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Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
What we like
What we don't like
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Get your can openers ready, because the beans are here. The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live garnered a great deal of attention for their kidney bean shape, and these true wireless buds immediately separate themselves from the swarm of AirPods doppelgangers. Many believe Samsung bit off more than it can chew with the Galaxy Buds Live, so we’re going to see how these open-fit, noise-cancelling earbuds perform in the real world. Grab those spoons: it’s time to dig in.
Update, November 2022: This Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review was updated to include the results of the microphone poll, update the list of alternatives to address the discontinuation of the Galaxy Buds Pro and Galaxy Buds Plus, and more.
Who should get the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live?
- Samsung Galaxy smartphone users will get the most use out of these earbuds because the phones support the proprietary Samsung Scalable Codec for high-quality audio and reliable connection strength. Samsung devices that support Wireless PowerShare can also charge the case by just placing the earbuds on top of it.
- Anyone considering the Apple AirPods may want to instead get the Galaxy Buds Live. Samsung’s earphones use a similar open-type design that AirPods users love and they actually stay in your ears.
What’s it like to use the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live?
Listeners are afforded a premium and simple experience with the Galaxy Buds Live, and this is immediately made apparent by the jewelry box-inspired charging case. Its plastic design may read as cheap to some, but this choice keeps everything lightweight and more affordable than an alternative like metal. You won’t find any tactile buttons on the Galaxy Buds Live case or earbuds. The outside of the case is decorated with a single LED and houses a USB-C input on the backside.
A seam encompassing the case made it easy to open with one or both hands; though admittedly, I did fumble a few times and I spilled the buds onto the floor. Samsung nailed the jewelry-inspired design because the experience was akin to opening an earring box. Our review unit happened to be Mystic Bronze, but you have your pick of Mystic Black, Mystic White, and Mystic Red too.
How do they fit?
The earbuds bear a strong resemblance to the fiber-rich kidney beans, and while there are plenty of bean-related puns to be made, the fit is no joke: the Galaxy Buds Live earbuds provide a stable fit. They even stayed in place as I exercised, whether I was skateboarding, rock climbing, or jogging.
By nature of the earbuds’ purported universal fit, there are bound to be listeners who will find the buds uncomfortable — this will be especially true for listeners with small ears. My ears appear pretty average, and the earbuds became uncomfortable after 1.5 hours of wear, whether I used the small or large rubber ear stays. Learning how to wear the earbuds required a little patience, but after a handful of times, it became second nature. Most users will require guidance on how to wear the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, which is why Samsung makes it very clear in the Galaxy Wearable app.
Start here: Headphone buying guide
The upper half of each earbud functions as a touch panel, allowing users to adjust volume levels, control playback, toggle noise-cancelling, and more. After a month of use, it’s become clear that the touch panels are far too sensitive for my liking, and I’ve since disabled touch controls from the Galaxy Wearable app. When you remove the earbuds simultaneously, media playback pauses but doesn’t resume when re-inserted. Instead, you must tap either bud to continue your music. Automatic ear detection isn’t as responsive as some open-type fit buds, but I’ll happily forfeit that for earbuds that actually stay in place.
Should you get the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app?
You should download the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app (Play Store/App Store) because it allows you to download software updates for the earbuds. That’s not all it’s good for though; you may also toggle hands-free Bixby access, remap the touch controls for alternative virtual assistant access, enable incoming notification readouts, choose from six EQ presets (Normal, Bass boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear, and Treble boost), and access Galaxy Labs for experimental features.
Samsung is breaking new ground with its earbuds, and took a risk in a time when everyone is following Apple's lead.
Galaxy Labs hosts Gaming mode, which minimizes latency between audio and video playback; this is ideal for gamers and anyone who streams plenty of videos. There’s also an ambient sound option for mitigating that clogged-ear feeling. Although, the build of the buds already does this because they don’t seal to the ear anyway.
Both iOS and Android users have app access for firmware updates, but some features are exclusive to Android, such as notification readouts and direct Spotify access. Only Samsung devices support direct voice access to Bixby with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, but that news shouldn’t ruin anyone’s day. All other virtual assistants require users to use the touch controls to gain access.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live noise-cancelling works, a little
Passive isolation is poor on the Galaxy Buds Live, but it’s a natural consequence of an open-type fit. You’ll hear most outside sounds when wearing the Buds Live with ANC disabled, and most sounds will make it through even when ANC is enabled. While that may not be the best kind of performance for air travel, it can be advantageous for outdoor athletes and people who walk on busy streets. Plus, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live aren’t meant to compete directly with traditional noise-cancelling earbuds. Samsung already has conventional ANC earbuds under its subsidiary AKG. Instead, the company took a risk with the Galaxy Buds Live and for that it deserves recognition.
Learn more: How do noise-cancelling headphones work?
Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live appeals to those who want to remain aware of their surroundings while reducing distracting, unimportant sounds. Let’s not mince words: the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live noise-cancelling only works to a minor degree.
How to pair the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live on Android
Pairing the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live to an Android device is very easy, so long as it’s running Android 5.0 or later. All you have to do is enable Bluetooth on your smartphone and open the buds’ case. A pop-up card will display on your smartphone, and once you tap “Connect,” a connection will establish between the devices. This kind of pairing process is not only convenient but makes the earbuds accessible to all consumers — no matter their familiarity with tech.
The earbuds don’t support Bluetooth multipoint, so you may only connect to one device at a time. However, Samsung makes up for it with quick device switching. All you need to do is select the Galaxy Buds Live from the desired device’s Bluetooth menu, and the connection will immediately switch from your current device to the desired one. In order to do this, you must have a previously established Bluetooth connection between both the second source device and the Galaxy Buds.
Connection quality is reliable over the Samsung Scalable Codec
The earbuds use Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and support two high-quality Bluetooth codecs: AAC and the Samsung Scalable Codec. The latter effectively balances high-quality audio (96-512kbps) and connection stability, so listeners experience fewer connection hiccups.
Although the lack of aptX support is a shame, it isn’t surprising and won’t sully the user experience. High-quality wireless audio relies on an optimal fit, and if the earbuds don’t seal to the ear canal, music detail is subject to auditory masking. This is when a loud sound makes it hard to hear a relatively quiet one. Non-Samsung Android users don’t lose much by choosing between the unstable AAC codec or the standard SBC codec, because no high-quality codec will magically overcome auditory masking.
Battery life is good for ANC earbuds
Few headphone technologies are more demanding than good active noise-cancelling. Yet, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live lasted five hours, 15 minutes with ANC on, according to SoundGuys’ battery testing. This falls short of the official 6-hour battery life with ANC on, but users who listen to quieter outputs will come closer to this mark.
Quick charging the earbuds takes five minutes and yields an hour of playtime, but listeners will get different play times depending on how often they enable noise-cancelling. According to Samsung, if ANC is disabled, you’ll enjoy about eight hours of constant playback with the case providing an additional 2.63 charge cycles for approximately 29 hours of total listening time. However, with noise cancelling constantly enabled, the case provides 2.5 charge cycles totalling up to 21 hours of listening.
The case can be charged on top of a Qi wireless charging pad, or a Samsung device that supports Wireless PowerShare. You can always rely on the trusty USB-C cable to charge the case, too.
Do true wireless earbuds batteries lose their charge?
Yes, lithium-ion batteries are packed inside your true wireless earbuds and are vulnerable to capacity degradation just the same as your smartphone. The decrease in capacity is exacerbated by the unending charge-deplete cycle to which the earbuds are constantly subjected. Right now, most totally wireless buds have a short lifespan of approximately two years.
Apple is leading the way in true wireless battery optimization: iOS 14 instructs the AirPods to communicate with the case and hold off on charging beyond 80% until you intend to use them. This feature slows battery capacity degradation and is said to improve over time as it learns your usage patterns. That’s just one example of the technology, and it seems entirely possible that other smartphone manufacturers with proprietary headsets will follow suit.
Sound quality is consumer-friendly
Sound quality is okay from the Galaxy Buds Live, but again: your mileage will vary based on fit, outside noise, and other consequences of an unsealed ear canal. The 12mm dynamic drivers have been tuned by AKG and have a consumer-friendly sound that bodes well for popular genres of music like hip-hop, pop, and rock, but we suggest playing around with the app if you find that the sound isn’t what you want out of the box. Obviously, these are not audiophile products given their likely use, but not everyone needs a set of high-performance audio products when they’re out and about.
The sound is good for general consumers and falls in line with what we’re accustomed to hearing: amplified bass and high notes. Bass emphasis isn’t as egregious as I expected it to be, though voices are hard to hear during instrumentally busy parts of any song, like choruses.
Environmental noise may make it hard to hear detail from your music.
We’re going to caution you to take the chart of our measurements with some salt because the nature of an unsealed ear canal means that the fit cannot be controlled. However, the most repeatable result is shown above. What’s more, it’s unlikely that you’ll hear your music exactly how the frequency response chart depicts because of auditory masking. Whether noise-cancelling is on or off, outside noises will still get through to be processed by your brain. Since your wrinkly grey friend only has so much bandwidth for processing stimuli, it prioritizes seemingly threatening (e.g., loud) sounds over less threatening (e.g., quiet) sounds. External sounds are loud, so our brains automatically focus on those rather than straining to hear tonal resonances.
The microphones are very good
Microphone quality is excellent, and Samsung’s advanced microphone array uses two beamforming microphones and one voice-pickup unit, which relies on bone conduction to transmit your voice into audio signals. All of this technology allows for clear vocal transmission even when things are happening all around you.
Galaxy Buds Live microphone demo (ideal):
Galaxy Buds Live microphone demo (wind):
Background noise is rejected effectively when inside, but like nearly all embedded microphones, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live headset can’t nullify moderate winds. If you pass your free time by walking around and making calls, you may want to check the weather to make sure wind won’t be an issue. It could be quite disturbing for people on the other side of the call.
How does the microphone sound to you?
As of November 2022, 75% of voters rated the microphone in the Samsung Galaxy Buds live between “Okay” and “Good,” which is slightly above average compared to similar wireless earbuds.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review: The verdict
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are certainly headline-worthy, but don’t throw your money at them without carefully considering the pros and cons — just like you should with any large purchase.
At the very least, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are worth consideration, and Samsung deserves credit for an attempt at real innovation. While the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live isn’t for everyone, listeners who purchase the buds with realistic expectations of their noise-cancelling abilities will be perfectly happy to have a new set of earphones.
What about the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro ($177.99 at Amazon) or Galaxy Buds 2 ($111.18 at Amazon) stray away from the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live’s kidney bean design, in favor of a more traditional look akin to the Galaxy Buds Plus. The noise-cancelling performance is much improved with the Galaxy Bud 2 Pro, thanks to their sealed design and improved ANC tech.
The Buds 2 Pro earpieces also merit an IPX7 rating, so water is no match for these ‘buds. Just as with other Samsung Galaxy Buds earphones, the Buds 2 Pro support Wireless Powershare and USB-C charging. They’ll do best with a Samsung phone, but another Android handset will also work, so these earbuds are a great buy for everyday use.
If you like the idea of open earbuds, then the Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 ($178) are another option. These doughnut-hole earbuds have a good mic just like the Galaxy Buds Live, but only an IPX4 rating and no wireless charging support. They’re more comfortable in our experience, too, thanks to their interchangeable ear wings and stable fit. Just keep in mind that the LinkBuds are also in their own niche at the end of the day.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live vs Apple AirPods
Samsung has its sights set on Apple, and maybe the Galaxy Buds Live are the first credible attempt by a third party at taking attention from the AirPods (3rd generation) ($179). Both headsets provide an open-type fit whereby a seal isn’t formed, but the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live stay in my ears and the AirPods don’t.
The Apple experience is the smoothest around, and nothing outshines using the AirPods on an iOS device. Both sets of earbuds support fast charging at identical speeds, but only Samsung includes a wireless charging case by default while you have to pay extra for one with the AirPods. Touch controls are a bit smoother on the AirPods as is automatic ear detection, but you need an iPhone to update the AirPods’ software, whereas the Galaxy Buds Live are operating system-agnostic.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live vs Jabra Elite 85t
The Jabra Elite 85t ($115.99) are a great alternative to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, because they seal to the ear canal. Even without enabling ANC on the Elite 85t, background noise will be more consistently blocked out than it is with the Galaxy Buds Live (with ANC enabled). You get a more secure fit with the Jabra Elite 85t, too, because the earbuds’ underbellies are rubberized. The ear tips are also ergonomically shaped with an oblong, rather than circular design, making them more comfortable for long listening sessions.
If you want a versatile pair of noise-cancelling earbuds that can withstand most workouts, you should look into the Jabra Elite 85t instead.
Save money with the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)
Alternatively, you can step outside of the Samsung galaxy and experiment with the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) ($69.99) which includes a USB-C charging case (the wireless option is $20 more) and IPX4-rated noise-cancelling earphones. While the Echo Buds (2nd Gen) is significantly more affordable than premium ANC earphones from Apple and Sony, Amazon’s noise-cancelling is noticeably better. The Alexa app works on any operating system, which can’t be said of the AirPods or even the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro which aren’t supported on iOS
If you’re looking for even better noise-cancelling, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds ($199) are a fantastic option. They don’t only have amazing noise-cancelling, but you can adjust the ANC level depending on how much you want to block out or let through. They also sound good, support wireless charging, and have an IPX4 water-resistance rating.
If you want an even more feature-rich option, the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds ($278) are a great choice for excellent ANC and isolation. They also use Bluetooth 5.2 and support the SBC, AAC, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs, and have 360 Reality Audio support. Top that off with foam ear tips and an IPX4 water-resistance rating, these buds are great option if you have the cash. Android fans on devices from other manufacturers will likely find the Google Pixel Buds Pro ($149.99) sync nicely with their devices while offering ANC to boot. And if you want a solid all-around performer, the Jabra Elite 4 Active ($119.99) do a little of everything quite well, including ANC, comfort, sound quality, and iOS and Android apps.
Frequently asked questions about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
An easy way to fix connection issues with any Bluetooth headset, including the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, is to reset the connection. To do this, head to your smartphone’s Bluetooth settings and choose the settings option next to the Galaxy Buds Live. Then select “Forget this device” or a similar option. After that, pair the Galaxy Buds Live with your phone again.
If you are in a quiet room or someone is close enough to you, they could hear some leaking sound from the Galaxy Buds Live due to their unsealed design.
No, the Galaxy Buds Live are not waterproof. They have an IPX2 rating, which means they can only withstand incidental contact with moisture at best.