The wireless earbuds market is a growing one, and it’s easy to see why: with their cordless convenience and lightweight form factor, users are able to execute their day-to-day tasks without experiencing the pain of wire tangle.
Having entered the scene back in 2019, Samsung has undoubtedly gained some expertise in the field, rolling out the Live and Plus iterations as improved alternatives to the original Galaxy Buds model.
And while some believe that third time’s the charm, the Korean tech giant certainly thinks otherwise.
Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is now the shiny fourth member of the family and a much welcome addition to boot, for it retains all the best parts of the formula, then brings some upgraded features to the table.
The earbuds aren’t perfect, nor do they come free of flaws, but they do a sufficiently convincing job in painting an optimistic future for the series – if the company continues down this road, that is.
There’s a premium to pay for these touch-ups, however. The Galaxy Buds Pro retails at a pricey $308, which is costlier than its three predecessors, and comes in the same colour options of the newly-released Samsung Galaxy S21: Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, and Phantom Violet.
Each of these corresponds to the colour of the supplied charging case, with the black one picked out as the unit for this review.
Portability remains a key element here. The case is a little thicker than expected, but its compact, pocket-sized cut lets users store it in their pockets and bring it around easily.
There’s no flex to it, and the build itself feels solid to the touch.
The Samsung name is faintly printed on the magnetic lid, while the front sports a battery indicator with colours – red, yellow, and green – to highlight the remaining power left.
Round the back, a USB-C port has been included for charging, though the case also supports cordless charging via a wireless charging pad.
On the aesthetic front, its frills-free design isn’t fancy in every sense of the word, but does its job in exuding minimalistic elegance, especially for the silver and violet iterations.
When open, an additional LED lights up to indicate the battery charge of the earbuds, which can be effortlessly snapped into place with its magnetic properties and comfortable fit.
The concave dents on the lid ensure that the device is properly housed; should the buds be wrongly placed in the ‘L’ or ‘R’ slots, the case won’t be able to close fully.
The Buds Pro ditches the kidney bean design of the Buds Live and the winged tip of the original for a canal-type styling. The touch-sensitive area boasts a glossy finish that’s accompanied by an elongated slope leading to the eartip on the inside, and convex vents that bring reduced pressure build-up for greater comfort.
It’s a great consideration, as the earbuds sit nice and snug in one’s ear. To plug them in, all users have to do is insert them into the respective sides with the ‘L’ and ‘R’ labels facing straight, and adjust them till they feel natural.
Putting them to the test with four-hour straight playback on average yields a rather comfortable experience, and their sheer lightness makes it easy to forget their presence in the ear.
Designed to be a tight fit, the Buds Pro fits very securely even while on the go, and never once rattled or fell out during 30-minute jogging sessions. An IPX7 rating means users won’t have to worry about being caught in the rain while doing so.
The earbuds offer medium-sized caps by default, but Samsung has included both small and large eartips.
While the standard one should work fine for most users, those with wider or narrower ear canals would appreciate the alternatives.
Where audio is concerned, the Galaxy Buds Pro delivers crisp, well-balanced sound, and makes a clear distinction between different instrumental notes.
Its 11mm woofer gives a strong punch to the bass, and its 360 Audio feature with Dolby Head Tracking technology transformed Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” into a rich, harmonic surround sound affair.
Because this setting is only available on Galaxy smartphones and tablets, users on other devices will unfortunately miss out on the experience.
Guitar riffs could be heard clearly, with the strings producing a nice, rounded twang. At higher volumes, however, sounds from the electric guitar can come across as a little grating.
The earbuds also handle rhythmic drum beats extremely well, but falter in the department of hi-hats – YOASOBI’s “Yoru no Kakeru” yielded soft cymbal clashes that occasionally got swallowed up by the main instrumental ensemble. Vocals are generally pleasant with warm, inviting tones thrown into the mix.
The Galaxy Buds Pro performs well in the spoken word department as well. Phone calls were free of static and muffle, so you’ll be able to catch and understand the other party fairly easily. Voice output was observed to be crisp, if a bit hollow, which points to a decent improvement overall.
This isn’t Samsung’s first noise-cancelling gig, with the offering making its debut on the Buds Live.
With the Buds Pro, the company has built upon the technology to roll out the intelligent active noise cancellation (ANC) feature that allows users to adjust and customise their audio levels.
The result is a competent function requiring further refinement – while the earbuds block out low frequencies reliably and effectively, higher frequencies like human voices and alarms are able to slip through their defence.
There’s also the option to switch between the High and Low ANC modes, although there seems to be little difference between the two.
To describe the ANC as sub-par would be inaccurate, since the device does get the job done to an extent, but it certainly pales in comparison to some of its competitors, such as the Sony WF-1000XM3.
With more tweaks, the earbuds would be a greater threat to the competition.
As part of the Samsung Galaxy ecosystem, the Buds Pro favours owners of Galaxy devices.
The Galaxy Wearable app makes connectivity a walk in the park: just opening the case and popping in the earbuds brings up the software interface and initiates pairing.
For increased convenience, the Auto Switch feature lets users toggle between different Galaxy products, which is a nifty little touch.
On non-Galaxy models, the pairing process is rather seamless as well, and hooking the device to a MacBook and ASUS laptop was a smooth, speedy affair – insert it in the ear, turn on Bluetooth, and voila, an wireless listening experience awaits.
That doesn’t mean its connection is free of problems, though.
At times, choppy and intermittent audio is detected, especially in an outdoor setting, and while that doesn’t happen often, it can be a source of annoyance.
Another pertinent issue with the Galaxy Buds Pro is its touch controls, which are simultaneously clumsy and oversensitive. Mis-presses are a common occurrence, and touches to pause, play, or skip a song are not always registered.
Battery life, meanwhile, is a little shy of the advertised figures.
On average, the earbuds tapped out at around the four-hour mark per charge with ANC, as opposed to Samsung’s claim of five hours, but the case’s fast charging capabilities – an hour of playback from a five-minute charge on paper – keeps the on-the-move lifestyle a little easier.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro doesn’t come cheap, and Samsung justifies that with a handy offering of premium features, powerful audio performance, and ergonomic comfort.
It works for the most part, establishing a spot in Samsung’s hall of fame as one of its better innovations, though there’s certainly still room for improvement.
Samsung has shown that it takes the upgrading process seriously with the Live and Plus earbuds, and it’s not going to stop there.
This article was first published in Geek Culture.