11-underscored galaxy buds live review
CNN  — 

The old mantra of beans (“Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart” — you know the rest) has been running through my head lately, and not for the reason you might think. Samsung’s bean-shaped true wireless earbuds, the Galaxy Buds Live, are official. And major spoiler alert: We really like them.

And here are the three main reasons: First, the design is surprisingly comfortable, and we feel like stylish secret agents wearing them, especially the ones that come in Mystic Bronze. Second, and similarly to the Galaxy Buds+, the battery life is long and nearly class-leading for a noise-canceling true wireless earbud. And third, they sound really good with no compromises on bass or clarity.

At $169.99, the Galaxy Buds Live also have value going for them, not to mention they start shipping today. We’ve been rocking out with Buds Live for nearly a week, and it’s time for our full review. (We even wore these buds while writing this. That’s dedication.)


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Something we weren’t expecting: the Galaxy Buds Live’s surprisingly compact case. It does double duty, providing a home for both buds while also charging them up. The case itself is about half the size of the AirPods Pro or Galaxy Buds+ case and is slightly thicker. It’s square with rounded edges at 50mm by 50.2mm by 27.8mm and weighs in at just 42 grams. It’s easily pocketable; we were able to toss it in front and back jeans pockets and a pocket on the front of a button-down.

You can also charge the carrying case via a wire with USB-C or by laying it on a Qi-enabled wireless charging surface. With wireless charging in tow, you can utilize Wireless PowerShare on a Galaxy smartphone, such as the S20 Ultra or the just-announced Note 20 Ultra.

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And the buds themselves are very tiny; each can fit inside a quarter. Once you remove the Buds Live from the carrying case and pop them in your ears, it’s a unique experience. Given the beanlike design, you’ll start by placing the bottom half into your ear. The orientation is pretty easy to figure out, as the bottom features both the speaker and a vent. The bottom half slides into your lower ear, while the top half slides in and sits in a pretty vertical position. In Samsung’s defense, these actually fit with the design of the human ear and easily rest in the canal.

Essentially, the internal hardware is stacked horizontally rather than vertically, which makes these sit flush in your ear. These really don’t protrude at all, and it’s kind of remarkable. You also get your choice of two sizes of wing tips that sit on the top portion of the Galaxy Buds Live, and these also ensure a comfortable experience and extra safety from them falling out. Small wing tips come preinstalled out of the box, but we wound up switching to the large ones for a more comfortable experience.

We tested the Galaxy Buds Live in a variety of scenarios. We wore them for two 45-minute Peloton workouts. We kept them in while walking the streets of New Jersey (with a proper face mask and social distancing rules followed, of course). And most importantly, we wore them around our makeshift workspace in our home. The really good news? They didn’t fall out once, not even with the classic jumping jack test we put all true wireless earbuds through.

They’re quite snug. You also shouldn’t worry about these getting stuck in your ear. After all, they’re not tiny enough to slide in, and enough of each bud is in your ear for you to easily remove them if need be.

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And if you’re wondering about color? Well, the Galaxy Buds Live are available in standard black and white as well as Mystic Bronze. We’ve been testing out the latter, and the color really pops. It’s a glossy finish on the outside, and the Buds Live have a brushed rose gold finish that’s just very shiny. You might attract some looks, but someone would really need to focus on your ear. It’s a simple way to add a splash of color to your wardrobe, and if you ever misplace a Buds Live, we bet the Mystic Bronze will make it easier to find. But, yes, we’re big fans of Mystic Bronze and can’t wait to pair these with a Note 20 Ultra of the same color.

The ergonomic design of the Buds Live don’t apply all that much pressure to your ear —- it only took us about 30 minutes, or one listen of a short playlist, to get a real feel for them. And truth be told, we quickly forgot they were even in our ears.

Some other true wireless earbuds can cause added pressure to your ear canal (that’s why so many choose to include vents or pump some outside noise in), but we didn’t experience this all that much with the Galaxy Buds Live. Within the companion app, you can even switch on a setting that “relieves pressure with ambient sound,” which essentially means that when noise cancellation is turned off, it will pump in sounds from the world around you. It’s similar to the transparency feature we liked on the AirPods Pro.

Even with noise cancellation on, we didn’t feel much extra pressure in our ears, allowing us to wear the Galaxy Buds Live for longer periods of time. Additionally, next to the speaker on the lower portion, you’ll notice a second grille, which is an air vent that helps to alleviate pressure or the feeling that you’re in a box. It’s a thoughtful addition.

And one other question we’ve been fielding is about the hard nature of the outside of the buds. Yes, that glossy finish isn’t very malleable, nor is it soft to the touch. But it’s also not sharp and doesn’t really poke your ear. It has curved machined edges and shouldn’t cause discomfort. On the side facing your ear, it’s a matte plastic finish and doesn’t feel very abrasive. The bottom portion sits comfortably in the lower ear, and the wing tips up top can alleviate any discomfort.

All in all, Samsung has managed to introduce a whole new design for true wireless earbuds that, sure, kind of makes them look like in-ear monitors, spawning a flood of memes, but in reality and after testing proves to be incredibly ergonomic. You can comfortably wear them for six- or eight-hour sessions, and that’s exactly what we did.

Let’s talk sound

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Before we dive into the sound quality on the Galaxy Buds Live, we want to make a point clear. These sit in your ear in a way that’s different from other true wireless earbuds. We’ve detailed that pretty heavily, but it’s important to report there is a rubber ear tip going in. In return, they don’t stick out, but they also don’t keep sound in. There is no full seal of your ear going on here like with AirPods Pro or even Galaxy Buds+. So if you like to rock out to “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen at high volumes, the people around you will notice.

Each Galaxy Buds Live has a 12mm speaker that has a front-row seat to your ear. And the sound quality doesn’t disappoint here. It’s a clear experience that provides an exceptionally strong bass that doesn’t sacrifice other high or mid tones. The sound here is tuned by AKG, Samsung’s owned-and-operated audio brand.

The sound experience is most certainly on par with Galaxy Buds+, and tracks feel a bit more enjoyable with this non-seal. There’s a certain energy to each track, and we especially like the Galaxy Buds Live for bootlegs and live albums. Let’s start with a classic, though. With Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” there’s no introduction of crackling, and for earbuds this size, it still packs a punch with the opening wall of sound — you hear the press drum roll before the burst of the saxophone, guitar and backing instruments fills the track. Bass and drums are evident throughout the whole track, but they don’t end up washing together with vocals and other instruments.

Similarly, “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish gets pushed out with significant force. The consistent bass repeater will have your head vibrating at higher volumes, but it doesn’t lose its crispness at higher volumes either. We didn’t experience any compression of tracks or any missed notes. A more mellow track, like “The Last Great American Dynasty” by Taylor Swift, packs a punch with a noticeable increase in the drums and lower tones; it’s almost jovial. Her vocals, which hit high tones, come through clearly with the melody still intact.

With music videos, you won’t notice any latency with what’s on the screen and the audio in your ears. This goes for streaming TV shows, movies and YouTube videos as well. The Galaxy Buds Live performed well with livestreams, including Samsung’s own Virtual Unpacked 2020.

There are also touch controls built into the Galaxy Buds Live: A long press will turn active noise cancellation on or off, a single tap will pause playback, a double tap will skip to the next track or give you call controls, and a triple tap will let you go back a track. They’re easy enough to get the hang of, and much of the top portion of the Galaxy Buds Live is a touch surface. You’ll have some control over these in the companion Galaxy Buds app for Android or iOS, including the option to switch one or both long presses to control lowering the volume. You can also easily switch between connected devices by holding both earbuds’ touch sensors for about three seconds.

ANC, microphones and battery life

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As Samsung describes it, the Galaxy Buds Live have Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) “open type.” Essentially, this isn’t the same way ANC would run on a pair of earbuds that physically seal the ear. And while it makes sense and performs pretty well, these aren’t knocking the AirPods Pro out of being the best ANC earbuds.

Galaxy Buds Live can still block out a lot of noise, especially with the volume level at 75% or above. Typing out this review at that level makes the sound of my typing invisible. However, standing in front of a TV at the same level will result in hearing the sounds from the TV pretty clearly. With music high enough, the audio gets muddled together, and with lower volumes, you can clearly hear the TV.

Even so, this does have some pros to it. For instance, with ANC engaged and sitting at my desk working with music at 60%, I could hear a strong knock on my door. And given the times we’re in, where we need to be more aware of our surroundings, this is actually pretty helpful. With listening volumes high and ANC on, it does block out the world, so that feature is still here. But with normal- or medium-level listening and ANC on, it blocks out the annoyances and keeps louder noises, like if your partner needs your attention or if an alarm goes off. ANC on the Galaxy Buds Live is powered by internal processes and three microphones on each bud.

And while these don’t stick out of the ear and therefore don’t have microphones closer to your mouth, the three microphones can pick up a lot. We’ve already described the impact this has on ANC, and with voice calls, it means people can hear you.

Admittedly, after a bunch of call tests and voice recordings, the volume of our voice could be a little low and some background noise occasionally came through; however, we never sounded like we were underwater. And the three microphones definitely aid in being able to take calls with these. Performance with voice clarity and picking up was better with VoIP services like Google Voice, WebEx, Skype, Duo or FaceTime over a typical phone call. We hope that Samsung can bring this up to the stellar level with software updates. It’s not the worst by any means, and the buds work well for a phone call, but they’re not great.

There’s no doubt about it, though: Battery life can be the Achilles’ heel of some true wireless earbuds. Luckily, with the Galaxy Buds Live, Samsung continues its reign that started with the Galaxy Buds+.

Samsung promised six hours with ANC on and eight hours with ANC off. And after several days of testing, including nearly 10-hour days listening to an array of music genres and being on calls, these met those goals. In fact, with active noise cancellation on, we met the six hours easily and averaged closer to six hours and 15 minutes. With ANC off, we ended up with about eight hours and 30 minutes of use at moderate volume levels. These are both seriously impressive marks to meet. Sure, it’s not the 11 hours of playback on the Galaxy Buds+, but these do zoom past AirPods Pro.

Bottom line

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Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live aren’t the best true wireless earbuds on the market, but they are our favorites. As we spelled out quickly up top, the design impresses, the sound is vibrant and battery life is seriously strong. All of this for $20 more than the Galaxy Buds+ and $50 more than the original Galaxy Buds.

These are definitely the flagship earbuds from Samsung, and for good reason. The design is quite unique but proves to provide an incredibly comfortable experience for long hours. The battery life bests AirPods Pro while falling behind the Galaxy Buds+. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, these sound really good in your ears with basically any content. If anything, our only small qualm is with call quality, but that’s not a reason not to get the Galaxy Buds Live.

So let’s end with an update on our starting phrase: “Galaxy Buds Live, Galaxy Buds Live, they’re good for your ears.”

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed prices at the time of publication.