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Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review: novel bean-shaped AirPod rivals | Samsung

Samsung’s latest Galaxy Buds Live true wireless earbuds are different from anything else on the market. They are shaped like kidney beans that you put in your ear – which is precisely why they are good.

The Galaxy Buds Live cost £179, have active noise cancellation (ANC) and sit above the excellent £159 Galaxy Buds+ as Samsung’s top Bluetooth earbuds.

What makes the Buds Live different is the way they fit. Shaped like a bean, they don’t have a traditional silicone ear tip, nor a stalk.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review
A small silicone ring acts as a stabiliser, wedging against the inside of your ear to hold the earbuds in place. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Instead, the whole thing fits in the concha of your ear – the hollow between the ear canal and the cartilage at the back of your ear.

They have an open-type fit that doesn’t block your ear canal with anything; instead, they just line up the speaker grille so that sound is projected down your earhole.

A small silicone wing, of which there are two sizes in the box, wedges up against the inside of your ear on the back side of the earbud to keep it in place.

They look very strange but are quite comfortable once inserted and do not protrude far from your ear. Although how you get on with them will be dictated by your ear shape. For those that prefer the isolation of a silicone earbud tip, these are not for you.

The earbuds are small – and so is the charging case. It is more of a square pillow shape than the one that comes with the Buds+, but is just as easily pocketable, fitting in the money pocket of a pair of jeans.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review
The compact case is made from hard, smooth plastic, making it easy to fit in a pocket. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Specifications

  • Water resistance: none (IPX2)

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, SBC, AAC, SSC

  • Battery life: 8 hours (up to 28 hours with case)

  • Earbud dimensions: 16.5 x 27.3 x 14.9mm

  • Earbud weight: 5.6g each

  • Driver size: 12mm

  • Charging case dimensions: 50.0 x 50.2 x 27.8mm

  • Charging case weight: 42.2g

  • Case charging: USB-C, Qi wireless charging

Connectivity and controls

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review
The shiny outside surface of the earbuds are touch-sensitive. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
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The connectivity and controls are the same as the Buds+. They support Bluetooth 5 with both the universal SBC and AAC audio standards, and Samsung’s proprietary scalable audio codec, which only works with Samsung devices.

The Buds Live are compatible with all standard Bluetooth devices, including Android, iPhones, iPads, Macs and Windows 10 devices. Connectivity to a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, OnePlus 8 Pro, iPad Pro, iPhone 11 Pro and Surface Pro 7 was excellent.

The Galaxy Wearable app on Android handles settings and updates on Android. The Galaxy Buds app on the iPhone does the same.

Pairing is as simple as either opening the case for the first time or pressing and holding both earbuds for three seconds for each subsequent pairing. On Samsung and Windows you will see a quick-pairing popup that you only have to tap. On iOS you will have to do a manual pairing in settings.

Samsung devices will sync the earbud’s pairing information between them, so they will be instantly available to other Samsung devices. They only connect to one device at a time but you can seamlessly switch between devices without having to manually disconnect each one.

The Buds Live feature similar tap controls to Samsung’s other earbuds. Single tap for pause/play, twice and thrice for skip track forwards or back. The tap and hold gesture can be changed but by default it turns ANC on or off – I preferred to have it as volume control.

Battery life

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review
The case charges wirelessly or via USB-C. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Buds Live will outlast most competitors between charges, managing at least eight hours of playback between trips in the case without using noise cancelling. The case can charge the earbuds 2.5 times, adding up to 28 hours of total playback time.

Turning on noise cancelling reduces the playback time by approximately two hours (up to 21 hours with the case). Talk time is up to 5.5 hours.

A five-minute trip in the case gives the earbuds enough power to produce up to an hour of playback. Charging the case is done via the USB-C port or wireless charging.

Sustainability

Samsung does not provide an estimate of the number of full charge cycles the batteries in the case or earbuds should last, which is typically 500 for lithium-ion batteries while maintaining at least 80% capacity, but it does provide a one-year warranty.

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Samsung does not sell individual replacement buds or cases. Unlike most true wireless earbuds, however, the batteries in the Galaxy Buds Live and case can be replaced by authorised service centres.

Similar to Samsung’s other true wireless earbuds, the Galaxy Buds Live are some of the most repairable earbuds available, scoring an impressive eight out of 10 by repair specialists iFixit, which makes them far less disposable than competitors. In addition, the earbuds and case are made from post-consumer recycled plastic. The combination of those two things makes them some of the most environmentally friendly earbuds you can buy.

Sound and noise cancelling

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review
The earbuds do not protrude from the ear very far and do not have stalks that may clash with earrings. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Buds Live sound really good for open-type earbuds; better than Apple’s AirPods and Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds.

They sound similar to Samsung’s excellent Buds+, with a surprising amount of bass and richness from an open-fit earbud. They handle detail well, with good separation of tones, crisp highs, warm mids and punchy bass.

They lack a smidgen of really deep bass, sound a little muted in some more raw pieces, such as Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, and struggled with super-detailed tracks such as Baba O’Riley by the Who. But feed them live guitars, pumping electronica or hip-hop and you will be richly rewarded. They sound particularly good with Britpop, too.

The Buds Live are a great-sounding set of everyday listening earbuds, particularly for the open-fit design.

But one thing they don’t do is block out any background noise, as there is no silicone tip to isolate your ear canal. The noise cancelling is also not very effective.

It will only help with the lowest of rumbles, leaving everything else clearly audible. The system reduced the noise of a kettle by about 10%, removed the hum of a dishwasher, accentuating the sound of the splashing water and made no difference to the noise of a desk fan.

Observations

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review
The earbuds snap into the case for charging, held in place by magnets. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • You can set Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant to listen for the wakeword “Hey Bixby”.

  • Call quality was very good for both ends of the call, with the earbuds doing a good job of removing background noise for the recipient.

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Price

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live cost £179, are available in bronze, black or white and ship on 20 August.

For comparison, the Galaxy Buds+ cost £159, Apple AirPods cost £159, the AirPods Pro cost £249, Google’s Pixel Buds cost £179, Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds cost £199.99, the Jabra Elite 75t cost £169.99, the Libratone Track Air+ cost £167, the Sony WF-1000XM3 cost £169, and the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless cost £280.

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are a pair of attractive bean-shaped true wireless earbuds with good sound and a unique fit.

If you don’t like silicone ear tips that block your ear canal, these earbuds are for you. They are light, secure and don’t protrude or have stalks.

They sound better than open-fit rivals such as the AirPods but their active noise cancelling is only effective for deep rumbles. They last a long time between charges, have a good, compact and pocketable case, and work with Android, iOS, Windows and others.

The Galaxy Buds Live are made from recycled plastic, the batteries are replaceable and the earbuds are generally repairable, which makes them far less disposable than rivals. Samsung should be commended for showing that it is possible to produce small, good earbuds that can actually be repaired.

They won’t be for everyone but the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are a unique set of Bluetooth earbuds worth paying attention to.

Pros: open fit, good battery life, great case, good sound, good controls, ANC, AAC support, seamless device switching, made of recycled plastic, can be repaired, batteries can be replaced

Cons: no noise isolation, ANC is limited, fit may not suit everyone, no water resistance

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review
The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ (left) versus the new Galaxy Buds Live (right). Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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