The Galaxy Buds Pro are Samsung’s most impressive earbuds yet

(CNN) —  

Samsung just can’t seem to stop making wireless earbuds. After releasing two impressive efforts in 2020 — the $149 Galaxy Buds+ and the $169 Galaxy Buds Live — the company is back yet again with the $199 Galaxy Buds Pro, a premium set of buds that looks to combine the best features of those headphones and then some.

The Galaxy Buds Pro are Samsung’s best earbuds yet, offering solid active noise cancellation and lots of neat software features within a wonderfully attractive design. But can they compete with the likes of Apple and Bose? Here’s what we think of Samsung’s new buds after nearly a week of testing.

The who, what and how

Who these are for: If you’re an Android user seeking a stylish pair of wireless earbuds that can rival the AirPods Pro in many areas, the Galaxy Buds Pro are for you. Their functionality is far more limited on iOS, so iPhone users should probably look elsewhere.

What you need to know: The $199 Galaxy Buds Pro are Samsung’s most premium and attractive earbuds yet, offering active noise cancellation (ANC) and a slew of other features, including multiple sound modes and the ability to let ambient noise in.

How they compare: The Galaxy Buds Pro hold their own against the AirPods Pro, our pick for the best true wireless earbuds, in terms of delivering excellent comfort and great audio quality. Samsung’s buds offer a wider range of software features for Android users, while the AirPods Pro deliver better ANC and are more optimized for iOS. And if noise cancellation is your priority, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds remain our top ANC pick, thanks to their 11 levels of sound blocking.

Samsung’s most stylish earbuds yet

PHOTO: Michael Andronico/CNN

Blending the ergonomics of the bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live and the in-ear design of the Galaxy Buds+, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro are the company’s sleekest and most comfortable earbuds yet. Each ovular bud looks stylish and understated, and we found them to be pretty inconspicuous-looking when in our ears — especially compared to the AirPods Pro and their somewhat unsightly stems.

Another advantage the Galaxy Buds Pro have over Apple’s buds are color options. Our Phantom Black review unit is attractive enough, though we really wish Samsung sent over the especially gorgeous Phantom Violet option (all tech should be available in violet). There’s also a Phantom White variation if you want something more AirPods-like.

The Galaxy Buds Pro are very lightweight and comfortable at 0.2 ounces per bud, and we often forgot they were even in our ears when wearing them for hours on end. Samsung provides three swappable ear tips — we found the largest one to be best for us — which is a nice touch that allows the Buds Pro to accommodate different ear sizes.

The Buds Pro also deliver Samsung’s best attempt at touch controls yet. Whereas the Galaxy Buds+ are too sensitive and the Galaxy Buds Live aren’t receptive enough, the Buds Pro finally find a middle ground that makes it easy to do things like pause with a single tap, skip tracks with a double tap and perform a long press to activate noise cancellation. However, since the entire outer earbuds are responsive to touch, we still found ourselves accidentally pausing our music occasionally when adjusting the buds in our ears. The AirPods Pro do a slightly better job in this area, as there’s a dedicated pinch-to-touch area on the stems.

You won’t have to worry too much about the Buds Pro surviving a rainy stroll or a sweaty gym workout, as Samsung’s earbuds are IPX7 rated to endure up to 30 minutes of fresh water submersion. We ran the Buds Pro under running water in our sink for about two minutes straight, and they kept on ticking after.

Decent noise cancellation, excellent ambiance

PHOTO: Michael Andronico/CNN

The Galaxy Buds Pro are Samsung’s first earbuds to offer high-quality active noise cancellation — it’s better if we don’t talk about the barely there ANC on last year’s Galaxy Buds Live. Samsung’s new buds can do a solid job blocking out unwanted background noise, though they’re not exactly the best in their class at it.

When we walked around our busy Queens neighborhood, the Buds Pro were able to dampen the sounds of passing cars, distant trains and the lively chatter surrounding a nearby food truck. However, we noticed significantly better noise cancellation when we popped in our AirPods Pro, as the sound of people excitedly ordering gyros was all but silenced on Apple’s buds.

We noticed a similar gap in performance when we tested the Buds Pro indoors with a recording of airport noises such as footsteps, chatter, wind and engine whirring playing on our speakers. Once again, Samsung’s earbuds made all of these noises quieter but didn’t fully block out anything. On the other hand, the AirPods Pro almost fully silenced the ambient wind noises, leaving just some soft footsteps and the announcements coming over the PA. It’s worth noting that the Buds Pro offer two levels of noise cancellation — high and low — via Samsung’s app, but we didn’t notice a significant difference when switching between the two.

While the Galaxy Buds Pro could do a slightly better job of blocking out noise, they really shine when you’re trying to let more sound in. The ambient sound mode found in the Galaxy Wearable app uses the Buds Pro’s microphones to let you better hear the outside world, and was handy for amplifying the sounds of nearby traffic and pedestrians when we took a stroll at night.

And unlike the AirPods Pro’s Transparency mode, which offers only one setting, the Buds Pro’s Ambient Noise feature offers four levels of volume. This mode offers such good noise pickup that, when cranked all the way up, we could hear our dog tossing around one of her toys while in a completely other room.

The Buds Pro’s Ambient Noise and noise cancellation features also work together in some neat ways, thanks to Voice Detect. When activated, this feature will automatically switch from noise cancellation mode to ambient mode as soon as you start speaking, and back to ANC mode after 10 seconds of silence. This worked as advertised in our testing, and seems especially ideal for, say, ordering a coffee without having to fumble with your phone to turn off ANC.

Pro-level audio and features — with a catch

PHOTO: Michael Andronico/CNN

The Galaxy Buds Pro live up to the “Pro” moniker when it comes to sound quality, delivering rich, lively audio for just about every genre we threw at them. The bouncy indie rock of Samia’s “Fit N Full” sounded bright and lively on Samsung’s buds, allowing the shimmering guitars, rollicking bass and soaring vocals to all shine equally without overpowering one another.

The Buds Pro also performed well with hip-hop tracks such as Kid Cudi’s “Lovin’ Me,” giving the song’s crackling drum beat plenty of room to shine while also letting us hear its spacey synthesizers and somber vocal crooning clearly. When we switched gears to the heavier rock of Touche Amore’s “I’ll Be Your Host,” we enjoyed a wall of crisp-sounding guitars and satisfyingly deep bass that mixed perfectly with vocalist Jeremy Bolm’s impassioned yelling.

We found Samsung’s earbuds to sound great out of the box, but you can tweak things to your liking using the Galaxy Wearable app. Here, you’ll find an equalizer with a total of six sound modes (normal, bass boost, soft, dynamic, clear and treble boost), all of which worked as advertised. We especially like the dynamic setting, as it gives a slight boost to the low end that makes songs sound a bit more like they were being played live.

The app also offers a ton of other settings, including the ability to customize the touch controls, enable Bixby voice wake-up for activating Samsung’s virtual assistant hands-free and turn on a gaming mode that minimizes audio latency.

There’s a big catch, though — these customization features are only available on Android. While the Buds Pro paired just fine with our iPhone 12 Pro, there’s no supported iOS app for tweaking the earbuds’ noise cancellation or sound modes. That’s a big bummer, especially since both the Galaxy Buds+ and Galaxy Buds Live support iOS software customization via the Galaxy Buds app.

Solid battery life and a dependable microphone

PHOTO: Michael Andronico/CNN

The Galaxy Buds Pro are rated for five hours of battery life from the earbuds and an additional 13 hours from the charging case with active noise cancellation on, and up to eight hours from the buds and 20 from the case with ANC off. Fortunately, those claims largely fell in line with our testing, as we were able to use Samsung’s buds on and off for three days — using a mix of ANC on and off — before we even got a low battery warning.

To test the Buds Pro more rigorously, we measured how long it took to drain Samsung’s buds from a full charge after listening to music, playing podcasts and taking calls pretty much nonstop throughout the course of a workday with ANC on. The earbuds finally petered out right around the five-hour mark, which matches up with Samsung’s rating.

Samsung’s new earbuds have a slight edge over the AirPods Pro when it comes to battery life, as Apple’s buds are rated for four hours and 30 minutes of battery with ANC on, and five hours with it off. However, we had slightly stronger results with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, which landed closer to five hours and 30 minutes with higher levels of active noise cancellation activated.

If you plan on using the Galaxy Buds Pro to chat with friends on the phone or even dial into Zoom meetings, know that they’ll hold up well. When we chatted with a colleague on a Slack call, he reported that our voice came through very clear, even with a noisy YouTube video playing in the background. We also used the buds for various phone calls throughout the week with friends and family, and got no complaints.

Bottom line

PHOTO: Michael Andronico/CNN

The Galaxy Buds Pro are by and large Samsung’s best wireless earbuds ever. They feel great, sound excellent, offer solid battery life and really shine when it comes to letting in ambient noise when you need them to.

However, the Buds Pro’s active noise cancellation leaves a bit to be desired, and the lack of iOS software support makes them a tough sell for iPhone users. If you want a great pair of ANC earbuds for your iPhone, the $249 AirPods Pro remain the best in their class. And those seeking the best noise cancellation experience overall and don’t mind paying a premium should consider the $279 Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Still, if you’re an Android user, the Galaxy Buds Pro pack a ton of impressive functionality into a slick package for a good price.