Samsung’s latest Galaxy Buds Pro earbuds add noise-cancelling, virtual surround and improved sound, making them a challenger to Apple’s AirPods Pro.
The Buds Pro have silicone ear tips and a general shape similar to the Buds+ but look more like the Buds Live. They are stored in an excellent, compact, square charging case that easily fits into the money pocket of a pair of jeans.
The new earbuds are bigger and heavier than the Buds+ and do not twist to fit in the concha of your ear in quite the same way, protruding slightly further, but are still small compared with rivals. They do a good job of avoiding putting pressure on the delicate parts of the ear, held in place by the oval ear tips – of which there are three sizes in the box.
They were comfortable and stayed securely in my ears but you can twist a small lip of the earbud under the cartilage of your ear to lock them in place if needed. The earbuds are water resistant to IPX7 standards, which means they can be submerged in up to one metre of water for up to 30 minutes, making them some of the most water-resistant earbuds available.
Water resistance: IPX7 (one metre up to 30 minutes)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, SBC, AAC, SSC
Battery life: five hours ANC on (up to 18 hours with case; 28 hours with ANC off)
Earbud dimensions: 19.5 x 20.5 x 20.8 mm
Earbud weight: 6.3g each
Driver size: 11mm woofer + 6.5mm tweeter
Charging case dimensions: 50 x 50.2 x 27.8 mm
Charging case weight: 44.9g
Case charging: USB-C, Qi wireless charging
Connectivity and controls
The Buds Pro support Bluetooth 5 with both the universal SBC and AAC audio standards used by most devices. But they also support Samsung’s own “scalable audio codec”, which can provide higher-quality audio but only works with Samsung devices. They are compatible with all standard Bluetooth devices and support automatic pairing with Samsung and other Android devices via the Galaxy Wearable app plus Swift Pairing with Windows 10 PCs. Unlike their predecessors, the Buds Pro are not supported by the Galaxy Buds app on an iPhone, so iOS users can use the earbuds but will not be able to change settings or update them.
The earbuds only connect to one device at a time but support seamless switching (so you don’t have to manually disconnect) and a new auto-switch system that can be used with Samsung devices running OneUI 3.1 or higher such as the new Galaxy S21 series. Either earbud can be used on its own.
The exterior of the earbud is touch sensitive. Tap once for pause/play, twice and thrice for track skip. A tap-and-hold gesture can be set to control the volume (left for down, right for up), control noise-cancelling settings, activate the voice assistant or trigger Spotify on compatible phones. Take both earbuds out and the music pauses; take only one out and ambient sound mode activates on the other. The controls work well with good audible feedback.
The earbuds last for up to five hours with noise-cancelling active and can be charged 2.6 times in the case for a total of 18 hours. Turn off noise-cancelling and the earbuds last up to eight hours and up to 28 hours with the case. Five minutes charging will add up to one hour of playback.
The case is charged via a Qi wireless charging coil in its base or the USB-C socket in the back. A cable is included in the box but not a power adaptor.
Samsung does not provide an estimate of the number of full-charge cycles the batteries in the case or earbuds should last. Batteries in similar devices can typically last for 500 cycles while maintaining at least 80% of their original capacity.
The earbuds and case are made from 20% post-consumer recycled materials. Samsung operates recycling and trade-in schemes for smartphones but not for its earbuds. The company publishes annual sustainability reports but not impact assessments for individual products.
The Buds Pro take the easy-listening, everyday sound of the Buds+ and improve the audio quality in all dimensions. They produce rich and well-controlled bass, warm mids and precise high notes that make them some of the best-sounding true wireless earbuds available.
They handle many music genres well, with a wider soundscape than most earbuds. Acoustic, guitar-based tracks such as the live version of the Eagles’ Hotel California sound warm, inviting and full of detail. There’s plenty of punch and raw energy in grunge or rock tracks, while high-tempo electronica sounds suitably energised. The earbuds do an admiral job of rendering really deep bass, while even orchestral scores such as Holst’s Planet suite sound grand and full of nuance.
Occasionally, you can get hit with a little too much treble, such as overly prominent trumpets at higher volumes, but overall they sound really great, matching top rivals such as the Jabra Elite 85t. There’s a limited equaliser that can switch between preset modes such as “dynamic” or “bass boost” in the companion app.
Active noise cancelling
The Buds Pro have several active noise-cancelling and ambient sound modes. There are two levels of noise-cancelling available. On high, the noise-cancelling is effective at reducing low rumbles and some mid-frequency sounds but falls slightly short of the effectiveness of the Elite 85t and AirPods Pro. The Buds Pro were also affected to a greater extent by the fit of the earbuds – twisting and locking them in place against the inside of my ear significantly improved the amount of noise they blocked out.
The ambient sound mode, which pipes the noise of the outside world into your ears, has four levels and can be automatically triggered when the earbuds detect you speaking. It works pretty well for quick conversations or hearing announcements but doesn’t sound as natural as the best available.
The earbuds also have Dolby technology that tracks the movements of your head in relation to a phone or tablet to create a virtual surround sound Samsung calls 360 Audio. It only works with devices running Samsung’s latest software OneUI 3.1 but, unlike rival systems from Apple and others, it is able to create the virtual surround effect for any video, not only those with Dolby soundtracks, anchoring the sound to the screen. The effect is surprisingly good.
You can set Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant to listen for the wakeword “Hey Bixby”.
Game Mode reduces latency for audio that is in sync with the action on screen for games with Samsung devices.
Call quality was reasonable: my voice was clear and background noise was minimised but I sounded a little distant and not as crisp as the best rivals.
Sneezing, blowing my nose and coughing triggered the auto-ambient sound mode when active.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro cost £219 and are available in black, silver or purple, shipping on 28 January.
For comparison, the Galaxy Buds Live have an RRP of £179, the Galaxy Buds+ cost £129, the Jabra Elite 85t cost £219.99, the Bose QC Earbuds cost £249.95, the Sony WF-1000XM3 cost £149 and the Apple AirPods Pro cost £249.
The Galaxy Buds Pro are Samsung’s best true wireless earbuds yet.
They pack excellent sound with solid noise-cancelling into small and comfortable earbuds without stalks, which have good battery life and a great, compact case – a combination that’s still hard to find. They are also water-resistant to a high standard, which can’t be said for most competitors, and are made with recycled materials.
They are not cheap, costing £219, which puts them in the top end of the market, beating Apple’s AirPods Pro on sound but falling short of the Jabra Elite 85t on noise-cancelling. If other Samsung earbuds are any indication, you should be able to find them with a reasonable discount if you shop around in the near future.
Unlike previous Samsung earbuds, the batteries in the Buds Pro cannot be replaced, which is a disappointing step back and ultimately makes them disposable, similar to most other true wireless earbuds, losing them a star. Samsung does not recycle the earbuds either. They can be used with an iPhone but are not supported by the Galaxy Buds app, so you can’t change the settings or keep them up to date.
The Galaxy Buds Pro are Samsung’s true AirPods Pro-beaters for Android – an excellent set of premium everyday true wireless earbuds.
Pros: great sound, solid noise-cancelling, seamless switching, good controls, comfortable fit, excellent case, solid battery, no stalks, IPX7 water resistance, made of recycled materials.
Cons: expensive, battery cannot be replaced, some features restricted to Samsung devices, can only connect to one device at a time.