This post was originally published on August 17th and updated on August 19th. Update below.
All of my concerns about Samsung’s bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live immediately faded when I actually got to use them.
The design, the sound and the features are surprisingly impressive. Samsung has made a genuinely unique and innovative product in a sphere that is highly resistant to design creativity.
Update 08/19: Samsung’s unusual design for the Galaxy Live Buds doesn’t impede how easily they can be fixed, according to repair specialists iFixit. In a teardown, the company found that the buds and their charging case can be easily disassembled, which makes accessing broken parts easier.
For example, the rechargeable CP1254 lithium-ion button battery can be disconnected without causing damage, which means it can also be substituted. That is not the case for Apple’s AirPods Pro. Other components are fixed in place with screws that can be easily removed and replaced. The shell of the earbuds can be opened with a small amount of pressure from a vice, whilst the charging case can be unlocked by hand.
Some parts, like replacement batteries, might be hard to source iFixit claims. But the 8 out of 10 repairability score iFixit gives the buds partially minimises any component sourcing concerns. Contrast that score with 0 out of 10 Apple’s AirPods received and it’s clear that Samsung intentionally designed the buds to be repair-friendly. Samsung’s previous earbuds like the Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Buds Plus also received decent repair scores from iFixit, so this isn’t a fluke.
This is important because the small battery in the buds will wear out with repeated use. The cycle of going from a full charge to depletion places a heavy burden on lithium-ion batteries, which hold less charge over time. This is why it’s recommended to only charge your phone to a certain level and not let it drop to 0%. It’s also the reason why so many early Android smartphones had batteries that could be removed. By making the Galaxy Buds Live easy to be repaired, Samsung has extended their shelf life.
My main worry was centred around Samsung’s long and storied history of spectacular gimmicky failures. I’m still haunted by ill-conceived ideas like Air View and Smart Pause. But the Korean company go it right this time and has moved the industry forward, which, in its defence, it always aims to do.
It’s not all rosy for Samsung’s new buds, they have their issues as any product does. But Samsung got a lot right with its new headphones, here’s what you need to know before you buy them.
The design is surprisingly good
The biggest surprise is how well the bean-shape works. Yes, it has huge meme potential, but it’s also very practical, here’s why: they fit. Like, they actually, properly, fit in your ear. Of the elaborate earbuds designs I’ve tested that have come up with a unique way to wedge into your ears, Samsung’s are one of few buds that come out with full marks, Google’s elongated wing-tip design is a close second. Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds and Apple’s AirPods don’t quite match up.
What works about the Live buds is that they’re contoured to fit the shape of your ear. The entire body of the bud fits in your ear, like they’re being cradled. Because of this the wing-tips are far more effective than on larger, protruding, buds like those from Microsoft. It’s a surprisingly effective design that makes me question how easily I’ll go back to other headphones.
Active noise cancelling is non existent
If you ask Samsung why it released two flagship earbuds so close to each other in the same year, I’m sure it will tell you that the presence of Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) in the Galaxy Buds Live is the reason – just like Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro. They’re basically a different class of bud, just like the Note series is to the Galaxy S line.
Except, they’re not another class of buds because the active noise cancelling is virtually non existent. My battered eardrums can determine no difference between when ANC is on or off. OK, that’s not exactly accurate – the buds do some sort of job of blocking low frequency sounds, but you have to test it, and focus, to notice it.
What’s funny is that the tight, plugged fit of the Galaxy Buds Plus, thanks to the rubber ear tips, offer better ambient noise blocking, despite not having ANC.
They’re good value for money
At $170 they’re good value up against Apple’s $249 Airpods Pro (but these have far better ANC), Google’s non ANC $179 Pixel Buds and Microsoft’s $199 non ANC Surface Earbuds.
The app and EQ settings are very good
There’s a significant difference between the sound profiles in the equalizer settings, which isn’t always the case with other earbuds. The sound profile is set to “normal” as default, and I thought they sounded a bit flat on first listen, but switching to Dynamic and Bass Boost did Pusha T his deserved justice.
There’s also a good amount of customisation in the Galaxy Wear app. You can customise what taps do in both ears, have the buds read aloud notifications and turn on ambient sound functionality (but this isn’t as impressive as the ambient sound feature on the Galaxy Buds Plus).
One other feature to customise is the ability to block touches, which brings me on to my next point…
The large capacitive area is really well executed
Every truly wireless earbud has what’s known as a large capacitive area, which is the surface area you tap to issue commands. This is a notoriously difficult thing to execute because there isn’t much surface area on earbuds and designers obviously don’t want people accidentally issuing unwanted commands when they reposition their buds. The original 2017 Pixel Buds suffered from this badly.
But Samsung handles this well, not only can the buds be fondled without accidentally pausing the music or launching an AI assistant, they also have the option to turn toggle touch controls on or off. Google could learn a thing or two from Samsung here.
I will say, though, that it might’ve been executed a little too well. You have to tap the buds a few times to find the right spot that will receive commands, but this is better than the alternative.
They don’t have the battery life of the Galaxy Buds plus…
…but that’s worthy trade-off for the unique design. As I’ve written before, I like the Galaxy Buds Plus because they are battery life behemoths, but they also feel like it. They’re big, heavy for earbuds and look a bit ungainly when sticking out of your ears.
The Galaxy Buds Live are the opposite of that, you can barely tell you’re wearing them when facing head-on. The 6 hour charge in the buds alone doesn’t match up to the 11 hours in the Galaxy Buds Plus, but the charging case for the bean-shaped headphones holds a an extra 15 hours, more than the 11 offered by the Buds Plus. So that’s two full charges and a bit.
In terms of size, the charging case pushes what my pockets can handle. I rarely carry around a bag (I will lose it) so I have to perform some magic-hat trickery with my pockets to leave the house with everything I need. Apple and Google nailed the charging case design: slender and oblong – perfectly designed for a pocket. The Galaxy Buds cube shape is bit more awkward and it’s heftier than Google’s alternative.
The all-rounder’s all-rounder
Samsung has achieved a near-perfect balance of price, design, battery life and sound quality with the Galaxy Buds Live. They have their issues – like the poor ANC – but they’re a genuine all-rounder and a pleasure to use.