Few things in life are certain, but you can always count on Samsung to pump out new wireless earbuds every few months. After dropping the excellent $199 Galaxy Buds Pro earlier this year, the company is back with the $149 Galaxy Buds 2, which are available for preorder now and land on Aug. 27. They’re the most affordable earbuds in Samsung’s current arsenal — and pretty damn compelling for the price.
The Galaxy Buds 2 sound great, last long on a charge and are some of the coolest-looking and most comfortable buds we’ve put in our ears yet. They also offer an intriguing set of features (including active noise cancellation and ambient sound), but you’ll need to be on an Android phone to utilize most of them.
So as impressive as they are, the Buds 2 are entering an increasingly crowded arena of great wireless earbuds that aren’t wildly expensive — including those from Samsung’s own lineup. Can they stand out? Here’s what we think after nearly a week of living with them.
The who, what and how
Who it’s for: The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 are ideal for Android users who want a relatively inexpensive set of earbuds that look great, sound great and have lots of special features. They’ll still work on your iPhone, but you’ll be missing out on many of their extras.
What you need to know: Samsung’s latest earbuds offer excellent comfort, sound quality and battery life for the price, and are some of the most attractive buds we’ve tested yet. But their Android-only features, overly sensitive controls and weak noise cancellation hold them back from being a top pick.
How it compares: The Galaxy Buds 2 are some of the best-looking and most comfortable earbuds we’ve tested, and are largely on par with the base $159 AirPods and $179 Jabra Elite Active 75t in terms of sound quality. However, you’ll find much more reliable controls and better active noise cancellation (ANC) on most competitors, and rivals such as the Active 75t and Beats Studio Buds (both of which often drop below $149 in price) do a better job serving iOS and Android users equally well.
A stylish pair of buds that feel as great as they look
The Galaxy Buds 2 just might be Samsung’s most attractive earbuds yet — and that’s saying something. These ovular earbuds have a clean, rounded look that’s more compact than the Galaxy Buds Pro and more subtle than the bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live. They kind of resemble a tiny pair of eggs or peanut M&M’s when resting in our ears — but not in a way that got us any strange looks on the subway.
The Buds 2 look especially gorgeous in the lavender color option we tested, though you can also nab them in white, graphite or olive. And while the Galaxy Buds 2’s compact charging case is nearly identical to that of the Buds Pro and Buds Live, it sports a new two-tone color scheme internally (in our case, white and lavender) that we find to be a really nice touch.
As is the case with all of Samsung’s recent earbuds, the Galaxy Buds 2 feel as great as they look. We constantly forgot these buds were even in our ears throughout long hours of working, commuting, walking and doing some household chores, thanks to a design that weighs an airy 5 grams per bud and a set of silicone ear tips that fit comfortably and securely. And if the Buds 2 don’t feel quite right to you out of the box, Samsung’s thrown in two alternate sets of tips for folks with bigger or smaller ears.
But while the Galaxy Buds 2 retain most of what we love about the design of the Galaxy Buds series, they also carry over the same finicky controls. We didn’t have too much of an issue playing, pausing and skipping songs with a few quick finger taps, but like the Galaxy Buds+, Samsung’s new earbuds are just a bit too sensitive to touch.
There were multiple occasions in which we accidentally paused a track while simply trying to adjust the Buds 2 in our ears, and other times when the buds registered a single tap as a double tap, skipping a song that we meant to pause. This grew to be a pretty notable annoyance during the few days we’ve spent with the Buds 2 so far, and made us miss the far more reliable controls on the Jabra Elite Active 75t, AirPods Pro and even the base AirPods. There’s no option to adjust the buds’ sensitivity via the Galaxy Wearable app, but you can disable them entirely if they become too much of a pain.
Great overall sound, not-so-great noise cancellation
We’ve been using the Galaxy Buds 2 as our main music headphones for close to a week now, and we’d be happy to keep doing so for much longer. Samsung’s latest buds sound great across the board, delivering bright and balanced audio that made it easy to get lost in any type of music we threw at them.
In the vibrant rock of “Can’t Wait Forever” by Tigers Jaw, the crunchy guitars, snappy drums and smooth synthesizers all came through clearly without overpowering one another. Samsung’s Buds handled the buzzsaw guitars and guttural yells of Underoath’s “Damn Excuses” similarly well, though things sounded a little bit muddy when the song exploded into a full-band breakdown.
The snare drum really crackled during the somber hip-hop of Kid Cudi’s “Lovin’ Me,” and the alternating croons of Cudi and Phoebe Bridgers soared over the beat in all their spacey glory. We found Apple’s AirPods to offer a slightly better balance between various instruments on both the high and low end, but the Buds 2’s generally crisp and warm sound output — complete with plenty of bass — made listening to music a delight.
The Galaxy Buds 2 technically offer ANC, but it’s pretty subtle. While Samsung’s buds were able to slightly dampen the sounds coming from our noisy air conditioner, our Jabra Elite Active 75t all but silenced them by comparison. It was the same story when we went outside, as the Buds 2 failed to significantly quiet down the swooshing car noises and blaring sirens coming from our busy Queens street. The lack of truly suppressive ANC wasn’t as big of a deal when we had music playing, but it was still pretty underwhelming — especially compared to similarly priced rivals like the Active 75t and Beats Studio Buds.
But while the Buds 2 aren’t great at blocking out noise, they do a pretty solid job letting in external sound when you need it. The Ambient Noise feature from previous Galaxy Buds returns, using the earbuds’ three microphones to amplify the world around you so you can better hear things like cars and train announcements when you’re out and about. It worked well in our testing, allowing us to better hear nearby construction and cars when we hung out on our balcony. We also like that you can choose between three levels of Ambient Noise within the app — that’s not as many as the Buds Pro’s four levels, but it’s nice to be able to control how much external racket passes through.
A wealth of neat features for the price — with one major catch
The Galaxy Buds 2 have an impressive set of features for a pair of $149 earbuds — the only catch is that you’ll need to own an Android phone to take advantage of all of them via Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable app.
In addition to letting you toggle ANC and Ambient Noise, this app allows you to customize the earbuds’ touch controls slightly — or deactivate them entirely. We found the former feature especially handy, as we were able to switch between ANC and ambient sound with a long press on the left ear, and activate Bixby for voice commands anytime we held down the right earbud.
Other extras include the option to have the Buds 2 read your notifications out loud, as well as activate Samsung’s virtual assistant hands-free with a quick “Hi, Bixby,” which both worked reliably in our testing. While it’s oddly buried within a settings menu, there’s a handy in-app equalizer that lets you activate alternate sound modes such as “bass boost,” “treble boost” and “soft” in case the default audio isn’t to your liking.
And like we’ve seen from Apple and Jabra, Samsung’s app allows you to perform a quick earbud fit test that will let you know if you should adjust the buds or try a different pair of ear tips (you get three total in the box). The app let us know that we didn’t have a great fit using the Buds 2’s default ear tips, leading us to switch to the larger-sized ones and getting slightly better sound and ANC quality as a result. All in all, this proved really handy.
That’s a really strong feature set for a pair of earbuds at this price, which makes it all the more disappointing that you’ll be locked out of most of them if you’re an Apple user. The Buds 2 paired to our iPhone 12 without issue, and we could still switch between ANC and Ambient Noise mode out of the box using their onboard controls. But if you want to do things like customize the controls, toggle how much ambient noise gets in and try out different sound modes, you’ll need an Android phone in order to do so.
Strong battery life and call quality
The Galaxy Buds 2 have some seriously impressive battery life, lasting us nearly three full days of on-and-off use (with ANC occasionally activated) before we fully drained them. When we used the Buds 2 continuously during a workday with ANC on, they lasted a strong five hours and 42 minutes before they died and had to be put back in the case.
That largely lines up with Samsung’s estimate of up to five hours of listening time and up to 20 with the case with ANC on, and up to seven and a half hours from the buds and 29 hours total with ANC off. And like the rest of the Galaxy Buds lineup, the Buds 2’s case can be charged wirelessly, which is nice to see at this price. You can even charge these on Galaxy phones through reverse wireless charging.
You can also count on these buds to hold up decently well for calls. We were able to hear colleagues clearly during work chats, and while we noticed some fuzziness on our voice recordings, the overall quality was about on par with that of Samsung’s more expensive Buds Pro. A co-worker noted that our voice sounded slightly echoey during one call, but not enough to make it hard to hear us.
Taken on their own, the Galaxy Buds 2 offer a whole lot for $149. They look gorgeous, sound great, feel fantastic and can survive several days of everyday use on a charge. But when you consider the many great alternatives out there — not to mention the Buds 2’s unreliable controls, so-so noise cancellation and Android-only features — they become a tougher sell.
The standard AirPods (which often dip as low as $119 these days) are a better fit for iPhone users in this price range, as you’ll enjoy instant pairing and easy hands-free access to Siri. If you’re platform-agnostic, the excellent $149 Beats Studio Buds pair equally well to iOS and Android, and the $179 Jabra Elite Active 75t offer a robust app on both operating systems.
It’s also hard to fully recommend the Galaxy Buds 2 when Samsung’s more premium earbuds frequently drop in price. For example, the Galaxy Buds Pro — our pick for the best wireless earbuds for Android users — are just $169 as of this writing, and have better controls and an even more robust feature set for just $20 more.
Still, the Galaxy Buds 2’s stylish design, great overall performance and reasonable price make them a worthy pick for Android users looking to spend less than $150. Just make sure to explore your options before you take the plunge.