Samsung Galaxy Buds 3: What we know about the fabled AirPods rival

Samsung Galaxy Buds2 various colourways
(Image credit: Samsung)

Samsung's entry-level Galaxy Buds are due for a refresh, and if previous trends are anything to go by, 2023 is the year that we might just see that happen. While we've reviewed various Galaxy Buds models throughout the last few years, we are yet to be truly wowed by a Samsung pair, with wireless earbuds from Sony, Apple and Bose stealing the spotlight in the audio department.

So what are we hoping for from the Galaxy Buds 3 and Buds 3 Pro models from Samsung? Well, we don't have much to go off of as rumours and leaks have been light up to this point, so we've compiled what we can expect to see from Samsung's next-gen buds, as well as some features and improvements we're hoping to see to take these truly wireless earbuds up a notch (or two).

Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 and Buds 3 Pro release date

The first two Galaxy Buds saw a two-year gap between new models, with the Galaxy Buds 2 launching in August 2021, and the original Galaxy Buds making their debut in March 2019. This could point to 2023 being the year we see the Galaxy Buds 3 and with a Galaxy Unpacked event scheduled for 1st February, this could be Samsung's opportunity to reveal the next generation buds. We did see the Galaxy Buds+ spring up in 2020, as a revised edition of the prior year's buds, however, we don't have Galaxy Buds 2+ on our radar.

We aren't expecting to see any new Buds in the flagship Pro line, as Samsung launched the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro alongside the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Z Flip 4 in August of 2022. Therefore we reckon it's way too soon for the Galaxy Buds 3 Pro to see the light of day.

Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 and Buds 3 Pro price

The Galaxy Buds 3 will hopefully keep up Samsung's track record of offering affordable true wireless earbuds. The Galaxy Buds 2 and original Galaxy Buds both launched for £139 / $150 / €149 / AU$219, so fingers crossed that Samsung follows this trend for another generation.

How does this stack up against other wireless earbuds? Apple's closest-priced rival, the AirPods 3, launched at £169 / $179 / AU$279 in October 2021 – which may not seem like a huge difference at first, but when you take into consideration that the basic AirPods don't include active noise cancelling (ANC), the Galaxy Buds (which do offer ANC) have plenty going for it, on paper.

Regarding the pricier, flagship model, the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro launched at £219 / $229 / AU$349 in August 2022. That price undercuts the flagship buds from Sony WF-1000XM4 (£250 / $280 / AU$450), AirPods Pro 2 (£249 / $249 / AU$399) and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II (£280 / $299 / AU$429). Samsung packed in plenty of extra features (new 24-bit hi-res codec, 360-degree audio with dynamic head tracking), so whether they decide to stick to that price or go higher is something we'll have to see later in the year.

Samsung Galaxy Buds 3: features and performance wishlist

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2

(Image credit: Future)

Starting off with what we like about the entry-level Galaxy Buds 2, we're fond of the lightweight design and build quality of the buds, whose compact form factor was improved without sacrificing useful features such as Qi wireless charging. Samsung's last update made the Buds 2 more suitable for smaller ears too, and at just 5g per earbud, the less bulky design made for a more comfortable fit overall. We imagine the brand won't stray too far from this design, apart from perhaps new finishes. The only thing we'd like to change is for Samsung to ditch the glossy finish in favour of a matte outer coating, like the more sophisticated design of the Buds 2 Pro.

We also like the accessible price point, as mentioned before – the Buds 2 are very competitively priced for their feature set, and you can even find them now for around the £55 mark, which is a steal.

Now onto what we would like to see improved. The first and most important feature is sound quality. Across the board, the Galaxy Buds line has delivered fairly lacklustre sound performance, meaning they have been unable to score above a three-star in any of our Galaxy Buds reviews. When you consider rivals such as the Sony WF-C500 producing a much higher quality sound for just over a third of the price, then that's a sign that Samsung needs to step up its game. Sony's flagship wireless earbuds, the WF-1000XM4, are also more commonly cropping up at around the £200 price mark, which isn't a huge step up in price for a pair of much better-sounding earbuds. We criticised the Buds 2 for their harsh trebles and lacking dynamics, so we can only hope Samsung addresses this all in the future Buds 3.

Building on sound performance, it would be nice to see some form of spatial audio, (or 360 audio, as Samsung calls it) on the Buds 3, in line with Apple's AirPods 3, which offers spatial audio on non-Pro level earbuds. We aren't expecting the 24-bit quality codec on these budget buds (that we imagine will remain with the flagship Pro line), but considering the rising popularity of 360 audio in products and in music streaming services, we're sure Samsung could find a way to make Buds 3 a more immersive pair of earbuds.

Another area with room for improvement from Samsung is battery life. Once again comparing the last generation Buds against the much cheaper Sonys, the Samsungs only manage about five hours off a single charge, whereas the Sony WF-C500s manage to double this at 10 hours on the earbuds alone. The one true weakness of all wireless earbuds is that they are completely unusable with a flat battery, and whipping out dead buds when you need them most is nothing short of soul-crushing. 

Finally, a more customisable set of ANC features would be a welcome addition to the Buds 3, instead of the existing on or off options. This could include levels of noise cancelling and even a transparency mode. And as Samsung already includes customisation for the Buds via the Galaxy Wear mobile app, we figure that it could easily include a toggle there. 

Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 Pro: features and performance wishlist

True wireless earbuds: Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

As for the Buds 3 Pro, many things on your wishlist translate across from the regular Buds 3, including better sound quality foremost. The flagship wireless earbuds market is fierce, with the Apple AirPods Pro 2, the aforementioned Sony WF-1000XM4 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II all offering formidable five-star performances and feature sets to match. Samsung is playing catch-up to these other wireless buds, so a big leap needs to be taken with the Buds 3 Pro's audio performance in order to compete.

While Samsung's inclusion of its own 24-bit hi-res codec (named Samsung Seamless Codec -SSC-  HiFi) that offered end-to-end transmission of 24-bit audio files from music services like Tidal and Qobuz was a welcome additional, it alone didn't result in better sound quality. We're not bashing the codec itself, but instead the limited compatibility. Samsung naturally keeps its proprietary tech within its own ecosystem (Apple does the same with its iOS features, naturally), in this case to Samsung Galaxy devices running One UI 4.0 and above, but we'd like to see Samsung opens up the codec compatibility with a wider range of phones. Whether that's more Galaxy models from its own line-up or to other (Android) phones, it's something that would allow more users to take advantage of hi-res audio on these buds. Opening up the platform to other devices might make these buds more enticing, as well as give the opportunity for other manufacturers to build upon this feature. 

Improvements also could be made to the 360 audio and head tracking feature on the Buds Pro. Although the effect on the Buds 2 Pro model was immersive and very well implemented, we found the actual operation to be temperamental and it didn't work on many occasions, which was frustrating. Simply making this feature more robust and consistent would make a world of difference in the future Buds 3 Pro.

Finally, echoing the concerns of the standard Galaxy Buds, the battery life on the Buds 3 Pro needs a boost. Apple's AirPods Pro 2 surpass the Buds 2 Pro significantly, so Samsung needs to step its game up in the battery department in order to compete. Apple's wireless earbuds only last around six hours on a single charge (with total 30 hours with the charging case), so the standard is not unbeatable, but considering the Buds 2 Pro only get five hours/18 hours with the case, Samsung is easily outclassed by Apple here.

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Lewis Empson
Staff Writer

Staff Writer Lewis is the newest addition to the What Hi-Fi? editorial team. Previously Gaming and Digital editor for Cardiff University's 'Quench Magazine', Lewis graduated in 2021 and has since worked on a selection of lifestyle magazines and regional newspapers. In his down time he enjoys gaming and regular cinema trips.