Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review
Quick verdict: Sticking beans in your ears sounds like a poor audio choice, but Samsung's latest true wireless headphones surprise with an innovative design and solid sound profile.
- Unique, easy-to-hide design
- Good battery life
- Surprisingly good microphones for calls
- Active noise cancellation is weak
- Can get uncomfortable after a few hours
- Twitchy touch controls
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Samsung's latest set of true wireless headphones have a genuinely unusual selling point. Yes, they're a pair of distinct buds that go into your ear, but never before has the word "buds" felt less appropriate, even though they're in the name of the product.
Samsung might call them the Galaxy Buds Live, but it really ought to have called them the Galaxy Beans, because that's absolutely what they resemble. Nobody who's seen me testing them during my review period said anything else about them before commenting on their wacky bean shape.
Wacky shapes might grab attention, but in the premium true wireless space you need a lot more than that. Samsung says that its shape helps with audio throughput and comfort while still offering good audio quality, including active noise cancelling. On the latter score they're not quite up there with the best from the likes of Sony or Apple, but there's still a lot to like about the unconventional Samsung Galaxy Buds Live.
- Unique bean shape
- Small ring-style carrying case
- Small or large silicon tips to help with ear fit
- Sensitive touch controls
- Can get uncomfortable after a few hours
Samsung makes the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live to match the colours of the new Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which means that you can buy them in "Mystic White", "Mystic Black" or "Mystic Bronze" colours, to use Samsung's official names.
You can just call them black, white or rose gold if you want to be more accurate. I tested with a pair of the Mystic White variety and I can't quite decide if they stand out more or less than the Mystic Black ones would. Either way, the Mystic Bronze variety will be the ones that you buy if you want ear beans that look more like jewellery than headphones.
Yes, I'm back to calling them beans, because that's what they are. Either bean is a small… well… bean, measuring about 2.5cm long with a shape that… do I have to say it… looks like a bean.
There's a small pre-applied silicon wingtip that's designed to make it easier to fit them within your ears, although Samsung also provides a larger tip if you're having trouble keeping them stable. I certainly didn't encounter that issue, and once I'd sorted out which way around they actually go I could get to testing. The bean shape does mean that it's possible to put them in upside down, at which point you'll get a sound profile not unlike a bad AM radio, so don't do that.
The supplied case for the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live charges via USB-C or Qi wireless charging, and it opens up rather like a ring box to reveal each bean inside. It's nicely unobtrusive and fits easily in a pocket with minimal bulge, which is appreciated.
The actual beans themselves feature touch-sensitive surfaces, with the ability to set different commands for single and multi taps depending on your usage preferences. While it's great to be able to customise, the smaller nature of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live means that you're almost always going to engage the single tap function at least once while putting them in or taking them out, because tapping that area when placing or moving them is inevitable.
Unlike many other premium true wireless headphones, there's no silicon "bud" or tip to place onto the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. That means they're ready to go out of the box, but it also means you're putting basic plastic inside your ear. That's not an unheard of quantity of course – Apple's iconic AirPods in their non-Pro variety do just that.
Samsung's position on the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live is that (and I quote): "The ergonomic design makes these next generation Buds so comfortable you might even forget you're wearing them."
Trust me when I say this is never going to happen.
The Galaxy Buds Live are nice and light and comfortable for a while, but after a couple of hours I could definitely feel them within my ears, which wanted a break from the straight plastic feel of the beans pressed against them. Your own ear comfort may vary, but I'd generally prefer a soft silicon tip to hard plastic directly in my ear.
- Simple pairing for Samsung phones
- Works with Android or iOS
- General sound profile is solid
- Active noise cancelling is weak
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are naturally enough designed to appeal to Samsung buyers, and they do a very familiar trick if you open them up with a Samsung phone nearby, with a pop-up pairing window that enables quick access to them. It's not much more work to get them up and running with other Android phones or even iPhones, although you will need to grab the Galaxy Buds (iOS) or Galaxy Wear (Android) app if it's not already present to access features like equalisation and tap settings once paired.
While you can alter the equalisation a touch with the Wear/Buds app, without it the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live present a relatively flat but pleasant audio profile for most music types, helped by the fact that they're naturally noise isolating. I hate to harp on a point, but you are sticking beans in your ears, and that's going to block a lot of the ambient sound out when you're using them for music purposes.
Listening to Prince's classic Parade, the kick drums on Mountains came through with nice clarity against the more ethereal vocals, while switching to his more guitar-heavy Bambi saw the growl of the guitar well displayed. The only real issue I had with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live's audio was that pumping up Purple Rain to full volume did reveal a little distortion right from the get-go. It's probably not wise to throw that much raw sound at your ears anyway.
Samsung also touts the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live as being capable of active noise cancellation, which is a big call for a set of beans that lacks silicon tips. They may jam into your ears pretty solidly, but there are always going to be small gaps where noise can get in. Either way, the word I'd use to describe the active noise cancellation on the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live is, sadly, weak.
Not quite as poor as on the Huawei Freebuds 3 but simply mediocre and light compared to the level of proper isolation you get out of a decent pair like the Sony WF-1000XM3. If you favour very low buzz removal then they're fine, but don't expect to be able to block out much if any speech nearby with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live.
We're all rather used to true wireless headphones having stalk-style microphones to enable good audio pick-up, and that's not a feature of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live at all. Instead, they use an internal pick-up microphone that detects jaw vibrations to aid in audio pick-up when you're using the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live for speech. I tested with a number of phone calls, with respondents generally quite happy with the audio pick-up in most cases. As always, mobile network conditions can make a huge difference when it comes to transmitted audio quality, but on the surface the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live pass that test with flying colours.
- Up to six hours of battery life
- 28 hours of life with the battery case
- Battery case has wired or wireless recharging
The size of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live might make you wonder about battery endurance, because there's only so much battery power you can cram into a single bean. Samsung rates the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live as being good for up to eight hours of usage with active noise cancelling disabled, or around six with it on. Slightly less if you want Samsung's Bixby assistant working as well.
My own comfort issues with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live meant that I never got past around three hours in one consecutive sitting, so to test this out properly I had to take them out and remember not to place them back in the case while my ears rested. That eight-hour figure is probably achievable, and certainly within the tested range I saw out of them during my own review, although of course if you listened for eight hours straight without removing them you might find they conk out a little quicker.
The battery case adds another 3 charges or so – around 21 hours of battery life according to Samsung's specifications – with the usual magnetic attachment for each bean when you drop it in. There's no supplied charger in the box for the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, just a USB-C cable, but they do also support Qi wireless charging if that's your style.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live?
- Buy it if you want a really unobtrusive set of wireless buds.
- Don't buy it if you want great active noise cancellation or need to wear them for really long periods.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live certainly don't look like anyone else's true wireless headphones. Considering how many AirPods clones there are out there alone, that's a remarkable achievement in itself. They could be a tad more comfortable, although your tolerance may vary there from mine. The active noise cancellation isn't great, but their general audio quality is good. If you've got mid-length hair or longer then they're ideal if you don't want it to appear as though you're wearing true wireless buds at all.