How Samsung are you? It’s an important question in the context of the Galaxy Buds Pro, because if your answer is along the lines of “not all that Samsung, actually” then you can probably move along. These aren’t the true wireless earbuds you’re looking for.
But if you’re more “I am pretty Samsung really”, read on. The Galaxy Buds Pro have plenty to offer you, and the more Samsung you are the more they have to give.
Things have taken a turn since the Galaxy Buds Pro launched earlier this year. Back then you were looking at comfortably over £200 in the UK, but that has reduced to a far more reasonable £139 these days. In the United States, where pricing seems to be a little less volatile, you’re currently looking at $169 or so. Australian customers, meanwhile, should steel themselves to spend AU$299 or thereabouts.
You hardly need us to tell you these prices bring the Galaxy Buds Pro into direct competition with, let’s see… well over a dozen pairs of similarly priced, highly regarded true wireless earbuds from some of the most resonant brands around. No pressure, then.
Build and comfort
The Galaxy Buds Pro are available in the same colours as the Galaxy S21 smartphone: Phantom Black, Phantom Silver and Phantom Violet. Which is a lot of Phantoms, especially when you realise the charging case comes in the same finish too.
The design is much less individual than Samsung’s previous legume-shaped efforts. The Galaxy Buds Pro are your standard ‘twist-to-fit’ arrangement – although at a shade less than 2.1cm long, they’re a little more ostentatious in situ than quite a few alternatives.
Finish and build are, predictably, impeccable. The earbuds are glossily plasticised, and put together with the sort of efficiency that you’re entitled to expect from a global super-brand with a product portfolio the size of a dictionary.
Samsung supplies three pairs of silicone eartips with the Galaxy Buds Pro, so finding a size that suits your ears isn’t difficult. From there, it’s quite easy to get the earbuds positioned comfortably – although, perhaps because of their physical size, there’s a little more movement in the buds than is ideal. Chances are you’ll find yourself repositioning these earbuds a little more regularly than you would any number of alternative designs.
This section divides quite neatly into ‘Features the Galaxy Buds Pro have that are for everyone’ and ‘Features the Galaxy Buds Pro have for people that are very Samsung’. Let’s start with the first category.
Battery life is of the ‘decent’ rather than ‘outstanding’ type - with active noise-cancellation switched on, you can reasonably expect around five hours of entertainment from the earbuds, and another dozen or so from the charging case. Turn the ANC off and those numbers jump to around seven hours plus 20-ish. Five minutes on the power via USB-C is enough to get you another hour of playback, and the Galaxy Buds Pro can also be used with any Qi-certified charging pad.
Samsung is, of course, the owner of Harman – and Harman, of course, is the owner of headphone legends AKG. AKG has had a lot of input into the Galaxy Buds Pro where specification and tuning are concerned, and here the sound is delivered by a pleasantly thorough arrangement of 6.5mm tweeter and 11mm mid/bass driver in each earbud. Each earbud also features three mics, taking care of active noise-cancellation, call quality and voice control.
Control is also available via the capacitive surface on each earbud, and covers ‘play/pause’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’, ‘answer/end/reject call’ and cycling through noise-cancellation modes.
Drivers 6.5mm tweeter, 11mm mid/bass
Frequency response 20Hz - 20kHz
Bluetooth version 5.0
Battery life 5hrs (earbuds), 12 hours (charging case)
Weight 6.3g per earbud
An IPX7 rating is very good news, both for the more active among us and those who find they need to run their earbuds under the cold tap every now and then. The Galaxy Buds Pro can survive up to 30 minutes in up to a metre of fresh water, which really should be ample.
As far as wireless connectivity goes, the Samsungs use Bluetooth 5.0 – again, ‘decent’ rather than ‘outstanding’. It’s more than sufficient for streaming higher-resolution digital audio files, and with SBC and AAC codec compatibility the earbuds are happy enough to work with sources of virtually any type. But if you’re the owner of a Samsung Galaxy smartphone or tablet, Samsung’s Scalable Audio codec is also available, along with the lossless transmission it’s capable of.
And elsewhere, Samsung fanciers enjoy a little more functionality too. They can benefit from multipoint pairing, hands-free Bixby voice-control, and SmartThings Find, which somehow knows exactly where your Galaxy Buds Pro earbuds are even if they’re not paired with a device.
There’s also the greatest degree of control available to Samsung Galaxy owners when using the Samsung Wearables control app. The iOS version is pretty much bare-bones, whereas the Android equivalent is a little more useful – and Samsung owners can indulge in additional features like customisation of touch controls.
So far, so predictably thorough. Which makes it all the more surprising and, relatively speaking, disappointing to find that all this effort seems to count for very little where the actual sound of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is concerned.
Once through a Qobuz hi-res file of Julia Holter’s version of Gold Dust Woman is enough to make the positives and negatives of the Galaxy Buds Pro approach obvious. On the plus side, they’re nicely balanced; no area of the frequency range is under- or overstated and, despite the multiple driver arrangement, integration of the frequency range is smooth. The multi-tracked vocal in the midrange is detailed and communicative, with nice harmonic separation.
The top of the frequency range is equally detailed and resists splashiness or hardness, though if you’re listening at enthusiastic volume a certain spikiness is introduced. At the opposite end, there’s a civilised level of punch. The Samsungs shape bass information pretty well, loading it with just as much detail as elsewhere in the frequency range, and piling on the textural information too.
And yet there’s something unsatisfactory about the overall sound of the Galaxy Buds Pro, even if its individual aspects seem fairly inoffensive. In fact, it may be ‘inoffensiveness’ that’s at the heart of the problem here.
A switch to the rather more forthright sound of Snapped Ankles’ Forest of Your Problems (also via Qobuz, as a 96kHz file) illustrates the point well. Fundamentally, the Galaxy Buds Pro are a bland and undemonstrative listen – they’re so inoffensive it’s really quite offensive. Their overall tonality is matter-of-fact, their dynamic ability is mild in the extreme, and their ability to properly attack a tune is basically non-existent.
If you exist on an audio diet of smooth, unthreatening music that’s the sonic equivalent of warm milk, you’ll find the Samsung a cosy companion. If, however, your tastes are a little more catholic than that, the Galaxy Buds Pro have a comfort zone you’re unlikely to goad them out of.
It’s a similarly underwhelming story where noise-cancellation is concerned. Basically, it’s mediocre – some ambient sound is negated, certainly, but not all of it, even when set at ‘max’. So you’re not entirely able to assess the rather tepid sound of the earbuds without some external input to go along with it.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are a curious proposition. They’re specified to be thoroughly competitive and they’re designed and built as professionally as any nominal alternative. Yet when it comes to sound quality, they’re as tentative and inhibited as any earbuds we can recall listening to. They don’t cancel external noise all that effectively, either. Which means they can safely be consigned to the ‘also-rans’ file.
- Sound 3
- Comfort 4
- Build 5
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