After the introduction of the Galaxy Buds Pro earlier this year, Samsung finally had a true wireless lineup that covered all of the bases. Ambient sound, wireless charging and other premium features were already standard on the company’s earbuds, but with the Pro it added true active noise cancellation (ANC), 360 audio and more. Now Samsung is circling back and redesigning its entry-level buds. With the Galaxy Buds 2, the company brings features typically reserved for its pricier models to a set of $150 earbuds, reducing the number of tradeoffs that are usually required if you want to spend a little less.
Gallery: Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review | 16 Photos
Gallery: Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review | 16 Photos
For the Galaxy Buds 2, Samsung ditched the triangular touch panel and fit wing for an oval shape that’s reminiscent of the Galaxy Buds Pro. The outer panel is seamless, so you can’t tell where the touch controls are exactly. There’s no button or frame outlining them; the only things visible on the outside are two of the three microphones, one of which replaces the tiny grille on the Pro model.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2
- Improved sound
- Adjustable ambient sound mode
- Tiny and comfortable
- Wireless charging
- ANC is just okay
- Only IPX2 rated
- No iOS integration
- Volume controls require sacrifices
Samsung says the Galaxy Buds 2 are 15-percent smaller and 20-percent lighter than the Galaxy Buds+ which were already quite tiny. This makes them noticeably smaller than the Galaxy Buds Pro as well, even though the overall design is similar. The Galaxy Buds 2 aren’t as deep, which accounts for their more compact stature. Indeed, Samsung’s smallest and lightest earbuds yet are also some of its most comfortable. These earbuds are among the tiniest I’ve tested and the size helps them nestle snugly in your ear without the burden of extra weight or the protruding design you get with larger models.
Like the Galaxy Buds Pro, the outer touch panel area of the Galaxy Buds 2 has a glossy finish, although this new model is clearly made of plastic. The Pro version has a bit of metallic character, giving them a more premium look. Samsung kept the same IPX2 rating, which means you should be fine if you get caught in some drizzle, but frequent splashes and sweaty workouts might cause problems.
The cases for both the Galaxy Buds 2 and Galaxy Buds Pro are nearly identical. They’re the exact same size and shape: a small square with rounded corners. With the Galaxy Buds 2, Samsung opted for a glossy finish over the previous matte exterior. Plus, every case for this new model is white, no matter which color bud you choose. Only the interior cradle that holds the earbuds and the thin seam where the case closes matches your hue preference. A single LED up front keeps you aware of the charging status while a USB-C port around back is available for wired top-ups.
Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable app is where you access all of the controls and settings for the Galaxy Buds 2, just like it was for the company’s other recent earbuds. This includes the ability to switch between ANC, ambient sound and both off as well as adjusting ambient sound levels, reassigning the touch and hold gesture, selecting an EQ preset, activating hands-free Bixby and checking battery percentage. It’s also where you can employ Samsung’s Find My Earbuds feature should you misplace a bud.
Touch controls are mirrored on both sides by default with a single tap for play/pause, a double tap to skip tracks ahead and a triple tap to return to the previous song. A touch and hold function switches between active noise cancellation and ambient sound. You can’t adjust the level of environmental noise you let in on the earbuds; this just returns to your last selection. There is the option to set this to toggle between ANC and off or ambient sound and off if you dive further into the settings. You can also choose to disable all of the touch controls entirely or one or more of them individually.
Samsung gives you the ability to reconfigure the touch and hold option, but you have limited alternatives. You can set it to activate Bixby, give you one-touch access to Spotify or on-board volume control. If you choose that last option, you can only assign volume down to the left earbud and volume up to the right. As was the case with previous Galaxy Buds, a full suite of volume controls means you lose access to something handy like ANC/ambient sound.
Similar to lots of other companies, Samsung has once again included an ear tip fit test in its app. This short diagnostic plays a few seconds of sound to ensure optimal audio quality and noise cancellation.
Samsung offered deep iOS integration on the Galaxy Buds+. In fact, you got nearly all of the same features on your iPhone as someone with a Galaxy device. The company backed off of that with its recent products and continues to do so with the Galaxy Buds 2. You’ll need an Android phone to dive into all the Galaxy Wearable app offers. Samsung also has a Galaxy Buds app for Windows, but if you’re hoping to use these new earbuds with an iPhone, iPad or Mac, just know you’re stuck with the default settings.
The audio quality hasn’t ever been mind-blowing on Samsung’s more affordable Galaxy Buds. It was a huge disappointment on the original model, but the company made some improvements to the low-end on the Buds+. Still, overall sound quality needed work. With the Galaxy Buds 2, the company has made some strides that bring its $150 model more in line with the pricier Galaxy Buds Pro. This new version doesn’t have the same clarity and depth as its more expensive sibling, but the dynamic range is at least comparable.
Things definitely sound compressed on the Galaxy Buds 2. There’s ample bass and enough treble for certain details to cut through, but low-end tone lacks punch and tracks that are meant to sound big and bombastic are somewhat subdued. On the Buds Pro, songs like CHVRCHES “How Not to Down” are nicely layered creations of drums, piano and other instruments with airy vocals sitting on top. That all sounds noticeably flatter when I switch to the Galaxy Buds 2. It’s better than the Galaxy Buds+, but it’s worth noting that although the Galaxy Buds 2 are balanced, the company could do better when it comes to details and depth.
The EQ presets in the Galaxy Wearable app don’t offer any improvement over the default (Normal) mode. All of the options seem to pipe in too much bass, mids or treble depending on which one you select, and a few of them feel muffled.
For the first time, Samsung is offering active noise cancellation on its most affordable Galaxy Buds. The Buds+ had an ambient sound mode, but they didn’t do anything to block environmental ruckus beyond passive noise isolation. The ANC on the Galaxy Buds 2 will help reduce distractions but it's not as powerful as pricer earbuds can muster. Samsung says the setup on this model can reduce 98 percent of background noise, but things like a white noise machine and box fans cut through to varying degrees. It’s definitely better than passive isolation on its own, but if you’re interested in earbuds that block out nearly everything, you’ll want to look elsewhere. Lastly, there’s also only one setting here where the Galaxy Buds Pro offers options for high and low noise cancellation.
Like the Pro model, the Galaxy Buds 2 is equipped with adjustable ambient sound. However, where the Galaxy Buds Pro has four levels, these new earbuds only have three. It’s basically a volume adjustment for how much environmental noise you’re letting in.
One other new feature with the Galaxy Buds 2 is available on the new Galaxy Watch 4. With that wearable, a new Buds Controller puts noise controls on your wrist. This gives you the ability to switch between ANC and ambient sound. It will come in handy if you decide to remove that option from the earbuds’ touch controls. You can also view battery status on the Watch 4 as well as disable the touch controls entirely if needed.
Samsung is once again making big promises about call quality on the Galaxy Buds 2. The company says the combination of machine learning alongside three microphones per earbud and a voice pickup unit (VPU) "maximizes call clarity in all conditions." In practice, the earbuds actually do combat background noise to a degree. They don’t entirely get rid of it, but they can reduce things like background conversations and the TV a low roar, according to the person on the other end of my calls. My wife noted that while I still sounded like I was on speaker phone, the noise around me was subdued when either of us began to talk. It’s not pristine call quality, but at least Samsung delivers on some of its claims here.
Samsung is promising up to five hours of battery life on the Galaxy Buds 2 themselves with an additional three charges in the case (20 hours total). That’s with active noise cancellation turned on. If you disable that feature, the company says you can expect up to seven and a half hours on a charge (29 hours total with the case). Like all of the previous Galaxy Buds devices, the case supports wireless charging via Qi-certified devices and Samsung’s Power Share feature on the back of its phones. There’s a quick charge option on the Galaxy Buds 2 as well that gives you an hour of non-ANC listening time after five minutes.
While five hours isn’t exactly impressive, the range for the Galaxy Buds 2 is on par with a lot of true wireless earbuds I’ve tested recently. It may not be enough to last an entire trans-continental flight, but it might get you through a full day of work, especially if you can disable noise cancellation for a spell. During my tests, I managed just over seven hours of what I’d consider “regular” use. That’s a mix of ANC, ambient sound at varying levels, calls and only using one earbud at any given time.
The playing field at the $150 price point is getting increasingly crowded as more companies have solved the riddle of how to cram premium features in affordable earbuds. The Beats Studio Buds are a recent entry, offering nearly identical battery life to the Galaxy Buds 2. The only difference there is Samsung gives you one more charge in the case. The Studio Buds don’t support wireless charging and there are no options for customizing the sound, but the audio is balanced and the earbuds are tiny and comfy. Beats tossed in quick pairing support for both Android and iOS, and with the latter, you get hands-free access to Siri. They’re also the exact same price as the Galaxy Buds 2, unless you can find them on sale.
For around $150, I’m also a big fan of the Jabra Elite 75t. These earbuds are getting a little long in the tooth after a late-2019 debut, but the company added active noise cancellation through a firmware update last fall. If you purchase a set now, they’ll ship with ANC already installed. You’ll have to pay extra for a wireless charging case, but once again, battery life is nearly identical to the Galaxy Buds 2. Jabra also massively improved the audio quality on the 75t and a new design is smaller and more comfy. Although the Elite 75t debuted at $180, you can find them nowadays for around $150, but some colors are available on Amazon for as little as $90.
With the exception of the Galaxy Buds Live, Samsung has a solid track record with its recent earbuds. That’s true once again with the Galaxy Buds 2 where a tiny curved design keeps things comfy even for long periods of time. The company brought all of what made the Buds+ a solid affordable true wireless option back and added active noise cancellation to what is now its cheapest model. Sure, the audio could be better, but the combination of features and price make the Galaxy Buds 2 a solid option for Android users. And if you own a Samsung phone, you’ll get even more out of them.