We’re entering new territory in the walled garden headphone wars: To get the best audio quality from Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, you need to use them with a Samsung phone. It was always going to come to this. Between Apple’s AirPods, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, Google’s Pixel Buds, and other earbuds developed by companies with a deep interest in the world of smartphones, we’ve already seen plenty of convenient features: one-touch setup, auto-switch of devices, headphones -spatial audio tracking and others, which encourage consumers to combine their brand of headphones with the phone in their pocket. The goal is to lock you into that ecosystem as you gradually upgrade one device and then the other in perpetuity.
But the $229 Buds 2 Pro are the first to offer superior sound quality as the big exclusive. Plug them into any recent Samsung phone and you can wirelessly stream “24-bit high-fidelity audio” from services like Apple Music, Amazon Music, Tidal, Qobuz and others that offer high-resolution, lossless music catalogs. Samsung claims this results in substantially richer audio and a better listening experience from where things were before.
I’ll delve into all of that later, but the bottom line is, thankfully, the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are great headphones no matter what kind of phone you have. During over a week of testing, I found them to be Samsung’s best-sounding and most comfortable buttons yet.
How we rate and review devices
The Buds 2 Pro are 15 percent smaller than the original Galaxy Buds Pro, and both the earbuds and case now have a soft-touch matte coating. I prefer it to shiny plastic – the case stays stain-free and the buds are easier to grip with the coating. The new earbuds are also lighter (now weighing just 5.5 grams per earbud) and have a larger vent on the outside to improve airflow and mitigate any unpleasant “stuffed” sensations. They have proven to be very comfortable in the days that I have been wearing them so far and have reliably stayed in my ears. Battery life hasn’t changed at all from the previous model, promising five hours of listening time with ANC enabled and eight without, plus another 18/28 through the charging case. That’s about adequate resistance for most situations, but nothing special in 2022. The Buds 2 Pro maintain the same IPX7 water-resistance rating as their predecessors.
It doesn’t take long to conclude that these headphones sound fantastic. With a dual-driver design and tuning by AKG, they dwarf the AirPods Pro by a country mile, which isn’t a surprise given Apple’s buds approaching three years. But they also beat the excellent Pixel Buds Pro in this department and are closer to my favorite earbuds like Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 3 and Sony’s WF-1000XM4. They are supreme artists with a level of depth and detail that their high-tech contemporaries cannot match.
The Hold Steady’s “Heavy Covenant” demonstrates its separation and clarity, giving the guitars, brass and Craig Finn’s recognizable voice ample room to breathe. As a devout fan of ’90s music, I went back to Counting Crows’ “Omaha,” and the Buds 2 Pro brought out the warmth of the accordion and mandolin while giving the drums a natural touch. Brought back to modern life with Orville Peck’s “The Curse of the Blackened Eye,” I was impressed by the wide soundstage that Samsung has given these headphones.
But is it a genuine “high fidelity” sound? After more than a week, I’m still trying to figure it out. Samsung says its new Seamless codec allows the Buds 2 Pro to wirelessly stream 24-bit, 48kHz audio over Bluetooth. But the company has been less transparent about the bitrate of that audio. For reference, Sony’s LDAC codec exceeds 990kbps, which is still not quite lossless CD quality. Samsung spokesman Jordan Guthmann said the edge via email that Samsung Seamless Codec can achieve a bitrate of up to 2304kbps, which would actually result in high resolution lossless sound.
That number has me skeptical. It would be a monumental leap from existing headphones, and there’s nothing in the Android developer settings menu that confirms the bitrate details, just the 24-bit/48kHz part. Higher quality streaming works with any Galaxy smartphone running Android 8.0 and One UI 4.0 or later (with 1.5GB RAM or higher). That is much of phones, which adds to my confusion about the bitrate and how Samsung could be hitting 2304kbps. More to follow, hopefully, but don’t get lost in the numbers: these headphones really do sound great as long as you have a good seal and twist them comfortably. They will also support Bluetooth LE Audio in the future, though Samsung hasn’t specified what benefits it will bring.
Active noise cancellation is satisfactory. When you’re not listening to music, you’ll hear what’s going on in a coffee shop; this is the trade off for those larger air vents and increased comfort. But once the audio is playing, the background fades away convincingly and you’re unlikely to notice any distractions, even at around 30 percent volume. Transparency mode works fine but still not Quite sounding as natural as the AirPods Pro. I don’t know why it’s so hard for companies other than Apple to get it right, even now.
Samsung’s head-tracking spatial audio does what you’d expect, changing the soundscape as you turn from side to side. I’m finding more and more that this is a “love it or hate it” characteristic for people. Personally, I still like to take advantage of 360 audio when watching video content, but I’m still not convinced it’s a game changer for music. Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable app (only available for Android) allows you to customize the sound equalizer, but noise cancellation is on or off and no manual adjustments are allowed.
Samsung still lags behind in some categories. Google included multipoint Bluetooth connectivity in the Pixel Buds Pro, and the ability to pair with two devices simultaneously is a big plus. The best Samsung can do is automatically switch between Samsung-branded products, be it laptops, phones, tablets, smart watches, or even TVs. Maybe that’s convenient if you live up to your neck in Samsung world, but I don’t know of anyone who does, and it doesn’t provide the same multitasking convenience as proper multipoint.
Other ideas are blatantly copied. Samsung’s voice detection function works much like Sony headphones: when the headphones detect that you’re speaking, they automatically enter transparency mode and turn down the volume for a configurable period of time, between five and 15 seconds. . Auto-mumblers will want to avoid this one. And then there are the weird features, like the default “neck stretch reminders” that the headset uses to detect if you’ve been slouching with poor posture for 10 minutes. When that happens, a voice intervenes with an audio alert “time to crane your neck.” Ended up leaving this on as I’m about to turn 38, no more slouching.
Samsung’s touch controls can be a bit too sensitive at times, so you can pause a track when adjusting a headset. Surprisingly, there’s no auto-pause here, meaning tunes or podcasts will continue to play if you remove one of the Buds 2 Pro from your ears. That’s an odd omission for $230 in-ear headphones, but it hasn’t frustrated me too much in practice.
As you can hear in our latest Vergecast mic test, the Buds 2 Pro wouldn’t be my top pick for voice calls aboard a noisy ferry. But in more traditional everyday use cases, they get the job done. However, Sony’s LinkBuds and Google’s Pixel Buds Pro beat Samsung’s latest flagship earbuds in overall microphone quality.
The Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are Samsung’s best wireless earbuds yet: the company has found a winning formula for sound quality, noise cancellation, and comfort. They’re at their best when operating in the Samsung ecosystem, but they’re still pretty good with other Android devices. Some will find it frustrating that high-fidelity audio is limited to Samsung’s own phones. But this is a preview of where the tech industry is likely headed: Apple’s next AirPods Pro are rumored to support Apple Lossless wireless streaming on iPhones. The walls are climbing higher and higher among the tech’s biggest players, even if there are still great platform-independent headsets available from Sony, Sennheiser, Jabra and others. Google’s Pixel Buds Pro are worth a close look if you’re a big multi-point advocate, but the Buds 2 Pro represent Samsung in top form.
Photography by Chris Welch/The Verge