Despite Samsung's decision to showcase its newest set of wireless earbuds amid the turmoil of an all-digital CES 2021, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro managed to steal the show when it released at the turn of the year 2021. It was also noteworthy that the announcement came so soon after the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. This device failed to offer the luxury experience that Samsung promised, despite having active noise cancellation (ANC) and a polarising design. Fortunately, the Galaxy Buds Pro improves on the original with improved noise cancellation and sound, as well as numerous additional functions and a more traditional look.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

How do the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro compare to the competition? Quite good, really. In fact, Samsung's latest offering is worthy of being included among the finest noise-cancelling earphones and even the best wireless earbuds in general. However, several flaws prohibit it from being an excellent multi-platform solution, such as Galaxy-exclusive features and limited battery life with ANC enabled. Let's take a closer look at this Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review to get the entire picture.

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro also took up two Tom's Guide Awards 2021 Audio awards, taking home the Most Innovative Headphones title outright and a Highly Recommended award for Best Sports Headphones. To see all of this year's top tech, go to the main Tom's Guide Awards 2021 website.

Price and Availability

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro can be purchased for $199.99 through major online retailers including as Amazon and Best Buy, as well as directly from Samsung. Samsung is now selling the buds for $149.99 with a qualifying trade-in.

Design and Comfort

Samsung deserves credit for trying something different with the Galaxy Buds Live's clumsy design, but it wasn't quite as appealing or functional as the advertising suggested. To get the most out of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, the design has to be round, since it accommodates utility and wearability, from the bigger screens for accurate touch input to the expanded sound port for smooth insertion.

These buds, like Samsung's prior offering and the AirPods Pro, are more discreet and stylish. They aren't noticeable. While the bright gloss surface attracts fingerprints, it generates a lovely sheen that gives the product a premium appearance. Then there are the three elegant hues, the most eye-catching of which being Phantom Violet.

The Galaxy Buds Pro are made of durable plastic that complies with IPX7 water resistant requirements. Because the build quality is solid, you won't have to worry about the buds breaking if they fall to the ground. You'll also like some of Samsung's minor design tweaks, such as the outside mics on the top and bottom of each bud, as well as the air vent on the top inner section of the buds.

The super-compact charging case, which is substantially smaller than the Galaxy Buds Live and AirPods Pro cases, is even more appealing than the buds themselves. When docked, it feels solid in the palm and elegantly showcases the buds. The charging state is indicated by a little LED on the front. The top-of-the-line airbrushed Samsung logo is also a lovely touch. The cover is fragile owing to a weak magnet, which is my sole concern.

When it comes to fit, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro and Galaxy Buds Live are night and day. The latter's one-size-fits-all approach was sloppy and provided minimal on-ear stability. When correctly set, the Galaxy Buds Pro fit firmly on the ears and establish a solid seal, allowing you to completely enjoy audio once locked in, albeit your concha will suffer some pain after approximately an hour of use. Personally, I still like the AirPods Pro since they are more comfortable and fit better.

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro comes with a number of smart controls, including touch and hold gestures as well as on-ear recognition. The controls are responsive in general, and Samsung has improved them further with post-release firmware patches. For example, you can now increase the level by double-tapping the earbuds' edges; previously, volume controls had to be bound to the tap-and-hold gesture, which meant that if you needed quick volume adjustment, you had to sacrifice other inputs such as toggling between sound modes. You now have a little more leeway, which is a good thing.

If you're concerned about the buds' sensitivity to touch, the accompanying app allows you to lock the touch panels so you don't accidentally stop a conversation or turn on the wrong function.When one bud is removed, the music on the adjacent bud is immediately paused and Ambient Sound mode is enabled. What is the true benefit of this? I'm not sure, especially because removing both buds makes it easier to hear what's going on around you. Re-inserting them into your ears will not resume playing.

Voice Detect is another creative control option. This function reduces the level of what you're listening to while increasing audio passthrough loudness, allowing you to interact with people without taking off the buds. It works OK for the most part, although there is some lag while properly registering the user's vocals and enabling the mode, which takes roughly 2 to 3 seconds.

Bixby provides hands-free digital help, but the buds also function with Google Assistant and Siri. Samsung's three-mic array has excellent speech recognition, making it simple to activate Bixby with its activation phrase ("Hi Bixby") and voice commands, with all three AI bots responding rapidly to questions.

Active Noise Cancellation

Although the ANC on these buds is far superior to that on its predecessor, does it really remove "99 percent" of background noise as Samsung claims? No way. Even the greatest wireless earbuds for noise cancellation, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, and the AirPods Pro, are unable to do this. Not to mention that the sound silencers on those two variants are far more powerful.

There are two ANC levels on the Galaxy Buds Pro: Low and High. Each is designed for a distinct setting, with Low being designed for tiny places like an office and High reportedly being able to tolerate louder ambient traffic. High was the most effective option for me, especially inside. It felt amazing to drown out ordinary distractions like doorbells, noisy televisions, and the odd yelling from across the living room. My newborn's screams and other high-frequency noises like whistles were not muted by the buds. Fortunately, it wasn't loud enough to distract me from whatever music was playing in the background.

Outside, ANC wasn't very effective. Even the July breezes in West Palm Beach had a significant presence as I listened to music on the front porch. Samsung created what it calls Wind Shield technology to limit draughty influence. The whipping impact of passing autos was also visible. I may not have the opportunity to test these buds in flight right now, but based on what I've seen so far, I don't think the technology will hold up well on flights.

Samsung wasn't joking when it said its Transparency Mode was "better than it has ever been." Cycling between the four settings (Low, Medium, High, and Extra High) magnified the noises around me, boosting my awareness in crowded places. It was entertaining to listen in on my wife's conversation with her sisters on Low while also keeping an eye on visitors at the front door from several rooms down on High.

Do not enable Extra High unless you want to hear everything from a mile away. Amplification is annoyingly loud. It's a sign of Samsung's dedication to improving the listening mode, but it's also a pain you don't want to go through. When trying to speak to my infant, there was some echoing, and the keyboard clatter got uncomfortable when typing on my MacBook Pro.

Audio Quality

Deep bass and clean mids are pumped out by Samsung's big two-way speakers. Despite the fact that audio on Galaxy smartphones is scaled up, you can still enjoy exciting music on non-Samsung handsets owing to the brand's proprietary Scalable Codec.

When listening to A Tribe Called Quest's "Bonita Applebaum" on my Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G, the pounding bass end was turned up to 11, which was frightening at first but then spurred rhythmic head-nods as the album progressed. The well-balanced bass, as well as Q-soft-spoken Tip's vocals sounding more apparent, were outstanding. When I was listening to Bob Marley & The Wailers' "Could You Be Loved," I felt the same way; the addictive bassline at the top sent goosebumps down my spine.

I listened to several Jazz oldies to get a sense for the Galaxy Buds Pro's frequency spectrum, and the results were peaceful. Every instrument on Ahmad Jamal's "The Awakening," from the resonant double bass to the steady hi-hats, had its own personality and melded nicely with the lyrical arrangement. On my Google Pixel 3 XL, clarity was marginally reduced, but I feel that only diehard audiophiles would detect any differences when switching to non-Samsung devices.

Samsung did, however, steal a leaf from Apple's book by producing 360 Audio, a spatial auditory alternative that uses Dolby Head Tracking to provide "multi-dimensional sound" and better audio depth when watching video material. I'd love to provide input on the function, but it's presently only available on the new Galaxy S21 phones, and Samsung didn't include one with our Galaxy Buds Pro. 360 Audio will only be accessible on Galaxy devices running OneUI 3.1, according to Samsung (or higher). At a later point, the Tom's Guide team will update this review with a full examination of 360 Audio.

I can tell that the audio quality on video and podcasts is equally impressive. The Inauguration ceremony of now-President Joe Biden was entertaining to watch, with every political speech and musical performance seeming clear.

App and unique features

The Galaxy Wareable app includes a number of customization options for the buds. Depending on your device, this is where you may configure the settings, alter the sound, cycle through the different levels of each listening mode, and access a variety of other features.

You'll probably want to start with the EQ, which has six settings that are designed to compliment different music genres. Normal is the default and is great as is, but if you want extra low-end punch, Bass Boost is the way to go. Soft, Dynamic, Treble Boost, and Clear are the other options; the latter is best for podcasts and other dialogue-heavy content, though I didn't detect much of a difference between them.

Apart from the aforementioned 360 Audio, there are a number of noteworthy features, some of which are available throughout the Android platform and others which are specific to Galaxy smartphones. The Find My Earphones option and SmartThings Find, a feature available through the SmartThings app that provides the GPS position of any lost or stolen earbuds, are two ways to find misplaced earbuds. When gaming on Galaxy smartphones, there is a unique Gaming mode under the Labs setting that reduces audio latency. Then there's Auto Switch, which allows you to switch between Galaxy devices immediately (more on that below) and PowerShare, which allows you to charge the buds wirelessly by placing the charging case on the back of a compatible Galaxy smartphone.

The Galaxy Buds Pro, like other Samsung earbuds, does not work with the Galaxy Buds app for iPhone. To put it another way, iOS users can still use the earphones, but they won't be able to adjust or update their settings. Note: The current software update (R190XXU0AUA1) includes two performance improvements for listeners with hearing problems, including better Bixby voice wake-up response and left/right sound balance adjustment.

Battery life and charging case

With ANC turned on, Samsung claims a battery life of 5 hours, but when you factor in high volume, streaming, and listening modes, it's closer to 4 to 4.5 hours. This is virtually the same battery life as the AirPods Pro (4.5 hours), which is disappointing. Worse, the Galaxy Buds Pro consumes more juice than its ceramic counterpart. The battery levels decreased considerably more fast than I expected after receiving my item fully charged, reaching 25% after 2.5 hours of operation. I was watching ANC, listening to Spotify, and participating in a two-hour Skype chat throughout that period. Apple's battery management is significantly superior, with the AirPods Pro lasting anywhere from 4 to 4.5 hours, depending on how I used them.

That's not to suggest the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro can't play for extended periods of time; it simply means turning off ANC and other functions like Bixby. By turning them off, you may get up to 8 hours of battery life. It's also disappointing to see Samsung's charging case ranked lower than Apple's; with ANC turned on, the Galaxy Buds Pro lasts an extra 18 hours, whilst the AirPods last 24 hours. When the features are turned off, the time is increased to 28 hours.

But it's not all terrible news. The Galaxy Buds Pro supports wireless charging, so you can charge them without being attached to any cords by placing the charging case on any Qi-enabled wireless charging pad. You also have PowerShare at your disposal, as previously noted.

Call quality and connection

Samsung's wireless earphones have been a mixed bag when it comes to calling headsets. With the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, not much has changed. While Skype connections were excellent - voices were clear and loud on both ends – phone calls left a lot to be desired. During conversations, my wife noticed that I sounded choppy and slightly distorted, with my voice fading in and out. She also remarked that the background noise was perfectly silent until I started talking, which increased the volume of surrounding conversation and strong breezes.

The superior connection provided by these buds compensates for the poor call quality. Pairing to devices was a breeze, with my MacBook Pro and Android smartphones detecting the earbuds right away and keeping a consistent wireless range of 35 feet with no stuttering. Auto Switch is as simple to use as Apple's auto-switch function, and business customers with at least two Galaxy devices will appreciate it when switching between models. I only wish it was compatible with every Android and iOS smartphone out there. Another issue I have with the Galaxy Buds Pro is the absence of multipoint technology, since you can only couple to one audio source at a time.

The verdict

Is the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro a significant improvement over the Galaxy Buds Live? Yes. Is it on par with the AirPods Pro in terms of quality? Yes, but only for Android users, and particularly for Samsung Galaxy smartphone owners. Is it a clear leader in its category? No. And that's just acceptable.

The model's strongest features are its audio and wireless capabilities, which reward listeners with energising sound that complements most music genres and is delivered through a solid connection. The Galaxy Wareable app adds to the capabilities, but iOS users are left without the ability to tweak settings.

The Galaxy Buds Pro is the ideal companion for Samsung's latest flagship smartphones, and owners of the Galaxy S21 will get the whole package. Innovative features like 360 Audio, on the other hand, are only available on the Galaxy platform. The battery life isn't something to write home about, though, since it's on par with the AirPods Pro. Still, when it comes to performance and affordability, Samsung's flagship buds are a great buy for any Android user.