Although Samsung was a bit late to the party with its true wireless earphones, the Galaxy Buds range has slowly and gradually become competitive with the Apple AirPods series. What is particularly noteworthy about Samsung's true wireless earphones is the pricing; these earphones are usually significantly less expensive than Apple's equivalent products. Not just that, Samsung's range undercuts much of the competition including Sony, LG, Jabra, and Sennheiser. The recently launched Galaxy Buds Pro sticks to that strategy.
Priced at Rs. 15,990 in India, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro matches up to much of the competition when it comes to specifications and features. This includes active noise cancellation, wireless charging, and support for the Scalable advanced Bluetooth codec. It's also a capable successor to the rather strange Galaxy Buds Live thanks to one key reason: a proper in-canal fit. Is the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro now the best pair of true wireless earphones priced under Rs. 20,000? Find out in our review.
Samsung launched the Galaxy Buds Live in late 2020 with active noise cancellation and other premium features, but the strange bean-like shape of the earpieces meant that there were some issues with the fit. The biggest change in the Galaxy Buds Pro fixes exactly that problem. With a traditional in-canal fit and more attention paid to getting sound isolation right, the Galaxy Buds Pro is a more conventional pair of noise cancelling true wireless earphones.
The ear tips do significantly contribute to this, and three pairs are included in the box. However, the well-crafted inner moulding of the earpieces is what truly ensured good noise isolation and a comfortable fit for me, when worn properly. The insides of the earpieces also have proximity sensors, charging contact points, and a microphone each, while the outsides have a glossy finish with touch-sensitive zones and two microphones each. The earpieces are IPX7-rated for water resistance, and will be able to handle significant levels of water exposure with no real risk of damage.
With the Galaxy Buds Pro, Samsung has tried to infuse a more premium look and feel into its audio range. While the glossy finish, colours, and styling do arguably give the earphones that kind of vibe, and they do match well with current-generation Samsung smartphones, I actually preferred the fresher, more modern look of the Galaxy Buds+.
The earphones are available in three colour options: violet, black, and silver. Although the violet colour option is the most unique of the lot, I didn't quite like it as much as the much more sophisticated looking black colour.
The touch sensors on the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are simple and slightly customisable; the basic tap controls for playback and answering calls can't be changed, but the long-press gesture is customisable through the companion app. You can set this to control the noise cancellation and ambient sound modes, volume, or Bixby, or to quickly launch Spotify on the paired smartphone. I used a combination of noise control switching and Spotify, but I liked that I could set this gesture to control volume when needed.
Like earlier headsets from Samsung, the Galaxy Buds Pro uses the Galaxy Wearable companion app for Android. The Galaxy Buds app for iOS supports earlier models, but doesn't have support for the Galaxy Buds Pro at the time of writing this review. You can still pair the Buds Pro to an iOS smartphone using the standard Bluetooth pairing process, but customisations and adjustments won't be possible until the app is updated.
The app on Android remains largely unchanged, and sets up a product-specific profile for the Galaxy Buds Pro when paired. Settings within the app include the ability to switch between ANC and ambient sound mode, set the ANC and Ambient Sound levels, use the voice detect feature, customise the touch-and-hold controls, update the firmware, adjust the equaliser, and more.
‘Voice detect' is an interesting new feature on the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. It activates the ambient sound mode and reduces the volume of whatever's playing when it hears the user's voice, similar to the Speak-To-Chat feature on the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. However, this didn't always work as expected; speaking softly or even at moderate levels often wasn't enough to activate the feature. It's a useful touch, but perhaps needs some software optimisations to work properly.
The charging case is compact, matches the colour of the earpieces, and is pretty much identical to the charging case of the Galaxy Buds Live on the outside. The USB Type-C port is at the back, and fast charging support should give you 85 minutes of listening time in 10 minutes. Qi wireless charging is also supported.
The earpieces sit inside the case snugly and stay latched magnetically. A small indicator light on the front tells you the rough battery level and status of the earphones. You can see the exact battery levels of the case and each earpiece using the app, when the case is opened with the earpieces inside.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro has a two-way driver system, with an 11mm woofer and 6.5mm tweeter in each earpiece. For connectivity, the Galaxy Buds Pro uses Bluetooth 5 with support for the SBC, AAC, and Scalable Bluetooth codecs. Scalable is an advanced codec that works with most modern Samsung smartphones, so you'll be able to get better sound when using the Galaxy Buds Pro with a compatible device.
There's also AKG tuning and support for Dolby Atmos audio. You'll be able to activate the voice assistant on your smartphone. If you're using a Samsung device, this will be Bixby by default, and it's quite a difficult process to switch to another voice assistant such as Google Assistant. On any other phone, it will select the device's default. If you have additional Samsung devices such as tablets, there is also an account-linked auto pairing and auto switch feature, similar to how Apple AirPods products work seamlessly across Apple devices. I wasn't able to test this, though.
Battery life on the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is decent enough. I was able to use the earpieces for around five hours per charge with ANC on and at moderate volume levels, with the charging case adding a little over two charges. This made for a total of around 16-17 hours of use per charge cycle; it's a bit less than competing options such as the Sony WF-1000XM3, but decent enough considering the price and other features.
Just as Apple's wireless earphones and headphones are built to work best with Apple hardware, the Samsung Galaxy Buds range works best when used with a Samsung smartphone or tablet. There aren't too many of these ‘perks', but one particularly significant one worth mentioning here is advanced codec support. Like earlier Galaxy Buds products, the Galaxy Buds Pro supports Samsung's proprietary Scalable Bluetooth codec, which is considered to be on par with the Qualcomm aptX codec that's seen on many high-end wireless headsets.
While Scalable is an excellent codec, its big weakness is that it only works on modern Samsung Android devices; most Samsung smartphones and tablets launched in the last couple of years support it. If you don't have a Samsung smartphone or tablet as your source device, you'll have to rely on the AAC or SBC Bluetooth codecs instead. Scalable makes a big difference in sound quality, so your experience with the Galaxy Buds Pro will depend heavily on your source device.
Fortunately, I did have a Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ (Review) on hand to test the Galaxy Buds Pro with, and I also used these earphones with an Apple iPhone 12 mini (Review) for everyday use, as well as a OnePlus smartphone. While sound quality with the iPhone wasn't as good as on the Samsung smartphone, it was decent enough compared to what you get on other true wireless earphones in this price segment.
Listening to a high-resolution version of State Of The Art by Gotye with the Scalable Bluetooth codec in operation, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro performed in a manner that exceeds every other pair of true wireless earphones I've used, regardless of the price. With a balanced, natural, and detailed sonic signature, the Galaxy Buds Pro offers an immersive and engaging listening experience. That, together with its active noise cancellation, makes for a focused and analytical sound that I often got lost in.
This approach to sound is balanced, cohesive and enjoyable, letting the Galaxy Buds Pro react almost instinctively to different genres of music and changes in tempo. The bass in the retro-themed Gotye track hit in a calculated and precise manner without sounding excessive, while the mids and highs in the auto-tuned vocals and instrumentals shone through appropriately. All through this, the sound remained detailed, energetic, and uncompromisingly clean.
Even music played through Spotify on the Samsung smartphone was surprisingly good to listen to. Although the compression in the stream didn't allow as much detail to shine through, the Galaxy Buds Pro was able to make the most of the data available. Purple Hat by Sofi Tucker sounded fresher, cleaner, and more immersive on the Galaxy Buds Pro than on any other premium true wireless earphones I've used, with a level of cohesiveness that I haven't heard on anything else apart from the AirPods Pro.
Much of this can be credited to the dual-driver setup, with the separate woofer and tweeter in each earpiece handling their respective parts of the frequency range capably enough, just as a two-way speaker system should work. This has a much more pronounced impact on the low-end, and the sub-bass in particular benefits significantly.
With non-Samsung source devices, the Galaxy Buds Pro uses the SBC or AAC Bluetooth codecs, favouring the superior AAC codec when available. While not as detailed and precise as when paired with Samsung smartphones, the earphones still offer impressive sonic performance that is on par or a bit better than what much of the competition in the sub-Rs. 20,000 true wireless segment can deliver. The balanced and natural sonic signature remained in place, but the soundstage and detail felt a bit narrower and constrained.
Active noise cancellation and Ambient Sound mode on the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro have adjustable levels of intensity. While I could hear the differences in Ambient Sound mode, the two levels of ANC didn't seem different from each other at all. That said, ANC is still effective, offering a significant reduction in noise.
The effect is more prominent outdoors, but the earphones were effective even with indoor sounds such as ceiling fans and air conditioners. However, ANC performance isn't quite as good as what's on offer on the Sony WF-1000XM3 and Apple AirPods Pro. Ambient sound mode is decent, but not as natural-sounding as I'd have liked. I preferred to keep the Galaxy Buds Pro at the lowest hear-through level, as the higher levels were a bit overpowering and I could hear my own voice like an echo, which quickly got annoying.
Voice performance was very good on the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro regardless of which smartphone I used it with. Voices on both ends of the call were clear, and the earphones were also loud enough.
With the Galaxy Buds Pro, Samsung finally has a flagship true wireless headset that matches up to the competition. You get good sound quality, effective premium active noise cancellation, decent battery life, and a comfortable fit with these earphones. The pros far outweighed the few cons I found. It's quite a bonus that at Rs. 15,990, the Galaxy Buds Pro costs less than most competing options in the space.
However, a big factor to consider here is that the Galaxy Buds Pro performs best only when paired with a Samsung smartphone or tablet. With other smartphones, codec limitations restrict its capabilities, and you might be better off with a pair of earphones that properly matches your smartphone, or is at least tuned for capable performance regardless of the source device.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is thus the ideal pick for you if you recently bought a new premium Samsung smartphone. It's a pretty good option even otherwise thanks to the price and ANC performance, but alternatives such as the Jabra Elite 85t, Sennheiser CX400BT and Sony WF-1000XM3 might be worth taking a look at as well.
Is Samsung Galaxy S21+ the perfect flagship for most Indians? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.