When E.F. Schumacher wrote Small Is Beautiful: A Study Of Economics As If People Mattered, he did not own a set of Galaxy Buds 2. That was 1973 and Samsung's smallest and lightest earbuds to date did not arrive until, well, August 2021. But at just 5g per earbud and somehow still housing a two-way woofer/tweeter system, active noise cancellation and an enhanced Ambient Sound mode, the buds' tiny casing is a diminutive joy to behold. Usually, we talk about whether charging cases could comfortably fit in a coat pocket, too. This one won’t just fit, it may well get lost.
At this cutthroat, entry-level end of the market, though, can Samsung (a firm that has garnered mixed reviews for its true wireless earbud propositions thus far) finally challenge the class leaders? We could muse on the likelihood of this based on past performance but, as Schumacher wrote in Small Is Beautiful: “An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory." So, let’s get cracking.
At £139 ($150, AU$219), the Galaxy Buds 2 arrive with the same launch price as the inaugural, 2019-released Samsung Galaxy Buds, so no change there. But what has changed significantly since 2019 is the market. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the sweet spot of affordable true wireless earbuds is now firmly established around the £100-£120 (sub-$150/AU$200) mark, thanks to excellent propositions which set new standards – and new low price points – in the sector.
The Buds 2 are priced just a touch dear in this context, although Samsung could argue that for Galaxy device owners, the perks such as easy device switching and compatibility (including widgets and a fully-featured app on your Galaxy smartphone) more than make up for the nominal extra outlay. There's noise cancelling too, which isn't a given for affordable models. And the Buds 2 are certainly still cheaper than Apple’s AirPods Pro.
Samsung’s significantly shrunken Galaxy Buds 2 are a definite improvement on their bulkier predecessors in terms of build and finish. Although the top surface is more domed, they are quite a bit smaller, lighter (by 1.3g per bud) and less bulbous on the underside than the Galaxy Buds Pro, making them far more suitable for smaller ears.
In the Galaxy Wearable app, available for Android (but yet to launch on iOS), the earbud fit test recognises that we have placed the buds in our ears, sends a few tones into our shell-likes, and then decides whether the eartips we have selected from a choice of three has provided a good fit. For us, the pre-fitted medium pair offers a good seal and, although they aren’t the most secure set of earbuds we’ve ever worn (we wouldn’t wear them for our tougher workouts), they are comfortable and light over the course of our listening.
Although the outside of the little case is glossy white, the buds themselves and the inside of the case come in a choice of four colours: graphite, white, olive or lavender.
The Buds 2's battery life is good rather than great, at five hours per charge (with noise cancelling turned on), with an additional 15 hours provided by the USB-C charging case. The case supports quick charging and Qi wireless charging, too.
Battery life 5 hours buds (ANC on) + 15 hours case
Earbud dimension (hwd) 20.9 x 17.0 x 21.1mm
Earbud weight 5.0g
Case dimension (hwd) 27.8 x 50.0 x 50.2mm
Case weight 41.2g
Bluetooth 5.2 is onboard and Samsung's proprietary codec promises stronger signal strength and better audio quality when the buds are connected to a Galaxy smartphone or tablet. We pair easily to the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the signal never falters. The Buds 2 also boast an IPX2 water-resistance rating, which should be OK for accidental splashing.
Under the hood, the Buds 2 utilise a two-way driver system. Then there’s active noise cancellation, which promises to nix external noise by up to 98 per cent, an ‘enhanced’ Ambient Sound mode, plus three microphones per earbud – one inner with voice pickup unit for clear calls, two external beamforming mics – to boast a 'significantly reduced latency'.
Said noise profiles can either be accessed in-app or via the on-device controls. Sadly, trying to control playback via tapping or long-pressing the Buds 2, along with the promised wearer-detection, is a little hit-and-miss during our testing, except when we’re adjusting them and don’t want to pause a track or alter the volume. You can turn these on-device controls off entirely, but it's nice to have them in theory. With a bit of rehearsal, we do achieve a little more success but often find ourselves reaching for our phone for a quick-fix solution.
In the well-designed and intuitive Galaxy Wearable app, an auto-switch feature offers easy swapping between Galaxy devices – so you could go from streaming music on your Galaxy Tab to picking up a phone call on your Fold 3, say, or any nearby device that is signed in to your Samsung account, even if it never paired with the Buds 2 before. More than this though, the Galaxy Wearable app allows you to customise the Buds 2 in more ways than we’ve ever seen at this level.
If you own a Galaxy smartphone, pairing is a breeze and you can set up a widget to quickly access the Buds 2 and see battery life at a glance. There are plenty of nifty little extras, such as customising what you want a long-press to do – accessing Spotify, altering volume or scrolling between noise-cancelling and ambient-aware profiles are all on the menu – while added features abound here. You can choose to toggle on ambient sound during calls to hear your own voice more clearly, and under the special Labs tab you can turn on a double-tap of the earbud edge to alter volume (if, say, you’d prefer a long-press of the main unit to scroll through external noise profiles) and even deploy a Gaming Mode to minimise audio delay. With the latter, though, Samsung warns that in an environment with a lot of wireless devices this may incur a choppy sound or even interference. We never experience this. All in all, Samsung presents features, tweaks and perks in abundance with the Buds 2 – and that all makes for added value.
It’s not all high praise, though. It’s important to note that, although a choice of six EQ presets can be selected, you cannot create your own with a three-band stage. And while you can customise the ambient aware levels from ‘clear’ to ‘soft’ and even select whether you want external sounds fed more into your left or right ear, you cannot tweak the levels of noise cancellation any further than ‘on’ or ‘off’. However, both the active noise cancellation (which blocks out the AC above our heads without issue) and the ambient-aware features are easily as good as we’d expect at the level.
We cue up ABBA’s Don’t Shut Me Down on Tidal and enjoy a good dollop of detail within the pleasing, three-dimensional presentation of the initial harp, strings and vocal. As Agnetha Fältskog goes through her juicy lower registers we note the surprising bass kick on offer, too. The song opens out with ABBA’s trademark marching beat and here it becomes apparent that these are also the most zealous and energetic Galaxy Buds to date. However, the timing is a few shades off perfect, with musical strands across the frequencies not quite as cohesively presented as through the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus.
As the EP continues to I Still Have Faith In You we realise that, in a bid to promote an exciting listen, there’s also a harshness through the treble which encroaches up the frequency band to the extent that the midrange comes off dynamically flat. Although there’s bass depth and energy, it isn’t a particularly agile listen, because the hardness through the treble means the Buds 2 struggle to convincingly handle pensive, building tracks with several instruments alongside a belted vocal, such as In The Car Outside by The Killers.
If you’re a Galaxy smartphone owner, the Buds 2 present themselves for connection, offer a handy widget and a seamless, enjoyable experience with added customisation options – and for many, this coupled with a small and pocketable design will be enough.
Sadly, the sonic recipe still needs work if Samsung is to challenge the budget-friendly class leaders. The Buds 2 are more energetic than Samsung’s previous true wireless propositions and there’s a pleasing bass weight, but the mix is a little too forward-focused and it is impossible to ignore the harshness through the treble.
- Sound 3
- Features 4
- Build 4
See our picks of the best true wireless earbuds: the best AirPods alternatives
Read our review of Cambridge Audio's Melomania 1 Plus
Read our Panasonic RZ-S500W review