Samsung Unpacked was filled with neat new foldable smartphones — the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4 — two new smartwatches and a pair of improved noise-cancelling earbuds — but that wasn't the most important announcement from the event for me.
It was the inclusion of Bluetooth 5.3 in the new Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro.
While codecs — the format in which data is encoded, transmitted and decoded — sound awfully boring, they play a vitally important role in how headphones sound and how long their battery life lasts. And Bluetooth 5.3? Well, it’s the best at both.
We’ve seen a few of these earbuds out in the wild so far like these Apple AirPods clones that only cost $20 on Amazon, they didn’t have the Samsung Galaxy Buds' speaker design and were missing key features like active noise cancellation.
Equipped with Bluetooth 5.3, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro checks all the boxes.
What is Bluetooth 5.3?
Every year or so, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) puts out a specification for a new version of the wireless transmission technology. There’s Bluetooth 5.2, 5.1, 5.0, 4.2, 4.1, etc… each of which offers some new advantages over older versions.
That said, while new Bluetooth versions are constantly evolving, the Bluetooth SIG doesn’t actually make the earbuds that use the new technology — that’s up to manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, LG and others — and it can take awhile from when a specification is introduced until when it’s implemented in a pair of headphones.
Bluetooth 5.3 was technically introduced this time last year in a blog post on the SIG’s website, but we didn’t really start seeing audio products with the codec until earlier this year. Even then, it wasn’t on big headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM5 or the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 (both of which still use version 5.2) but instead it was only to be found on a few JBL products.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro use the latest version, and that’s pretty exciting for me.
What are the advantages of the new version?
The headline news of Bluetooth 5.3 is that it can identify packets of data a device has already received and discard that data instead of using extra processing power to decode it.
That sounds like a small feature, but think about how much data is transmitted from a device like your phone to a pair of headphones. It’s a ton. Bluetooth devices also send redundant copies of the information, just in case the first packet got lost in transmission. By reducing the amount of data that needs to be processed, an audio device can save a ton on battery life.
That said, instead of saving that battery life for longer listening sessions, that battery life might be spent in other ways like better noise cancellation or a better processor that can handle higher bit rates…which seems to be the case for the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro.
Bluetooth 5.3 can also switch between low-energy modes and high-energy modes faster than previous versions can, as well as maintain connections better. Finally, Bluetooth 5.3 introduces better security protocols that make it harder for unauthorized third parties to access data being transmitted between two connected devices.
So what does all that mean for the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro?
The great irony of Samsung’s event is that all the products announced — outside of the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro — don’t use Bluetooth 5.3. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 both only use Bluetooth 5.2.
Unfortunately, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro don’t seem to be capitalizing on the gains in battery life made with Bluetooth 5.3. As far as I can tell, they have a worse battery life than other noise-cancelling earbuds like the Sony WF-1000XM4.
As for their much-hyped ability to receive 24-bit audio, it’s certainly a neat idea and one that Samsung has explored in the past with its Scalable Codec, but the benefits of 24-bit audio vs 16-bit audio are a bit murky.
Without boring you with the technical details, signal noise generated by 16-bit audio is minimal compared to 24-bit audio and the ‘clarity’ gained by 24-bit audio depth goes beyond the scope of human hearing. In short, it might not even be something you can hear the difference between.
That’s not to say the earbuds won’t be good, or that the noise cancellation on them won’t be top-notch. It might be. I just haven’t heard them for myself so I can’t say one way or the other.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are the company’s sixth pair of earbuds in four years — so at this point, Bluetooth 5.3 is the thing that I’m most looking forward to seeing in action for myself.
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Nick Pino heads up the TV and AV verticals at Tom's Guide and covers everything from OLED TVs to the latest wireless headphones. He was formerly the Senior Editor, TV and AV at TechRadar (Tom's Guide's sister site) and has previously written for GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade. Not sure which TV you should buy? Drop him an email or tweet him on Twitter and he can help you out.