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Apple AirPods 2 vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds

Apple and Samsung are both heavy-hitters when it comes to wireless earbuds, but between Apple’s second-gen AirPods and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, who takes home the gold for best pair overall? We’ve taken a look at each set of buds based on specific criteria, including design, control, and sound and call quality. Our final verdict is below.

For those curious what the latest generations of Apple and Samsung earbuds are all about, check out our comparison of the Apple AirPods Pro vs. the Samsung Galaxy Buds+.

Design

The sleek design of the Galaxy Buds

With hard, plastic eartips and long white stems, the AirPods 2 boast the same aesthetic as the previous model. In fact, besides now offering wireless charging, little has changed between AirPods and AirPods 2. While the eye-catching design has caught on for some, many still think they look odd protruding from people’s ears, and the lack of silicone eartips or any kind of earfin means that they don’t stay super snug in your ears.

Samsung, on the other hand, offers a smaller, more ergonomic in-ear design with its Galaxy Buds. The headphones fit snugly inside your ears and even come with silicone earfins to ensure they don’t fall out during strenuous exercise. It’s also worth noting that the Galaxy Buds come with silicone eartips, which means you’ll get better passive noise isolation and comfort.

In this category, there is no competition. The Galaxy Buds are better-looking and more comfortable.

Winner: Galaxy Buds

Control options

AirPods 2 have seamless, tap-based controls

Both Apple and Samsung wireless buds use fairly seamless tap-based controls for a number of functions, including play/pause, call answering, and digital assistants.

In Apple’s case, the actual taps are delivered to the bud stems. Default tapping of your stems will let you either play audio or skip a track. By logging into your AirPods settings (only available through iOS), users are able to re-assign each bud’s double-tap commands, with options for play/pause, track skipping, previous track, and Siri. Speaking of Siri, fans of Apple’s voice assistant will be glad to know you can now wake Siri by just saying “Hey Siri” instead of tapping to wake. This is a nice function to have for those looking to assign other non-assistant commands to the stems. In terms of responsiveness, the stems themselves work pretty reliably as command triggers, but we recommend tapping lightly — too firm and the bud can come loose from your ear.

Out of the box, Galaxy Buds offer a bit more in terms of control, but a stem-less design means you’ll be tapping the outside of the buds that are in your ears. Not a light touch? Not to worry, as the rubber wings surrounding the bud help to ensure you won’t lodge the bud inside your ear canal. In terms of actual commands, the Galaxy Buds allow for more control. Single, double, and triple taps all perform different functions, including play/pause, call answering, and voice assistant cueing. A hidden gem for Samsung is the inclusion of an assignable “fourth” command (only available through Android). Instead of sequential taps, users can long tap to access either voice commands, quick ambient sound (which reduces music volume so you can hear outside sounds), as well as volume down.

Overall, we found Samsung’s controls a bit easier to use and customize, and the additional fourth command was just enough to edge the Galaxy Buds over the less option-filled AirPods in the control category.

Winner: Galaxy Buds

Charging case

AirPods 2 Charging Case
TheBetterDay/Flickr

Perhaps the thing we love most about the Apple AirPods is their charging case. A small, rounded case with a flip-top lid, the case boasts 19 hours of reserve battery, and can even be upgraded to include wireless charging. We love the way this case feels in our pocket, and the addition of wireless charging on the latest model (for $40 extra) is a welcome one.

The Galaxy Buds case doesn’t offer the same kind of longevity, but the pillbox-style case does come with wireless charging at no extra cost. With just seven hours of battery life in the case, however, you might want to make sure you have a charging mat — or a new Galaxy phone — readily available.

Winner: AirPods

Call quality

The AirPods and Galaxy Buds are more than adequate when it comes to call quality, both for the bud-wearer and the person they’re talking to. But there are a few subtle differences. The AirPods are equipped with individual mics in each bud that do a very good job of zeroing in on voices while isolating unwanted background noise. This makes for easy and natural-sounding conversation. The default call-EQ can be a bit flat, but we prefer a safe and reliable mid-range sound over phone calls with boomy bass or sharp treble.

On paper, it would seem that the Galaxy Buds should deliver better call quality than the AirPods, due mostly in part to Samsung’s dual-array mic system that adapts each bud to the noise environment. But generally speaking, we found that while phone calls came in adequately on the Galaxy Buds, there was a lot of additional noise in the background of each call, as well as a bit of an echoing effect. The default call-EQ was also a little boomier than the AirPods.

Winner: AirPods

Listening experience

Apple’s AirPods will let you listen to your favorite music for five hours between charges, which is still fairly good in the world of true wireless headphones. In addition to quick pairing and low video latency, they are also some of the loudest true wireless headphones out there. Thick bass and bright highs are joined by a relatively flat midrange, with a sound signature that lacks the transparency you might expect from over-ear headphones in this price range, but that is easily satisfactory from compact headphones.

But even though the AirPods aren’t a slouch, the Galaxy Buds slightly outperform the AirPods in virtually every way when it comes to the listening experience. First, they offer an hour more listening time, for a total of six hours between charges, and second, they have the aforementioned silicone eartips to seal out the outside world. This means sounds come through cleaner and tighter, and you’re less likely to be annoyed by the sounds around you.

Samsung Galaxy Buds in ear

Another thing to consider when it comes to listening experience is just how life-proof the headphones are. In this case, the Buds slightly nudge out the AirPods with an IPX2 rating, which means they can withstand workout sweat and dripping water (though they’re not fit for the pool). The AirPods, on the other hand, boast no such water resistance.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the Samsung Wear app lets you pick between five different equalization settings, so you can tailor the sound of the headphones for your ears and musical tastes; the AirPods offer no EQ adjustments.

Winner: Galaxy Buds

Pricing

Apple offers three different AirPods packages. For $159, you’ll get the AirPods with a standard charging case. For just a little more, you can net yourself the earbuds with a wireless charging case for $199. Apple also offers standalone wireless charging cases for $79. For those that opt to purchase AppleCare+, the replacement fee for damaged AirPods and both the standard and wireless charging case are only $29. If you didn’t purchase AppleCare and need to replace parts, the price for new buds is $69, standard charging case for $59, and wireless charging for $69.

Galaxy Buds pricing is a bit more streamlined and overall less expensive than the AirPods. You can purchase a set of Galaxy Buds with included wireless charging case for only $129. The one caveat is that for lost or damaged buds or chargers, you’ll need to reach out to Samsung Support for any replacements. A number of third party Galaxy Buds charging cases are also available online, but we recommend contacting Samsung instead of purchasing an off-brand charge case.

While it’s always nice to have options, we’re giving this category to the Galaxy Buds for having the overall best price. And in cases where something goes wrong, you can still reach out to Samsung for additional support.

Winner: Galaxy Buds

Verdict

While there is a lot to like about both pairs of these true wireless earbuds, there is no question that the Samsung Galaxy Buds, which retail for $129 compared to $159 for the AirPods, are the better value.

With an awesome listening experience, better fit, and better control, the Galaxy Buds beat out Apple’s true wireless earbuds, making them our winner in this head-to-head contest.

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