At this point, Samsung has a lot of experience making true wireless earbuds. While the company flexed its design muscle early with the Galaxy Buds line, it hasn’t always nailed the details. It rebounded quickly with its second installment, the Galaxy Buds+, and since then Samsung has continued to refine its aesthetic, improve sound quality and add handy features. It even found time for a polarizing open-wear model with the Galaxy Buds Live.
While the leguminous Live were the first of Samsung’s earbuds to include active noise cancellation (ANC), the open design rendered the feature ineffective. With the Galaxy Buds Pro that debuted early last year, the company finally delivered true ANC, but there was room for improvement in terms of both noise blocking and overall audio quality. Now Samsung is back with version 2.0 of its flagship earbuds, the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro ($230). This set is not only smaller and more comfortable, but they showcase the massive gains the company has made over the last year and a half. However, the most attractive features are reserved for the Samsung faithful.
Overall, the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro have a similar design to last year’s Buds Pro, but there are a few notable changes. First, this new model is 15-percent smaller than the 2021 version, which means they fit better in your ear and are more comfortable for longer periods of time. What’s more, Samsung added a vent on the inside of each earbud to help relieve pressure. Of course, the tiny stature means they tuck nicely into your ear, leaving very little sticking out from the side of your head. It’s a design Samsung adopted early on for its earbuds and subsequent models have continued to be satisfyingly svelte.
The Galaxy Buds 2 Pro have a soft-touch matte coating where the Galaxy Buds Pro was a glossy affair. I prefer the former as it’s more pleasant to the touch and isn’t a fingerprint magnet. However, it doesn’t necessarily offer more grip and neither surface impacted the touch controls. The included charging case for the Buds 2 Pro is covered in the same matte finish, so it too is pleasantly tactile. Like the Buds Pro, this model is IPX7 rated, which will allow you to submerge the earbuds in up to three feet of “fresh water” for up to 30 minutes, according to Samsung.
Touch controls are mirrored on both earbuds for the most part. There’s single tap for play/pause, double tap to skip ahead, triple tap to go back and a customizable touch and hold gesture. That long press can be used to change noise controls – ANC/ambient sound, ANC/off or ambient sound/off – or to summon Bixby, activate Spotify or control volume (down on left, up on right). If you don’t want to sacrifice some of those other features for volume, there’s an additional Labs option that will allow you to double tap the front edge of the earbuds to adjust audio levels.
It’s a little tricky to master, but I didn’t have any serious problems with edge tapping once I got the hang of it. The real annoyance with the touch controls comes when you try to adjust the fit of the earbuds. The Buds 2 Pro fit well, but as is the case with all true wireless models, you have to regularly reposition them in your ears. Due to the sensitivity of those touch panels, and the small size of the buds, it’s easy to make an errant tap when you’re just trying to readjust. It happened often enough to become very frustrating over the last two weeks.
Software and features
Like previous Samsung earbuds, all of the features and settings for the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are accessible through the Galaxy Wearable app on Android devices. Unfortunately, the company is staying consistent with recent models by not offering an iOS version. Samsung used to have onr, which made its buds a great option for both operating systems, but that hasn’t been the case for a while now. You can still use the earbuds with Apple gear, but you’ll lose some of the more attractive features by doing so.
Inside the app, you’ll get battery percentages for both the earbuds and the case right up top. The main screen also gives you access to noise controls, so you can see which mode is active (ANC, off or ambient sound) and make a change with the software if needed. Just below, there are options for enabling/disabling Voice Detect, 360 audio, touch controls and finding lost earbuds. Voice Detect is Samsung’s new feature that can tell when you’re speaking and automatically activate ambient sound while lowering the audio volume for quick conversations.
By default, the tool will go back to regular levels 10 seconds after you stop talking, but you can set that time to five or 15 seconds too. During my tests, Voice Detect worked well, and it doesn’t seem to be as easily tricked by coughs as Sony’s version of the feature. It also continues to work when I’m connected to my MacBook Pro, not only with a Samsung or Android device. However, I prefer Sony’s method of fully pausing the audio rather than just lowering the volume with its Speak-to-Chat tool. So while it’s handy, Samsung’s co-opting of Sony’s feature isn’t as pleasant to use despite its more accurate speech detection.
The Galaxy Wearables app also offers more detailed settings like EQ presets, an earbud fit test, read notifications, hands-free Bixby, ambient sound during calls, in-ear detection for calls, seamless connection with some Samsung devices, neck stretch reminders and Labs features. There is a lot packed into this software. Everything is pretty self-explanatory, but I will note that a second Labs tool is a Gaming Mode designed to minimize latency.
There’s also an Accessibility section that lets you adjust the left/right balance. Here, you can also choose to keep ANC active when you remove one earbud (the Buds 2 Pro turns it off by default) and you can adjust ambient sound volume and tone for your hearing. Some assistance with amplifying environmental audio isn’t new for earbuds, but it’s nice that Samsung offers a degree of customization here.
One item that’s still in the works is LE Audio. Samsung mentioned this during its recent event, explaining that the feature will allow you to capture 360 environmental sounds while you’re streaming or recording. For example, if you’re livestreaming. There weren’t a ton of details shared, other than the feature will arrive later this year. The Buds 2 Pro will also support Bluetooth LE, the next-gen wireless audio standard that’s on the way after being first introduced in 2020.
Samsung’s earbuds have never really impressed me with sound quality. They’ve ranged from just fine to good, but never truly great. Well, for the first time, the company has wowed this jaded headphone reviewer. The Buds 2 Pro pack plenty of bassy punch with a pleasantly open sound that is both full and filled with details and clarity. The low-end is also deep and nuanced, not just a heavy dose of thundering boom.
Plenty of earbuds offer balanced sound with good bass. What separates the great from the good is usually in the subtle details that can be difficult for something so small to replicate. Samsung does this with a combination of a 10mm woofer for the low-end and a 5.3mm tweeter so the treble cuts through. Across a range of genres, that setup enables stellar clarity and depth, keeping songs layered and immersive rather than compressed and messy. Amanda Shires’ vocals, for example, seem to float on top over every song throughout her latest album Take It Like A Man.
A big piece of the upgraded audio quality is 24-bit/48kHz Hi-Fi sound processing. Samsung’s new Seamless Codec (SSC) allows 256 times more sound data to be transmitted from your device to the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. On the previous model, 24-bit audio was converted to 16 bit by the time it reached the earbuds. Swiping over to the Android developer settings confirmed that 24-bit/48kHz was indeed coming from the Galaxy S21 FE 5G I used to test the Buds 2 Pro, but there’s no mention of bitrate. That number would be an indication of overall quality.
The Verge reports that the Samsung Seamless Codec is capable of up to 2,304kbps, or true high-resolution lossless audio. For comparison, Sony’s LDAC standard maxes out at 990kbps, so what Samsung is claiming would be an insane improvement. But again, I’m not seeing any proof of that on an Android device. No matter the actual bitrate, the 24-bit audio is reserved for Samsung devices running One UI 4.0 or higher. And you’ll need a compatible lossless/high-res streaming service too. If you have all of that, just know that the Buds 2 Pro sound incredible, and they’re nearly as good as the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 – currently the best option in terms of pure audio quality, at least in my book.
Samsung also made improvements to its 360 audio. On the Buds Pro, this feature was a stereo-based multi-channel setup, so the sound never truly felt like it was coming from every direction. On the Buds 2 Pro, the company has created “complete surround sound” with virtual 5.1- and 7.1-channel arrangements, or Direct Multi-Channel as Samsung has labeled it. To me, this combo of head tracking and immersive audio is only really useful for movies and TV as I think it actually makes music sound worse on these new buds. You’ll need One UI 4.1.1 or later to use the feature, and it’s only available on Samsung phones and tablets.
And then there’s the active noise cancellation. Samsung says the ANC on the Buds 2 Pro is 40 percent better than the Buds Pro. I don’t have all of the fancy gear needed to confirm that number, but what I can tell you is that this new model does a better job of blocking most environmental noise. I was shocked at how well it was able to combat a raucous coffee grinder. Due to those vents that increase comfort, you’ll hear a bit of what’s going on around you when there’s no audio playing. However, when the tunes start, the Buds 2 Pro handle distractions with ease.
One area where Samsung didn’t really improve is call quality. Like a lot of other true wireless earbuds, the people on calls consistently said I sounded like I was on speakerphone. They also recognized background noise clearly, and the distractions didn’t get much better while I was talking. You’ll be able to use these for calls, but don’t expect high-quality audio beaming to the folks on the other end.
Samsung gives you the ability to activate ambient sound during calls, which will help you feel less like you're shouting to hear yourself. No company does transparency mode as well as Apple, so while this does improve the overall experience, it’s still not totally natural sounding. You’ll still be well aware that you have earbuds in during any chats.
Samsung promises up to five hours of listening time with ANC enabled on the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. Unfortunately, that’s unchanged from the previous model and on the lower end of new earbuds these days. You’ll get an additional 18 hours with the charging case, or if you disable noise cancellation, you can expect up to eight hours with 21 more via the case. During my tests, these figures were spot on.
The case is compatible with wireless charging accessories, so you don’t have to reach for a cable if you have one of those. Samsung doesn’t mention any quick charge features, and I haven’t noticed the Buds 2 Pro being particularly fast at refueling over short periods of time.
It’s tempting to compare Samsung’s latest to the AirPods Pro, but for several reasons that’s not really an appropriate contest. First, like the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, the best features on the AirPods Pod are reserved for the iOS faithful – people who are dedicated to the Apple ecosystem. Things like spatial audio and hands-free Siri aren’t available to everyone on any device. Second, the AirPods Pro will be three years old in November, and earbuds have progressed substantially since their debut. For example, Samsung has massively improved the noise-blocking abilities of the Buds 2 Pro from its predecessor that was just introduced in early 2021.
Better comparisons to Samsung’s latest earbuds are Google’s Pixel Buds Pro and Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 3. Sure, Pixel owners will get the best of what the Pixel Buds Pro have to offer, but there’s plenty of handy features for other Android devices. They’re Google’s best earbuds yet, thanks to the inclusion of ANC, deep punchy bass and reliable touch controls. And while they offer two more hours of music on a charge and are $30 cheaper than the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, Google is still working on spatial audio, which should arrive this fall with the new version of Android.
Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 3 also gives you two more hours of listening time on top of what I consider the best audio you can get in a set of earbuds. Samsung has made huge gains in sound quality, but Sennheiser is consistently the best in my book. The MTW 3 only has an IPX4 rating and they won’t win any design awards, but there is a solid degree of customization available. Plus, the MTW 3 is $50 cheaper than its predecessor, but more expensive than both Google and Samsung’s latest models.
I’ve said a set of Samsung’s Galaxy Buds are its best yet before – more than once. That’s because the company continues to improve its formula with each subsequent release, whether that’s the regular Buds or the Buds Pro. And now I have to declare it again. The Buds 2 Pro are a huge leap from the 2021 Pro model, with massive improvements to the audio, notable gains in noise cancellation and the introduction of several new features. Samsung lets its loyal customers unlock the best of the Buds 2 Pro, the same way Apple and Google have done. That’s not likely to change, but Samsung is making a strong case for owners of its phones to invest in its audio products too.