Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Galaxy Buds Pro vs. Buds Live vs. Buds+: Which should you buy in 2021?

Following the release of the Galaxy Buds Pro, Samsung’s latest true wireless earbuds, you may be wondering whether spending $200 on a pair is worthwhile, when you can get the older Galaxy Buds+ for as little as $110, or the unusual Galaxy Buds Live for $130.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Since my Galaxy S21 Ultra arrived, I’ve been swapping between all three of these true wireless earbuds for my daily activities, to see whether the Buds Pro really are the pick of the bunch, or whether grabbing one of the cheaper, older sets would be the more shrewd purchase. It has also given me the chance to see how Samsung’s earbuds connect and interact with its latest flagship phone.

Before we start, if you want a deeper dive into the individual sets, we’ve already fully reviewed the Galaxy Buds Pro here and did the same for the Galaxy Buds Live, and Galaxy Buds+ too.

Specs and app

The $200 Galaxy Buds Pro come with a 2-way AKG-tuned driver, featuring an 11mm woofer and a 6.5mm tweeter. They’re equipped with active noise cancellation (ANC), an ambient sound mode, an IPX7 water resistance rating, and a claimed battery life of eight hours for the earbuds and seven hours extra from the case, for a total of 18 hours.

The $170 (at launch) Galaxy Buds Live have a 12mm AKG-tuned driver enhanced with a special bass duct. They also have ANC and an ambient sound mode, while the battery in the earbuds should last for about six hours, and 15 hours added with the case, giving a claimed total of approximately 21 hours.

Finally, the $150 (at launch) Galaxy Buds+ have a two-way driver, an ambient sound mode but no noise cancellation feature. The earbuds will last for 11 hours on a charge, with another 11 hours available from the case, for a claimed total of 22 hours.

All three pairs use touch controls and link up with the Samsung Galaxy Wear app on your phone. The app is available through Google Play so most Android phones support the earbuds. If you own an iPhone, Samsung provides the Galaxy Buds app, which supports the Buds+ and the Buds Live, but not the Buds Pro. This means the Buds Pro will connect to an iPhone, but without the ability to use many of the features, or update the firmware. Samsung may release a dedicated app for iOS in the future.

Using the three pairs with the Galaxy S21 Ultra showed Samsung has worked hard on connectivity. All were fast and painless to pair and set up, with the phone recognizing the headphones as soon as the case was opened, each and every time. Switching between sets was also easy, without any need to open the app or go to the Bluetooth settings at all. It’s similar to Apple’s seamless AirPod pairing and switching with iOS and MacOS, and just as effective.

Wear, comfort, and controls

The Galaxy Buds Live are the ones we need to address first, as they’re fundamentally different from almost every other pair of true wireless headphones you’ll wear. Known for their bean-like shape, they fit in your outer ear rather than into your ear canal, like the Buds+ and Buds Pro. I find them comfortable, secure, and practically unnoticeable once I’ve got them on, but this almost certainly won’t be the same for everyone as the inner ear shape will differ a lot between people.

The Buds+ are more conventional, with silicone wings to help them stay secure in your ear, and a choice of different sized ear tips too. I find them very comfortable, but did get some ache after more than an hour wearing them. The Buds Pro don’t have wings, and this seems to get rid of the fatigue felt wearing the Buds+ for longer periods of time. However, it has not affected how secure the Buds Pro feel inside the ear.

All three pairs are very comfortable, and also look decent too. None protrude much — the Buds Live are particularly sleek — and due to the choice of colors, neat designs, plus the pearl-like finish of the Buds+, they look classy and stylish and should suit everyone. The Buds+ lose out slightly by causing a little fatigue for me, but this won’t affect everyone. Overall Samsung has done an excellent job with design, fit, and comfort.

The touch controls are identical across the range, including a single touch for play/pause, and a touch-and-hold gesture to activate features like ANC or the ambient sound mode. The touch-and-hold control can be customized too, if you’d prefer to use it to call Bixby or adjust the volume. While touch controls on headphones can be frustrating due to not being able to see what you’re doing, they work well once you’re used to them here.

Sound

I listened to all three pairs with the equalizer set to Normal, and mostly streaming from YouTube Music. Using Nogizaka46’s Boku wa Boku o Suki ni Naru, as an example, it’s clear the Buds Pro are considerably more accomplished, and more suited to anyone interested in detail. Why this song? Japanese pop music is often mixed very distinctly, with multiple vocal tracks and a vocal-forward soundstage that really shines when played over neutrally tuned headphones. Headphones tuned for bass rarely do it any favors.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

There’s a considerable difference between the three headphones, with the Galaxy Buds Pro far ahead of the other two models when it comes to detail, warmth, and control. By comparison, the Buds+ can sound harsh and are missing a noticeable bass kick, and while the mids and vocals often sparkle, overall they didn’t have the detail to let the song’s emotion truly come through.

The Buds Live have a more rounded, warmer sound than the Buds+, but even in Normal mode, the bass is considerably stronger. There’s definitely some special tuning by Samsung and AKG to compensate for the open-ear design at work and although it’s not unpleasant, it muddied the vocal sparkle that should be the defining feature of the track. The Buds Pro’s dual driver system makes a massive difference here, separating the multiple vocals and the busy backing track very effectively, giving a much more pleasant overall sound, with each singer’s voice staying distinctive and recognizable in a way they often aren’t using the other two pairs.

The Galaxy Buds Pro sound leagues better than the other pairs.

Moving on to something challenging in a different way, The JAMS’s It’s Grim up North from the newly released Solid State Logik album. A serious bass test, headphones need to effectively separate the spoken vocals from the bassline and the synthesized train sounds, and then embrace the crescendo of the Jerusalem on the Moors closing.

Once again, the Buds Pro are leagues better than either of the other pairs, with stronger bass, and much more control. Surprisingly, the Buds Live handle the track far better than the emotionless Buds+, which just don’t have the guts to take on the monstrous bassline. This trend is repeated across all music types. The bright, sometimes harsh Buds+ aren’t enjoyable to listen to over long periods, the Buds Live have a fuller, bassier sound, and the Buds Pro balance the bass with better control and more detail.

Call performance

Expecting the Buds Pro to also come out on top here? Surprisingly, they don’t, and the best pair if calls are important to you may depend on whether you’re the caller or callee. I personally find the Buds Live supremely comfortable and easy to wear, and the sound produced for me during calls is excellent, plus the ANC works effectively too. However, several people I called complained the sound for them was less clear, and a little muffled.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The sound from the Buds+ was generally deemed the best, although there was apparently little difference between them and the Buds Pro. All three use multiple microphones and voice pickup units, so the differences between them must come down to design and in-ear fit. For me, the Buds Live were most comfortable, sounded good, and had ANC, but it seems they aren’t the best for the person you’re calling.

Noise cancelation and ambient sound mode

The Buds Pro and Buds Live have active noise cancelation. I was pleased to hear very little difference in the musical sound when using ANC or not, with the earbuds providing a consistent listening experience regardless of the mode. While the Buds Pro are far more isolating than the Buds Live due to the in-ear design, the Buds Live do a good job of removing ambient sound like traffic or low-level background conversation, provided nothing is too loud.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Buds+ have an ambient sound mode, but no ANC. There are three levels of sensitivity, and there is a noticeable increase in your ability to hear conversations and voices with it active, plus it’s not too artificial-sounding either. The Galaxy Buds Pro also have an ambient sound mode, but it’s more intelligent. It decreases the volume of your music when it understands someone is talking to you directly.

I preferred the combination of ANC and ambient sound features provided by the Galaxy Buds Pro, but was also surprised at how the Buds Live isolated me from general audio annoyances despite not sealing in my ears. The Buds+ have an excellent fit, and even without ANC minimized sound around me when listening. If ANC is important to you, then the Buds Pro are really your only choice here, but don’t dismiss the other pairs if it’s not a top requirement.

Which one to buy?

My choice would be the Galaxy Buds Pro. Not only do they have the best sound, but also include effective ANC, and are comfortable to wear over long periods of time. I do like the Galaxy Buds Live, and even though the fit won’t suit everyone, I personally found them to be easiest to wear, and supremely comfortable. The Buds+ are a little disappointing, with the least impressive sound and some comfort issues over time. The true wireless world has moved on a lot since the Buds+ came out.

If you own a Samsung phone the seamless connection system is a distinct bonus, and the Galaxy Wear app is easy to use and delivers firmware updates quickly too. I found the experience was the same across all three pairs when paired with the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

If the $200 asking price of the Galaxy Buds Pro is too expensive, we’ve got plenty of other true wireless headphone recommendations here at low prices, but I’d also suggest looking at Cambridge Audio’s excellent Melomania Touch at $150, or the Jabra Elite 75t if you want to pay less. If you own an iPhone and are considering the Galaxy Buds Pro, due to the lack of official app support, we’d suggest looking at the AirPods Pro instead.

Editors' Recommendations