Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro
Samsung has had some ups and downs with true wireless earphones, as evidenced by the recent Galaxy Buds Live, which offer a striking bean-like design that works counterintuitively to their active noise cancellation. The new Galaxy Buds Pro ($199.99) don't look quite as unique, but they allow for an in-ear seal that makes for improved noise cancellation and sound quality. They're also completely waterproof, as compared with the merely water-resistant Galaxy Buds Live. That said, the noise cancellation here doesn't live up to the standards set by the AirPods Pro or the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, and you really need a Galaxy phone to get the most out of the experience.A Better DesignThe Galaxy Buds Pro look understated and elegant. Each earpiece is a simple bud with a nozzle on one end for holding a silicone eartip (three pairs of different sizes are included), and a rounded, pearlescent touch panel on the back. Two ambient microphones, a pinhole voice mic, and a slightly larger grille are built into the touch panel and enable the noise cancellation. The earpieces lack any sort of stabilizing fin, but they fit securely enough in my ears without them, providing a solid seal with the proper eartips. They’re a definite improvement over the awkward bean shape of the Galaxy Buds Live, though you’ll want to make sure to twist the earphones forward when inserting them to ensure the best in-canal seal. Controls are simple, and the same for each earpiece. Tap once to play or pause a track, double tap to skip forward a track or answer/end a call, triple tap to go back a track, and touch and hold to reject a call. You can also use the Galaxy Wearables app to program the touch-and-hold command for either ear to a different action, like volume up, volume down, opening Spotify, toggling between active noise cancellation and ambient sound, and (with Galaxy phones) using Samsung's Bixby voice assistant. The touch-and-hold control for volume is a bit awkward, and it’s a bummer that the earphones don't allow for the use of more common voice assistants.The touch sensors are reasonably responsive and don’t trigger many false positives when the earphones are in, but it’s easy to accidentally misfire when inserting or removing them from your ear. You can completely disable the touch sensors through the Galaxy Wearables app to avoid this, but then you’re left with no controls on the earpieces.The Galaxy Buds Pro have an IPX7 rating, which means they’re completely waterproof for up to 30 minutes in up to a meter of water. They should hold up fine with workouts, runs, and rain. The charging case isn't water resistant, however.Charging Case and Battery LifeThe included charging case is a small, rounded square almost identical to the one that comes with the Galaxy Buds Live, but with a more matte, almost satin finish rather than a glossy one. It’s a flip-open case that stays securely closed most of the time with a magnet, but expect the earpieces to go flying if you accidentally drop it. A USB-C port on the back charges the case, though you can also use wireless charging. According to Samsung, the Galaxy Buds Pro can last up to five hours with active noise cancellation (ANC) on or eight hours with it off. The case adds up to 13 hours of power with ANC on or 20 hours with it off. A quick-charging feature gives the earphones up to an hour of listening time in just five minutes.The Galaxy Wearables app enables a variety of useful features for the Galaxy Buds Pro on any Android phone, though a few features are specific to Samsung Galaxy phones, and the app isn’t available at all on iPhones. The app lets you set active noise cancellation levels (there are only two settings, High and Low), change the touch-and-hold gesture to perform a variety of tasks, and tweak the audio balance with six different equalizer presets (though there is no customizable EQ). The app and earphones also work with SmartThings Find to help you track the location of your earphones if you misplace them. Galaxy phone users can enable hands-free voice assistant activation (Bixby-only), a latency-reducing Gaming mode similar to the one you get with the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless earphones, and a 360-degree audio feature that wasn't yet available at the time of testing, but on paper sounds similar to Apple's spatial audio feature on the AirPods Pro.Noise Cancellation PerformanceThe Galaxy Buds Pro provide an improvement in noise cancellation over the flawed Galaxy Buds Live, but they don’t compete with the better ANC you get in true wireless earphones from Apple and Bose. The earpieces effectively isolate sound, which enables noise cancellation to work, unlike the non-ear-sealing Galaxy Buds Live. The ANC circuitry is effective at blocking out lower-frequency noises like the rumble of trains, and some very consistent sounds, like computer fans. Outside of those cases, however, the earphones do little to tamp down outside noise: rattles, buzzing, and nearby chatter can all be easily heard through the Galaxy Buds Pro even with ANC on. Samsung's Galaxy Wearables app has little in the way of ANC adjustments, just High and Low settings, along with the ambient sound mode that effectively lets in outside sound. Ultimately, the earphones can provide some help with noise on planes and trains, but they won’t significantly dampen office sounds like the superior models we mention above.Sound QualityThe Galaxy Buds Pro use a pair of drivers in each earpiece, combining a 6.5mm tweeter with a 11mm woofer for strong treble and bass performance. The woofer comes through on our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” where the synth bass notes and kick drum hits sound full and powerful, and don’t distort, even at maximum volume. They aren’t thunderous, but there’s certainly discernible rumble, especially if you use the Bass Boost equalizer preset in the Galaxy Wearables app.How We Test HeadphonesHow We Test HeadphonesThere's a slightly bass-heavy, sculpted sound by default, which comes through in Yes’ “Roundabout.” The opening acoustic guitar plucks have loads of low-frequency resonance, and a good amount of string texture in the higher frequencies to balance it out. When the track properly kicks in, the bassline and vocals both take center stage, with the guitar strums and drums settling a bit in the background. Some sculpting is clearly employed that makes for a bit of a scooped-out audio profile, but it’s an engaging balance that should please most listeners not looking for flat response. The sculpted sound works well for The Crystal Method’s “Busy Child,” where the highlighted low and high frequencies combine for an exciting balance. The ominous backbeat drives the track with some solid thump, while the synth and vocal samples are highlighted enough to really round out the mix.Still Not the Best BudsSamsung's Galaxy Buds Pro do a lot, but they don’t excel in any one category. They sound full and clear, but with notable sculpting. They’re comfortable, waterproof, and have solid battery life, but not more so than competing models. Noise cancellation is just average, and you need a Samsung Galaxy phone to access all of the features the earphones are capable of. Ultimately, the AirPods Pro and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds offer better noise cancellation and sound quality, making them stronger alternatives, and Editors' Choice award winners.
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