The Galaxy Buds FE are capable performers where audio and ANC are concerned but not particularly compelling unless you own a Galaxy device
- Decent ANC for the money
- Engaging sound
- Tiny case
- Limited feature set and customisation options
- SSC audio only for Samsung devices
- No iOS app
Samsung has been producing FE smartphones and tablets for a few years but the Samsung Galaxy Buds FE are the first pair of true wireless earbuds to get the South Korean manufacturer’s Fan Edition treatment.
Bass-rich audio and surprisingly effective noise cancellation see the Galaxy Buds FE handle the basics well, and they do so at a competitive price. If you desire much more than that, however, they’re unlikely to be the buds for you – extra features and customisation options are relatively thin on the ground, especially if you’re not part of the Galaxy ecosystem.
If you do own a recent Samsung smartphone, they’re a capable but pared-back alternative to the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 or Buds 2 Pro. iPhone owners need not apply, however, and those with non-Galaxy Android phones can find better-equipped options elsewhere.
Like most Samsung FE products, the Buds FE ditch a few bells and whistles to hit a more affordable price point than other options in the company’s portfolio. Their design is reminiscent of the discontinued Galaxy Buds+ but they house bespoke drivers inside their matte finish graphite or white casing. They also make use of rubber wingtips for additional in-ear stability.
The Buds FE operate wirelessly over Bluetooth 5.2 and support SBC, AAC and SSC. The latter is a proprietary Samsung codec, so is only available on the brand’s compatible devices, but dynamically adjusts the bit rate of audio between 88kbps and 512kbps while matching LDAC’s 24-bit/96KHz quality on Samsung devices with Android 7.0 and above.
Each earbud weighs 5.6g and has an IPX2-rated body for low-level water resistance, meaning the Buds FE aren’t the best choice for workouts. They’re well-equipped where noise cancellation is concerned, however, with each earbud housing three microphones to help pick up and attenuate external sound.
Samsung says you’ll get six hours of audio playback from the buds with noise cancellation on or eight and a half hours with it off, which is pretty much par for the course these days. The charging case provides three full charges, taking your total juice to around 24 hours with ANC on or 34 hours with ANC off.
That sleek, glossy case weighs 40g and is incredibly convenient for those with limited pocket space; it’s one of the smallest cases I’ve seen at 50 x 27.7 x 50mm (WHD). Also included with your purchase are small, medium and large eartips, a USB-C to USB-C charging cable and an extra set of wingtips.
Samsung Galaxy Buds FE review: What do we like about them?
The Galaxy Buds FE pair with available devices quickly and conveniently and I was impressed by both their audio and microphone capabilities as soon as I connected them to my phone. Call quality, whether over a cellular or Wi-Fi connection, was good enough for most situations, although the buds did make me sound a little boomy in busier environments.
Like many affordable earbuds, the Buds FE have a warm sound signature but the bass response here is pleasingly rich rather than bloated or overblown. Mid-range frequencies are presented neutrally, while highs are slightly rolled off. Beat-driven, electronic tunes like E-Unity’s Etra – Home are particularly forceful and benefit from great energy in the sub-bass region. This low-end emphasis doesn’t impact the clarity of the mid-range, however, and while upper registers lack a bit of sparkle, the Buds FE can comfortably handle most genres.
Spacious tracks like Daft Punk’s Arena show off the buds’ solid soundstage, with nice depth across the bass notes in particular, while there’s sufficient, if less impressive, detail to their imaging for the money, too. You’ll get even clearer output by pairing the Buds FE with a recent Samsung device. While not as detailed as headphones supporting LDAC, they sound cleaner and richer across the board if you’re using Samsung’s SSC.
If the low-end emphasis isn’t to your liking, you can alter the sound with equaliser presets (Normal, Bass Boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear, and Treble Boost) in the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app. This app is only available for Android phones and tablets, however. There’s a similar Galaxy Buds app available on PC but those with an iOS device miss out on access to a fair amount of useful functionality.
For those who can access them, the EQ presets are impactful, with stark differences immediately audible between each of the six settings. Clear, for instance, drops the bass frequencies down, boosts the mids a tad and raises the mid-upper frequencies for a more balanced listening experience.
But the Buds FE’s standout feature is their noise cancellation, which is excellent for the money. Once activated, it attenuates low-end rumble very impressively and gives other frequencies a good go. In an office environment, much of the chatter was dampened without music playing and I was able to hear very little of what was going on around me when listening to busier tracks like Broadcast’s Tender Buttons with volume set to 40%. The ambient sound mode is one of the best I’ve used, upping my awareness of my surroundings with minimal hiss.
Fit is crucial to ensuring optimal noise cancellation and audio quality. The Buds FE need to be pushed pretty deep into your ears before Samsung’s in-app fit test gives you the thumbs up, which might irk some people, but on the whole, I found them comfortable and secure once in place.
Touch controls are also handled well. They’re executed via large pads that are easy to access, responsive and cover a range of commands. By default, a single tap on either bud plays and pauses audio, a double tap skips to the next track or answers/ends a call while a triple tap goes back to the previous track. A touch-and-hold gesture on both buds switches between the noise cancelling and ambient sound modes, although this can be changed to instead activate Bixby or adjust volume.
Samsung Galaxy Buds FE review: What could be improved?
Touch control customisation could be better, however. You can’t change what single, double or triple taps do, and perhaps more importantly, you can’t split controls between left and right earbuds: both have to be identical, meaning you miss out on three extra controls. The only thing you can customise and split between left and right buds is the touch-and-hold command but even that forces you to pick between adjusting volume or controlling ANC.
This lack of customisation is a bit of a theme. While you have impactful equaliser presets, you can’t tweak these manually, nor can you create your own EQ options using a banded graphic equaliser. These are things found on a lot of earbuds these days – even budget ones – so it’s slightly surprising they’re omitted here, especially considering the bass-heavy nature of the Buds FE.
Some features are simply absent, too. Bluetooth multipoint is not ubiquitous at this price point but is a disappointing omission. There’s an Auto Switch feature that fulfils a similar role, but this is only available when the buds are paired with other Galaxy products. Those who regularly switch between devices across various platforms will want to take a look at the similarly priced Sony WF-C700N (£80) instead.
Less surprising is the lack of Spatial Audio support. Again, this is a feature often limited to more expensive earbuds but there are budget options out there offering it, including Sony’s WF-C500 (£45), which support the Japanese manufacturer’s 360 Reality Audio. I’d have welcomed the option to replace audio prompts with voice prompts, too. The various noises the Buds FE make to alert you to changes in settings are quite confusing at first and take a while to get accustomed to. It’s also rather odd that although the buds automatically pause when removed from your ears, they don’t resume playing again once placed back in your ears.
Elsewhere, the case lacks wireless charging capabilities, while the IPX2 rating of the earbuds means they aren’t as well-protected against the elements as many of their rivals. The Buds FE survived a couple of light rain showers but improved water resistance would have given me greater peace of mind during Britain’s wet winter months.
Finally, it’s worth reiterating that there’s not an iOS app available via which you can tweak the Buds FE’s settings. This is understandable given Apple is a massive competitor but means that iPhone users can effectively rule out the Buds FE as an option.
Samsung Galaxy Buds FE review: Should you buy them?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds FE are affordable earbuds that do the basics pretty darn well. Their noise cancellation is some of the most effective in the sub-£100 price bracket and is paired with rich sound that can be altered using impactful equaliser presets.
You’ll only get the best out of them if you own one of a relatively limited set of devices, however. The companion app is Android-only, meaning iOS users miss out entirely, while Samsung-exclusive features mean you’ll need a Galaxy phone or tablet to unleash their full potential. Even then, limited customisation options and some odd design choices may prove off-putting for even the most ardent of Samsung fans.
They’re still worth considering if you’re in search of a cheaper alternative to the brand’s flagship earbuds, but for just about everyone else, the similarly priced Sony WF-C700N are a better pick.