Tom's Guide Verdict
The $149 Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 is a solid sequel that upholds most of the series’ hallmarks, but ignores its biggest flaws.
Lively, customizable sound
Great comfort and fit
Extended functionality via Galaxy Wearable app
Two wireless charging methods
Middling battery life
Missing advanced features
Inferior call quality
Design feels less premium than predecessors
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Colors: Graphite, Lavender, Olive, White
Battery life (rated): 5 hours with ANC on (20 hours with charging case), 7.5 hours with ANC off (29 hours with charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
Processor: Not stated
Size: 0.7 x 0.8 x 0.8 (per bud), 1.9 x 2.0 x 1.1 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.2 ounces (per bud)
Samsung made the announcement about the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 during its Unpacked August 2021 event, along with several other product reveals, including the highly anticipated Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3. The Galaxy Buds 2 adopted many of the same traits as its high-end sibling, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, and launched at a much more accessible price point: $149.
That means you can expect effective ANC, hi-quality sound, intuitive controls and unique listening modes in a practical and inexpensive package. It also means dealing with some of the series’ existing flaws, including a restrictive feature set and subpar battery life, to name a few.
- The best wireless earbuds overall
- Find a bargain with the best Apple AirPods alternatives
- Nothing Ear (1) vs. AirPods Pro: Which wireless earbuds win?
Does its overall performance place it among the best noise-cancelling earbuds? Read our full Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review to find out — and you might also want to check out our Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 vs. AirPods Pro face off, to see how it fares against one of its main competitors.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Price and availability
- $149 MSRP — $50 less than Galaxy Buds Pro
- Choice of four color options
You could order the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 for $149 from Samsung or most other major retailers starting on their release date of August 27, 2021.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 come in four colors: Graphite, Lavender, Olive, and White. You get a wireless charging case, USB-C charging cable, and three different sizes of ear tips with the purchase.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 — $149 at Samsung
The Galaxy Buds 2 shares the same MSRP as another pair of popular entry-level wireless ANC earbuds, the Beats Studio Buds. It also comes in at a lower price point than the Galaxy Buds Pro, which originally hit store shelves at $199, but is currently on sale for $169 at Best Buy. Furthermore, you can score these buds for much less than category leaders like the $249 AirPods Pro and $279 Sony WH-1000XM4.
There's also the new Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, the latest entry in the Galaxy Buds lineup of earbuds that arrived on August 28 2022 for $229. They offer excellent active noise cancellation in a very compact case and can deliver 24-bit HiFi Sound.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Design and comfort
- Similar shape to Galaxy Buds Pro...
- ...but with a lower-quality feel
The naming convention would have you believing this pair of buds share the same design as the original, but it doesn't. Instead of the oval shape with reflective, triangular touch pads, the Galaxy Buds 2 takes on the longer, low-profile appearance of the Galaxy Buds Pro, only with tinier mic holes, no small speaker grille, and less premium craftsmanship. The Galaxy Buds Pro is composed of rubberized plastic and a shiny metal material, whereas the Galaxy Buds 2 dons a plain plastic exterior with matte finish.
These buds also come with an IPX2 rating, a vast downgrade from the Galaxy Buds Pro’s IPX7 certification. In short, they can resist small drops of water, but are not splash- or sweat-proof. We don't recommend taking these out on a run or into the jacuzzi.
Samsung decided to keep the clamshell-like charging case. This was a smart call; it’s one of the most portable designs in the category, and it feels incredibly light in your hands and pockets. The magnetic lid is strong to keep the buds secured, and the plastic frame is durable, though it scuffs and scratches easily.
I found the Galaxy Buds 2 provided a more secure fit than the original. The tips created a tight seal that kept the buds locked in when manoeuvring around the house. There's even an Earbud Fit Test in the Galaxy Wearable app to help you determine the best fit, though I questioned its validity. The program analyzed my ears a whole lot faster than other ear tip fit tests, which immediately raised a red flag in terms of accuracy, and it gave me the same results when trying on all three different-sized ear tips: Good Fit.
Comfort is moderate. I wore the buds for several hours a day, usually 2-3 hours straight before any soreness was felt around the concha.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Touch controls and digital assistant
- Tap gestures don't always work
- Digital assistants are effective
The Galaxy Buds 2’s control scheme consists of tap/hold gestures, motion detection and digital assistance. Tap input works about 70% of the time, but you can use swipe gestures instead, which I found more serviceable for playback. For some odd reason, you must turn on the multi-tap gestures in the app; other models make them accessible right out of the box.
On-ear detection operates differently on the Galaxy Buds 2. Instead of removing one bud from your ear to auto-pause, you’re required to remove both. That was just one problem I had with the feature. The other two were that it operates on a 2-second delay and doesn’t auto-play when placing the buds back on your ears.
Siri, Google Assistant, and Bixby are all compatible with the Galaxy Buds 2 and can be activated through the touch-and-hold gesture, which can also be assigned to raise/lower volume or enable Spotify. Wake-word activation is only available for Bixby (“Hi Bixby”), and while it’s fun to use, I still prefer Google Assistant or Siri as my native digital assistant due to its much larger commands list. Luckily, Samsung’s mics are powerful and pick up vocals clearly and precisely, no matter which AI bot you use.
Samsung grants users the option to access and control the Galaxy Buds 2 directly on any Galaxy Watch 4 smartwatch as well.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Sound quality
- Powerful and customizable sound
- Low-latency gaming mode
- No Samsung 360 Audio support
When it comes to audio, Samsung always hits a home run, and the Galaxy Buds 2 is no exception. AKG-tuned drivers power the sonics on these tiny in-ears and pump out energetic, detailed sound that can be customized through the Galaxy Wearable app via Equalizer. Six presets are selectable: Normal (the default), Bass Boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear, and Treble Boost. Each of these serves well when paired with the appropriate music genre.
Clear was perfect for harmonic records like Silk Sonic’s “Skate,” emphasizing both Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars’ vocals, while treating percussive elements with delicacy to maintain the production’s upbeat tempo. Switching to Bass Boost, the distorted guitar riff on the beginning of Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” was impactful, but it was the hard knocking 808 drum pattern that sumo-splashed my eardrums to stimulate rhythmic head-nodding. As awesome as this sounded, I preferred listening to the record in Normal since it offered better midrange; the rising synths were loud and striking.
In fact, you’re bound to stick with Normal for its strong overall sound. Records like Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” showcased the buds prominent low end, producing excellent reverberation that had my hair standing with every strum from the iconic bass riff. Highs are also well represented, something you’ll notice most on jazz classics. I loved how crisp and detailed the hi-hats sounded on Kenny Burrell’s “Midnight Blue,” though it wasn’t until I played low-fi gems such as Joe Venuti & Eddie Lang’s “Black and Blue Bottom” where the buds demonstrated their frequency range. Hearing the clean and bright violin play over a static-heavy background was remarkable.
The Galaxy Buds 2 comes with a Gaming mode to decrease latency for synchronized gaming sound. It’s exclusive to Samsung smartphones, though I tested the mode on a few games and noticed very little difference in quality compared to when it was switched off. The footsteps and shooting effects when playing Critical Ops lagged, but the drifting and power-up effects in Mario Kart Tour sounded spot-on.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Active noise cancellation
- Strong ANC effect
- Ambient mode works well too
Samsung claims that its ANC technology “cuts external background noise by up to 98%.” I’m not sure how this was assessed, but my ears and several years of experience testing noise-cancelling headphones say this percentage is lower: more like 85%. This is close to the AirPods Pro and lower than ANC giants like the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and Sony WF-1000XM4.
Nonetheless, the Galaxy Buds 2 does a fairly good job of reducing unwanted noises. I was able to work peacefully and block out common distractions like loud TVs and talkative relatives. The droning noises coming out of our centralized AC and laundry room went unnoticed as well. High-frequency sounds didn’t fare so well, as my infant’s babbles and hunger cries were audible from several feet away.
Using the buds outside was much of the same. Rambling joggers on their AirPods and speeding cars never grabbed my attention. Certain landscape tools (e.g., lawnmowers, electric hedge trimmers) went silent, though leaf-blowers were the exception. Sirens were another disturbance that broke my concentration when sitting peacefully on a park bench.
Those with selective hearing might find the Accessibility setting in the companion app useful. You can assign ANC to one earbud to prevent discomfort. There’s also a sound balance slider below it to emphasize sound on either bud or leave in the middle for equal results.
Ambient Sound is designed to give users greater awareness of their surroundings. There are three settings – Low, Medium, and High – each one set to increase the amount of sound that comes into the mics. High should be your default because it’s the only setting where you can hear anything, granted you’ll need to keep the volume between 30% and 50%. Doing this let me communicate clearly with my wife about baby duties during office hours, as well as hear incoming packages via doorbell and traffic on nightly walks.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: App and special features
- A few software tricks, but nothing very advanced
- Smartphone widget is handy, though
The Galaxy Wearable app places several features at your fingertips. If you haven’t downloaded it already, you’ll be required to, along with the Galaxy Buds 2 plug-in. Opening the app presents you with a battery level indicator for the buds, user manual, toggle controls, the Find My Earbuds setting, and all the extra features in the Settings page. These include the aforementioned Bixby voice wake-up function, Equalizer, Earbuds Fit Test, Gaming Mode, and Accessibility.
This is a generous number of features here, but other competitor apps like JBL Headphones and Sony Headphones Connect offer much more. The Labs section seems to have been abandoned with Gaming Mode being the only available feature. Luckily, the app supports firmware updates, so I hope that Samsung rolls out more features in the coming months.
Outside of the app is where you’ll find the Galaxy Buds 2’s most unique features. Samsung programmed a resizable widget that can be placed on your smartphone home screen to instantly enable the listening modes and touch controls. This is a faster solution for toggling either function, though I wish Samsung let users customize the selections: Gaming Mode seems more ideal than touch controls.
Other notables include the aforementioned Galaxy Watch control access and wireless PowerShare to power up the buds by placing the charging case on the back of a compatible Galaxy smartphone.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Battery life and charging case
- Short ANC uptime, both from buds and case
- Much better fast-charging speeds
Samsung rates battery life at 5 hours with ANC and 7.5 hours with ANC off. When comparing ANC playtimes, this is just a marginal advantage over the AirPods Pro (4.5 hours) and much less than the WF-1000XM4 (8 hours). Even more disappointing is the 20-hour charging case, which falls short of the average industry time set by the AirPods/AirPods Pro charging case: 24 hours. Not using ANC extends use to 29 hours, but let’s be honest: you’re likely purchasing these to use ANC as much as possible.
Those who are not thrilled about the playtimes can take solace knowing the Galaxy Buds 2 has some of the strongest quick charging available, netting you 1 hour of use on a 5-minute charge. Battery optimization has also been improved to squeeze every bit of juice out of the battery for optimal use.
On top of that, the charging case can be wirelessly charged in two ways: PowerShare, via supportive Galaxy smartphones, or any Qi-enabled wireless charging pad.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Call quality and connectivity
- Decent, but "machine learning" feature doesn't do much
- Susceptible to wind noise
As a calling headset, the Galaxy Buds 2 is a disappointing step down from the Galaxy Buds Pro. According to Samsung, the newer pair of buds uses a “machine learning-based solution" that filters out background noises for clearer calls. I don’t know if this requires breaking in the Galaxy Buds 2, but after four days of several voice and video calls, nothing noticeably changed. The mics snag a lot of ambient sound, especially wind, which my wife said sounded harsh on her ears. The buds didn’t perform any better in quieter outdoor settings; complaints of muffling were common.
Stepping inside, the missus found call quality to be steadier, but not a vast improvement. The Galaxy Buds 2 performed much better on video chats with several friends mentioning how loud and clear I sounded.
Wireless performance is still a hallmark of the Galaxy Buds series. Opening the case automatically enables Pairing mode and shows the product on the available devices lists. Samsung also developed an Easy Pairing Mode for hassle-free manually pairing.
Range is adequate with the buds achieving close to 40 feet of wireless listening. Connection strength is also better than older Samsung models, letting you jump from room to room without stuttering, if you stay within range.
Multipoint technology is absent, but the Galaxy Buds 2 has impressively robust auto-connect capabilities. You can unpair from one device and the buds will immediately pair to your last recognized device if Bluetooth is enabled. This makes swapping between devices seamless.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 offers plenty of functionality at an attainable price. Sound is both versatile and vibrant, ranking just below the Galaxy Buds Pro, which is impressive. Despite falling short of its claims, Samsung’s ANC technology is still a viable option for blocking out unwanted noises. The different audio settings allow for unique personalization when indulging in music and videos. You’ll enjoy great all-day comfort as well.
However, with a lower price comes compromises, and the Galaxy Buds 2 makes quite a few. Battery life, call quality, and design all take major steps back from the Galaxy Buds Pro, which also keeps 360 Audio to itself. Non-Galaxy smartphone owners also lose out on special features tied to the Galaxy ecosystem, such as Gaming Mode and PowerShare.
If you’re on a budget and remain a loyal Galaxy smartphone user, then the Galaxy Buds 2 will provide a pleasant mobile listening experience without breaking the bank. Even so, you may want to wait for the Galaxy Buds Pro to go on sale; for potentially just a few dollars more, you could secure yourself a significantly better set of earbuds.
Those who don’t own a Galaxy device should look at competitors in the same price range that offer slightly better performance; the Beats Studio Buds is a prime example.
A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.