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Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro Review: great till they ain’t

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro Review: great till they ain’t
MSRP $229.00
“The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are good for Samsung users, and fairly great overall. But a couple major features are let-downs.”
Pros
  • Excellent fit and feel
  • Plenty of features
  • They look great
  • Acceptable battery life
Cons
  • "360 Audio" is not good
  • Head tracking isn't great

We’ve now come to the second iteration of Samsung’s “Pro” earbuds — the $230 Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. It’s an awkward name, for sure (and that’s after you ignore the fact that Samsung actually calls them “Buds2 Pro”). But set that aside for a minute. There’s a whole lot here to like, all detailed in our Galaxy Buds 2 Pro review.

Given that these live in the same world — and the same relative pricing category — as Apple’s AirPods Pro and Google’s Pixel Buds Pro, there’s a lot to live up to for the Buds 2 Pro. And this being Samsung we’re talking about, that also means a whole bunch of fun little features to go along with the bread-and-butter of earbuds — the sound.

So are the Buds 2 Pro going to make your decision any easier? Or, as often is the case, is it more a matter of ecosystem?

Video review

The basics

Let us hark back to the beginning of 2021, with the first Galaxy Buds Pro. Our takeaway: “The Galaxy Buds Pro are a great pair of everyday-wearable true wireless earbuds. They aren’t for audiophiles, nor were they ever going to be.” Keep that in mind.

What we’ve got here is a pretty iterative set of earbuds. That’s not bad. They’re a little smaller — 15 percent, Samsung says. They’re a little more expensive. (Hey, even price can iterate upwards.) They’ve got full active noise cancellation and transparency and some newfangled 24-bit audio support that we’ll get into in a minute.

They are, simply put, Samsung’s earbuds.

The Buds 2 Pro are available in three colors — graphite (black), white, and Bora Purple, which is perhaps more lilac than purple Muppet. (If I were Samsung, I might have gone for the Pixar tie-in with “Spots of James P. Sullivan,” but that’s just me.)

The case

It’s perhaps not all that popular to wax poetic about an earbuds case these days, but Samsung’s is the first I’ve used that doesn’t flip open from the top edge. So at the very least, it’s a nice change. The mechanism is the same as the previous model, more like a jewelry box. You get a satisfying click when it closes, and LEDs on the front and inside to let you know what’s up.

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro case.
Phil Nickinson/Digital Trends

Charging is still handled wirelessly, or via USB-C, which is exactly what you’d expect in earbuds like this. There’s also a USB-C cable included, which is nice.

The only thing missing is a pairing button. That is, perhaps, one of those gripes that only bothers reviewers, and not normal people. Most folks don’t change devices all that often, and “forgetting” the buds from the Bluetooth menu works well enough. Just don’t strain an eyeball looking for it is all.

Fit and feel

Out of the three earbuds I’ve had in rotation of late — the others are the AirPods Pro and Pixel Buds Pro — the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are the most comfortable. They’re smaller and less obtrusive than the others. They have a light fit, but not so light that I keep worrying that they’re going to pop out because of the weight on the exterior side.

They’re comfortable. They feel wonderful. Samsung nailed it here. No notes.

Samsung lists the buds at 5.5 grams each. My $15 kitchen scale has them at 5.7 grams. That’s close enough.

My only complaint here really is one of personal preference. On the odd occasion that I did reach up to reseat an earbud — which really could just be muscle memory as much as anything at this point — I’d almost always end up pausing whatever it was I was listening to due to the capacitive-touch buttons. That’s on me, however. It’s not Samsung’s fault.

I had zero problems with the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro at the gym. There wasn’t a single time I was worried about them popping out. Sweat wasn’t a problem. They’re rated IPX7 for water resistance. I sweat a fair amount here in Florida, but not so much as to approximate being submerged in a meter of water for 30 minutes. That’d be really gross.

And I love the audio feedback you get when you actually do mean to tap to pause or toggle the active noise cancellation. You get the tone only from the earbud you touched, which is exactly what your brain expects. That’s a nice little attention to detail.

Sound and battery

Where things matter the most, of course, is in the sound quality. First, remember the price — more than $200. That puts the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro in with some serious competition, like the aforementioned offerings from Apple and Google. And the Jabra Elite 7 Pro and Sony WF-1000XM4.

If I were to give you a pair and send you on your way, you’d likely say “Thanks!” a few times and enjoy the heck out of them. And on their own, they sound pretty darn good. There’s a good amount of bass and the highs are clear. The Buds 2 Pro are a good set of earbuds. And a lot of what you think you hear is going to depend on, well, everything. What you’re listening to, differences in the recording themselves, the environment in which you’re listening, and how the things fit in your ears in the first place. There are a lot of variables here, as is always the case with earbuds.

Samsung has an EQ option in the app, and you’re welcome to play around with it all you want. But none of the other preset options made things any better for me.

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro.
Phil Nickinson/Digital Trends

The active noise cancellation is pretty good. It’s closer to what I experienced with the Pixel Buds Pro in that it blocks enough, but not too much. I don’t feel like I’m in a vacuum, which is something I’ve never enjoyed. You’ll notice the difference when transparency is turned on, but it’s more like going from a dim room into a brighter room, not from pitch-dark into sunlight.

Samsung has added spatial audio and head tracking. But if that’s a reason you’re looking to buy these earbuds, I’d look elsewhere. Samsung calls its spatial audio “Intelligent 360 Audio,” and it’s supposed to imitate a 7.1 surround system instead of a 5.1 system in the previous model. There’s plenty of instrument separation — enough to make me enjoy Pearl Jam’s Ten in a different way all these decades later. For as mushy as the grunge era may have sounded at the time, it’s worth listening to the Ament/Gossard/McCready assault with each guitar properly split, much like you can do with Izzy Stradlin and Slash, or Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood.

But the sound quality just isn’t there when 360 Audio is turned on. (I was listening to “Master” quality tracks from Tidal, and Apple Music with the quality cranked to its highest.) Everything sounds overly processed compared to the AirPods Pro, for example. The bass falls out. Everything sounds more processed. (Because it is.) It’s just not a great experience in the slightest, with or without ANC turned on.

The Galaxy Buds 2 Pro sound pretty good, all things considered. But 360 Audio and head tracking are bad.

And don’t even think about turning on head tracking. Whereas that feature just works on Apple’s devices — sometimes too well — you lose any sense of fluidity with Samsung’s implementation. It’s like you can hear the degrees at which the sound will shift from both earbuds into one, depending on which way you’re turning. It’s like you can see (hear, really) a little invisible line in the world. It’s odd. It’s not great.

Lest the Samsung faithful accuse me of finding nothing good here, the “voice detect” feature works pretty well. If you start talking, it’ll turn on transparency and lower the volume of whatever you’re listening to so that you can have a conversation with someone. And it’s smart enough to only trigger on your own voice. I couldn’t trick it with podcasts. By default it’s set to resume normal playback after 10 seconds of you shutting your yap. I recommend shortening that to 5 seconds.

Call quality is fine. You sound like you’re using earbuds on a call. Wind noise mostly is handled, but occasionally some slips through. Same as it ever was.

I don’t push my earbuds to the brink of battery life. These aren’t what I’d wear on an overseas flight. Samsung claims up to 5 hours of continuous playback with ANC turned on, and 18 hours when you pop ’em back in the case for a spell. I didn’t see anything that would lead me to have a big problem with those claims. But I’ll also encourage you to not have them in your head for that long.

The Samsung extras

If there’s one thing Samsung has done well over the years, it’s building products that work well with its other products. Phones and TVs. Phones and headphones. Phones and earbuds. That rings true here.

First, it’s worth noting that the Galaxy Buds2 Pro Manager (if you haven’t realized by now, we’re calling them “Buds 2 Pro” and not Samsung’s preferred “Buds2 Pro,” because we’re human beings and not marketing robots) app is available not just on Samsung devices, but on most modern Android devices. That’s good, because it means even those without a Galaxy phone can take advantage of settings and features and, most importantly, firmware updates.

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro app.
Phil Nickinson/Digital Trends

Other settings of note include an equalizer (which made the sound quality even worse, at least for what I was listening to), an earbud fit test (I’m still batting 1.000 for those), the option to read notifications out loud,  and “Seamless earbud connection,” which speeds up switching between different devices so long as they’re all signed in to your Samsung account. This is one of those things that unless you’re deep in the Samsung ecosystem, it might not matter so much.

The app also has a “Find my earbuds” feature, which will play a little tone though the buds to help you find one or both if they’re missing. It’s a little faint if the buds are out of the case, or if the case lid is closed. But if the lid is open, it’s surprisingly loud. Not that you’re likely to lose the case with the lid open, but it was an interesting little detail.

One thing we haven’t talked about is 24-bit audio. So here we go. The Galaxy Buds 2 Pro support 24-bit audio, which is better than 16-bit audio, because it’s another 8 bits. That’s the sort of thing that can make a difference in a studio environment. In the real world, however, it’s really not that much more than a marketing gimmick. Can it make a difference? Sure. So, too, will whether you’re streaming or playing music locally, how the buds fit in your ears, and just how shot your ears may be from too many years of listening to heavy metal and punk rock. I’d rather have it than not, I guess. But there’s no flashing notification in any app saying, “You’re listening to this at 24 bits. Enjoy!”

That’s actually by design. Anything that’s done in 16-bit audio is automatically upscaled to 24-bit. So there’s no switch to flip on or off. That’s a big hurdle in testing this sort of thing on this sort of device, and in my normal, everyday use, I can’t say that I’ve noticed that big a difference between the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro and other earbuds. Might there be? Probably. Almost assuredly, even. But it’s just that for me, it hasn’t been anything more than a line on a spec sheet.

And since the Samsung Seamless Codec is a Samsung exclusive and not, say, aptX or LDAC, which anyone can license, none of this matters anyway unless you’re using the Buds 2 Pro with a Samsung device and on a supported service, which includes the aforementioned Apple Music and Tide, plus Amazon Music, Quboz in Europe, and Genie Music in Korea. (For Spotify, everything gets upsampled to 24-bit, Samsung says.) So just keep that in mind.

In any event, it’s not magic. It’s math. And I was told there would be no math.

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro.
Phil Nickinson/Digital Trends

Our take

The Galaxy Buds 2 Pro aren’t for audiophiles. They’re not for someone who walks into a store and says, “Gimme the best you got.” That’s not to say they’re bad — they’re not. They feel great. They look great. But at the opening retail price of $230, you deserve better audio, particularly when you get to the edge cases like 360 Audio.

So who, then, are these for? I can see them as a sweetener for the carrier stores. They’re a way for Samsung and whatever retailer you buy your phones from to notch another sale into their belt. Or to sell an additional protection plan alongside it.

In our review of the previous Galaxy Buds Pro, we said, “There’s nothing ‘Pro’ about them, other than the fact that they’re Samsung’s most expensive earbuds.” That’s harsh. It’s also still a bit true with this new model.

Are there better alternatives?

Yep. Well, yep and nope. Again, this is where the mobile ecosystem lock-in punishes us all. The AirPods Pro sound better overall, and across the various special uses like spatial audio. And you’ll get a better experience with them on an iPhone or iPad or anything Apple. That’s a little less true for the Google Pixel Buds Pro — and it’s worth a reminder that they don’t yet have spatial audio of any kind. It’s coming with a future update. For a little help with that, check out the Google Pixel Buds Pro versus Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro.

And if you’re already in the $200 range, you absolutely have to take a look at the Jabra Elite 7 Pro. Or the Sony WF-1000XM4 if you want to spend a little more money. But the simple fact is you can do better at that price point than the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro.

How long will they last?

There’s no reason to think that they’ll fall apart any time soon. Samsung has settled on a solid build quality and has the support mechanisms in place should anything actually go wrong.

Should you buy them?

If — and only if — you’re deep in the Samsung ecosystem should you consider these earbuds. And even then, I’d push for a hefty deal as part of some other Samsung purchase. Otherwise, you can do better.

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