Samsung and Apple are the titans of the smartphone market, and seeing as Apple released the stellar AirPods Pro to critical acclaim, it was only a matter of time until Samsung came out with its answer.
As good as the Galaxy Buds+ are, they really don’t stack up against what the AirPods Pro have on offer. That’s where the Galaxy Buds Live come in. They are clearly being positioned by Samsung to be its more high-end product to take on the AirPods Pro.
Do they succeed, and which is better? Let’s dig into it.
Design and fit
We knew from the start that this might come off as a bit of a weird comparison since the design of the Galaxy Buds Live is so much different than that of the more conventional AirPods Pro. While the AirPods Pro introduced Apple’s first silicon-tipped, ear canal seal that allows them to isolate sound so well, Samsung went with a completely different design that keeps any part of the buds out of your actual ear canal and rests everything just outside it with a very different bean shape.
Many folks are not a fan of Apple’s golf-tee design, but it does serve a purpose (it improves voice quality during calls). and it is notably smaller on the AirPods Pro than it is on the standard AirPods. If you prefer a more understated design, the Buds Live are going to be the more attractive option. They hide fairly well in your ear’s concha and are overall smaller than the AirPods.
Both the AirPods Pro and the Galaxy Buds Live have some kind of physical customization option, but neither do the best job with this compared to the field. Apple includes a scant three different silicon eartip sizes, while the Buds Live ship with a little wing that is supposed to hold them in your ear better — but that’s it.
Depending on your preference, each can be considered more comfortable than the other. If you prefer having a seal with your earbuds, the AirPods Pro are quite comfortable among the many options out there. If having something physically in your ear canal is not your first choice, the Galaxy Live do sit in such a way that makes them easy to wear for long periods.
However, the Galaxy Buds Live are just one size, with that single earwing not doing anything to allow for greater physical customization. Everyone’s ears are different, which is why just about all buds with silicon tips ship with different eartip sizes. The fact that Samsung thinks they’ve created a design that will work for everyone feels improbable.
The charging case for the Buds Live is a little bit taller than the charging case for the AirPods Pro, but isn’t nearly as wide.
The Buds Live sit in their cradle much more loosely than the AirPods Pro do. If I turn the case of the AirPods upside down and shake, they don’t come loose from their cradle. If I do the same for the buds, they come flying out. This isn’t actually a real-world concern, just a note.
Given that most people prefer in-ear buds and that the AirPods have slightly more customization options than the Galaxy Live, we’re going to give this category to the AirPods. Honestly though, it’s going to come down to your personal preference.
Winner: AirPods Pro
The Galaxy Buds Live get the nod when it comes to customization within their app. Compared to other buds on the market, the app is really underwhelming, but against the nonexistent customization available with the AirPods Pro, it’s a winner.
On a Samsung device, it’s the Galaxy Wear app, and on an iOS device, it’s called the Galaxy Buds app. In both cases, you can adjust the sound with a few different options (Bass Boost and Dynamic are my two favorites of the choices on offer). You cannot set your own custom EQ, which is disappointing, but you can’t do that with the AirPods Pro either.
The app also allows you to change the touch controls to several different options and even has a “find my buds” feature that will emit a chirping sound from the buds if you lose them.
When you open the Airpods Pro case next to an Apple phone, you get a window that pops up that will show you both the battery life of each earbud, as well as the remaining juice in the case, which is really convenient.
Like the AirPods Pro, when you open the Galaxy Buds’ case, it will automatically connect with your Samsung phone, but it doesn’t show you battery life unless you get into the Galaxy Wear app.
The AirPods Pro use a physical button to control your music as well as handle calls. Each stem can be clicked in a certain way to get a different feature, from changing volume and skipping songs to adjusting the active noise canceling (ANC).
The Galaxy Buds Live use a touch-control system that is extremely sensitive. If you need to reposition the buds within your ear, you are bound to set off the touch sensor, which results in unintended playing or pausing of music. You can turn the touch sensor off within the Galaxy Wear app, but doing so means forgoing the touch features entirely, or having to return to the app to turn touch control back on every time you put the buds in your ears or adjust them.
Winner: AirPods Pro
Both the AirPods Pro and the Galaxy Buds Live offer active noise-canceling on paper, but the performance between the two is stark. The AirPods Pro have what we currently consider to be the best ANC of any earbud on the market, just barely outperforming the excellent Sony WX-100XM3 and the Technics TWS. The AirPods Pro have active, passthrough, and off modes for that ANC feature.
On the flip side, the Buds Live ANC is considerably worse. It’s to be expected: The Buds Live do not form a seal in your ear canal and thus cannot effectively prevent sound from entering. They try, and are somewhat effective when it comes to low-end rumble but effectively do nothing against the rest of the sound spectrum. Running water, the sound of a car on the road, or even an air conditioner are all barely reduced or not reduced at all. We’ll talk battery life in a bit, but you get better performance out of the Buds Live with ANC off, and since it’s doing next to nothing anyway, we recommend you turn it off.
Winner: AirPods Pro
With the AirPods Pro, you get about 5 hours of listening time and three hours of talk time. The case will provide about 24 hours of listening time and 18 hours of talk time. You can also utilize a nifty quick-charge feature that will net you about 3 hours of listening time from just 15 minutes in the case.
Battery life with the Galaxy Buds Live is a bit more complicated, as not only is there active noise canceling that you can toggle but a Bixby wake word that you can have on or off. The result is that your battery life can be wildly different depending on what you have active on the Buds Live at any given time.
If you turn both of those things off, you can get about 8 hours of use out of them and almost 29 hours total with the case, but with just ANC on, you can get about 6 hours and 20 minutes or so of listening, and it’s bumped down to 21 hours with the case. And if you add the Bixby wake word, it drops to about 5 hours for the buds and 19 hours with the case.
This one is kind of hard to call because the Buds Live have so many different options that can affect their use. If you really want to use everything that the Buds Live have to offer, then the battery life is similar to the AirPods Pro. That said, using them with either just noise-canceling enables or neither Bixby (seriously, turn this off — you don’t need Bixby) or noise-canceling on, they do surpass what the AirPods Pro can offer.
Winner: Galaxy Buds Live
The AirPods Pro aren’t the best-sounding buds in their segment, let alone the market, but they are good. We’ve praised them for being close to both the Sony WF-1000XM3 and the Sennheiser Momentum 3, and that’s a big deal, as those are very good-sounding earbuds. Combine their quality sound rendition with the excellent ANC, and you have an overall excellent sound profile that is balanced, warm, and pleasant.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live stacked the deck against themselves by going with an outer-ear design rather than in-ear. The buds do have a surprising amount of bass, but the remainder of the frequency spectrum feels unbalanced. They just don’t sound particularly well-tuned. Imagine a small laptop speaker: They do make sound and play music, but can sound hollow and underwhelming. The same can be said of the Buds Live. They aren’t terrible by any means, but they fall well short of the quality the AirPods Pro provide.
Winner: AirPods Pro
We mentioned earlier that the golf-tee shape of the AirPods Pro improves how the buds perform with calls, and that remains true here. Your voice is easy for the other end of the line to hear, it’s more focused, and more background sound is reduced.
The Galaxy Buds Live on the other hand let more outside noise interfere with the conversation, and your voice will sound somewhat raspy and scratchy compared to the AirPods Pro. Sometimes the other end of the line will have a hard time hearing you, and you’ll find yourself having to repeat yourself, especially in environments with competing sound, like city streets.
Winner: AirPods Pro
Though the Samsung Galaxy Live are priced at $170 versus the $250 AirPods Pro asking price, Samsung clearly positioned these as a competitor product. Unfortunately, they just don’t stack up in any of the important categories.
When we evaluate headphones and earbuds, we care most about sound quality and noise cancelling/isolation. Even though the Buds Live offer more customization options via their app than the AirPods Pro do (they don’t have an app), they come up very short in their sound quality and ability to reduce noise. Their ANC does almost nothing and music can sound hollow and lack depth.
Even if you don’t own an iOS device, we still think the AirPods Pro are the better earbuds. There might be a few people who will pick the Buds Live due to their more understated design and a preference for earbuds that don’t sit in your ear canal, but that’s about all we can really say they do significantly better.
AirPods Pro are the clear winner here for most people.