When the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live first released, it had the honor of being Samsung’s first pair of true wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation (ANC). Sure, the jelly bean styling wasn’t that appealing, but ANC alone made the Galaxy Buds Live a big step forward.
Nowadays, it’s not so simple. The newer, even higher-end Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is offering ANC as well as a host of other upgrades, meaning even more competition alongside the AirPods Pro. And now the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 has outflanked the Galaxy Buds Live with a lower price, even copying that same big noise-cancelling feature.
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Is this particular model still worth buying in 2021? We don’t think it will be bothering the very best noise-cancelling earbuds, but if you continue reading our original Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review below, you’ll see why it’s still a respectable set of headphones.
Battery life: 6 hours/21 hours with case (ANC + Bixby); 5.5 hours/20 hours (ANC); 8 hours/29 hours (ANC + Bixby off)
Compatibility: Android 5.0 / iPhone 7 or newer
Water resistance: IPX2
Size: 0.6 x 1.1 x 0.6 inches (earbuds); 2 x 2 x 1.1 inches (case)
Weight: 0.2 ounces (earbuds); 14.8 ounces (case)
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review: Price and availability
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live released in August 2020 for $169, but more recently you're more likely to find them around $129 — maybe as low as $109 in some sales. The earbuds originally launched in three colors — Mystic Black, Mystic Copper and Mystic White — but Samsung has since rolled out a striking Mystic Red option as well. If you're tired of Apple's all-white approach to earbuds, the Buds Live may be worth a look for their sleek and vibrant colors alone.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review: Design and comfort
It’s been said around the internet for ages now, but the Galaxy Buds Live truly do look like a pair of beans. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not sleek and stylish in their own right. The Buds Live have a unique curve to them that allows them to fit surprisingly well in my ears (more on that later), and I like that their design sits flush with my ears and doesn’t dangle out of them like my AirPods do.
As with previous Samsung earbuds, the Buds Live also stand out from the AirPods and AirPods Pro thanks to the fact that they actually come in multiple colors. While our review unit came in an Apple-like white, you can also get the Buds Live in a gorgeous Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black or Mystic Red.
The Buds Live’s curved-square charging case is one of the bigger ones I’ve used, standing taller than the AirPods case though not as wide as the Galaxy Buds Plus’ pill-shaped container. Still, I prefer this case to the one that Samsung’s previous earbuds shipped with, as I found it much easier to find a secure magnetic seal when storing the Buds Live. I also didn’t notice any major scuffs or scratches after carrying the buds in my pockets for several days.
Despite their unconventional design, the Galaxy Buds Live are some of the most comfortable wireless earbuds I’ve ever worn. The headphones nestled snugly into my ears without much adjustment, and their 0.2-ounce design is so light and comfortable that I occasionally forgot I was even wearing them at all. The Buds Live provided a good fit for me out of the box, but Samsung does include an additional set of wing tips for those who want more cushion.
The Galaxy Buds Live’s snug fit does have one small drawback, as I had a somewhat hard time pulling them out of my ears. It’s not a dealbreaker, but taking them out isn’t quite as effortless as removing my AirPods is.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review: App and features
The Buds Live can be customized through Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable app on Android or Galaxy Buds app on iOS, which offer similar functionality save for a few Samsung-exclusive features.
The app allows you to toggle active noise cancelling, use Find My Earbuds to track down a lost bud, and customize long-press controls for each earbud. You can also switch between six audio presets, including Normal, Bass boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear and Treble boost. Each sound mode did a decent job highlighting different frequencies (particularly the bass and treble settings), but I found the default setting to provide the best overall sound quality.
As an iOS user, I appreciate that you can enjoy these customization options without needing a Samsung phone (by comparison, the Pixel Buds 2’s key software features are limited to Android). I also had no issues pairing the Buds Live to my personal iPhone 8 Plus via my Bluetooth settings, though our Galaxy Note 10 Plus unit recognized the earbuds even more quickly.
The Galaxy Wearable app does offer several exclusive perks if you own a Galaxy device. That includes hands-free Bixby control, allowing you to use Samsung’s voice assistant to check the weather or play a song without ever taking your phone out of your pocket. There’s also a gaming mode, which aims to minimize audio latency when playing gamesm as well as an option to have your notifications read aloud to you.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review: Active noise cancellation
The Galaxy Buds Live technically offer active noise cancellation, but it’s a much different experience than what you’ll get on more premium buds like the Sony WF-1000XM3 and AirPods Pro. Dubbed “ANC for open type,” the Buds Live’s implementation of noise-cancellation is meant to drown out small background noises while still allowing you to hear important sounds such as train announcements or nearby vehicles.
Even with that in mind, the Buds Live’s ANC effect is extremely subtle. The buds were able to slightly lower the faint hiss of my air conditioner as I plugged away at work. But when I moved outside, the buds did next to nothing to reduce the noisy construction sounds happening nearby, nor did it dampen the sounds of distant cars driving around. By comparison, the AirPods Pro all but silenced all of that background noise.
The Galaxy Buds’ companion app also gives you an option to let in more ambient sound to relieve any feelings of pressure or stiffness you have while wearing the buds with ANC off. While I definitely noticed a change in frequency and slightly louder ambient noise with this effect on, it wasn’t as pronounced as the dedicated Ambient Aware mode found on the Galaxy Buds Plus.
The Galaxy Buds Live’s noise cancellation is ideal for eliminating some small ambient noises and hearing your podcasts a bit more clearly. But if you’re trying to block out the heavy noise of a loud household or busy street, you’re probably better off springing for the AirPods Pro or WF-1000XM3.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review: Touch controls
Samsung still has some work to do when it comes to getting touch controls right for its earbuds. Whereas I found the Galaxy Buds Plus to be too sensitive and prone to accidental inputs, the Buds Live tend to have the opposite problem.
Many of my quick tap gestures didn’t register at first, until I realized that the buds respond better to a brief firm touch instead. I had a better time controlling the Buds once I got used to this quirk, but I still had occasional moments of the earbuds not registering my gestures, or accidentally responding to a double-tap when I meant to perform a single one.
In terms of controls, you can play or pause music with a single tap, skip songs or answer a call with a double tap, or go to a previous track with a triple tap. You can also choose what happens when you long-press the buds, whether you want them to toggle active noise cancellation, summon your virtual assistant of choice, adjust the volume or activate Spotify (Samsung devices only). I found these touch-and-hold controls mostly reliable, although Siri would occasionally cut out before I could ask a question on iOS.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review: Audio quality
As an avid AirPods user, I usually find other wireless earbuds to sound just a bit off in terms of audio quality. That’s not the case with the Galaxy Buds Live. Packing 12mm speakers and an air vent designed to make music sound more accurate and lively, Samsung’s buds provided rich, full audio for any genre I threw at them.
The soft, plucky guitars and airy vocals of Phoebe Bridgers’ “Chinese Satellite” came through clearly on Samsung’s earbuds, and the track’s bass, drums and strings all sounded lively and urgent as the song reached it’s crashing crescendo. Same goes for Taylor Swift’s “the last great American dynasty,” as the Buds Live did an excellent job preserving the song’s soaring vocals, snappy electronic drums and vibrant keys.
Things sounded just as bright and balanced when I switched gears to the buzzy pop-punk of Knuckle Puck’s “Breathe.” The song’s chunky power chords bounced against the catchy lead guitar riffs with plenty of clarity, and I could easily pick out the track’s multiple vocalists as they sang all at once. When it came time to rock out to the synth-infused hardcore of Underoath’s “On My Teeth,” my ears were blasted with huge distorted guitars, guttural vocals and beefy drums and bass that all came through without any muddiness.
I found the Buds Live to be a notable step up from the cheaper Galaxy Buds Plus in terms of sound quality, as the latter earbuds offer thinner overall sound that’s much skimpier on bass. I also found them to be very comparable to Apple’s base AirPods in terms of fullness and overall volume.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review: Battery life
The Galaxy Buds Live are rated for pretty solid battery life, and hold up well in real-world use. Samsung promises up to 8 hours from the buds and 29 hours with the case with ANC and Bixby voice wake-up off, 6 hours and 21 hours with just ANC on, and 5.5 hours and 20 hours with both ANC and Bixby wake-up activated.
Those numbers are largely in line with my personal testing, as the Buds Live lasted nearly two straight days of heavy use without me needing to charge the case, and that was with a mix of having ANC on and off. It still doesn’t match up to the epic 11-hour battery life you’ll get from the Galaxy Buds Plus, but it does have a slight edge on the 4.5 to 5 hours we got from the AirPods Pro.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review: Call quality
The Galaxy Buds Live sport a triple microphone array built for clear calls, though I had mixed results when using the earbuds to talk to people. While on a Discord group call with several colleagues, most people noted that I sounded decently clear, but that I was just slightly muted. However, on a separate phone call, a friend noted that I sounded very far away and hard to hear — even as I moved from a noisy street to indoors.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live vs Galaxy Buds Plus
The Galaxy Buds Live are $30 more than the $110 Galaxy Buds Plus, and there are some notable differences between the two if you're looking to make a decision. The Buds Live's key feature is active noise cancellation, which, as we mentioned earlier, doesn't do a great job blocking out much noise. Meanwhile, the Buds Plus get you a handy ambient noise feature that reliably lets ambient sound in to let you better hear the outside world.
Based on our testing, the Buds Live are the better sounding and looking buds, while the Buds Plus offer a pretty solid value. Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live vs. Galaxy Buds Plus face-off for a full breakdown of how these two earbuds stack up.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review: Verdict
Samsung has delivered yet another impressive set of wireless earbuds with the Galaxy Buds Live, which offer great overall sound quality, strong battery life and lots of handy features within a uniquely comfortable design. The earbuds offer a nice amount of customization options via Samsung’s companion app, and Galaxy-exclusive features such as hands-free Bixby control and a gaming mode are a nice touch.
However, if you’re coming to the Buds Live expecting true wireless, noise-cancelling earbuds for a low price, you may want to consider some other options. While Samsung’s buds will filter out some ambiance while you’re listening to podcasts, you’re better off springing for the Sony WF-1000XM3 or AirPods Pro if you want earbuds that can truly block out any noisy surroundings during work or play. The Galaxy Buds Pro's ANC also performs better, if still imperfectly.
If you don’t mind sacrificing some sound quality, the Galaxy Buds Plus are cheaper and offer a unique ambient sound mode for letting in outside noises. It's also worth considering the Jabra Elite Active 75t, our top pick of the best Apple AirPods alternatives, and which have been updated post-launch to offer ANC.
Even so, the Galaxy Buds Live represent a qualified success. While they’re held back by a few quirks, the Galaxy Buds Live are an impressive pair of wireless earbuds that make a great alternative to Apple’s base AirPods and Google’s Pixel Buds 2 for those with Galaxy phones. Just don’t expect immersive noise-cancelling for the price.
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