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Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: The new default

Samsung brings color, comfort, and ANC to its entry-level earbuds.

I have a theory that may or may not be true, but it's one I think makes sense. Samsung, in its quest to build the AirPods of the Android world (or at least the AirPods for Samsung users), switched to a jewelry box design because it wants users to think of its products not necessarily as the best wireless earbuds but as a natural extension of the phone itself, much like earrings or a necklace accent the wearer's features without drawing overt attention.

AirPods are so good because wearers don't have to dwell on the mechanics of how they work. From pairing to pausing to transparency, they just do. And the magic comes from Apple's ownership over the entire technology stack.

Samsung's been increasingly approaching that level of seamlessness with its Galaxy Buds lineup, but never before have all the pieces been so effortlessly integrated than with the Galaxy Buds 2, the new $150 earbuds that complement the existing Buds Live and Buds Pro.

Bottom line: Samsung's newest earbuds pare back the premium of the Buds Pro in favor of color, comfort, and a lower price. They're excellent on their own and a consummate addition to Samsung's growing earbud lineup.

The Good

  • Fun, punchy sound
  • Effective ANC
  • Good battery life
  • Really comfortable

The Bad

  • IPX2 rating makes them unsuitable for exercise
  • Microphones aren't great

$130 at Samsung $130 at Amazon $130 at Best Buy

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2: Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 launched at $149.99 USD on August 27, 2021. Since then, the price has dropped and the earbuds can be found for $130 at multiple retailers. Available in four colorways — graphite, white, olive, and lavender — they replace the Buds+ in the company's lineup. In October 2021, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Buds 2 Maison Kitsuné Edition through the Samsung website for $209.99.

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2: Hardware and design

There isn't a whole lot about the Buds 2 you haven't seen before, and that's decidedly not a bad thing. They look like slightly smaller, cheaper-feeling Galaxy Buds Pro, complete with an identically-sized-and-shaped jewelry case-style box, though of questionable taste is the decision to use a glossy white exterior for every bud color, including black. Once opened, the Buds sit comfortably on their high-top magnetic throne, this time secured with enough force to prevent accidental spills, a curse that afflicted the first two Galaxy Buds versions.

These are easily the most comfortable isolating Galaxy Buds Samsung has ever made.

Samsung clearly expended a considerate amount of effort actually measuring a plurality of ear sizes and shapes over the past couple of years because, unlike those original Galaxy Buds, these are both small and fit comfortably for hours without sacrificing sound quality.

Like all previous models, the exterior of each bud has a touch gesture area that's occasionally too sensitive for its own good, but the company, too, has apparently been working on improving false touches because adjusting them in-ear less frequently leads to accidentally pausing and/or skipping. That or I'm adjusting them less frequently than the Galaxy Buds+, but either way, while not perfect, it's a definite improvement.

The olive green colorway is right up my alley, too, though I slightly prefer the darker dual-toned take on the hue on Google's new Pixel Buds A-Series. (While I'm here, I also have to say that, while not better-sounding, Google nails touch gesture sensitivity in a way that Samsung really needs to emulate.) Samsung announced a special edition of the earbuds at the Unpacked 2 event in October 2021 but the Japanese-French independent fashion brand Maison Kitsuné Edition.

The case is easy to open, the hinge feels solid, and it supports wireless charging. There are two LEDs, one inside the case for the earbuds and another on the outside for the holder itself. Not a huge deal, but it's nice to see.

I actually got to test the ANC on a plane, which was a mundane thrill I'm happy to experience again.

As I mentioned, the Buds 2 are the most comfortable Samsung earbuds I've worn to date; I immediately migrated to the largest silicon tip size (there are three altogether, and the buds ship with the medium size attached). I spent my first flight since February 2020 wearing the Buds 2 exclusively and practically forgot I was wearing them despite switching between ANC and ambient sound when listening to music and overhead announcements, respectively.

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2: Sound quality, ANC, and microphone

The main questions you probably want to be answered are "How do the Buds 2 sound?" and "What do you lose forgoing the more expensive Buds Pro?" The good news is that I have a pair of Galaxy Buds Pro right here, and I'm switching between them listening to some of my favorite songs as I write this, so here are my thoughts:

The Buds 2 have a very forward, punchy profile out of the box, with a pronounced S-curve equalization —over-emphasized bass and treble, with a slight dip in the mid-range. For most modern music, that's pretty much exactly what you want because it complements the mix itself, but that profile can be tiring after prolonged listening periods. I also noticed a few tracks, such as Arcade Fire's "Reflektor," where the portions of the song produced an uncomfortable sibilance — the screechy, poppy distortion heard with s and t plosives — that took away from the overall experience.

Contrasted with the Buds Pro, which I rank among the best-sounding and most balanced wireless earbuds out there, the Buds 2 have a much narrower soundstage, putting the vocals and instruments in a fairly constricted plane between your ears. Again, not a bad thing but not ideal for jazz, classical, or more carefully produced tracks from other genres. The effect of these choices culminates in a pair of earbuds that sound fun and punchy at medium-to-high volumes but don't scale well to quieter environments, where the bass overwhelms the rest of the frequencies.

Overall, though, I'm pretty pleased with the Buds 2 — they definitely sound better than the Buds+ and come close enough to the Buds Pro to give all $150 earbuds another solid competitor.

Of course, no pair of earbuds released in 2021, especially over $100, can get away with omitting noise-canceling, and the Buds 2 deliver there, too. I actually got to test them on a plane, the most stressful stress test you can put a pair of headphones, though, and they performed admirably. Samsung says they block 98% of external sound compared with the Buds Pro's 99%, but I couldn't really tell the difference. They're both not great when compared to true industry pros like Sony's WF-1000XM4 or the Bose Noise Canceling Earbuds, but given their sound and limited passive isolation, the ANC is impressive.

On the plane, for instance, I couldn't hear my neighbor rattling his pretzel packet next to me, nor the clinking rumble of the drinks cart, but I was surprisingly distracted by the sound of the plane engine, which is better occluded on more expensive earbuds and ANC headphones.

Less impressive is the ambient sound mode, which, while vastly improved over the Galaxy Buds+, pales in comparison to the Buds Pro, which itself falls short of the industry-standard AirPods Pro. With three intensity modes, the issue isn't that the earbuds don't effectively use their microphones to let in outside noise, but that the filtering and noise suppression is lackluster.

In quiet settings, that's not a problem, and having a conversation with another person feels pretty natural; in louder environments like a street or busy concourse, it's too difficult to distinguish voices from everything else — passing cars, slamming doors — happening around you. I know Samsung can do a better job here because the Buds Pro have high-quality microphones that combine with software noise suppression, but the Buds 2 skimp on both aspects.

The mediocre microphones extend to voice calls, too. Again, taking phone calls on the Buds 2 is significantly better than on the original Galaxy Buds or Buds+, but by reducing the quality of the microphones compared to the Galaxy Buds Pro, the Buds 2 come across as digital and a little tinny, especially when there's background noise like in the supplied clip.

The tl;dr here is that if music and podcast listening is going to be your primary use case for the Buds 2, they're a 4.8/5. On the other hand, if you're going to be taking a lot of calls or using the ambient mode — basically anything having to do with the microphones — they're closer to a 3.8/5.

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2: Battery and other quirks

The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ still have among the best battery life on a pair of true wireless earbuds. At medium volumes, you could easily get over 10 hours per bud, per charge. Amazing. Since then, Samsung's shaved off girth from each subsequent release, making them more compact and far more comfortable for long-term wear in the process. Samsung also added always-listening Bixby Voice and ANC, which, when enabled, shave off a good amount of time per charge.

The Buds 2 have the same battery size as the Buds Pro — 61mAh per bud and 472mAh in the case — translating to roughly the same uptime. With noise-canceling enabled, each bud lasted about five hours 30 minutes. With ANC disabled, they survived just over eight hours. (I kept Bixby Voice disabled throughout because... Bixby.)

I'm not unhappy with those numbers. Anything above five hours per bud means I can listen for extended stretches — realistically longer than I ever typically have time for in one sitting — without depleting the battery, and a few minutes in the case gets them topped up pretty quickly.

One more spec worth discussing is IPX2: that's the water ingress rating Samsung achieved with the Buds 2. Officially, IPX2 means that each earbud "can resist water that hits the product at a 15° angle or less," though exactly how that translates to real-world usage is a little nebulous.

Compared to the Buds Pro's IPX4 rating, which allows for water splashes from any direction, or the Jabra Elite Active 75t's IP57 rating, which makes them essentially waterproof, IPX2 forces you to be very careful about how you use them. I wouldn't, for example, work out in these without extensively cleaning them after each use. Nor would I feel comfortable getting caught in the rain under anything heavier than a light drizzle. At $100, I could forgive an IPX2 rating; at $150, not so much.

Samsung is learning a few key UX lessons, like making it easier to pair the Buds 2 with another device.

The Buds 2 do boast a couple of improvements over other Samsung earbuds, though I'd expect them to be added to the older products through a software update in due time. The first, a fit test, uses the internal microphone in each bud to determine whether they're sitting right in your ear, with a proper seal. If not, the app recommends trying another size of the three silicone tips that ship in the box.

The other difference is an easier way to pair the Buds 2 to another device once they're connected to a phone or laptop. All of Samsung's earbuds quickly connect to its phones through a Bluetooth LE-based proximity protocol that makes it really simple to pair or, once paired, swapped. But if you're not in the Samsung ecosystem, the Buds Live and Buds Pro, for instance, require you to put the earbuds in your ear and hold down on the gesture area for three seconds to initiate Pairing Mode. On the Buds 2, that gesture has been changed to when the earbuds are in their case, a function far easier and more intuitive to navigate.

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2: Competition

If the Galaxy Buds Pro were $100, I wouldn't have talked as much about the Buds Pro in this review as I have. But at $150, they're close enough to Samsung's flagship earbuds that you have to consider trying to spend the extra money on the improved sound, microphone quality, and additional features. (You can also pick up the Buds Pro for $170 right now, making the choice even more difficult).

Outside of the Samsung ecosystem, the $150 price point also forces consideration of the excellent Jabra Elite Active 75t which, though quirky in their own way (you can only use the right earbud for mono mode, for instance), sound better and are better suited to exercise.

I'd also be remiss not to mention the cheaper and more comfortable Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro, which boast adjustable ANC, a truly useful personalized EQ feature, and come in close to $100 when on sale, which is often.

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2: Should you buy it?

Flawed as they are, the Buds 2 do almost everything better than their immediate predecessor, the Buds+, and sound almost as good as their more expensive counterpart, the Buds Pro. So if you can't justify spending the extra money on Samsung's flagship buds or just want the more comfortable fit or colorful options, the Buds 2 are the new default — especially if you have a Samsung phone.

4 out of 5

For me, it comes down to the jewelry comparison; compact and comfortable as they are, with nearly all-day battery life, it's possible to leave the Buds 2 in your ear and forget they're there, activating the ambient mode when you need to engage with the world, quickly turning back to music, podcast or just sweet ANC-enhanced silence when you want. Of course, they're far from perfect — the microphones leave a lot to be desired — but they're still among the best wireless earbuds under $200, a title that fits pretty nicely.

You should buy this if ...

  • You have a Samsung phone
  • You want a pair of comfortable, colorful earbuds
  • You want a punchy, bass-forward sound profile

You shouldn't buy this if...

  • You primarily work out with your earbuds
  • You make a lot of phone calls

The new default

Samsung's newest earbuds pare back the premium of the Buds Pro in favor of color, comfort, and a lower price. They're excellent on their own and a consummate addition to Samsung's growing earbud lineup.

$130 at Samsung $130 at Amazon $130 at Best Buy

Review Changelog, October 2021

This article was originally published in August 2021. It was updated in October 2021 with the following changes.

  • Added price and availability section.
  • Added mention of the new Maison Kitsuné edition.
  • Added a changelog.


Source: androidcentral

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