Active noise canceling headphones were arguably the flagship of 2020, and Samsung is kicking off the new year with its latest offering, the Galaxy Buds Pro. Launched alongside the Galaxy S21 family of smartphones, the new earbuds promise not only audio isolation from the hubbub of home school and home work, but the ability to intelligently blend the real world with your bubble of silence.
However, this is hardly a segment without competition. Apple’s AirPods Pro are arguably the best-known, but there is no shortage of alternatives to familiar names and the like. At $ 199.99, the Galaxy Buds Pro aren’t the most expensive, but they definitely fall into the premium category. To justify this, they have to stand out.
The charging case is the same one we saw on the Galaxy Buds Live, a square clamshell case with a USB-C port on the back and support for wireless charging. Open it and both earbuds nest magnetically inside, with a multi-colored LED to indicate charging or pairing status. Samsung says you’ll get up to 5 hours of playback from each headset with ANC enabled, or 8 hours with it; the case adds 13 hours or 20 hours of overtime, respectively. Five minutes of charging in the case adds enough juice for about an hour of extra listening. I found Samsung’s numbers to be correct in my testing.
You can also wear them to more places, safely. There is now an IPX7 rating for water resistance – which makes Galaxy Buds Pro safe in soft water for 30 minutes up to a depth of one meter – which means rain and sweat will not pose no problem. However, they are not designed for swimming.
I have fussy ears when it comes to in-ear headphones, especially those that need a waterproof seal to deliver decent ANC performance. While I was a little skeptical at first about how the Galaxy Buds Pro fit into your ears – the tips down, with the rest of the bud tucked into your ear – and the fact that at 6.3g each, they are heavier than each AirPods Pro by 5.4g, they actually proved surprisingly comfortable.
There’s more bass than AirPods, and the soundstage is fuller and richer. If it’s absolute masses of bass you’re after, I think Sony’s WF-1000XM3 still has the edge – even with the Galaxy Buds Pro in “bass boost” mode – but Samsung’s sound is more balanced and its headphones are significantly more discreet than the beefy Sonys.
If you’re using a Samsung phone, the Galaxy Buds Pro rely on the company’s own scalable codec, potentially achieving a higher bit rate than the AAC and SBC codecs that the headphones also support, depending on strength. Bluetooth connection. Of course, you don’t understand this if you use them with an iPhone (although they are otherwise compatible for the most part), but in my overall listening I can’t say that I particularly noticed a difference.
When it comes to active noise cancellation (ANC), Samsung uses a mix of external and internal microphones, as well as its Wind Shield system to digitally and physically reduce external noise and wind noise. The boast is that 99% of the external background noise can be muted, although as always with ANC headphones you’ll need to make sure you have a good seal with the right sized ear tips first.
Samsung offers two levels of full ANC – high and low – as well as the ability to turn it off completely. You can also switch to Ambient Sound mode, which offers a mix of ANC and external noise, adjustable in four levels. This is useful if you are trying to concentrate but still want to be able to hear someone else in the house or office; or, for that matter, if you try to cross the road and not be taken by surprise by a truck.
The performance of the ANC is subjective and tastes differ. What I can definitely say is that this is the best ANC on Samsung headphones I have heard so far. Not only do the Galaxy Buds Pro isolate repetitive background noises – dishwasher churning, for example, or road noise – they do so with less whistling than some ANC headphones seem to overlay instead. That’s not to say you have to expect perfect silence, and as always, jagged sounds will get it through, but I’d say it’s on par with what AirPods Pro can do.
Voice detection is a little less useful, in my experience. The idea is simple: temporarily switch from ANC mode to Ambient Sound mode when the Galaxy Buds Pro hears you talking, so you can talk to a barista, chat with a spouse, or try to plead with your cat they’ve already caught. three lunches and doesn’t get a fourth. After 5, 10, or 15 seconds without speaking, the headphones automatically revert to full ANC mode.
It works – as soon as you speak, the headphones turn around and you can hear more ambient audio, then after a pause they come back – but it turned out to be a reminder of how much I talk or sing to myself. If you’re browsing your favorite Spotify playlist and have an impromptu karaoke session, you can expect the Galaxy Buds Pro to continue to automatically switch to Ambient Sound mode.
You can press an earpiece to cancel voice detection prematurely, but in the end I just turned it off. Your music pauses when you remove an earbud, after all, or you can tap the external touchpad once to toggle play / pause. A double-tap skips a track or answers / ends a voice call, while a triple-tap skips a track back.
The external touch keys can be set to different shortcuts on the left and right earbuds to touch and hold: to switch between ANC modes, trigger Bixby and launch Spotify, or decrease the volume with the left earbud or increase with the right. Alternatively, you can activate Bixby hands-free, with a voice command, but unfortunately there is no support to do the same for the Google Assistant or Siri, or even triggering either from headphones but by touch.
If you are not a Bixby fan, you are going to be frustrated. You could do the same for Game Mode, which promises less lag between audio and video when playing games: it only works on Samsung Android P phones or higher, or multi-mic recording. , which allows simultaneous use of phone and headset microphone in Pro camera mode on Galaxy smartphones with One UI 3.1 or higher. Clever? Sure, but I’m not convinced they’re going to tip a buying decision.
What could, ultimately at least, is 360 Audio. Like the similar system on Apple’s latest AirPods Max, it essentially creates a virtual 3D soundstage with multi-channel sound. Using Dolby Head Tracking, if you turn your head, the soundstage theoretically stays still while your perception moves. Right now it’s not much use, but I could see it become more popular as content creators take advantage of it.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro verdict
There is a trifet of criteria that ANC headphones live or die: audio performance, ANC performance, and battery. The Galaxy Buds Pro satisfy on all three points. Factor in comfort and the fact that they’re a bit more understated than their rivals – well, assuming you don’t go for the Phantom Violet or Phantom Silver finishes – and you’ve got a great all-rounder.
All the same, while they can work with iOS devices and other Android phones, the overall experience is much better if you are in the Galaxy ecosystem. This way, you get the best of fast connection switching, Bixby support, multi-mic recording, and other custom features that Samsung has built in. Much like the AirPods Pro experience when paired with an Android device, it works outside of the walled garden but it’s just not as smooth.
Considering that Samsung is still the main game in town for Android phones, that’s probably not a big gap overall. Those looking for a new set of ANC headphones for their Galaxy S21 won’t find much better value for their money than the Galaxy Buds Pro. Excellent noise cancellation, excellent audio quality, and long battery life make these Samsung headphones the best earbuds so far, more competitively priced than Apple’s well-respected rivals.