The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro earbuds promise a lot.
They boast end-to-end 24-bit high-resolution playback (with caveats), immersive 360 audio with dynamic head tracking, better active noise cancellation (ANC), a sleeker design, and plenty more features that are designed to make life easier when using them every day.
But Samsung hasn’t had a great record when it comes to sound quality. Both the previous Buds Pro and Buds 2 models received three star reviews last year, and a glance at the star rating here shows that the new Buds 2 Pro continue that legacy. That’s not the whole story though – these new Samsung buds have improved in many ways.
You can buy the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro at their launch price of £219 / $229 / AU$349. The UK pricing matches the launch price of the previous Galaxy Buds Pro – although we reviewed it for cheaper – and for once, it's nice to see a brand buck the current trend of rising costs and charging higher prices. The fact that you get improved specs and new features for the same price also bodes well.
Rivals Sony WF-1000XM4, Apple AirPods Pro and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are positioned at a more premium price (£249 / $249 / AU$399), but there are decent deals cropping up for all these models. The Sony XM4, for instance, can be snapped up for as low as £199 now.
Build & Design
Gone is the glossy plastic finish of the old Galaxy Buds Pro. The new Buds 2 Pro have a smooth, all-matte finish that looks and feels more elegant, and the matching charging case is similarly svelte. There's a sense that everything has been streamlined to offer a more premium and slick profile.
They come in three colours: graphite, white and Samsung's signature Bora Purple. We love the new finish – it's a more grown-up look that befits the over-£200 pricing.
The earbuds themselves are now 15 per cent smaller, designed to fit even more snugly in your ears without sticking out much, if at all. Our pair settle into the nook of our ears securely and aren’t easily dislodged. If they don’t fit well, however, the buds are so small that it can be tricky to get your fingers around them to place them just right. Our ears did get a little fatigued over time, too, with the earbuds pressing against our ears noticeably after long periods of wear.
You get three ear tips in the box, and we’d recommend firing up Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable app and running the Earbud Fit Test to make sure you’ve got the best seal. The app will let you know if you have the best option or need to try another ear tip.
You can control music playback, switch noise-cancelling modes, activate Bixby voice assistant, take calls and more using touch sensitive taps on the earbuds. The controls are accurate but also can be a tad over-sensitive – we accidentally paused our music a few times when brushing against the buds. What’s handy is that you can turn off all touch controls entirely in the Wearable app to counteract this. You can also turn touch controls on and off for every action. Don’t want to use Bixby through the earbuds? Toggle it off.
Inside each earbud is a coaxial driver with a 5.3mm tweeter and 10mm woofer. You’ll notice “Sound by AKG” stamped inside the case – the headphone brand’s expertise is used with the earbuds’ drivers and sound, and Samsung says it continues to have a good working relationship with the brand.
Type True wireless earbuds
Active Noise-cancelling? Yes
360 Audio? Yes
Audio Codecs Samsung Seamless Codec (SSC) HiFi, AAC, SBC
Battery life 5 hours (earbuds with ANC on), total 18 hours (with charging case)
Earbuds weight 5.5g (per earbud)
Charging case weight 43.4g
The new charging case is a standout design: it’s tiny, fitting into the palm of our hand and the soft-touch finish feels nice while also offering a good grip. It’s smaller than the AirPods Pro or Sony XM4 cases and takes up barely any space in our pocket or small bag. Those who want their kit to stay pristine should be aware that the case did pick up a few scratches over time.
The Buds 2 Pro come with a best-in-class IPX7 rating, meaning the earbuds can survive up to 30 minutes in up to a metre of fresh water. It surpasses rival ANC earbuds’ ratings (usually IPX4) and is ideal for all weather conditions and the most intense workouts.
The one feature Samsung hasn’t improved upon is battery life. Five hours in the earbuds (with ANC on) is average at best and puts it on a par with the AirPods Pro, but lags behind the Sony XM4’s eight hours. You get a total of 18 hours with the case (ANC on), and with ANC off the Buds 2 Pro earbuds’ single-charge goes up to eight hours. In use, the buds kept us going on our weekly commute without the battery life hitting rock bottom, but we can imagine wanting extra hours when on a long-haul flight.
Thankfully, a fast charge of five minutes will give you one hour of battery and they can be charged wirelessly or via USB-C.
Samsung has packed the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro with plenty of new features and leading specs – however a large portion of these only work when using a Samsung Galaxy smartphone running the right software.
Key amongst those is the Buds 2 Pro’s main feature: end-to-end 24-bit high-resolution “hi-fi” sound quality. This means the earbuds will fully decode and play 24-bit audio files from music streaming services (from Amazon Music, Tidal, Qobuz) – the aim is to hear "exactly as the artist intended" through these earbuds. This is possible thanks to a new codec in the Buds 2 Pro called Samsung Seamless Codec (SSC) HiFi.
There are a couple of caveats here. The full 24-bit playback only works when the earbuds are paired with Samsung Galaxy devices running One UI 4.0 or higher. We’re using a Galaxy S22 Plus provided by Samsung for our review. Samsung assures us that as long as the audio source is 24-bit, the SSC HiFi codec will guarantee it’s delivering the full bit depth. There’s no way to confirm this in the earbuds, phone or music player’s settings though.
If you're using any other Android device that doesn't support this software version (or you’re using iOS), the 24-bit audio stream will get downsampled to 16-bit.
Support for 24-bit audio is all well and good – but playing music wirelessly is still a lossy game, especially when using Bluetooth. We need to know the data rate to make any meaningful comparison to the amount of information that is being relayed when playing 24-bit audio. Samsung has confirmed to us that the Buds 2 Pro support 24-bit/48kHz audio at a data rate of 584kbps. As a comparison, an uncompressed CD-spec data stream works at 1411kbps.
How does that compare to other headphones and other Bluetooth standards? aptX HD Bluetooth supports 24-bit/48kHz at 576kbps – so Samsung’s new SSC HiFi Codec delivers a little more information than this. But the Sony XM4 still offers the highest spec, with 24-bit/96kHz audio transmitted at data rates of up to 990 kbps using its LDAC technology. Of course, none of these numbers will amount to anything if the earbuds themselves don’t sound their best… but we’ll come to that in a moment.
The earbuds also feature enhanced 360 audio with direct multi-channel support and dynamic head tracking. This results in a more immersive sound experience when listening to Atmos-mixed songs on Tidal, and when playing TV shows and films that have an Atmos 5.1 or 7.1 surround soundtrack, such as Marvel’s output on Disney Plus.
The other big news on the spec sheet is that Bluetooth 5.3 is on board – it’s the first time we’ve seen the latest Bluetooth standard appear on a product, and it’s a huge step up from the Buds Pro's 5.0 (and the Buds 2's 5.2). Connecting the Buds 2 Pro to our Galaxy S22 Plus smartphone is now as quick as when connecting AirPods Pro to an iPhone.
Samsung says Bluetooth LE “Low Energy” Audio will also arrive later this year alongside the One UI 5.0 update. The main advantage it will bring is enabling you to record 360 audio using these earbuds – quite an exciting prospect.
Active noise cancelling (ANC) has also been improved on the Buds 2 Pro, with the noise around you disappearing as soon as you put the buds on. We barely hear the train’s engine on our daily commute and surrounding conversations are muted to a near-silent degree, with only a hiss of voices creeping through when music isn’t playing. Samsung uses three high SNR (Signal-to-Noise Ratio) mics that help to filter out 40 per cent more outside noise than the previous Buds Pro. The wind shield on the Buds 2 Pro has doubled in size as well, which is more effective in eliminating unwanted outside noise.
Another new feature is Conversation Mode, or Voice Detect. This is similar to Sony’s Speak-to-Chat feature, which recognises when you’re speaking and automatically switches to Ambient mode and lowers the volume so you can hear the other person better.
Samsung says this saves you precious seconds from having to use the earbuds' touch controls to make the switch or take the earbuds off entirely, and this works as intended in practice. When ordering a coffee or paying at the till, it feeds in outside noise and people’s voices clearly, allowing you to have a short exchange without any fuss. It takes a second for the mode to activate and we wish the transition was less abrupt – but it does work well.
Conversely, the one odd omission on the features list is that the Buds 2 Pro don’t pause music when you take an earbud out. Samsung clearly thinks this won’t be needed if you’re relying on voice detect mode, but we’ve always found this a handy feature in daily use when using other earbuds like the Sony XM4 and AirPods Pro.
Those with a Samsung Galaxy phone will get the full suite of features in the Buds 2 Pro – including a home screen widget that lets you change noise modes and turn all touch controls off with a single tap. The Wearables app with the Buds 2 Pro’s extensive customisable features is available for other Android users, but there’s no such luck for Apple/iOS users, who will get the basic Bluetooth connection for playback, basic touch controls without any customisation, and not much else.
Another boon for those entirely embedded in the Samsung ecosystem is auto switching, with the Buds 2 Pro connecting easily to Galaxy smartphones, watches and now even Samsung 2022 smart TVs for the first time.
We played a mix of Tidal streams in Master quality and local 24-bit hi-res tracks that we downloaded onto our Samsung Galaxy phone.
Our first impressions of the earbuds are that they sound incredibly open and clear. Play Dua Lipa’s Levitating and her voice is delivered loudly and with ample detail. It sounds big and spacious, and there’s high energy to the tune that’s immediately attractive to listen to.
As we keep listening to a mix of genres and recordings, however, the Samsung earbuds’ shortcomings start to crop up. Lorde’s vocals come through prominently on Royals, but behind her are drum hits that don’t land with the intended impact. Bass is rather soft, instead of taut and driven. There’s enough of it, but it’s not well defined. And the forward-leaning treble – which is partly responsible for the impression of openness – has a hard edge that becomes fatiguing to listen to over long periods.
We play a variety of different recordings from different eras: ’70s Tom Waits, 2000s Dr Dre, and Demi Lovato’s latest HOLY FVCK album – but the Samsung buds make them all sound the same, robbing them of their individual musicality and personality. Wet Leg’s quirky vocals on Chaise Longue sound indifferent and the upbeat tempo is lagging, with no sense of urgency or fun. There’s a lack of transparency, drive and subtlety here that rival earbuds like the Sony XM4 are far more adept at delivering.
Dynamically, the Buds 2 Pro sound compressed – and this affects the flow of a song and our enjoyment hugely. The piano notes in Light Of The Seven from the Game Of Thrones soundtrack need more texture, the silences between notes need more depth, and the timing needs to be far more precise to fully convey the haunting intensity of the track.
Songs in 24-bit have more detail to them, but the buds’ overall flat performance is heard regardless of the track’s resolution. The irony is, we’ve long found Apple’s iPhones to be a better-sound source than most other smartphones and sure enough, switching from the Galaxy S22 Plus to an iPhone 12 sounds noticeably better. Connected this way, the Samsung buds sound more rhythmically interesting and capable, and a bit more refined.
Where the Buds 2 Pro shine is with 360 audio, where the impression of sound surrounding you from all directions is keenly felt with Dolby Atmos tracks. The dynamic headtracking in particular works a treat – when it works. The effect is vivid and convincing through the Buds 2 Pro, with songs panning around you in a far more entertaining way than we’ve previously experienced with spatial audio-supporting earbuds.
However, the dynamic head tracking doesn’t work all the time with our sample – even when we double check that the correct settings are turned on. Restarting the device and re-pairing the buds doesn’t help either: the effect comes and goes at intermittent intervals. This is a shame as it’s quite obvious and fun to listen to when it does work. Whether it’s a bug with our review sample or a recurring issue, we hope it’s something that Samsung can fix easily.
"How Samsung are you?" That's the question we asked at the start of our original Galaxy Buds Pro review, and the question remains pertinent – even more so. Because if you're very Samsung, then the new Galaxy Buds 2 Pro will serve you extremely well.
There are plenty of great features to tailor to your needs and using the Buds 2 Pro is as slick as they come with the latest Galaxy devices. The new design is also appealing and the ANC is more effective – there's a sense that everything has been streamlined to offer a more premium and slick experience.
Samsung keeping the 24-bit hi-res audio support locked within its own ecosystem makes as much sense as Apple keeping specific technologies solely for its iOS devices – their respective walled gardens will reward loyal customers. But it also forces you to make a choice. And considering the iPhone is a better sounding source than the Galaxy device we tested the Buds 2 Pro with… well, everyone is getting short changed here.
The promise of ‘hi-res’ audio always has us hoping for the best, but despite the technical advancement, we remain disappointed with the overall sound performance. The Buds 2 Pro may have improved upon their previous generation, but the sound quality is still a long way off the standards set by the competition.
- Sound 3
- Comfort 4
- Features 5
Read our review of the Sony WF-1000XM4
Also consider the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Read our Apple AirPods Pro review