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Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are a real jump forward

samsung galaxy buds live
(Image: © TechRadar)

Our Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are good – but not great – true wireless earbuds. They have a number of neat features and offer a combined 28-hour battery life, but their sound isn’t amazing, and the noise cancellation has a lot of room for improvement. They’re certainly unique, but those interested in high-end sound quality and excellent ANC over a conversation-starting design should look elsewhere.

For

  • Surprisingly good fit
  • Extra helping of bass
  • Combined 20-hour battery life

Against

  • Middling sound quality
  • Poor noise cancellation
  • Low IP rating

One-minute review

The bean-shaped Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are a serious departure from the norm in every single category. Their design is like nothing we’ve ever seen before; they’re the first true wireless earbuds from Samsung to include noise cancellation and they’re tuned to offer a heaping helping of bass.

Samsung is no stranger to this category, with previous earbuds like the Samsung Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Buds Plus, but the kidney bean shape of these buds is very different to what we've seen from rival brands, with most other wireless earbuds on the market basically plugging into your ear canals. 

It’s natural, of course, to be leery of change. But the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are the real deal. They can compete with the likes of the Apple AirPods and Google Pixel Buds, offering many of the same features plus a few new ones exclusive to Samsung device owners. (Surprise, it’s Bixby!) 

The bad news is that they’re not the top dog in terms of Android-based true wireless earbuds - that honor still belongs to the Sony WF-1000XM3. The Buds Live sound fine, but aren’t anything to write home about, and the noise cancellation is a similar story. Tack on some problems with sound leakage and low IP rating, and you’ve got a competent successor to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus but not the best true wireless earbuds on the market.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Buds are available to order from Samsung – as well as most third-party retailers – now for $169.99 / £179 / AU£319.That's significantly less expensive than the AirPods Pro, which come in at $249 / £249 / AU$399, meaning the Galaxy Buds Live could be a compelling cheaper alternative to Apple's noise-cancelling earbuds.

What’s kind of confusing about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live is how close they sit to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus that were released on March 6. The Buds Plus are $149.99 / £159 / AU$299, which is only about $20 less than the Buds Live. 

The difference there is that the Buds Live have active noise cancellation while the Buds Plus use ambient noise reduction, and the Buds Plus have a longer built-in battery life but an overall lower one when you factor in the charging case. 

Long story short, you should probably buy the Galaxy Buds Live over the Plus unless you plan on wearing your earbuds for 11 hours straight.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live

(Image credit: Future)

Design

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live come in three colors - black, white and bronze - and come with a matching charging case that’ll slip into your pocket. There’s a USB Type-C port on the back of the case for charging, or alternatively, you can also charge it wirelessly. An LED is present both inside and outside the case to let you know about the charging status of the case, as well as of the earbuds.

As for the buds themselves, Samsung has created something truly fun and unique here. Where other wireless earbuds manufacturers are still copying the design of Apple’s AirPods, Samsung’s design team is clearly at work to create something original. 

Fitting them inside your ear requires you to push the speaker grille all the way inside the ear while the charging contacts sit in the upper part of the outer ear. When properly aligned, the Buds should be a near perfect fit - sealing the ear with a snug grip.

samsung galaxy buds live case

(Image credit: Future)

Of course, as we pointed out in our preview with the Buds Live, it’s not always a perfect fit. If you have large or especially small ears - or you plan on buying these for your kids - there’s a good chance the distance between the ear canal and the outer ear won’t be the right size to hold the Buds in place, meaning that they can easily pop out.

But even if they fit properly, there’s another problem: these buds come with an IPX2 water resistant rating which means they’re only good for slightly sweaty workouts or a light drizzle. Take them outside when it’s pouring, snowing or with you to the beach and, well, that could be the end of them.

Each of the buds also have touch sensors that can register a single, double, or triple tap that serves the expected actions of playing/pausing, as well as skipping tracks backwards/forwards. A tap and hold action is also available and is customizable for each bud separately - you can set it to increase/decrease the volume, launch Bixby or Spotify. Bixby obviously only works on Samsung phones and Spotify can only be launched on Android phones.

samsung galaxy buds live

(Image credit: Future)

Noise cancellation

It’s impressive how much tech Samsung has packed into the Galaxy Buds Live. On each of the earbuds there are three microphones along with an additional voice pickup unit, the speaker with a bass duct and a bunch of sensors such as an accelerometer, IR, and  a touch-capacitive sensor. All of this tech allows for a rich set of features on the Galaxy Buds Live- some of which work better than others.

Let’s start with Active Noise Cancellation - something that can be tricky to achieve in such small earbuds. What makes it even more challenging to get ANC on the Buds is that they don’t plug into your ear canal with silicone ear tips like some of the other buds that support this tech. Samsung has thus developed ANC for open type earbuds, which, according to Samsung, reduces low-band background noise under 700Hz –  such as trains and buses - up to 97% while still allowing you to hear voices and announcements. 

This sounds great on paper but didn’t really make much of a difference with our testing - at least not with voices. At lower volume levels, we could hear people around us with ANC enabled or disabled and cranking volumes close to 90% or more made the voices disappear with or without ANC. In short, like most other wireless earbuds, ANC depends on the fit of the buds and volume of what you’re listening to.

Call quality

What does work well is call quality, which uses the three microphones (one inner mic plus two outer beam-forming mics on each side) along with the Voice Pickup Unit that uses the accelerometer to sense the movement of your jaw to convert that kinetic energy into voice signals via bone conduction. 

This enables you to be heard better on the other end of the call, even in noisy environments. We tested this and were told that our voice was very clear on the other end, even when we had music playing in the background. 

samsung galaxy buds live

(Image credit: Future)

Audio quality

Samsung has implemented a multitude of features for keeping the Buds Live connected and in sync with your device – all of which is based on Bluetooth 5. To keep a reliable audio stream, the Galaxy Buds Live feature Samsung’s proprietary Scalable Codec which prevents audio chopping by changing the bit-rate according to the strength of the Bluetooth connection. 

When the wireless connection is weak, Scalable Codec automatically encodes the audio information with a higher compression ratio, allowing the earbuds to receive data without interruptions. We enjoyed uninterrupted audio even when the phone was over twenty feet away from the Galaxy Buds Live, but you probably shouldn’t push the distance if you plan on walking in between rooms without your phone.

samsung galaxy buds live

(Image credit: Future)

Audio quality, in general, is decent – the bass has a fun, punchy bounce to it that makes songs like Godzilla from Eminem really slam, but it does come at the expense of clarity in the mids and highs. Thankfully, the Galaxy Wearable app allows you to set sound between six modes which include bass boost and treble boost though you can’t set a custom equalizer setting.

Another good thing about the Galaxy Buds Live is that since they don’t plug into your ear canal, they don’t feel uncomfortable even after extended periods of usage. Samsung has added an air vent for ventilation, which helps to minimize the stuffy feeling you can get after a long session of listening to music.

The bad news? This air vent can also mean that there’s a lot of sound leakage that comes through to the people sitting around you. If you’re a commuter or office worker, be prepared to hear a lot of complaints about how loud your music is playing.

Battery life

At  full charge, the earbuds are expected to last for six hours and the battery case cover can provide over two full charges, meaning you can expect close to 20 hours of playback with the Buds Live. Better yet, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live support quick-charging, which can provide about an hour of playtime with just five minutes of charging.

So how does that compare to the competition? Well, it’s similar to what Apple offers with  the AirPods Pro – though many cheaper models, like the Lypertek Tevi and even the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, offer far more impressive battery lives.

Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live?

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live (left) with the AirPods Pro

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live (left) with the AirPods Pro. (Image credit: Future)

Buy them if...

You’re looking for a Samsung-friendly alternative to the Apple AirPods
If you are looking for a cool companion for your next Samsung Galaxy smartphone, the Galaxy Buds Live are a solid option. They have a number of features that cater specifically to Samsung device owners like the Scalable Codec, and they pair more easily, too.

You love Bixby
The other advantage (or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it) of using a Samsung device with the Galaxy Buds Live is that you can have Bixby as your smart assistant. Now, for most, that’s not a huge advantage, but if you’ve become enamored with Bixby over the last few years, well, then who are we to tell you you’re wrong?

You love bass-heavy music and want true wireless earbuds
While the sound quality is nothing to write home about, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live do really bring the bass. If you love that fun, thumping bass and don’t mind some lack of clarity in the mids and highs, you’ll definitely want to pick up a pair of the Buds Live.

Don't buy them if...

You absolutely need noise cancellation

There’s no two ways about it, the active noise cancellation on the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live is more like noise reduction rather than full cancellation. In most cases you’ll still be able to hear pretty much everything that’s happening around you, just at a slightly lower decibel level than if you weren’t wearing the earbuds.

You have irregularly shaped ears

The other issue is that there’s no guarantee that they’ll fit your ears. The Galaxy Buds Live have an incredibly unique shape that should fit comfortably, but if you have oversized or especially small ears – or you plan on buying these for your kids – there’s a good chance the distance between the ear canal and the outer ear won’t be the right size to hold the Buds in place.

You’re looking for the cheapest pair of true wireless earbuds

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are Samsung’s premium true wireless offering - i.e. they’re the most expensive of the bunch. If you don’t want to shell out $169.99 / £179, there’s always the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus that offer many of the same features for a bit less, or the Lypertek Tevi that cost a heck of a lot less.