There's a new pair of wireless earbuds in town. Samsung recently unveiled the Galaxy Buds Pro, its latest cable-free headphones, alongside the Galaxy S21 smartphone. And as the 'Pro' moniker suggests, they're positioned above the firm's previous efforts like the Galaxy Buds Live.
But they're not short of competition – indeed, they enter a very crowded field, with the Apple AirPods Pro right up near the top of the pile. Both pairs of headphones are completely wireless, have noise-cancelling tech, and work seamlessly with their partner smartphone – the AirPods with an Apple handset like the iPhone 12, and the Buds Pro with a Galaxy, such as the Galaxy S20.
But which is best pair of buds? Let's find out...
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs AirPods Pro: price
The Apple AirPods Pro launched in October 2019 for £249 ($249, AU$399), while the newer Galaxy Buds Pro will set you back £219 ($199, AU$349). Sensibly, Samsung has decided to undercut Apple here. We say 'sensibly', because Samsung's wireless earbuds don't have the best track record in terms of sound quality... But more on that later.
So what about deals? AirPods can be discounted every now and then (these are the best AirPods deals currently available), but rarely see big money off. At the time of writing, the Galaxy Buds Pro come free with the Galaxy S21 Ultra – the priciest of Samsung's new S21 line-up. As for standalone deals, we'll have to wait and see – the Buds Pro (and Galaxy S21 series) go on sale on 29th January.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs AirPods Pro: noise-cancelling
Like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live they replace, the Galaxy Buds Pro sport active noise-cancellation – only this time it’s more versatile and supposedly more effective. Which is why Samsung is calling it ‘Intelligent ANC’. While Samsung claimed that the Buds Live could reduce background noise under 700Hz (e.g. trains and buses) by up to 97 per cent, the Buds Pro promise to block 99 per cent of outside noise. A marked improvement, then.
There are ‘high’ and ‘low’ levels of ANC this time, as well as four levels of Ambient Sound – that means you can vary the intensity of the isolating effect and let in varying degrees of sound if you want to.
Also helping to justify the ‘Intelligent’ naming, the Buds Pro can also automatically switch between ANC and Ambient Sound, with the earbuds able to recognise when a conversation begins and ends. Start talking and the Buds Pro will turn down your music, firing it back up to volume when you’re done. There's even a skip-back function if you missed your favourite part of the song you were listening to. Neat.
The Apple AirPods Pro also feature cutting-edge active noise-cancelling tech. Apple claims it's continuously adjusted 200 times per second to ensure maximum efficiency. In our test, noises such as a train are almost completely eradicated, while less predictable sounds such as office chatter are reduced to a whisper.
Apple's buds have a 'transparency' mode, which allows sound in from the outside world – handy when jogging or cycling.
Apple's noise-cancellation isn't as advanced as some companies' (Bose, for example). But it is still very effective. We haven't tested the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro yet, so can't give a definitive verdict on how they perform. We'll update this article as soon as we have.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs AirPods Pro: battery life
Samsung claims the Galaxy Buds Pro will last a total of 18 hours, which includes juicing them up from the carry case. That sounds like a lot, but it's outdone by rivals.
Like the AirPods Pro, for example. They give you 4.5 hours of run time from the buds themselves, plus another 19 hours from the included wireless charging case. Which makes 23.5 hours – a full five and a half hours more than the Buds Pro. And more if you switch off noise-cancelling – then the AirPods Pro stretch to five hours playback per charge.
In a hurry? Juicing up either pair for just five minutes will give you an hour of playback. Handy if you have to dash.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs AirPods Pro: sound quality
Apple has certainly stepped up its audio game with the launch of the AirPods Pro. The midrange is where these buds shine, with plenty of detail and no hint of brightness. Rich and full, they're the best-sounding AirPods to date.
As for the Galaxy Buds Pro... we don't know, as we haven't tested them yet. But Samsung has a lot of ground to make up in this area. Its previous wireless earbuds haven't fared too well in our testing labs: the original Galaxy Buds scored just two out of five, while the Galaxy Buds+ and Galaxy Buds Live improved, but only marginally, picking up three stars apiece. Let's hope the Buds Pro are the turnaround Samsung sorely needs.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs AirPods Pro: comfort and fit
The Pros are the first AirPods to offer a customisable fit with silicone tips in three sizes. Apple will even help you find the best fit thanks to the built-in 'Ear Tip Fit Test' which you can run once the headphones are in place.
While we can't comment on the comfort of the Buds Pro, we can talk about the design more generally. As you can see, they've had an overhaul, with Samsung ditching the kidney-bean design of the Buds Live and returning to the more traditional rounder shape of the Buds+ with more traditional earbud tips. They also have some natty new colours: they come in Phantom Violet, Phantom Silver and Phantom Black – all pictured above. That gives you much more choice than the AirPods Pro, which come in any colour as long as it's white.
The Buds Pro outdo the AirPods Pro in terms of water resistance. The Buds Pro are rated IPX7, which means they can be submerged in up to 1m of water for at least half an hour. The AirPods Pro only manage IPX4, which means they're only splash-proof.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs AirPods Pro: controls
Samsung Galaxy fans can take advantage of the AirPods-like Auto Switch feature, which lets the earbuds simultaneously connect to multiple Galaxy devices and automatically switch to the one you’re using. For example, if you’re watching a video on your Galaxy Tab tablet when a call comes in, the Buds Pro will switch to your phone so you can answer it, switching back when you hang up. It sounds very neat, if not all that new – as mentioned, we've seen it before on the AirPods.
The AirPods Pro are primarily designed to be voice-controlled via Siri (Apple's personal voice assistant). If you aren't keen on talking to yourself, Apple has included force sensors on both stems. Squeeze it to switch noise-cancelling modes, skip tracks, pause music and answer calls. We found it a bit fiddly when jogging or cycling, though, so it's not ideal.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs AirPods Pro: initial verdict
We haven't given the Galaxy Buds Pro a thorough going over yet, so it's too early to say how they stack up against Apple's AirPods Pro. But in the specs department at least, they look like a worthy challenger.
The noise-cancellation sounds well thought-through, they have a snazzy new design and some neat new control features. They're cheaper than Apple's equivalent, too. It's just a shame about that battery life. And they have a lot of ground to make up in the sound department.
Still, we'll reserve final judgement, as always, until we have a sample for full review.
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