At this point, Samsung has a lot of experience making true wireless earbuds. While the company flexed its design muscle early with the Galaxy Buds line, it hasn’t always nailed the details. It rebounded quickly with its second installment, the Galaxy Buds+, and since then Samsung has continued to refine its aesthetic, improve sound quality and add handy features. It even found time for a polarizing open-wear model with the Galaxy Buds Live.
While the leguminous Live were the first of Samsung’s earbuds to include active noise cancellation (ANC), the open design rendered the feature ineffective. With the Galaxy Buds Pro that debuted early last year, the company finally delivered true ANC, but there was room for improvement in terms of both noise blocking and overall audio quality. Now Samsung is back with version 2.0 of its flagship earbuds, the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro ($230). This set is not only smaller and more comfortable, but they showcase the massive gains the company has made over the last year and a half. However, the most attractive features are reserved for the Samsung faithful.
Overall, the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro have a similar design to last year’s Buds Pro, but there are a few notable changes. First, this new model is 15-percent smaller than the 2021 version, which means they fit better in your ear and are more comfortable for longer periods of time. What’s more, Samsung added a vent on the inside of each earbud to help relieve pressure. Of course, the tiny stature means they tuck nicely into your ear, leaving very little sticking out from the side of your head. It’s a design Samsung adopted early on for its earbuds and subsequent models have continued to be satisfyingly svelte.
The Galaxy Buds 2 Pro have a soft-touch matte coating where the Galaxy Buds Pro was a glossy affair. I prefer the former as it’s more pleasant to the touch and isn’t a fingerprint magnet. However, it doesn’t necessarily offer more grip and neither surface impacted the touch controls. The included charging case for the Buds 2 Pro is covered in the same matte finish, so it too is pleasantly tactile. Like the Buds Pro, this model is IPX7 rated, which will allow you to submerge the earbuds in up to three feet of “fresh water” for up to 30 minutes, according to Samsung.
Touch controls are mirrored on both earbuds for the most part. There’s single tap for play/pause, double tap to skip ahead, triple tap to go back and a customizable touch and hold gesture. That long press can be used to change noise controls – ANC/ambient sound, ANC/off or ambient sound/off – or to summon Bixby, activate Spotify or control volume (down on left, up on right). If you don’t want to sacrifice some of those other features for volume, there’s an additional Labs option that will allow you to double tap the front edge of the earbuds to adjust audio levels.
It’s a little tricky to master, but I didn’t have any serious problems with edge tapping once I got the hang of it. The real annoyance with the touch controls comes when you try to adjust the fit of the earbuds. The Buds 2 Pro fit well, but as is the case with all true wireless models, you have to regularly reposition them in your ears. Due to the sensitivity of those touch panels, and the small size of the buds, it’s easy to make an errant tap when you’re just trying to readjust. It happened often enough to become very frustrating over the last two weeks.
Software and features
Like previous Samsung earbuds, all of the features and settings for the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are accessible through the Galaxy Wearable app on Android devices. Unfortunately, the company is staying consistent with recent models by not offering an iOS version. Samsung used to have onr, which made its buds a great option for both operating systems, but that hasn’t been the case for a while now. You can still use the earbuds with Apple gear, but you’ll lose some of the more attractive features by doing so.
Inside the app, you’ll get battery percentages for both the earbuds and the case right up top. The main screen also gives you access to noise controls, so you can see which mode is active (ANC, off or ambient sound) and make a change with the software if needed. Just below, there are options for enabling/disabling Voice Detect, 360 audio, touch controls and finding lost earbuds. Voice Detect is Samsung’s new feature that can tell when you’re speaking and automatically activate ambient sound while lowering the audio volume for quick conversations.
By default, the tool will go back to regular levels 10 seconds after you stop talking, but you can set that time to five or 15 seconds too. During my tests, Voice Detect worked well, and it doesn’t seem to be as easily tricked by coughs as Sony’s version of the feature. It also continues to work when I’m connected to my MacBook Pro, not only with a Samsung or Android device. However, I prefer Sony’s method of fully pausing the audio rather than just lowering the volume with its Speak-to-Chat tool. So while it’s handy, Samsung’s co-opting of Sony’s feature isn’t as pleasant to use despite its more accurate speech detection.
Gallery: Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro review | 12 Photos
Gallery: Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro review | 12 Photos
The Galaxy Wearables app also offers more detailed settings like EQ presets, an earbud fit test, read notifications, hands-free Bixby, ambient sound during calls, in-ear detection for calls, seamless connection with some Samsung devices, neck stretch reminders and Labs features. There is a lot packed into this software. Everything is pretty self-explanatory, but I will note that a second Labs tool is a Gaming Mode designed to minimize latency.
There’s also an Accessibility section that lets you adjust the left/right balance. Here, you can also choose to keep ANC active when you remove one earbud (the Buds 2 Pro turns it off by default) and you can adjust ambient sound volume and tone for your hearing. Some assistance with amplifying environmental audio isn’t new for earbuds, but it’s nice that Samsung offers a degree of customization here.
One item that’s still in the works is LE Audio. Samsung mentioned this during its recent event, explaining that the feature will allow you to capture 360 environmental sounds while you’re streaming or recording. For example, if you’re livestreaming. There weren’t a ton of details shared, other than the feature will arrive later this year. The Buds 2 Pro will also support Bluetooth LE, the next-gen wireless audio standard that’s on the way after being first introduced in 2020.
Samsung’s earbuds have never really impressed me with sound quality. They’ve ranged from just fine to good, but never truly great. Well, for the first time, the company has wowed this jaded headphone reviewer. The Buds 2 Pro pack plenty of bassy punch with a pleasantly open sound that is both full and filled with details and clarity. The low-end is also deep and nuanced, not just a heavy dose of thundering boom.
Plenty of earbuds offer balanced sound with good bass. What separates the great from the good is usually in the subtle details that can be difficult for something so small to replicate. Samsung does this with a combination of a 10mm woofer for the low-end and a 5.3mm tweeter so the treble cuts through. Across a range of genres, that setup enables stellar clarity and depth, keeping songs layered and immersive rather than compressed and messy. Amanda Shires’ vocals, for example, seem to float on top over every song throughout her latest album Take It Like A Man.
A big piece of the upgraded audio quality is 24-bit/48kHz Hi-Fi sound processing. Samsung’s new Seamless Codec (SSC) allows 256 times more sound data to be transmitted from your device to the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. On the previous model, 24-bit audio was converted to 16 bit by the time it reached the earbuds. Swiping over to the Android developer settings confirmed that 24-bit/48kHz was indeed coming from the Galaxy S21 FE 5G I used to test the Buds 2 Pro, but there’s no mention of bitrate. That number would be an indication of overall quality.