With most companies moving their smartphones over to Bluetooth and the 3.5mm headphone jack feeling like a thing of the past, it is no wonder more companies are working on some form of wireless headphones. From the AirPods, to the offerings from Razer and OnePlus, it seems like the market is saturated with options. However, even in this crowded landscape, Samsung aims to stand apart, with the Galaxy Buds Live.
Samsung has been in the space for a while now. With their first two attempts: the Gear IconX and IconX 2018, they sold a good sounding headset, but never managed to sound special, or separate themselves from the countless options flooding the market. And while the Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Buds+ were a genuine step forward, now in 2020, Samsung finally has something unique, and while not perfect, delivers in a way I did not think from the Galaxy Buds range up to this point.
If you followed any of the early press around the Galaxy Buds Live, it would undoubtedly be centered on the unique shape of the headphones. Opting for a bean-like shape, the Galaxy Buds Live no longer rest in the ear like many Bluetooth headphones on the market. Instead, the headphones sit just in the ear, making them a bit less intrusive, and are supposed to help with the noise cancellation.
While testing, it was impressive how well the Galaxy Buds Live actually fit. I am normally skeptical of gimmicky designs, and nine times out of 10 they don’t deliver on any of their promises. Thankfully Samsung bucked this trend and made an odd design that works. The headphones fit well, feel comfortable, and even though they may seem ridged in design, they can be worn for long periods without any issue or discomfort, something I did not expect.
The Galaxy Buds Live have a modern feel; and while it can be brushed off as design for the sake of being different, everything about the headphones feels deliberate and worthy of the time that was put into them. Even the case feels compact, stylish, and—with the ability to extend the life of the Galaxy Buds Live an additional 28 hours—makes it feel like a well thought-out package in all facets.
Connecting the Galaxy Buds Live to any smartphone is easy. If you happen to be on a Samsung device, you have all the needed software ready to go, if not you will need to download the Samsung Wear app from the Google Play Store, or the Apple App Store. It was painless on all the devices we tested them on—a simple connection prompt when the case is opened, and you are good to go. Gone are the days of holding a button for x-amount of seconds to pair; it is a welcome change, one that makes the process as painless as possible.
Across all the devices we used the Galaxy Buds Live on, we found no major issues at any point of our testing. The connection stayed solid throughout use; and even at a distance, the Galaxy Buds Live delivered fantastic, clear audio. With the app, this audio can be adjusted to fit the needs of each individual user—from booming bass, to clear vocals, there are enough presets to keep things sounding good no matter the use.
The Galaxy Buds Live have no visible buttons, so everything is through touch and taps, once they are in your ears. The actions are all pretty straightforward, and with the app there is even some level of customization. Although, I will be honest, I often used my phone over trusting I would use the right tap configuration, but this is just my stuck-in-my-ways’ attitude, and not a knock against how well the system works. It should also be noted that like many modern headphones, the Galaxy Buds Live will stop and play audio based on them being in your ears or not.
One notable feature with the Galaxy Buds Live is the new Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) feature; unincluded in previous versions of the Galaxy Buds. This feature remains a toggle that has to actively be turned on, thankfully this can be one of the customized tap configurations, making it a trivial matter activating when needed.
Thanks to that previously described design and fit, while the Galaxy Buds Live are comfortable, they don’t isolate sound nearly as well as a silicon tipped option. While this makes wearing them easier over long periods, it does no favours for the ANC features. While it works in theory, and gives some level of sound isolation while out and about, it never feel precise or even as effective as it could be. Granted, this will differ from person to person, based on how they fit in your years, but it is something to consider.
Stepping into a loud environment, the buds will unfortunately, let a fair amount of ambient noise in. Compared to the Galaxy Buds+, I found the Galaxy Buds Live let in more sound overall. While that can be reduced with the ANC, it never felt enough to make them truly isolating or as immersive as the back of the box suggests.
But in terms of audio performance, the Galaxy Buds Live feel like a notable step up from previous models. They are clear, crisp and have enough power behind them to make even the most exuberant music provide an enjoyable soundtrack to your day. From spoken word to instrumental, the Galaxy Buds Live have a soundscape far wider than their size or look would indicate.
Battery life on the Galaxy Buds Live was good, if not amazing. While testing, we managed on average around 7 hours on a charge, with that reduced by an hour with the ANC turned on. With the case in the mix, you can make it through a day of constant music, with five minutes of charging with the case providing one hour of listening time—making it well over 28 hours with the case, or 22 hours with ANC turned on. That should be more than enough, and while not the best we have seen from this category, based on the size and how they sound, I was very impressed with the results.
This being a modern Samsung device, you will find wireless charging in-tow, with the Galaxy Buds Live being able to be topped up with both inductive charging, or with a standard USB-C. With modern Samsung devices offering reverse charging, and the Galaxy Buds Live only taking around five minutes to top up for an hour of playback; it is a great option for while on the go.
The Galaxy Buds Live are a major leap forward in wireless headphones for Samsung, but they did not stick the landing on all areas. While I love the comfort and sound from the headset, I wanted more from the ANC feature to really make them rise above. That being said, if you want some stylish headphones for the gym or while on the go, these headphones are fantastic; but if you want something to drown out the noise of the office, you may want to look elsewhere.