Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 Pro review

First impressions of Samsung's new flagship wireless earbuds

What is a hands on review?
Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 Pro
(Image: © What Hi-Fi?)

Early Verdict

Pros

  • +

    Impressive feature list

  • +

    Potential hi-res audio support with Samsung Galaxy devices

  • +

    Solid build and design

Cons

  • -

    We didn't get to test their sound!

  • -

    Rather cheap, plasticky feeling case

  • -

    Most exciting features limited to latest Samsung Galaxy devices

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Samsung's wireless earbuds haven't always blown us away sonically. We're keen on the build and fit of the South Korean company's previous Galaxy Buds 2 and Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, and there's no question that there's potential to craft something truly great, but at the moment we find ourselves eager to see greater strides made in the one area we value more than any other: sound. 

That could all be about to change. The launch of its next-gen wireless earbuds – the Galaxy Buds 3 and flagship Galaxy Buds 3 Pro – could finally see Samsung take the fight to the market leaders soundwise and, when combined with their enticing AI-enhanced capabilities, that could be a recipe for success. 

Can Samsung deliver the goods? We went to a launch preview at the Samsung KX centre in London to get some hands-on time with the flagship Galaxy Buds 3 Pro – read on for our first impressions.

Price 

Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 Pro

Thanks to discounts for established models, the Buds 3 Pro will be going up against the AirPods Pro 2 and the Sony WF-1000XM5.  (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The Samsung Buds 3 Pro find themselves placed in a competitive position within the market. Priced at £219, they don't quite start out in the premium territory occupied by the Sony WF-1000XM5 (tested at £259 / $299 / AU$419) or the Apple AirPods Pro 2 (tested at £249 / $249 / AU$399), though they may end up directly competing with the five-star rivals thanks to recent discounts dropping their respective prices closer to the Buds 3 Pros' launch sum.

It's worth noting, though, that the new third-gen Samsung earbuds are launching at the same figure as their second-generation predecessors did two years ago, so it's nice to see that Samsung hasn't gone for a price hike in these troubled times. 

Design and build 

Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 Pro in the case

Look! Stems! And they light up, too! (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The Galaxy Buds Pro you knew are gone. Samsung has ditched the rounded design altogether in favour of a new stem configuration, with the overall combination of a transparent-topped charging case and sleek white earpieces bringing to mind some new AirPods crossed with a pair of Nothing wireless earbuds. Squint at that case and you really could be forgiven for thinking that it was an Apple-made product rather than one turned out by Samsung, with the Korean brand claiming the new design is a result of data taken from thousands of 3D ear scans to find the best fit for all.

The stemmed buds themselves are nicely made, feeling lightweight in hand, although we're just slightly underwhelmed by the USB-C charging case's slightly cheap, plasticky feeling. We did get a chance to see the earbuds' "Blade Lights" in action, essentially some fancy flashing LEDs on the side of each earpiece to indicate key vitals such as battery life and connectivity status which even flash if you've lost them in a darkened environment.

Unlike the cheaper Galaxy Buds 3, the Pro version offer removable ear tips, again putting us in mind of the rival AirPods Pro 2. Sadly, we weren't permitted to stick them into our ears to have a listen during our hands-on time, so we'll have to wait until we get our proper review sample to try out their fit, comfort and seal.

Galaxy Buds 3 Pro preorder: £30 when you trade in headphones at Samsung

Galaxy Buds 3 Pro preorder: £30 when you trade in headphones at Samsung
If you want to guarantee you'll get a shiny new pair of Galaxy Buds before most mere mortals, you can preorder a pair now via Samsung's official website. Even better, you can get a guaranteed £30 off when you trade in any headphones (subject to terms), regardless of the make or model of the device you're swapping out. 

Features 

Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 Pro in silver with case

Unlike the "open" design of the standard Galaxy Buds 3, the Buds 3 Pro offer changeable ear tips.  (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

AI is the basket into which Samsung is cramming a lot of its eggs, as we've seen with the brand's Galaxy S24 smartphones launch earlier this year. The new Buds 3 and Buds 3 Pro are filled with new features that are bolstered by the use of artificial intelligence, ensuring they integrate smoothly within the Samsung Galaxy S24 ecosystem. It's worth noting that most of these exciting AI-powered features are only accessible to those in possession of the latest Samsung Galaxy devices, and many controls and features are only available via the Samsung Wearable app, which is only available on Samsung Galaxy and Android 11-and-above devices. Apple users will get the short shrift here, as the Wearables app isn't available for any iOS device.

One key use of AI in the new Buds 3 Pro comes in the shape of intelligent sound – essentially an AI-powered sound optimisation which constantly monitors and automatically adjusts noise cancelling levels depending on your environment and your particular needs at the time. According to our demonstrators, the Buds 3 Pro will automatically flip from, say, "Loudness" mode in a busy street to "Siren Detect" mode when it needs to make you aware of emergency noises and then onto its voice-detecting "Speech" setting when you start a cheerful conversation, all without you needing to press a button.

But wait, there's more. Thanks to AI, the third-gen Pro earbuds offer a convenient interpreter function wherein you can set the language you want your buds to listen out for, and the onboard AI will then convert that language in real-time as you have a conversation. We'd have loved to have seen a real-life demo, but there's no question the advantages such a feature could have for fish-out-of-water travellers navigating around foreign metropolises.   

Your voice calls should come through a lot more clearly than ever before, too. Samsung promises a "rich and natural call quality" that aims to match the performance of many major smartphones, with 16kHz of bandwidth and advanced AI algorithms designed specifically to track your voice combining to grant greater clarity and immersion during conversations. 

The Galaxy Buds 3 Pro offer six hours of playback from the earbuds with ANC on, and you'll get a further 20 hours when the charging case is added to the equation, while wireless charging and quick charging capabilities are also onboard. An IP57 rating should protect the earbuds from dusty elements or an accidental dunk in the sink, while "pinch and squeeze" on-stem touch controls should allow for summoning your voice assistant, controlling volume and adjusting playback. Auto pause and resume, meanwhile, will stop the tunes when the stems are removed and resume when they're restored to your ears.  

Sound

Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 Pro in silver case

How do the 3 Pro sound? Well, we sort of don't know. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Sadly, we weren't able to test the Buds 3 Pros' sonic credentials just yet, with Samsung politely declining our request to put the new flagship in-ears... into our ears. What we can say is that these wireless earbuds feature an enhanced two-way design, with a single 10.5mm dynamic driver complemented by a 6.1mm planar tweeter, delivering twice the frequency rate than the previous models. There are dual amplifiers powering these drivers, which Samsung says should allow for greater audio separation, along with a more balanced, comprehensive sound.

Both new Galaxy buds offer support for hi-res audio over Bluetooth up to 24-bit/48kHz via Samsung's SSC Hi-Fi codec, but if you're using a compatible smartphone or device (we've provided the full list below) such as the Galaxy S22 or S23, Z Fold 6 or Z Flip 6, this can be whacked up to 24-bit/96kHz via the brand's all-new SSC UHQ codec. The Pro 3 also come equipped with an "Optimised Tone" feature which uses AI (surprise, surprise!) to monitor how well the earbuds are fitted in your ear and then adjust the tone of the EQ and noise-cancelling to ensure that the sound is always optimised.

Thus we're left to speculate on how things might have sounded if we'd been given the chance. We've always felt that audio performance was one of Samsung's biggest Achilles' heels when it came to the company's headphones, voicing frustration in our review of the Buds 2 Pro that they were plagued by an overly soft bass delivery and a somewhat forward-leaning treble. They weren't the most subtle or transparent performers, either, and as we said at the time: "We play a variety of different recordings from different eras... but the Samsung buds make them all sound the same, robbing them of their individual musicality and personality."

This is where we're keen for these new third-gen hopefuls – when we get a chance to hear them – to make serious improvements, because if Samsung's flagship earbuds can blend AI-boosted features with proper sonic chops, then they might finally be able to play on a more level field with the likes of Apple, Sony, Bose and Sennheiser class-leaders. The Buds 2 Pro had a pleasing openness and clarity, but it's those trickier sonic elements such as dynamics, tonal balance and transparency, not to mention rhythmic drive and propulsion, that these third-gen arrivals will need to improve upon to go from the middle of the road to the top of the tree. 

  • Ultra high-quality audio up to 24bit/96kHz is currently available via: Galaxy S24 series, S23 series, Z Fold 6, Z Flip 6, Z Fold 5, Z Flip5 and Tab S9 series with One UI 6.1.1 or above. 
Galaxy Z Fold 6 preorder: up to £640 when trading in at Samsung

Galaxy Z Fold 6 preorder: up to £640 when trading in at Samsung
The Galaxy Z Fold 6 is designed to get the most out of Samsung's latest flagship earbuds, and you can pre-order one now directly from Samsung. You can also get between £100-£640 off Galaxy Z Flip 6 preorders when you trade in an eligible device, with an S24 Ultra, for example, giving you the full £640 to go towards your new device. The standard price of the 256GB black model will set you back £1799, with trade-in discounts depending on the type of phone being traded and the condition of the device. You can also get a year's worth of accidental damage care or a free case worth £90 as part of the deal.

Early verdict

Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 Pro and Buds 3

The Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 Pro need to nail sonic performance to compete with the best. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

At this point, it really is tough to make any concrete claims. We were disappointed not to get any listening time with the Samsung flagship earbuds to get a sense of their sound quality, while testing out their many new features will be something we need to explore when paired with the correct Galaxy smartphone.

Still, there are undeniable strengths on display which could, if they work correctly, help Samsung forge a reputation in this tough market. AI-boosted features such as adaptive sound and noise-cancelling, live transcription, enhanced voice calls and hi-res codec support certainly rival the best of what Apple and co. are offering, at least when it comes to the features list – and Samsung Galaxy owners especially should have plenty to get excited about. 

We're keen to find out how they compare with the class leaders when it comes to fit, ANC quality and sound performance, so we'll be sure to bring you our full assessment once we get a review sample in for testing.

MORE: 

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro review

More into phones? Read our recent Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 6 hands-on review 

Also consider the Apple AirPods Pro 2

Check our guide to the best wireless earbuds: budget and premium

Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. During his time at the publication, he has written countless news stories alongside features, advice and reviews of products ranging from floorstanding speakers and music streamers to over-ear headphones, wireless earbuds and portable DACs. He has covered launches from hi-fi and consumer tech brands, and major industry events including IFA, High End Munich and, of course, the Bristol Hi-Fi Show. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or trying to pet strangers' dogs. 

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.