Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro in-ear BT ANC earphones ready to rock and roll (review)

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro
SBA
9

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are among the top five in-ear-canal, BT, ANC earphones we have reviewed. We tested them on Windows, Android, iPhone, and of course, Samsung’s superb Galaxy S21-series smartphones. And we found some significant differences on each platform that may affect your purchasing decision.

The intro paragraph shows the extent of the tests and reveals some surprising differences on each device. The $349 Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro sound entirely different on each platform, and the feature sets vary.

Suffice to say that while these are excellent Bluetooth, SBC/AAC, ANC buds, they really are designed for Samsung Galaxy users who can use the Samsung scalable codec and the Gear App to add more value.

Sorry Mac and iPhone owners. You will have to put up with the A$399 Apple Air Pods Pro. Because like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, you will lose some features using it outside its native environment – mainly spatial audio, voice detect and quick switching.

Me – I like Samsung’s in-ear canal fit for one of the better noise-cancelling experiences. Throw in IPX7 (advantage Samsung); an EQ; the potential of spatial music (360 Audio); voice detection with auto ambient mode switching, and these are a pleasure to use in a plane, train, automobile etc.


Review: Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro in-ear BT ANC buds

  • Website here
  • Price: $349
  • Colours: Phantom Violet, Black and Silver
  • Warranty: 12-months ACL
  • Country of manufacture: Vietnam
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

First impression

Well made, stylish, in-ear-canal style earphones complete with small, medium, and large silicon rubber ear tips. It has a short USB-A to USB-C charge cable and a diminutive Qi wireless charge case.

On the Samsung product website, there are 39 user reviews – 13 are positive, 21 are negative, and five are fence-sitting. So, I had a preconception that – as most said – of great sound and poor fit.

Some, not all, people experience a fit issue. They say that regardless of the ear tip size, the buds can fall out or move when exercising, running or talking. Now I could say the same about Apple’s dorky ear sticks that fall out way too easily. Their solution may be to get a set of Comply SmartCore ear tips, or failing that, buy another brand with ear wings or over-the-ear attachment.

I don’t have a problem. The medium tips are the right size; in-ear-canal fit is very comfortable; sound isolation is effective (half of the ANC equation), and I had no issues with it moving while talking or eating. The trick is to insert and slightly rotate the bud wingtip into the ear – if you don’t do that, there is a risk of the buds falling out.


Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro
A small turn clockwise makes all the difference

Of all the buds I have tested, these are among the most comfortable, capable of extended or long-haul use.

Second impression – intensive holiday use

I love Port Douglass at this time of the year, but the 32° high humidity heat has really put these to the test. No slip out at all. I appreciate the IPX7 rating (yes, I accidentally wore them in the pool).

After a week of pretty solid ‘holiday’ use, including over six hours in the air and long walks on Four-mile beach, I can say that I am thoroughly impressed. With caveats (we will address later), the volume, music quality and noise-cancelling are superb.

Setup

If you have a Samsung compatible device you can download the Samsung Gear App that adds more features. But more importantly, you can use these as a generic BT/SBC/ANC device right out of the box.

As you will see later, the Samsung Gear App has some quirks that don’t necessarily deliver the warm and sweet sounds that these buds are capable of.

ANC (active noise cancelling)

The Gear App has two levels of ANC. It also has several levels of ambient sound pass-through. You can only access one ANC and ambient level without the App.


My standard ANC test is to use a Steel Series mechanical keyboard. If I can hear the keys click, then it loses some points. In this case, with or without the App, it is pretty good! I will not compare this to others except to say that it generally takes over-the-ear headphones to achieve this ANC level.

Speak for pass-through (Gear App only)

You can set it to turn down the music and pass through ambient sounds (with several adjustment levels) when you speak. The mics do a reasonable job for hands-free use. It supports Bixby but not Google Assistant. That may be a deal-breaker.

How do they sound?

Our test was with VLC media player and on-device MP3 CD-quality content on

  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (with the Samsung Gear App)
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S Windows on ARM tablet (SBC Bluetooth)
  • OPPO Find X2 (Android 11 – no App)
  • iPhone 12 (iOS and a limited version of the App)

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The Gear App works with all Samsung Gear devices (watches etc.) and eligible Samsung Galaxy host smartphones. The App has noise control, voice detect, touch block, long-press allocation, and an equaliser.  There are more esoteric controls as well.

The 360 Audio switch does not do anything unless you have Dolby Atmos content. With that, it adds a little to the sound stage, and a weird follow-me intelligent motion-tracking sensor identifies the sound direction.


We were unable to ascertain the Bluetooth Codec in use. It supports SBC, AAC and Samsung Scalable Codec (similar to aptX Adaptive) for higher res music and lower latency. We suspect it was the latter.

The sound stage is about 100mm outside the head – good. Low bass (<50Hz) is non-existent, mid-bass is very limited (<100Hz); otherwise, the sound signature is relatively flat (good). This means that the audio content has a significant bearing on the sound signature. Ergo – better sound bit-rate means better sound quality.

I was more interested in the EQ – normal, bass boost, soft, dynamic, clear and treble boost pre-sets (no custom setting). The pre-sets make almost no difference. For example, the Blues Brothers Peter Gunn Theme benefits very slightly from bass boost. Manhattan Transfer jazz sounds slightly better using clear or treble boost pre-sets. But in general I found music via the Gear app tends to lack clarity – a little muddy.

But wait, there is more. And it boils down to the best music quality, which we got by not using the Gear App and losing some features.  

First, remove the Galaxy Buds Pro from the Gear App (reset), delete the Galaxy Bluetooth pairing and re-pair again. It will try to force you to use Gear – ignore that and pair solely via BT.


The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a separate sound setting that enables Dolby Atmos and an equaliser – pop, classic, jazz, rock and custom. And it brings out the absolute best in this bud. Suddenly these are clear, crisp, have good mid-bass and terrific to listen to in almost any genre. And the EQ settings make a noticeable difference.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S Windows (on ARM) tablet

My initial tests were less than satisfactory – low volume, poor dynamic range and I nearly gave up. But being a long-term Windows user I remembered a few tricks to turn these into great movie watching buds.

First, make sure you allow the Bluetooth connection to find both the Galaxy Buds Pro Stereo (for full True Wireless stereo sound) and the Galaxy Buds handsfree AG Auto (use for hands-free mic and mono sound). Do not set Galaxy Buds Pro Mic as the default as it will override the stereo settings resulting in a low-res mono bud.

But there is more. Classic Windows users may remember the Sound setting in the Control Panel.

Second, open the Windows Start Menu and go to Windows System, Control Panel. Click on the Sound icon. Click on Headphones, select Galaxy Buds Pro Stereo and then its Properties. Under the Enhancements, tab click on Bass Boost, Headphone virtualisation and loudness equalisation. One last step. Go to the Spatial Sound tab and select Windows Sonic for Headphones. Apply and exit.


You may not need all settings, so feel free to experiment. In essence, this overrides the 80dB volume barrier, brings in even more low-bass and gives you a faux sense of spatial sound. I like Sci-Fi, and the sound of a spaceship taking off at Cape Canaveral has proper ground shaking bass once you do this.

But there is more. The Galaxy Tab S has Dolby Atmos decoding (as do many Windows laptops), and you can also use this App to hone the sound quality even further. The sound stage widens to add some vertical height – really effective if you have Atmos content.

In many respects, I prefer the immersive ‘movie’ sound from a Windows device – deeper bass and a clearer top end treble – closer to buds, the natural sound signature.

OPPO Find X2 Pro (Qualcomm SD865)

This has a high-end Hexagon DSP (digital signal processor) capable of the best Dolby Atmos sound processing in 2020. It also provides a good, clean and loud BT signal with a huge range of codecs – SBC, AAC, all aptX, LDAC and more. Alas, It finds the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro as a basic BT SBC lossy device.

The OPPO has a far cleaner, higher dynamic range and more balanced sound than the Galaxy S21 with the Gear App. Listening on the OPPO to almost any genre with these buds is a pleasure.


iOS

We did not have Apple’s AirPods Pro to compare, but from what I read, these are the ‘peaches to the Apple’s cream’. In other words, made for Apple and do everything.

You can only connect via Bluetooth AAC to stream music, make calls, and use touchpad controls. None of the Gear App features work.

Pairing

It does not have multi-point (simultaneous pairing to two or more devices), so you need to re-pair it every time you switch devices. The Gear App has a seamless pairing to swap between compatible paired audio sources as long as they are in your Samsung account.

Otherwise, it’s a matter of returning them to the charging case, long touch to start pairing, etc.

Maintenance

Stick anything in your ear, and you will find ear wax in the most unusual places. We recommend getting a tiny brush (ring cleaner style) to remove wax from the inside of the silicon tip. The speaker membrane inside is water sealed, so be careful.

Find my buds (Gear App only)

Find my buds emits a low chirping sound if they are within BT distance.

Battery

Samsung claims up to five hours of ANC play, with 13 hours more in the case. This is a theoretical claim based on 50% volume. In one test listening to music on the Samsung S21 Ultra at 90% for two x two-hour shifts drained the battery (<15%).


Unfortunately, every time we finished listening, we instinctively placed them back in the case, which frustrated further recharge tests.

But then we noticed something strange. The battery life was longer on the OPPO and Galaxy Tab S Windows connecting with BT (no Gear App).

After a bit of experimentation, we found that the Gear App causes a higher battery drain due to the Voice Detect and ambient voice amplification – low, medium, high and extra-high (works a treat as a hearing aid at this level).

The USB-C PD charge time was 2.2 hours. The Qi 5W charge was four, and the reverse charge was over five hours.

GadgetGuy’s take – Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is good, sometimes great

No, they are not the best – they are very good. The Gear App foibles concerns me – straight BT pairing delivers longer battery life and subjectively better sound quality, albeit with functionality loss. No doubt Samsung will fix this.

I did not experience a bad fit, no falling out – just great sound. And they are waterproof.

Rating

These are BT ANC true-wireless earphones. Thomas Bartlett usually handles in-ear-ear canal earphone tests and ratings. If we look at a few of his BT ANC comparable buds, you will get an idea.


  • Sennheiser Momentum 2 at 9.5/10 and on-special at $399 at JB (were over $500 at launch).
  • Klipsch T5 II 9.2/5
  • Jabra Elite 85t $299 (not yet reviewed, but the 75t scored 9.2/10 and $249 on special).
  • Sony WF-1000XM3 – 9.2/10 ($239 on special)
  • Sony WF-SP800N 9.3/10 ($259 on special)
  • Bose QuietComfort 9.3/10 ($331 on special)
  • Apple AirPods Pro 9.3/10 ($310 on special)

Let’s put the Gear App issue aside at present. Having used some of the above, it is on a par; hence we can say it is in the top five. So if you have a Samsung S21 or similar, this is the best you can get.

However, other brand users should be beating JB’s door down for the Sennheiser, Sony or Bose options – at these prices, you can’t go wrong.

Features
9
Value for money
9
Performance
9
Ease of use
9
Design
9
Positives
Excellent, comfortable, deeper in-ear canal fit
No more protruding than any other bud
IPX7 waterproof (1 metre for 30 minutes)
Great ANC (app dependent)
Voice detection for ambient noise pass-through (app dependent)
Great for voice calls
BT works well with a variety of devices to about 30 metres
Fast charge and Qi wireless charge
Great battery life
Negatives
Most of the features are App dependent otherwise its a BT ANC earhphone
No aptX (or any Qualcomm higher-res codec of any sort)
The touch area is small and overly sensitive
360 Audio is still very nascent
Effective ANC needs a good fit
9