An improvement on the last-generation model, but the Galaxy Buds2 Pro still lack appeal outside Samsung’s Galaxy ecosystem
- Smart, comfortable design
- Improved ANC
- 360 Audio with head tracking
- Mediocre battery life
- No manual EQ or wear detection
- Lots of ecosystem specific features
Annual updates are nothing new in the smartphone world, but it’s clear from the Galaxy Buds2 Pro that Samsung is desperate for us to upgrade our true wireless earbuds every 12 months, too.
A lot can change in a year – heck, we’ve just seen a new Prime Minister and monarch installed in the space of a week – but the Buds2 Pro play things pretty safe. Active noise cancellation and sound quality have been improved slightly, the earbuds are more ergonomic and there’s support for a few new features, but this is still an iterative update.
There’s no denying the Galaxy Buds2 Pro are Samsung’s most capable true wireless offering yet, but they lack a truly compelling reason to upgrade if you own the original Galaxy Buds Pro, while Galaxy-specific features mean they’re only worth buying if you’re invested in the ecosystem.
Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro review: What you need to know
Announced alongside the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, Z Flip 4 and Watch 5 last month, the Buds2 Pro are designed to replace the Galaxy Buds Pro but, for the time being at least, sit alongside them in a true wireless lineup that also includes the Buds Live and Buds2.
They’re the South Korean manufacturer’s most advanced earbuds to date, operate over Bluetooth 5.3 (LE Audio will be supported when it becomes available), and are the first to support its new Seamless Hi-Fi Codec, which is capable of 24-bit audio streaming from Samsung devices running One UI 4.0 or higher.
There’s a running theme with the Galaxy Buds2 Pro. To get the best out of them, you’re going to want to own one of the company’s most recent smartphones or tablets. In addition to 24-bit audio, 360 Audio and Head Tracking are exclusive to Galaxy devices, while 360 Audio with Direct Multi-Channel (spatial effects while watching content with 5.1, 7.1 or Dolby Atmos soundtracks) is only supported by devices running One UI 4.1 or later.
As with the Buds2 and Buds Pro, the Buds2 Pro offer active noise cancellation and ambient sound modes, along with a robust set of touch controls that can be customised within the Galaxy Wearable app. The app, which is not available on iOS, also provides access to a wide range of options and settings to personalise your experience.
Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro review: Price and competition
Samsung’s latest true wireless earbuds cost £219, which is the same as the original Pro model cost at launch. Those earbuds can now be picked up for under £110, although given they’ve been replaced as Samsung’s flagship buds, they probably won’t be available for too much longer.
The Buds2 Pro’s list price puts them in competition with Apple’s recently revealed AirPods Pro 2 (£249), Sony’s class-leading WF-1000XM4 (£199) and the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 (£219). The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds (£199) are another great noise-cancelling option, although there’s a new model on the way later this month, which is set to improve on the original in numerous ways.
If you’re after something more affordable, the Galaxy Buds2 are a pared-back version of the Pro that can be found for as little as £79. They lose out to the Buds2 Pro in the sound quality and features department but are very similar in appearance and still provide a solid experience for those that own Samsung devices.
Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro review: Design and battery life
The Buds2 Pro take design cues from both the Buds2 and Buds Pro. They’re a little larger than the former but 15% smaller than the latter, and I’ve been very impressed by how comfortable they are.
The earbud housings sit flush against the inside of your ears, ensuring they don’t protrude out any further than necessary, and the sections that extend into your ear canals do so while exerting very little pressure. The IPX7 rating of the Buds Pro is also present here and is about as good as it gets in terms of water-resistant earbuds.
As tends to be the way with Samsung earbuds, there are a couple of run-of-the-mill colourways (Graphite and White) accompanied by a third more funky one – Bora Purple. Unlike the Buds2 and Buds Pro, the surfaces of the Buds2 Pro are matte not glossy. This means they no longer reflect light, which makes them less eye-catching but lends them a more mature air.
The charging case, which can be topped up via USB-C or via a Qi wireless charging pad, remains one of the most pocketable on the market. It’s practically identical to that of the Buds2 and Buds Pro, but gone is the glossy finish that attracted a lot of fingerprints.
Battery life remains unchanged from the original Buds Pro. You’ll get up to five hours of use from the buds if you’re using ANC or roughly eight hours without noise cancellation active. The charging case provides a further 13 hours of use with ANC enabled, for a total listening time of 18 hours. That’s a little underwhelming, with the relatively short in-ear stamina particularly frustrating if you spend a lot of time on long-haul flights.
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Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro review: Features
Those with a recent Galaxy smartphone can enjoy a wide variety of features on the Buds2 Pro. Some we’ve seen before, others are new, and how useful they are varies quite a bit.
The “Voice detect” function, which works similarly to Sony’s Speak-to-Chat, automatically engages ambient sound mode and lowers audio volume when your voice is picked up. It did so consistently whenever I spoke at a reasonable level, and the mode can be set to disengage after either five, ten or 15 seconds of speech not being detected.
Bixby voice wake-up is available for anyone wanting to summon Samsung’s voice assistant verbally, while touch controls cater for those who prefer manual operation. The controls themselves are effectively implemented, with a single tap playing or pausing audio, double taps skipping to the next song and triple taps playing the previous song.
By default, touching and holding switches between noise-cancelling and ambient modes, but you can choose to replace this with Bixby, Spotify quick access or volume controls. Volume controls can also be assigned to a double tap on the edge of the earbud housing, although this option needs to be toggled on in the “Labs” section of the Wearable app. Labs also provides access to a Gaming mode that reduces the delay between audio and video.
You can also choose to have your notifications read aloud through the earbuds or receive alerts when you’ve had your head bent forward for more than 10 minutes. That latter is a slightly leftfield inclusion but there’s certainly no harm in encouraging better posture.
The final features of note are “Find My Earbuds”, which pings the buds to help you locate them (Samsung’s SmartThings can also be used to track their last known location) and “Seamless earbud connection”, which we’ve seen on Samsung buds before and allows you to quickly switch between devices that are signed into your Samsung account.
While you’ll find six EQ presets in the Wearable companion app – Normal, Bass Boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear and Treble Boost – Samsung still doesn’t include the option to create a custom EQ. With many manufacturers now offering this feature, it feels like a bit of an oversight. Another key feature the earbuds lack is wear detection. There’s no way to have them automatically pause when removed from your ears, which is disappointing when the earbuds are otherwise so stacked with features.
Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro review: Sound quality
Samsung has been gradually improving the audio quality of its true wireless offerings over the past couple of years, and the Buds2 Pro are another step forward.
Like the Buds2 and Buds Pro, they use a dynamic two-way speaker system, although the driver size has been reduced slightly compared with the Buds Pro. There’s a 10mm woofer and 5.4mm tweeter in each bud and the combination outputs a warm default sound profile that’s well suited to mainstream music.
The bassline on Calvin Harris’ collaboration with Justin Timberlake, Halsey and Pharrell Williams, “Stay With Me”, has a funky punch to it, while the contrasting vocals of the three singers are nicely nuanced within what is a surprisingly spacious soundstage. The buds deliver an impressive level of detail, too, particularly when you’re listening to 24-bit tracks.
Although low-end frequencies have plenty of impact, they occasionally sound a little looser than I’d like. How much this affects your listening experience, however, will depend on the genres of music you listen to. It’s most evident on orchestral arrangements where different instrumental components are isolated from one another. On tracks with multiple layers and lots going on, it’s less noticeable.
Three-dimensional audio is gaining traction in the mass market and we’re starting to see it incorporated by most of the industry’s big players. Apple has its own Spatial Audio, manufacturers like Nura use Dirac’s Virtuo technology, while Sony has 360 Reality Audio. The last few pairs of Samsung earbuds have featured support for Samsung’s 360 Audio, but the Buds2 Pro are the first to support it through multi-channel sources.
This enables you to enjoy a more immersive experience from 5.1-channel, 7.1-channel and Dolby Atmos tracks, and it’s complemented by head tracking, which adjusts the direction of sound when you turn your head. I found the tracking worked well, but it only really adds something when watching video content – the effect detracted from my listening experience when I only had audio playing.
The 360 Audio itself is effective and further extends what is already a wide soundstage. Once you’ve listened to a few songs with it engaged, it becomes hard to switch off as things sound a little constricted in comparison. Flicking between the two modes while listening to Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up The Sun” on Tidal, the 360 Audio added a level of immediacy and immersion and helped bring the track to life.
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Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro review: Noise cancellation
Samsung also seems to have missed the memo about adaptive noise cancellation. Noise cancellation that adjusts to the external demands of your environment is the latest trend in the true wireless world but the Galaxy Buds2 Pro stick with one-level-cancels-all ANC.
Fortunately, it works quite a bit better than it has on previous Samsung buds, which is just as well given it’s been an achilles heel in the past. They weren’t able to outdo the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 in my in-flight testing but did display a decent level of low-end attenuation. Mid-range frequencies were dampened, too, while high-pitched frequencies made their way to my ears largely unaffected, although that’s not unusual for ANC earbuds.
Overall, the Buds2 Pro definitely move past the mediocre ANC offered by the original Pro and close the gap on the best noise-cancelling buds around without completely catching up.
The ambient sound mode remains one of the better around, filtering in an admirable amount of external noise with only a very faint fuzz. It’s also more customisable than most, with the option to amplify and adapt ambient sound available in the Wearable app.
This process involves a very brief hearing test that then informs how the Buds2 Pro tune ambient sound to your ears. I found the results sounded a little artificial for my liking, although your mileage is likely to vary, and by toggling “Adapt ambient sound”, you can control the volume of ambient sound in the left and right buds. That’s a neat feature for those who may be hard of hearing in one ear.
Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro review: Verdict
This isn’t the first time I’ve written this while at Expert Reviews and it’s unlikely to be the last: the Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro are Samsung’s best true wireless earbuds yet. They’re an improvement on the previous generation when it comes to sound quality and noise-cancelling performance, and are crammed full of features, too.
However, ecosystem-specific features and relatively minor improvements mean they have limited appeal. If you already have Samsung’s last-gen flagship buds, I’d hold tight until the next update, or at least until the Buds2 Pro receive their inevitable price drop.
An improvement on the last-generation model, but the Galaxy Buds2 Pro still lack appeal outside Samsung’s Galaxy ecosystem