Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro vs Galaxy Buds Live vs Galaxy Buds Plus: the wireless earbuds compared

samsung galaxy buds pro

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are the latest wireless earbuds from the South Korean company, and perhaps one of the worst-kept tech secrets of the past few months. 

Following multiple leaks, the Galaxy Buds Pro were announced on January 14 alongside the Samsung Galaxy S21 during the company’s Unpacked 2021 event – and based on the specs, they could be Samsung’s best earbuds yet. 

Not only that, but support for 360 Audio, noise cancellation, and a competitive price puts the Galaxy Buds Pro in direct competition with some of the best true wireless earbuds on the market today, including the Apple AirPods Pro and the Sony WF-1000XM3

We’ve spent a little time with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, and while it’s too early to say whether they’re a definitive improvement upon their predecessors, the Galaxy Buds Live and the Galaxy Buds Plus, we’ve weighed up the specs and our initial thoughts to bring you a comprehensive comparison between Samsung’s wireless earbuds. 

Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are available to buy now, and cost $199 / £219 / AU$349 – not exactly cheap, but still less expensive than the AirPods Pro.

In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live cost $169.99 / £179 / AU$319 when they launched in August 2020, while the Galaxy Buds Plus cost $149.99 / £159 / AU$299 at their launch earlier that year. 

It makes sense that the new earbuds would cost a little more than their predecessors – but what’s puzzling is the lightning speed with which Samsung is releasing new models.

It hasn’t even been a year since we saw the Galaxy Buds Plus, and compared to other top brands, Samsung’s release schedule is positively meteoric. 

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro (Image credit: Samsung)

Design

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro look more like the Buds Plus than the bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live, with round housings and silicone eartips. 

When they launched in mid-2020 the design of the Galaxy Buds Live was somewhat divisive. While we found their unusual shape to be comfortable, the lack of eartips and semi-open design meant that the noise cancellation wasn’t great, and they suffered from a substantial amount of sound leakage. 

So, it makes sense that Samsung has reprised the look of the Galaxy Buds Plus for its latest wireless earbuds. However, the brand has brought a series of upgrades to the Galaxy Buds Pro, including upping the water-resistance rating from a mere IPX2 to IPX7. 

This means the earbuds can be used for working out, and you needn’t worry about sweat or rain breaking the inner mechanisms. 

Unlike the Galaxy Buds Plus, the Buds Pro don’t come with rubber earfins to keep them securely in place, which could be an issue if you do use them for working out. In our initial tests, we’ve found them to be comfortable, though we’ll need to spend more time using them to see if they can handle long listening sessions or lengthy workouts. 

samsung galaxy buds live

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live (Image credit: TechRadar / Aakash Jhaveri)

Samsung has also made the part that sits in your ear canal noticeably more convex with vents to reduce pressure build-up, while the cushions have been adjusted with longer, less rounded caps. 

There are still touch-capacitive sensors in the outer housings, which means you can control your music playback with a series of taps. 

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are available in three colors: Phantom Black, Phantom Silver and Phantom Violet to match the new Samsung Galaxy S21.

The color of the buds corresponds to the charging case you get with it, which is similar to that of the Galaxy Buds Live: it’s smaller than that of the Buds Plus, but a bit thicker. 

The case itself feels solid, with an LED light on the front of the charging case to indicate how much battery is left in the case itself. Round the back there’s a USB-C port, which can be used to charge the case, although this can also be done wirelessly if you have a wireless charging pad to hand.

When you open the case, you’ll see an additional LED light. The same colors are used here too, but these indicate to what extent the earbuds themselves are charged. 

galaxy buds

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus (Image credit: TechRadar)

Audio performance

In the short time we’ve spent with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, we were impressed by their clarity and balance across the high, mid, and low frequencies, though we need to spend more time testing them to make a true assessment of the audio quality. 

Inside the Buds Pro is an 11mm woofer that’s responsible for the low frequencies, and a 6.5mm tweeter for high frequencies, with Samsung taking inspiration from Hi-Fi speakers in their design. 

While the Galaxy Buds Live and Buds Plus both use single driver designs, Samsung says that the dual driver design it’s given its latest earbuds provides a balanced sound and wide frequency response, so we’re expecting an improvement here. 

The Galaxy Buds Pro have another trick up their sleeves: 360 Audio, an AirPods Pro-rivaling feature, which comes with Dolby Head Tracking technology. According to Samsung, this will deliver a more immersive listening experience by allowing you to “stay at the center of the scene”. This feature will only work with Galaxy smartphones and tablets, though.

For gamers, there’s also a Game Mode, which should reduce audio latency when you’re gaming with the Galaxy S21. As with the Galaxy Buds Live and the Buds Plus, you can tweak the sound settings via the Galaxy Wearables app.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro (pictured) support 360 Audio. (Image credit: Future)

Noise cancellation

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus didn’t come with any noise cancellation whatsoever, and the semi-open design of the Galaxy Buds Live meant that their noise-cancelling capabilities were severely limited – so, we’re hoping for a marked improvement with the Galaxy Buds Pro.

Happily, the specs don’t disappoint. According to Samsung, the Galaxy Buds Pro can block up to 99% of unwanted outside noise while listening to music or during calls, with the ability to adjust the level of cancelation via the Galaxy Wearable app.

Ambient mode – which is when the earbuds allow for external sounds to be let in, such as when someone is speaking to you – also benefits from this fine tuning feature. Again from the app, you can choose from four different strengths, depending on how much ambient sound you want filtered through the Galaxy Buds Pro.

However, you may not want to have to keep diving into the app to change the ANC and ambient mode levels, and with the Galaxy Buds Pro you won’t have to. They can – if you opt to turn the feature on – automatically adjust these settings based on your actions and environment. 

There’s even an Intelligent Active Noise Control feature that detects your voice and vibration to confirm you’re in a conversation and let external sound through.

Once you start talking the Buds Pro will automatically turn your music down and bring it back up to full volume once it detects that you’re done with your conversation.

samsung galaxy buds live

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live (pictured) disappointed when it came to noise cancellation. (Image credit: TechRadar / Aakash Jhaveri)

Battery life and connectivity

Samsung says the Galaxy Buds Pro will offer five hours of playback from the earbuds themselves, after which the charging case can provide an additional 13 hours (though that number jumps to 20 hours if you’re not using ANC).

Meanwhile, the Galaxy Buds Live held six hours in the earbuds, jumping to just over 20 hours when you include the charging case. However, the Galaxy Buds Plus win in terms of on-board battery life, with the earbuds containing 11 hours of charge, while the charging case provides an additional 11 hours, bringing the total battery life to 22 hours. 

Still, that total battery life is still pipped by the Galaxy Buds Pro, which offer up to 25 hours without ANC enabled.

Like the Galaxy Buds Live and Buds Plus, the new Galaxy Buds Pro come with Bluetooth 5 connectivity, and support for AAC, SBC, and SSC (Samsung Scalable Codec), which prevents audio chopping by changing the bit-rate according to the strength of the Bluetooth connection. 

One new feature for the Galaxy Buds Pro is Auto Switch, which means you can switch between Galaxy devices seamlessly.

Say, for example, you listen to music via your Galaxy Tab S7 Plus and receive calls via your Samsung Galaxy S20 – Auto Switch, means the earphones can be used automatically for the phone call, and connect themselves back to the tablet after the call. 

Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus (pictured) have the longest on-board battery life, but the new Buds Pro win out in terms of overall longevity. (Image credit: Future)

Call quality

The call quality provided by the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro should be pretty good, if the specs are anything to go by.

Inside each earbud are three microphones – two inner, and one outer – which are responsible for filtering out unwanted environmental sound during calls. The outer microphone has a high signal-to-noise ratio, which should further improve audio clarity.

Special technology has also been implemented to ensure that weather conditions have minimal negative consequences for the audio quality of your telephone call, including a more closed fit, mesh, and chamber, which should help to cut down on wind noise during phone calls. We’ll be putting these claims to the test in our full Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review, but we’re hoping that they’ll at least match, if not improve upon the Galaxy Buds Live in this regard. 

The Galaxy Buds Live had their fair share of innovative call technology, with a Voice Pickup Unit that uses an built-in accelerometer to sense the movement of your jaw and convert that kinetic energy into voice signals via bone conduction. We found this feature to work very well. 

The Galaxy Buds Plus also contain three microphones, and we found the call quality to be pretty good, too, even when we had music playing in the background.

From the sounds of it, Samsung has only improved upon its previous earbuds in this regard – and we’re excited to put the Galaxy Buds Pro to the test in our full review. 

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro (pictured) have vastly improved water-resistance compared to their predecessors. (Image credit: Samsung)

Takeaway

Based on the specs and our initial tests, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro seem to be a significant step up from their predecessors, particularly in terms of noise cancellation technology.

Extra features like Active Noise Control, Auto Switch, and 360 Audio, will certainly give them an edge over older Samsung earbuds and competitors like the AirPods Pro if they live up to the company’s claims. 

Aside from the new 360 Audio feature, the new dual-driver design should lead to an improvement in sound quality too, and the Galaxy Buds Pro have certainly impressed in that regard so far.

A vastly increased water-resistance rating should appeal to the fitness crowd, too. Saying that, the reduction in on-board battery life compared to the Galaxy Buds Plus could be an issue for those who want the longest lasting buds they can buy. 

For now, we’re hopeful that the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro will be the best earbuds from the brand yet – so far they’ve seen middling success, and this latest iteration looks to be the highest-spec of all, and could be a huge rival for the best true wireless earbuds on the market today.

January 16, 2021
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