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Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review

A few stops short of perfection

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review
(Image: © Laptop Mag)

Our Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live offers an avant-garde design, spacious soundscape and extremely long battery life, but the ANC needs work.

For

  • Balanced, spacious audio quality
  • Extra-long battery life
  • Fun, eye-catching design
  • Useful features

Against

  • Weak active noise cancelling
  • Design can be uncomfortable on smaller ears

Someone said that beans were a magical fruit, but I don’t think this is what they had in mind. But it’s 2020, and anything’s possible, which is why we have the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. Priced at $169.99, the Live offers a polarizing design, long battery life, excellent battery life and a robust companion app. Plus, this is the first time Samsung is adding active noise cancelling to the mix. Should be a winning combination, right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, thanks to its funky design, the active noise cancelling is pretty non-existent. Seriously though, it’s more of an Ambient mode than anything. Regardless, if you’re invested in the Samsung ecosystem and want to indulge in some well-balanced, spacious audio, the Galaxy Buds Live are a sure bet. 

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live pricing and configurations

Samsung took mercy on our budgets and priced the Buds Live at a reasonable $169.99, which is $64 cheaper than the AirPods Pro ($234). And while there aren’t any configurations to speak of, the buds do come in a variety of colors. You can choose from Mystic Black, Mystic White, and my favorite, Mystic Bronze.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live design

In a sea of AirPods and AirPods clones, be a pair of Galaxy Buds Live. The Live is wonderfully weird and inviting. I swore I heard a literal “bling” as I opened the buds’ tiny case, and reveled in the light hitting the incredibly shiny Mystic Bronze buds. They sat in the case expectantly between a status light and embossed L and R stamps demarcating which bud was which. They’re so pretty, I was tempted to leave them in the case, but that wouldn’t be much of a review now would it?

So reluctantly, I took them out and examined the back of the buds, which has a pair of chrome metal connectors, two vents for the tiny microphones and a motion sensor. Despite all of those important design components, the deep rose matte plastic doesn’t hold a candle to the ultra-shiny bronze plastic on the front. After taking in the bling factor, have a minute to appreciate the bass duct and the pinhole opening for the motion sensor. Placing them in my ears, the shininess mimicked jewelry, so much so, I wish I had somewhere to go to show them off. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Playing up that high-end jewelry aesthetic is the charging case, which is tiny and rather darling. The matte plastic Mystic Bronze case has a nice pearlescence and in terms of color, sort of reminds me of the Urbanista London. The top of the case is stamped with the Samsung and AKG logo in maroon. The USB Type-C charging port is the sole port and sits in the rear. The case’s interior is made of deep rose matte plastic.

Each Buds Live weighs 0.2 ounces and measures 1.1 x 0.6 x 0.6 inches, which is comparable to the 0.2-ounce, 0.8 x 0.8 x 0.7-inch AirPods Pro. The Live’s case is much smaller and lighter at 1.5 ounces, 2 x 2 x 1.1 inches compared to the AirPods Pro case (1.6 ounces, 2.4 x 1.7 x 0.9 inches).

Unlike most truly wireless earbuds, the Galaxy Buds Live only has an IPX2 rating which means it has water resistance but only from water that hits it at a 15-degree angle. The AirPods Pro and other competing earbuds sport IPX4, which denotes water and sweat resistance.  

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live comfort

Say what you will about the Live’s legume-inspired design, the buds are pretty comfortable. A quick twist backward and the Live were securely fastened in my ears. I wore them for two hours straight without discomfort. I even risked the IPX2 rating and hopped on my Bowflex Max Trainer for a 30-minute session. The Live stayed in despite me working up a decent sweat. However, due to the fact that I have tiny ears, after a while, I could feel uncomfortable pressure around the tragus portion of my ear.

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The buds don’t have traditional eartips, instead, they use a pair of slim, ovular caps that fit over the speaker. I actually preferred the wider version of the caps because they gave me a more secure fit. Still, neither cap gave me that tight seal you need to assist in keeping out ambient sounds, which doesn’t bode well for the active noise cancelling. It does, however, ensure the Live aren’t intruding too far into your ear canal. In fact, the buds sit just above your canal suspended between the tragus and concha.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live setup

Setting up the Live is easy peasy, lemon squeezy, especially on a Galaxy smartphone like my Note 8. Opening the case puts the earbuds into pairing mode. After going into my Bluetooth menu and selecting the buds, they were paired. The final step was going to the Samsung Wearable app installed on my phone and selecting the Live. Now that the earbuds were connected to the app, it took less than a second for the Buds Live to connect. It’s pretty similar to Apple’s near-instant pairing. 

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live controls

The beans, I mean Buds Live, have a fair amount of surface area to work with when using the touch controls. The setup is pretty simple: one tap on either bud for play/pause, two taps to skip tracks, answer an incoming call, or put it on hold to attend to a 2nd incoming call. A triple tap lets you restart a track or skip backward. 

Pressing either bud for 1 second will activate whatever command you set in the app. For me, that meant the right bud activated/deactivated ANC while the left launched Spotify. And if you need to pair the Live to another device, just long-press either bud for 3 seconds to initiate pairing mode. Just remember to aim for the tragus when you try to input the commands or you’ll be futilely tapping. Otherwise, you’ll have spotty responses. 

If you have it enabled on the app, you can summon Bixby, Samsung’s digital assistant by saying “Hi, Bixby. It works surprisingly well, responding even when I quietly muttered the phrase. 

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live app

Just like most Samsung wearables, a lot of the Buds Live functionality comes by way of the free Samsung Wearables app (Android, iOS). It’s here that you’ll access the equalizer with its six presets (Normal, Bass Boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear and Treble Boost). You can enable/disable touches and program the long touch functionality. You can also set up the buds to read certain notifications aloud, switch between previously connected devices and turn ANC on/off. You can also change the Live’s name and factory reset.

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The app also features a Find My Earbuds tool and software update functionality. There are tips and a user manual along with experimental features using ambient noise to relieve that stuffy feeling some listeners experience while wearing earbuds. There’s also a Gaming mode that cuts down on audio delay when playing a game. 

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live noise cancelling

Samsung’s going to have to go back to the lab with this one. The active noise cancelling the company is claiming is barely there. I had to turn the volume on my LG TV down to six before the Live (sans music) started blocking out Untold Stories of the E.R. The AirPods Pro can block out my television with the volume set to 13. Without any music or videos playing, the Live were unsuccessful at keeping the din from a passing siren at bay. The ANC didn’t get any better when I went for my daily walk. I had to crank the volume to maximum to block out a chattering couple and even then I still heard the subway as it ran overhead. 

Without the passive noise isolation afforded by a snug seal, The Buds Live ANC doesn’t really function as bonafide ANC wireless buds like the AirPods Pro or the Sony WF-1000xM3. It’s more akin to an ambient mode that allows the noise from the outside world into the earbuds’ soundscape. It’s fine if you’re out and about and want to stay aware of your surroundings. However, I prefer replacing the soundtrack of New York City with my own curated list and that means no sirens, no honking horns and no overly loud chatter.  

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live audio quality

Samsung’s putting that AKG acquisition to good use, cramming 12-millimeter drivers into the Galaxy Buds Live shiny, bean-shaped shell. The company also installed a bass duct to help enhance the low end and an air vent for natural-sounding spaciousness. It’s a choice that really paid off in the long run. 

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Listening to Wham!’s “Everything She Wants” on the Live (EQ set to Normal) and the AirPods Pro was like night and day. On the Live, those addictive 80’s synths sounded full and dynamic and had enough of George Michael’s tortured vocal cruised over the poppy track. However, the cymbals sounded a bit brassier than I liked. Switching over to the AirPods Pro (EQ set to Flat) yielded a much more cramped performance. What was light, airy synth on the Live was cluttered on the AirPods. The only positives were that the track sounded warmer on the AirPods and I only had to listen at about 60% volume to match the Live at maximum. 

For my next track, I chose Jill Scott’s “Fool’s Gold” and the Live immediately swept me up in the dulcet tones of a harp and persistent plucking of a guitar juxtaposed with lush bass and crisp cymbals. The harp sounded clean on the AirPods Pro as did the lead vocal. However, the lows and background vocals sounded congested compared to the Live. 

To test out those bass ducts, I played “WAP” and was awash...in dank bass. Not only was the low end nice and weighty, but the accompanying snap had plenty of bite. And neither Cardi B nor Megan Thee Stallion’s vocals had to fight for space. As expected, the AirPods Pro served up some boomy, woolly lows which overwhelmed the snares, but not the rappers’ bawdy verses. 

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live battery life and Bluetooth

Samsung continues to reign supreme when it comes to wireless earbud battery life. The company claims the Live will last eight hours on a charge (ANC and Bixby Voice Wake Up off). And after 7 hours and 47 minutes of video calls, playing music, catching the latest Noise Cancelling podcast and calling a few relatives, I got the notification letting me know it was time to pop the buds in its case for a recharge. 

The charging case offers two full charges, meaning the Buds have an overall estimated battery life of 29 hours. Compare that to the AirPods Pro, which lasts for 5 hours on a charge and jumps to 24 hours with the case. Once you pop the Live buds back into their case, it only takes 5 minutes to get an hour of charge. And like the Galaxy Buds Plus, the Live can be charged wirelessly on a nearby charger on the back of a compatible Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Thanks to Bluetooth 5.0, I never had to worry about sudden dropouts. The Live stayed connected to my Note 8 even when I left it inside my house while I went out in the backyard to do some grilling. 

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live call quality

I made several calls using the Live, starting with my morning video chat with the Laptop Mag team. Outside of a small echo, my team said I sounded good. And while I could hear everyone pretty clearly, it sounded like they were in another room. However, when I took my daily walk and called my mom, she immediately mentioned that she could hear nearly all of the background noise. And although she sounded fine throughout the call, it was hard to focus on her voice when the train passed overhead. 

Bottom line

Damn it, Samsung! You’re so close to giving me everything that I want in a pair of truly wireless earbuds. The Galaxy Buds Live gives music lovers a surprisingly robust audio experience, seriously long battery life, good call quality and connectivity for a reasonable $169.99. However, that funky bean-shaped design comes at the cost of a tight seal, which all but nullifies the active noise cancelling technology which is a main selling point of the buds. I’m also not too thrilled about the lower IPX rating, as it makes me worry about the buds potentially shorting out while exercising. 

If noise cancelling is a must-have, then you’ll need to invest in the AirPods Pro as they have the goods in that department. And for those of us with smaller ears, it’s the more comfortable option. But the audio quality compared to the Live is definitely lacking. And the AirPods Pro is considerably more expensive. Overall, if you’re looking for long-lasting, fast-charging and great-sounding truly wireless buds that look like expensive jewelry, there’s no other choice than the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live.