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Apple AirPods vs Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: The battle to be the best
While the Apple AirPods aren’t perfect, there’s no denying their impact on the true wireless earbud market. Nearly every consumer electronics manufacturer has been scrambling to find their answer to the AirPods. Samsung threw its hat in the ring with the bean-shaped Samsung Galaxy Buds Live.
With similar pricing and features, you may be wondering which is the better buy. We’re putting the Apple AirPods head-to-head with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live to see which are worth your investment.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live vs Apple AirPods
The now-iconic AirPods design features a minimalist aesthetic and just one color option: glossy white. The plastic construction is sturdy but lacks any sweat or waterproofing. The elongated stem on either earbud extends out and down from the ear, and houses the microphone.
Apple sticks to a minimalist design with its charging case that features rounded corners reminiscent of a Tic-Tac case. The vertical placement of the AirPods aligns the charging pins, a much easier process than with the Galaxy Buds Live. For an extra $40 you can get a version of the AirPods with a wireless charging case. Alternatively, you can buy the wireless charging case separately for $79.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live earbuds have a unique, kidney-bean-inspired design. Color options include mystic bronze, black or white. The earbuds fit inside your ear rather than sticking out like the AirPods, which along with the color options help them to be more discreet.
Samsung opted for a jewelry-box-inspired case that lies flat and pops open to reveal the buds. Wireless charging comes standard with the Galaxy Buds Live, with any Qi-wireless charger able to power up the charging case. With Wireless PowerShare on Samsung Galaxy smartphones, you can even charge your buds on the go with your phone.
Fit and use
Both earbuds have an open-type fit that forgoes ear tips. If your ears don’t fit the mold, there’s a good chance the AirPods or Galaxy Buds Live won’t stay in your place for long. Between the two, the Galaxy Buds Live does a slightly better job of staying in, as the stem on the AirPods is prone to being accidentally knocked out.
Touch sensors control playback on both earbuds. However, only the Galaxy Buds Live feature touch controls for volume adjustments and toggling active noise-cancelling (ANC). Both Android and iOS users can also customize the controls on the Galaxy Buds Live, whereas only iOS users can remap the AirPods onboard controls.
Automatic ear detection is present on both sets of earbuds. Removing one earbud on the AirPods automatically pauses music, with playback resuming when reinserted. The Galaxy Buds Live requires you to remove both earbuds for auto-pause, with a tap on either earbud to resume playback. We also found Apple’s implementation of ear detection to work more consistently than the Galaxy Buds Live.
Despite a lack of any water or dust resistance, many people are seen using AirPods at the gym. The Galaxy Buds Live is slightly better with an IPX2 rating, but that limited rating won’t protect against intense training sessions or use in the rain.
Related: Best true wireless workout earbuds
In short, neither of these earbuds make for a very good gym companion. Instead, invest in a pair that has an IP rating of IPX4 or higher.
Compatibility and software
Each earbud has benefits and drawbacks on iOS and Android. The complete AirPod experience is locked behind Apple’s walled garden, with many features limited to iOS devices. While you can pair the AirPods to an Android device via Bluetooth, you won’t get key features such as customizing the touch controls or downloading firmware updates. Other features limited to iOS devices include volume monitoring to protect hearing health, battery optimization, and automatic device switching.
The Galaxy Buds Live are less restrictive to one platform, with the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app available on both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. The app includes access to features such as EQ presets, firmware updates, touch control remapping, notifications, and voice assistant controls.
If you like experimenting with the latest and greatest test, Galaxy Labs (Android only) might pique your interest. It’s included within the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app, and provides a sneak-peek into potential future updates to the Galaxy Buds Live. Experimental features include a Gaming Mode for minimal audio-video lag—perfect for gaming and video streaming.
There are some device-specific features to be aware of with the Galaxy Buds Live. Spotify integration for direct access from the earbuds, as well as notification readouts, are only available on Android devices. If you’re a fan of Bixby, you’ll also need a Samsung Galaxy device for hands-free access to the voice assistant.
Connection quality and Bluetooth codec support
Thanks to the Apple H1 chip, AirPods have one of the most seamless connection processes we’ve ever seen. Simply opening the charging case next to your iOS device will pop up a card to connect the AirPods. Once connected, the AirPods stream high-quality audio via the AAC Bluetooth codec.
On Android, the AirPods connect the same way as any other pair of Bluetooth earbuds. You’ll have to go into the Bluetooth settings on your device, press and hold the pairing button on the AirPods, and then tap on your AirPods in the list of available devices to connect.
Read more: Understanding Bluetooth codecs
AirPod connection quality on Android pales in comparison to iOS. Occasional dropouts and audio lag are present on Android, requiring you to pause your music to fix it. Depending on your hardware, Android OS struggles to maintain a consistent streaming quality over the AAC codec, which may result in lower audio quality than expected.
The Galaxy Buds Live takes a page out of Apple’s playbook by also including a fast pairing process. To connect to an Android device you just need to open the charging case, and a card will pop up prompting the pairing process. Connection to an iOS device is done through the Galaxy Wearable app, or you can simply open the charging case and select the earbuds from the Bluetooth menu.
Samsung skipped on high-end Android codec support such as aptX or LDAC, instead just opting for AAC. You’ll get great connectivity on iOS devices, but again, some Android users may want to force the standard SBC codec.
Samsung Galaxy device users can take advantage of the Samsung Scalable Codec, which automatically adjusts stream quality between 96-512kbps to prevent connection dropouts. Regardless of what device you have, connection quality on the Galaxy Buds Live will be at least as good, if not better, than the AirPods.
Isolation and noise cancellation
Isolation is critical to the performance of any earbuds. Without a good fit and seal, your music will be competing with distractions from ambient noise. Not only can ambient noise degrade the listening experience, but it can also put your ears at risk of noise-induced hearing loss. Without proper isolation, you’ll be much more likely to turn up the volume of the earbuds.
Unfortunately, both the AirPods and Galaxy Buds Live miss the mark when it comes to isolation. Even if the one-size-fits-all design of the earbuds fits the shape of your ears, the lack of silicone or foam ear tips means environmental noise can easily drown out your music. Take either of these earbuds on transit or in busy streets, and you’ll be forced to crank up the volume to counter the effects of auditory masking.
Unlike the AirPods, the Galaxy Buds Live has active noise-cancellation (ANC). Onboard microphones cancel out low-frequency ambient sounds, although the ANC doesn’t compare to higher-end noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds. The degree to which the Galaxy Buds Live attenuate noise will be highly dependent on how well the earbuds fit in your ears.
The AirPods and Galaxy Buds Live both feature a consumer-friendly frequency response. As you can see in the graph below, the AirPods (cyan line) emphasize low frequencies more than what we posit as ideal for most consumers (pink line). If you can get a good fit with the AirPods and are in a quiet environment, you will notice an increased presence to kick drums and bass lines.
Even with this boost to low frequencies, bass notes still sound attenuated in noisy environments (again, a consequence of auditory masking). Amplified low-mid frequencies help vocals come through clearly in both songs and phone calls, while there is a slight lack of detail on the attack and reverb of high-frequency instruments such as hi-hats and other cymbals.
Related: How to read frequency charts
The sound quality on the Galaxy Buds Live is quite similar to the AirPods. While the Galaxy Buds Live suffer from many of the same isolation issues, the inclusion of active noise cancellation makes it slightly easier to hear bass notes in noisy environments.
In quiet environments, bass notes sound twice as loud as midrange notes on the Galaxy Buds Live, which can make it hard to hear the fundamental notes of important instruments like vocals and guitar.
Treble notes are more present on the Galaxy Buds Live compared to the AirPods, which can give the illusion of a more detailed sound. Fans of electronic or hip-hop music are more likely to enjoy this sound signature, while those who prefer acoustic-driven tracks may be searching for a more accurate sound.
Compared to most other true wireless earbuds, the microphones onboard the AirPods are quite good. Due to the elongated stem design of the earbuds, the dual-beamforming microphones clearly capture voices with a high degree of presence and clarity. Background noise rejection is also good, though there is audible over-processing, as evident by the robot-like sounds at the tail end of a person’s speech. Listen to our AirPods mic sample here.
The Galaxy Buds Live have an equally impressive microphone system. A three-mic array inside each earbud combines beamforming and bone conduction technology to accurately record vocals. The microphones effectively reject background noise too, which ensures people can hear your voice clearly even in busy streets. Listen to our Galaxy Buds Live microphone demo here.
Due to the small size of earbuds themselves, the battery life on true wireless earbuds is notoriously poor. Neither of the offerings from Apple and Samsung is exceptional here, although we can declare a clear winner in this category. We subjected each earbud to constant playback at 75dB(SPL) until battery depletion to see which lasts longer.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds lasted five hours and 15 minutes with ANC enabled, and up to eight hours without ANC enabled. Additionally, the charging case stores 21 hours of additional charge, with five minutes of charging in the case resulting in an hour of playback time.
On the other hand, the AirPods only lasted four hours and seven minutes on a charge. When connected to an Android device, battery life was even worse (about three and a half hours). On a more positive note, the charging case of the AirPods stores 24 hours of battery, with 15 minutes of charging in the case providing three hours of playback.
Apple AirPods vs Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: What should you buy?
We’re giving the victory here to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. Regardless of your platform of choice, the Samsung buds are the better overall product with features that make using the product a seamless experience.
The inclusion of active noise cancellation on the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live helps compensate for the isolation issues that both the Galaxy Buds Live and AirPods suffer from. If you own a Samsung Galaxy device, you’ll enjoy the benefits of hands-free access to Bixby and support for the Samsung Scalable Codec. However, even iPhone users get the benefit of controlling and customizing the Galaxy Buds Live via the Samsung Wearable app that is available on both iOS and Android.
Despite shortcomings, the AirPods still have many features that may entice users. The pairing process on Apple devices is still unmatched, even compared to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. If you are already deeply ingrained in Apple’s ecosystem, you may be more comfortable buying a pair of AirPods due to Apple’s tight-knit hardware and software integration.
What about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro?
The Galaxy Buds Pro are the latest pair of true wireless earbuds from Samsung, and iterate on the previous generations of true wireless earbuds such as the Galaxy Buds Live. The most important upgrade here is the inclusion of different sized ear tips to create a better seal, resulting in better isolation and noise cancellation performance. The new ‘buds also feature an IPX7 waterproof rating, better sound quality, a good microphone, and 360 Audio for Samsung Galaxy device owners.
At $200, the Galaxy Buds Pro is roughly $60 more than the Galaxy Buds Live. The improved fit and isolation may be just enough to justify that extra cost though.
If you are in the Apple ecosystem and have extra money to spend, you should consider the AirPods Pro. The Pro version of Apple’s true wireless earbuds has ear tips for better passive isolation, in addition to active noise cancellation to block environmental noise. This implementation of active noise cancellation is much more effective than the Galaxy Buds Live, as the ear tips create a comfortable, stable seal to the ear canal. The AirPods Pro is also IPX4 water-resistant and has some advanced features like head tracking support for Spatial Audio.
Samsung users looking to avoid the bean-shaped design of the Galaxy Buds Live should check out the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus. These ‘buds lack active noise cancelling, but sport similar functionality with improved isolation. The ear and wing tips make these some of the most comfortable earbuds around, while the software experience is complete with direct Spotify access and the ability to reassign touch controls.
A great budget alternative is the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro. These earbuds can be found on sale for cheaper than either the AirPods or Galaxy Buds Live, and bring tons of added customization features. There are multiple active noise cancellation modes, a custom EQ with a hearing test, and nine different ear tip sizes to ensure a proper fit and seal.