Since it was released, the AirPods Pro have remained some of the best wireless earbuds on the market. The combination of improved audio and ergonomics, along with impressive active noise-cancelling and unbeatable iOS integration, has earned Apple's danglers a perfect score from Tom's Guide.
It was only a matter of time before Samsung stepped up to challenge its mobile rival, and the company has done just that with the Galaxy Buds Live. These buds cram long battery life, spacious sound, and several cool features into what can be best described as a polarizing design. Met with mostly positive reviews and intrigued stares (the jellybean shape is certainly eye-catching), Samsung’s flagship buds offer a lot at a relatively affordable price.
- Check out our Apple AirPods Pro review
- ...and our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review
- Bose Sport Earbuds: Meet the new fitness buds to beat
If you want practically perfect ANC earbuds that operate smoothly with your iPhone, iPad or MacBook Pro, then the AirPods Pro is ideal, while Android fans can enjoy intelligible and instantaneous functionality from the Galaxy Buds Live. Whichever way you slice it, both models are standouts for anyone seeking premium wireless earbuds, though there can only be one victor in this battle.
AirPods Pro vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Specs compared
|AirPods Pro||Samsung Galaxy Buds Live|
|Colors||White||Black, Bronze, White|
|Battery life (rated)||4.5 hours, 24 hours (with charging case)||6 hours (ANC on), 6.5 hours (ANC off), 8 hours (ANC and Bixby off), 21 hours (with charging case) and 29 (with charging case and all features off)|
|Size and weight||1.22 x 0.86 x 0.94 inches, 0.19 ounces||0.58 x 0.96 x 0.52 inches, 0.19 ounces|
|Durability||IPX4 (water and sweat resistance)||IPX2 (water and sweat resistance)|
|Special features||Active noise cancellation, transparency mode, adaptive EQ, customizable fit, audio sharing, announced messages with Siri, “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance, wireless charging, spatial audio, automatic switching||Active noise cancellation, EQ, Bixby voice wake-up, Spotify integration, Samsung Scalable codec, Music Share, Game Mode, wireless charging|
AirPods Pro vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Price and value
It’s no secret that the AirPods Pro doesn’t come cheap, selling for $249 and only available in one color: White. Meanwhile, Samsung launched the Galaxy Buds Live at a more competitive $169, and in multiple colors, including Mystic Bronze, Mystic White, and Mystic Black.
Each model offers plenty of functionality to warrant your greenbacks. However, the Galaxy Buds Live offers more bang for the buck, backed by a powerful spec sheet and stellar sound that enhances the listening experience in multiple ways, from gaming to wireless music streaming.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
AirPods Pro vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Design
When it comes to design, the AirPods Pro and Galaxy Buds Live are… unique. They come in peculiar shapes (when compared to the traditional mold of earbuds), are decently built, and have an acquired taste when it comes to style.
Apple made a few noticeable changes (including black microphone vents and shorter stems) to differentiate the AirPods Pro from its predecessors. This version comes with IPX4 certification for sweat and water resistance, so you can use them to exercise. It’s also great to see Apple take a greener manufacturing approach by using eco-friendly materials to create the buds. I’m still not sold on the unflattering stem design, but many Apple fans seem to find it innovative.
Samsung gets a lot of credit for thinking outside of the box and giving the Galaxy Buds Live a jewelry-like aesthetic, even if the complete design looks silly. The exterior has a nice shine factor that makes the buds bling when exposed to sunlight. Detailing is minimal with a motion sensor, chrome metal connectors, and two vents for the tiny mics (one on each side). The buds come with an IPX2 rating, which is a weaker form of water and sweat resistance.
The charging cases for these two models are similar in that they’re both constructed from a block of plastic that also happens to scratch and scuff easily. While Apple’s case comes in a slim, rectangular shape, Samsung’s case stays on theme, resembling a tiny square jewelry box. The one great thing is that they both are lightweight and provide excellent portability; the AirPods Pro case is 1.61 ounces and the Galaxy Buds Live is 1.48 ounces. Removing and storing either set of buds from their case is simple as well, though the Galaxy Buds Live case does a better job with presentation, as Samsung’s buds are handsomely displayed on the docking system.
Aesthetics and style are integral to design, but the true deciding factor in this category lies in fit. And as much as I loathe the AirPods Pro’s silhouette, these porcelain buds provide far better comfort than their curved counterpart. Apple’s Ear Tip Fit Test and the inclusion of ear tips are a winning combination, giving users a comfy and secure fit when moving around. You can also sport the buds for longer than two hours and not worry about fatigue.
It's normal to question how well the Galaxy Buds Live fit since they have no ear tips or a traditional sound port. Well, the buds are light and comfy at only 0.2 ounces and can be worn for about 2 hours before experiencing some discomfort. Those with smaller ears may feel the buds piercing the tragus area like my wife did. There are ovular caps that go over the speaker to provide a more secure fit, but they weren’t as reliable as Apple’s ear tips, as I felt some looseness on walks.
Winner: AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Controls
Programming touch controls on a pair of wireless earbuds is tough, hence why Apple went the opposite route and introduced a new pinch gesture system located at the bottom of each stem. It registers multiple presses to initiate playback and call management. To the surprise of many, it works remarkably well and is very accurate; the click sound you hear when pressing the force sensors offers assurance to confirm intended commands. On-ear detection works well too, meaning you can automatically pause music when removing the buds or resume play when placing them back on. If only the AirPods Pro allowed for more control customization.
Samsung does a noteworthy job of programming numerous touch controls into its tiny earbuds. You can set up each bud to accept multiple tap gestures (one to three taps), along with long-press gestures to enable ANC, voice command or volume. Personally, I found that performing slide gestures worked more effectively, though this doesn’t take away from the buds’ tap accuracy. It’s also awesome that Samsung included Spotify integration, allowing you to pull up a playlist directly on the buds. On-ear detection is available too, though it suffers from latency and only pauses music when taking off the buds; you’ll have to tap the sensor to resume playback.
Both models have digital assistant support, but the AirPods Pro is more dependable for hands-free help. If you haven’t used “Hey Siri” yet, please do because the feature is amazing and highly responsive to commands. Speech recognition is also outstanding, as Apple’s in-ear monitors pick up every syllable and vowel you speak. The only issue I have is that Apple does not make it easy to use the AirPods Pro on Android devices, and you have to use third-party apps like Assistant Trigger to access Google Assistant.
Samsung continues to push its Bixby voice assistant, which comes programmed on the Galaxy Buds Live and acts as Samsung’s answer to “Hey Siri.” It’s OK and responds to phrases quickly, but the AI bot feels like a work in progress. There were times I had to repeat the “Hi Bixby” phrase for it to turn on. In addition, Google Assistant and Siri were a little buggy. When working, the mics offered decent speech recognition to execute commands, though at times, Google’s bot would misinterpret certain words. Also, I noticed Siri would occasionally cut out before asking a question.
Winner: AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Audio quality
Samsung crammed 12mm drivers into its shiny IEMs, while adding Harman Kardon’s curve sound signature into the mix for lively bass-forward performance. Records like Jay-Z’s “The Takeover” knocked hard with head-rattling reverbs that intensified my listen. More striking was the well-balanced low end, as the monstrous bassline dominated the soundscape without distorting the rapper’s vicious diss rhymes or the iconic Jim Morrison sample. That same energy was lacking on the AirPods Pro, as the bassline was taken down a notch; you need to listen at max volume to get some oomph out of the drums. On the plus side, I liked the clarity Apple’s buds produced over the thumping production.
The Galaxy Buds Live also performed better with orchestral songs. Jazz classics like Ahmad Jamal’s “Dolphin Dance” sounded serene, demonstrating some phenomenal dynamic range to hear the loudest and quietest passages in the recording. While the AirPods Pro doesn’t match the sonic depth of the Galaxy Buds Live, it is still capable of some great reproduction. On the same record, I loved the crispness of the opening piano keys and the steady hi-hat presence Apple’s buds maintained throughout the track, though some of the bass elements sounded muddy.
Great isolation is not something you can expect from either model. It’s practically nonexistent on the Galaxy Buds Live, and Samsung’s buds also leak sound at a high level. The AirPods Pro grants a better fit and tighter seal when adjusted properly, but environmental fracas still finds its way onto the soundstage. I could hear my wife’s phone calls when jamming out to music in the office, no matter what device I used.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
AirPods Pro vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Active noise cancellation
This is what you really came for. So, which pair of earbuds is considered the better noise-cancelling solution? The AirPods Pro. Hands down.
Apple’s algorithms and two-mic noise-cancelling system do a remarkable job of keeping external sounds to a minimum. It’s not a strong as the ANC on the Sony WF-1000xM3, but is capable of hushing about 80 percent of unwanted noises. You’ll be able to drown out overly loud co-workers, door buzzers, and whisking taxis. Higher frequency noises like ambulance sirens or crying babies require something more powerful.
I could cut Samsung some slack since this is the company’s first attempt at noise cancellation in the truly wireless space, but that’s not happening. The Galaxy Buds Live were engineered to block out small background noises, and, sadly, the technology struggles with that. It’s good enough to silence white noises (e.g. hissing AC, whirring fan), but seems completely absent when dealing with louder ambient sounds. If you’re watching TV, volume must be set to a low level for ANC to be considered effective. And if you’re outside, it’s impossible to ignore common distractions like a bickering couple on the opposite park bench or a dump truck.
Apple and Samsung have their own ambient listening modes, which work fine for those who want to be more aware of their surroundings without stopping music. I found the AirPod Pro’s Transparency mode slightly better since it allowed for clearer communication when chatting with others and made noises more audible when exercising outside; it’s a must for runners. Ambient listening is decent on the Galaxy Buds Live. Although, the feature is more pronounced on the Galaxy Buds Plus.
Winner: AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Apps and special features
Since the iOS 14 launch, the AirPods Pro has been blessed with more extras to expand functionality. Spatial audio, the latest mode introduced which creates three-dimensional sound for listeners, does a solid job of delivering a theater-like listening experience. Automatic switching is the other new feature and makes swapping audio sources a breeze as long as those iDevices are paired to the same iCloud account.
Having the H1 chip at the forefront of operation is arguably the AirPods Pro’s greatest trait because it optimizes use in such creative ways. If it isn’t access to the hands-free “Hey Siri” feature, then it’s seamless connectivity with all Apple products or the ability to share audio from one iOS device to two pairs of AirPods or Beats headphones. Even if Apple doesn’t offer an adjustable EQ like most other competitors, you can still modify sound on the AirPods Pro by going through your iPhone settings (Settings -> Music -> EQ) and selecting from over 20 presets or by doing the same through Spotify. There are also a bunch of hidden AirPods Pro tricks worth checking out.
The Galaxy Buds series has always been heavy on features, thanks to the Samsung Galaxy Wear app. It gives you six EQ settings (Normal, Bass Boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear, and Treble Boost) to fine-tune sound, along with Spotify integration (Android only), as previously mentioned. Each setting works well with the right content (i.e. Bass Boost for hip hop or Clear for podcasts), though you’ll likely want to stick with the default setting to enjoy the best overall sound.
Returning is the Labs section, which gives access to experimental features for users to play with. It seems like each Galaxy Buds model has its own set of features, but the Galaxy Buds Live has the more promising batch. There is a setting to relieve compression with ambient sound, as well as a Game Mode that lowers latency when playing video games on your mobile device.
Other notable features include Music Share to hear music on two Galaxy Buds Live devices from one compatible smartphone, Swift Pair to quickly connect the buds to Android devices and PCs running Windows 10, and two different options for locating lost earbuds: Find My Earbuds and SmartThings Find support. I can’t forget PowerShare either to recharge the buds by placing the case on the back of a compatible Samsung device.
In the end, both models are equally feature-laden in their own way.
AirPods Pro vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Call quality
If there’s one thing Apple has done well, it’s call quality. The AirPods Pro remains one of the top calling headsets out there, employing its noise-cancelling mics to minimize background noise for clear-sounding calls. Having used these buds for nearly a year, I’ve always enjoyed the clarity and wind resistance they’ve delivered when answering calls outdoors. Just don’t be foolish in thinking you’ll get complete silence when walking past a construction site; high-frequency sounds are audible.
Samsung’s triple-microphone array was designed for clear calls, but that’s not the case with the Galaxy Buds Live. I had a few people say that my voice sounded low during video chats, while my wife heard many background noises when I took her phone calls in the front yard. The one positive was that I could hear everyone on the opposite end loudly and clearly.
Winner: AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Battery Life and charging case
Any pair of wireless earbuds that can get you at least 6 hours of ANC use is great in my book. Well, only one of these two models does it: the Galaxy Buds Live. Samsung rates battery life at different levels (revisit the specs list at the top), the shortest playtime listed at 6 hours with ANC on and the longest at 8 hours with ANC and Bixby off. No matter which option you settle for, you’re getting a sufficient amount of playtime. At their worst, the buds gave me about 5.5 hours with noise cancellation, heavy Spotify streaming, and loud volume factoring into the equation.
That may seem short compared to many other competitors, but it’s still more than what the AirPods Pro gives you. You’re stuck with 4.5 hours, which is disappointingly shorter than the AirPods 2 (5 hours). Playtime was accurate based on my testing. Despite Apple tweaking its algorithms to optimize battery usage, the truth is you’ll still need to rely on the charging case for extra juice.
Quick-charging is more powerful as well on the Galaxy Buds Live, generating 35 minutes on a 3-minute charge and 1.5 hours on a 10-minute charge. The AirPods Pro doesn’t promote this feature, though you can get about 1 hour on a 5-minute charge. Why Apple hasn’t adopted Beats’ Fast Fuel technology, which is used on the Powerbeats Pro to get 4.5 hours of use on a 15-minute charge, is still bewildering.
Samsung’s charging case can hold up to 29 hours, but that’s with all features turned off. When everything is on, you’re looking at 21 hours, which falls short of Apple’s charging case (24 hours). The number of extra charges (max of 6) you get will depend on how you use the Galaxy Buds Live. Both cases do support wireless charging should you want to power up the buds cable-free via Qi-enabled wireless charger.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
AirPods Pro vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Verdict
Coming out on top in most categories, the AirPods Pro is the clear-cut winner. It has better ANC, controls, and call quality, along with improved features and sound, making this version of the AirPods the best in the series. Then there’s the seamless iOS integration that keeps the AirPods Pro operating smoothly no matter the Apple device. Simply put, Apple’s noise-cancellers ensure grade-A performance, even if it means having to spend extra for it.
|AirPods Pro||Samsung Galaxy Buds Live|
|Price and value (5)||3||4|
|Audio quality (20)||16||18|
|Active noise cancelation (20)||18||15|
|Special features and apps (15)||13||13|
|Call quality (5)||5||3|
|Battery life and charging case (10)||6||8|
|Total score (100)||81||79|
Samsung’s truly wireless noise-cancelling debut is far from a bust, however. The Galaxy Buds Live has a lot going for it with great customization, lengthy battery life, and superb sound. Some may find its odd design cool looking as well. And there are a lot of features that add to its value. At the same time, it fails to deliver meaningful ANC for listener. I would advise waiting until the model is discounted, so you can score some great-sounding buds for less.