settings of Normal, Bass Boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear, and Treble boost made some difference, but none of it was better than normal mode.
As I mentioned, the touchpad control settings also live in Wear. You can choose to leave the touchpad on the default, which is voice control (for Bixby which heard my query, but instead of telling me the answer, wanted me to pull out the phone and look at search result), Ambient Noise, a Direct access to Spotify (awesome if you are a Spotify music user—I prefer Apple Music and would love the option to customize this setting), and the ability to turn volume up and down.
My preference is to have the left bud control volume down and the right volume up. In both cases, I would touch and hold to raise or lower the volume. I can also tap to play or pause or use multiple taps to skip back and forth between tracks, and to make and receive calls. I also appreciate that the software lets you lock touch controls so they don't change if you accidentally tap or brush the Buds+.
Despite a good seal and all that extra audio hardware, the audio quality was good, but not always great. Vocals sounded a bit distant, the treble was often not that sharp, and bass barely exists. The music played in the center of my skull, but it didn’t quite fill the space. I still prefer the audio and the "impressive for their size" bass I get from my AirPods Pro, especially when I can enable active noise cancellation.
On Always Something There to Remind Me from Naked Eyes, the opening notes sounds crisp and bright. But on I Don’t like Mondays by The Boomtown Rats, the violins sound pleasing but not well-separated. The piano fared better, offering some nice sharp highs, but there was still precious little bass throughout the song. Multiple episodes of the podcast This American Life sounded great.
Taken as a whole, the audio quality is good, but I think audiophiles could find it lacking.
Connectivity was solid. I could walk almost 50 ft away from my phone and still maintain a solid Bluetooth 5.0 connection. Oddly, the connection sometimes broke down when the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ were just inches away from phone. My office is full of computers and Bluetooth headsets, so perhaps this isn’t surprising.
Samsung rates the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ for 11 hours of playtime and it did not disappoint. I played music and podcasts from sunrise to sunset, finally draining the first full charge as I arrived home from work. If I wanted to keep listening, I simply popped the Buds+ back in their case and got a quick hour of playtime in a few minutes. With an additional full charge (total of 22 hours between the Buds+ and case), and a few hours of play each day, I could probably make it through almost a week of listening before I had to plug the case into a USB-C charger (or put it on a Qi wireless charging base).
With a sub-$150 price, perhaps I shouldn’t expect noise cancellation. Still, I want better sound quality and hope that Samsung can fiddle with the software a bit to make that so.