While they could have gone unnoticed alongside the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 and the Galaxy Note 20, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live stood out with their innovative bean-shaped design. They are also the first true wireless headphones with ANC from the South Korean manufacturer. Here is my complete review for NextPit.
- Original and ergonomic design
- Solid battery life
- Good microphone call quality
- Comprehensive companion application
- Spotty ANC performance
- Disappointing and inaccurate audio rendering
- Not the best option at this price
Who are the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live for?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live have been available for purchase since August 6, 2020, at a price of £179. They come in three colors: Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black, and Mystic White.
These are the first true wireless headphones from Samsung to offer ANC, or Active Noise Cancellation. The South Korean conglomerate is one year behind the two market leaders for such an offering, namely the Sony WF-1000XM3 and Apple Airpods Pro.
In terms of price, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live were cheaper than the rival buds from Sony and Apple at launch. But in a time span of one year, these two excellent benchmarks have had time to lower their prices, so the price of the Galaxy Buds Live is not all that competitive anymore.
What sets the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live apart is their unique form factor. The bean-shaped design is unlike anything else on the market. And, as I'll explain in this review, it's the only really original feature of these 100% wireless headphones, since the ANC capability proved to be far too spotty for my liking.
What I I like about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live...
Their original and surprisingly ergonomic design
The design of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live is their best asset. They look like earrings and their case is reminiscent of a jewelry box.
I hate to attribute the design of each consumer electronics product such as headphones or smartwatches to those of Apple offerings, although they tend to dominate such markets and have set certain trends over the years.
So no, Apple did not invent the cotton swab shape that almost all true wireless headphones have adopted since 2017. On that note, however, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are a breath of fresh air. The only other example I have in mind of a somewhat innovative design in this market would be the Libratone Track Air+ and their "wing" shape which would definitely turn heads.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live adopt an open-fit format, i.e. not in-ear. But in terms of feel, I'd say they're close to semi-in-the-ear, yet they still fit very snugly into the ear canal. And contrary to what their strange design might suggest, they fit very well.
What I hate about the open fit design is the constant fear of losing an earpiece at the slightest touch. I was impressed that at no time whatsoever have I ever felt that way with Galaxy Buds Live. They're also very discreet once they have lodged themselves onto the ear concha, courtesy of the 5.6-gram weight of each earpiece.
The set that I received for review came in Mystic Black which I found to be very classy, as did the carrying case with its solid hinge and compact design. The only snag was that the shiny, metallic coating on the Galaxy Buds Live proved to be a nasty fingerprint magnet.
And fingerprints are what you're going to leave behind in order to make full use of the Buds' touch controls. The touch controls take on a very classic format, but that is not a bad thing either since it is also very comprehensive. Sensitive enough to react well to your touch under most circumstances, you will rarely find yourself experiencing false positives.
But the funniest thing about the Live Buds is this: I could see several of my fellow reviewers, of whom I won't name, inventing a past life as an ENT by bringing up matters concerning the bass that is integrated into the loudspeaker, "and is placed behind the tragus (small protrusion at the entrance of the ear canal) and the antitragus (the opposite rim)."I found these pseudo-scientific explanations a wee bit too much, but still really funny.
Solid battery life
Samsung announced six hours of listening time with a 60 mAh battery inside of each earpiece. And, it's rare enough to take note that the manufacturer managed to go beyond what it promised (unlike its smartphones). I used the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live in a mixed manner, where I listened with ANC turned on and managed a number of calls for five hours at my office hours and a couple of hours during my commute, in addition to more audio time back home.
With seven hours of use on average per day, I systematically exceeded the promised six hours of battery life. Coupled with the three full charges that the charging case carries, you can last close to 28 hours before having to plug them into the USB-C power adapter.
Charging is pretty fast and it takes just more than 20 minutes to charge the Buds Live to 50% battery capacity. In order to achieve a full charge, it would require approximately an hour and a half. This is more than acceptable in terms of performance when compared to current market standards.
Like the Samsung Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Buds+, the Galaxy Buds Live are also compatible with inductive charging. The battery level of the headphones and the case will be indicated by small LEDs, but it is possible to obtain information about the charge level via the companion application.
Efficient microphones and hands-free car kit
The voice pickup quality indoors is very good when it comes to this pair of true wireless headphones. The signal is clean and the voice is not muffled. The timbre is constant, and you can be sure that your discussions will be completely intelligible.
When outdoors, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are very good at filtering out wind noise. It's a tour de force that I can only applaud because many manufacturers promise this aspect without ever delivering on the expected performance.
On the other hand, voices take a hit in a very polluted sound environment. The software processing of the three microphones in each earphone tends to attenuate the voice, just as an HDR or night mode would smooth a picture to limit digital noise (badum-tsh!).
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are very effective for making calls and handling endless video meetings in the office.
What I don't like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live...
The disappointing sound correction that reflects the sad market standard
I hate all the snobbish audiophile jargon that reviewers use in order to sound as though they are the sole authority in the matter. "A hint of sibilance in the highs without falling into the lows, full basses with good balance and mids and blah, blah, blah, blah." No one understands and it's terribly pretentious.
So let's keep it simple and begin with the technical data sheet and then with how I felt during the time I spent with it, without having to fall back on any audiophile references. Because just like Apple's Airpods Pro, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live is clearly not true wireless headphones that target the audiophile community, contrary to what their price might suggest.
In order to deliver decent audio quality, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live relies upon AKG 12mm diameter transducers. In addition to these speakers, Samsung has also integrated a channel specifically dedicated to bass diffusion for additional amplitude. The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are only compatible with basic Bluetooth audio codecs, SBC, as well as AAC, but does not support aptX, aptX HD, or LDAC.
It is, therefore, the bare minimum, which you might find frustrating down the road when using it. The sound signature of the Live Buds is the same as on any pair of true wireless headphones which retail anywhere between £100 and £200. The standard is not too high to begin with, and even if they are amplified, the bass is not at all accurate enough, especially when you crank the volume up.
This digital audio performance drowns out the mediums (voices and certain instruments), which are cruelly lacking in precision. On the high mediums, one will definitely notice squealing when it comes to certain instruments and voices. The timbre of the voices generally experiences a faithful reproduction, but again, it lacks precision here. Basically, the most subtle elements of the musical message are lost in a sound that has experienced far too much post-processing on the software.
To put it simply, it's the auditory equivalent of 50x digital zoom as soon as you crank up the decibels. I also experienced a very noticeable latency when viewing video or game content. If you have a Samsung smartphone, the game mode allows you to slightly reduce this latency by compensating for the delay.
The Active Noise Cancellation
Simply put, the only noticeable effect of the ANC in Samsung Galaxy Buds Live is that it drains your battery. It's so spotty that I ended up leaving it turned off, sometimes forgetting that I had turned it on.
I'm not a bat, my hearing is as basic as my smartphone reviews are long, that's for sure. But you don't have to have a finely tuned and musical ear to hear the slightest noise from the subway, car, or office neighbor pounding his keyboard while desperately waiting for the weekend with the ANC feature found in the Galaxy Buds Live.
And for once this is not just another one of my hyperboles. The active noise cancellation is simply bad. This is partly due to the lack of passive isolation linked to the open-fit design which does not allow sufficient blockage of the ear canal.
It's like offering ANC on on-ear headphones or open headphones. Why put sticks in the wheels just to implement a technology that requires millions in R&D, and yet does not perform as intended?
I'll stop ranting, but this long-awaited feature on Samsung's true wireless headphones does more than make a false start. When headphones even struggle to reduce constant solid-state noise (which results from contact with a surface, and therefore making it solid-state noise), one certainly has to wonder in which direction is the market heading towards.
We are very far from what the Sony WF-1000XM3 delivers, where even the Airpods Pro happen to deliver somewhat on their promise.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live have a certain charm. Honestly, having received them free of charge from Samsung, I would use them without any problem on a daily basis. They are really classy and the design is the most original on the market today.
Wearing a pair of these earbuds while looking fashionable is something that most of us would like, where the form factor will be one of the main determining buying criteria for the majority of users who, for the most part, don't care about the audio performance. The audio performance from Samsung's offering this time around falls within the average band of what is available on most consumer-level true wireless headphones. It is simply too average for my liking, and full of bass. But the same modus operandi has been used by virtually all of the other manufacturers prior to Samsung, with Apple being the first.
The range is also adequate enough to make it a pair of functional daily earbuds. Throw in the very good quality of the hands-free microphones, and the Galaxy Buds Live look far from ridiculous.
But the great novelty that was to be the ANC really left a bitter taste in my ears. And at £179, one will find alternatives at a similar price point or others that are more interesting despite hovering at more expensive or even cheaper levels.
I can recommend the Sony WF-1000XM3 that sells for approximately the same, the Sennheiser Momentum 2 for the more expensive but clearly better alternative, and the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 as the cheaper option (and without ANC).
The carrots are cooked for the magic beans that are the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. And if I was the famous Jack from the English fairy tale, I would choose another vegetable to go kill giants.
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