The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are a serious departure from the norm in every single category. Their design is like nothing we’ve ever seen before; they’re the first true wireless earbuds from Samsung to include noise cancellation (although many later buds now do) and they’re tuned to offer a large helping of bass.
Samsung is no stranger to this category. Before the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live the brand launched the Samsung Galaxy Buds and Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus. Since then, several other true wireless earbuds have been released, like the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro.
But none of these buds have the distinct, kidney bean-shaped design as the Galaxy Buds Live, and it's different to what we've seen from rival brands, with most other wireless earbuds on the market basically plugging into your ear canals.
Although a few years old now, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live do offer features that compete with some of the best earbuds on the market, including the Apple AirPods and Google Pixel Buds.
Granted, they’re not the top dog in terms of Android-based true wireless earbuds. If you're looking for the best pair, check out our Sony WF-1000XM4 review. But the Buds Live sound fine, and noise cancellation is good.
Tack on some problems with sound leakage and low IP rating, and you’ve got a competent successor to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus but not a standout pair of buds. See how the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live compare to our pick of the best true wireless earbuds right now. Otherwise, read on for our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review.
Acoustic design: Open
Weight: 5.6g (buds) 42.2g (charging case)
Drivers: 12mm dynamic drivers
Battery life: 6 hours (buds) 20 hours (with charging case)
Extra features: Accelerometer, Voice Pickup Unit, Touch controls, Quick charging, Bixby
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: price and availability
- They cost $169.99 / £179 / AU£319.
- Similar in price and performance to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus.
- But the Live have ANC and the Plus have better battery.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live came out in summer 2020. At the time of launch they were available for $169.99 / £179 / AU£319. However, because they're a few years old you'll probably find them available for much cheaper. For example, at the time of writing they're available for $99.99 / £79 from the official Samsung website in some regions.
For a better performing, but more expensive, alternative check out the AirPods Pro 2 that cost $249 / £249 / AU$399.
What’s kind of confusing about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live is how close they sit to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, which were released earlier in 2020. The Buds Plus are $149.99 / £159 / AU$299.
The difference there is that the Buds Live have active noise cancellation while the Buds Plus use ambient noise reduction. What's more, the Buds Plus have a longer built-in battery life but an overall lower one when you factor in the charging case.
Long story short, you should probably buy the Galaxy Buds Live over the Plus unless you plan on wearing your earbuds for 11 hours straight. Especially considering it's now possible to find a good deal on the Galaxy Buds Live.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: design
- Available in black, white, dark grey and bronze.
- Unique design with a snug fit.
- Bixby on-board for Samsung phones.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live come in four colors - black, white, dark grey (called Mystic Black) and bronze - and come with a matching charging case that’ll slip into your pocket. There’s a USB Type-C port on the back of the case for charging, or alternatively, you can also charge it wirelessly. An LED is present both inside and outside the case to let you know about the charging status of the case, as well as of the earbuds.
As for the buds themselves, Samsung has created something truly fun and unique here. Where other wireless earbuds manufacturers are still copying the design of Apple’s AirPods, Samsung’s design team is clearly at work to create something original.
Fitting them inside your ear requires you to push the speaker grille all the way inside the ear while the charging contacts sit in the upper part of the outer ear. When properly aligned, the Buds should be a near perfect fit - sealing the ear with a snug grip.
However, it’s not always a perfect fit. If you have large or especially small ears - or you plan on buying these for your kids - there’s a good chance the distance between the ear canal and the outer ear won’t be the right size to hold the Buds in place, meaning that they can easily pop out.
But even if they fit properly, there’s another problem: these buds come with an IPX2 water resistant rating, which means they’re only good for slightly sweaty workouts or a light drizzle.
Each of the buds also have touch sensors that can register a single, double, or triple tap that serves the expected actions of playing/pausing, as well as skipping tracks backwards/forwards. A tap and hold action is also available and is customizable for each bud separately - you can set it to increase/decrease the volume, launch Bixby or Spotify. Bixby obviously only works on Samsung phones and Spotify can only be launched on Android phones.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: noise cancellation
- ANC specially for open earbud design.
- Claims to reduce background noise but make speech audible.
- However, ANC depends on fit of the buds and volume levels.
It’s impressive how much tech Samsung has packed into the Galaxy Buds Live. On each of the earbuds there are three microphones along with an additional voice pickup unit, the speaker with a bass duct and a bunch of sensors such as an accelerometer, IR, and a touch-capacitive sensor. All of this tech allows for a rich set of features on the Galaxy Buds Live- some of which work better than others.
Let’s start with Active Noise Cancellation - something that can be tricky to achieve in such small earbuds. What makes it even more challenging to get ANC on the Buds is that they don’t plug into your ear canal with silicone ear tips like some of the other buds that support this tech. Samsung has thus developed ANC for open type earbuds, which, according to Samsung, reduces low-band background noise under 700Hz – such as trains and buses - up to 97% while still allowing you to hear voices and announcements.
This sounds great on paper but didn’t really make much of a difference with our testing - at least not with voices. At lower volume levels, we could hear people around us with ANC enabled or disabled and cranking volumes close to 90% or more made the voices disappear with or without ANC. In short, like most other wireless earbuds, ANC depends on the fit of the buds and volume of what you’re listening to.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: call quality
- Three microphones.
- Uses bone conduction for better call clarity in noisy places.
What does work well is call quality, which uses the three microphones (one inner mic plus two outer beam-forming mics on each side) along with the Voice Pickup Unit that uses the accelerometer to sense the movement of your jaw to convert that kinetic energy into voice signals via bone conduction.
This enables you to be heard better on the other end of the call, even in noisy environments. We tested this and were told that our voice was very clear on the other end, even when we had music playing in the background.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: audio quality
- Uses Bluetooth 5.
- Worked well up to 20 feet away.
- Great audio but with some sound leakage.
Samsung has implemented a multitude of features for keeping the Buds Live connected and in sync with your device – all of which is based on Bluetooth 5. To keep a reliable audio stream, the Galaxy Buds Live feature Samsung’s proprietary Scalable Codec which prevents audio chopping by changing the bit-rate according to the strength of the Bluetooth connection.
When the wireless connection is weak, Scalable Codec automatically encodes the audio information with a higher compression ratio, allowing the earbuds to receive data without interruptions. We enjoyed uninterrupted audio even when the phone was over twenty feet away from the Galaxy Buds Live, but you probably shouldn’t push the distance if you plan on walking in between rooms without your phone.
Audio quality, in general, is decent – the bass has a fun, punchy bounce to it that makes songs like Godzilla from Eminem really slam, but it does come at the expense of clarity in the mids and highs. Thankfully, the Galaxy Wearable app allows you to set sound between six modes which include bass boost and treble boost though you can’t set a custom equalizer setting.
Another good thing about the Galaxy Buds Live is that since they don’t plug into your ear canal, they don’t feel uncomfortable even after extended periods of usage. Samsung has added an air vent for ventilation, which helps to minimize the stuffy feeling you can get after a long session of listening to music.
The bad news? This air vent can also mean that there’s a lot of sound leakage that comes through to the people sitting around you. If you’re a commuter or office worker, be prepared to hear a lot of complaints about how loud your music is playing.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: battery life
- 6 hours of on-board battery.
- 20 hours with the charging case.
At full charge, the earbuds are expected to last for six hours and the battery case cover can provide over two full charges, meaning you can expect close to 20 hours of playback with the Buds Live. Better yet, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live support quick-charging, which can provide about an hour of playtime with just five minutes of charging.
So how does that compare to the competition? Well, it’s similar to what Apple offers with the AirPods Pro. Though many cheaper models offer more impressive battery, take a look at our Lypertek Tevi review for a good example.
Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live?
Buy them if...
You’re looking for a Samsung-friendly alternative to the Apple AirPods
If you are looking for a cool companion for your next Samsung Galaxy smartphone, the Galaxy Buds Live are a solid option. They have a number of features that cater specifically to Samsung device owners like the Scalable Codec, and they pair more easily, too.
You love Bixby
The other advantage (or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it) of using a Samsung device with the Galaxy Buds Live is that you can have Bixby as your smart assistant. Now, for most, that’s not a huge advantage, but if you’ve become enamored with Bixby over the last few years, well, then who are we to tell you you’re wrong?
You love bass-heavy music and want true wireless earbuds
While the sound quality is nothing to write home about, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live do really bring the bass. If you love that fun, thumping bass and don’t mind some lack of clarity in the mids and highs, you’ll definitely want to pick up a pair of the Buds Live.
Don't buy them if...
You absolutely need noise cancellation
There’s no two ways about it, the active noise cancellation on the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live is more like noise reduction rather than full cancellation. In most cases you’ll still be able to hear pretty much everything that’s happening around you, just at a slightly lower decibel level than if you weren’t wearing the earbuds.
You have irregularly shaped ears
The other issue is that there’s no guarantee that they’ll fit your ears. The Galaxy Buds Live have an incredibly unique shape that should fit comfortably, but if you have oversized or especially small ears – or you plan on buying these for your kids – there’s a good chance the distance between the ear canal and the outer ear won’t be the right size to hold the Buds in place.
If our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review has you considering other options, here are three more true wireless earbuds that might work for you.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2
The active noise cancellation with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live isn't fantastic. If you want truly immersive sound, try the new Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, which are our top pick for true wireless earbuds with the best ANC.
Check out our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 review
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2
The latest true wireless earbuds from Samsung, the Galaxy Buds 2 offer active noise cancellation, better sound quality, and a great fit. While they’re not the best true wireless earbuds out there, they’re easily one of the best for Samsung smartphone owners who want perfect synchronicity with their Galaxy gear so are worth considering if the Galaxy Buds Live aren't right for you.
Check out our Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review
Sony WF-1000XM4 Wireless Earbuds
If you're looking for the best of the best true wireless earbuds, then pick the WF-1000XM4 buds from Sony. They're not perfect, but they're not far off. They're comfortable with great sound, impressive call quality and useful features. You certainly need to pay more for these impressive specs, but if your budget can stretch, these are a fantastic pair of buds.
Check out our Sony WF-1000XM4 Wireless Earbuds review
First reviewed August 2021.