Have you ever sat down and wondered "what if headphones, were beans?" Well, apparently Samsung did when it came up with the Galaxy Buds Live.
The Galaxy Buds Live are Samsung's current flagship Bluetooth earbuds product, sitting in opposition to Apple's iconic Airpods. The Galaxy Buds traverse this odd trend with a completely different set of design principles, with earbuds that are supposedly designed to anchor against the grooves of your ear, rather than sit in your ear canal.
I picked up these headphones a short while ago, and while there's a lot to love, they've also bean a little frustrating.
Jez and the beanstalk
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Bottom line: While these beany boys sport great sound and features, their physical design is crucially lacking in the ergonomics department.
- Great audio
- Impressive active noise canceling
- Solid configurable options and app features
- Good battery life
- They're just uncomfortable
- Call quality is awful
What I love about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
This is the first pair of "high-end" earbuds I've ever owned. Up until now, I was using the wired 3.5mm headphones that came with the HP Elite x3 (RIP Windows phone). But since moving to the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, I've had to come to terms with the fact that 3.5mm on mobile is practically dead. I thought if I was going to accept this new-fangled 3.5mm-less world, I might as well try to jump in at the deep end.
|Speaker||1-way, 12mm driver|
|Mics||3 Mics (2 Outer, 1 Inner)|
|Battery||5-8 hours on earbuds, up to 29 hours recharge time with case|
|Features||EQ tuning, on-ear capacitive controls, active noise cancellation|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth, wireless charging, USB-C charging|
The Galaxy Buds Live are not cheap beans, starting at $170 in the US, with a range of three colors. I opted for "Mystic Black," since I'm nowhere near cool enough to rock some of the more eye-catching colors. Going from pure looks alone, though, the earbuds are rather gorgeous, unique in design with a nice metallic finish.
I find them to be far less ridiculous-looking than the cigarette-hanging-from-your-ear style pioneered by Apple's Airpods, looking more akin to those old-school Bluetooth headsets that were popular in the Blackberry era. Albeit far, far more modernized.
The kidney bean-shaped buds are designed to fit into your ear and then sort of "lock" into the folds while producing the tiny speaker grill into your ear canal. I'll go into some detail about how they fit shortly, but once you get it right, they sound incredible, and the active noise cancellation (ANC) works as well as any over-ear solution I've experienced.
It's frankly wizardry that earbuds so small can achieve a soundscape so detailed.
The ANC is dependent on getting the earbuds to fit properly, and once you've figured it out, all those irritating background noises will be canceled out. I often sleep with a fan running, since all the electronics in my room makes for a toasty climate, even in winter. The Galaxy Buds Live ANC totally nullifies the noise from that, making bedtime beats all the more pleasant.
Speaking of pleasant, the sound reproduction on these earbuds is excellent. They perhaps don't sound as rich as some other headphones I've used, notably, full-size over-ear solutions like the Marshalll Monitor II, which I currently regard as a top dog out of all the headsets I've used for the pure audio experience. Where the Galaxy Buds Live does excel particularly well, though, is in separation. It's frankly wizardry that earbuds so small can achieve a soundscape so detailed and delicate, making you feel surrounded in the music.
Then why do I still have a hard time recommending them?
What sucks about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
I feel conflicted about these beans. While I enjoy the wireless convenience, the fast wireless charging, and the great audio quality, the design feels half-baked.
Whether you like the design of the Apple Airpods or not, they're at least obvious about how to put them in and don't really need a full-blown video tutorial on how to wear them. A tutorial that, well, simply didn't work for me. It's almost as if everybody has different ears or something, isn't it?
Samsung says you're meant to push the top part of the earbuds forward, but when I do that, they don't feel secure, and also sound worse. ANC stops working properly too, if I try to wear them as Samsung recommends, regardless of what size rubber wingtip I put on them. The most comfortable way I've found to wear them, that also maximizes audio quality, is literally how Samsung tells you how not to wear them in their own video. 🤷♂️ And even then, over long periods of time, I've found them to be uncomfortable to keep in. These ear beans are just not very ergonomic, at least on my ears. Do you really want to gamble $170 to find out if the Galaxy Buds are compatible with your ear shape?
The Galaxy Buds Live can be used on basically any device with Bluetooth, but on mobile phones, you get some added configurations. Some of these configs are pretty important since they allow you to disable the ANC, or disable the on-ear touch-sensitive controls. If you're wearing them while lying down, or dozing on a long-haul plane flight, you may want to turn off the touch features to stop them misfiring unintentionally. Sadly, the app doesn't save the settings onto the earbuds, which is a bit of a shame, but perhaps a niche gripe.
My final complaint is the call quality on these things. The Galaxy Buds Live earbuds have two separate channels for stereo media playback and calls, as you might expect. The quality of the calls channel is significantly lower than that of the music channel, and quieter too. Even if you have music completely turned off, it can be an unpleasant experience using the call function on these earbuds, but they're passable in a pinch. If you're hunting for one of the best headphones for Skype or Zoom for working from home, these probably aren't it.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live?
Should you buy these crazy ear beans? Given how much trouble I've had figuring out how to wear them in a comfortable way, while also maximizing the audio reproduction, I'm not sure I would recommend them at this price point. Not being able to know for sure whether these quirky beans will fit comfortably in your ear makes purchasing them a bit of a gamble. You can always send them back, I guess. And I'm sure they're truly amazing when worn by people who have ears they seem to actually be designed for.
Despite the issues I've had wearing them, I do personally enjoy them overall and do not regret my purchase. The lack of ergonomic attention in their design, however, makes me reluctant to recommend them to others.
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