Samsung has quickly gone from dabbling in true wireless earbuds to making some of the best out there—and a lot of them. Just six months after the excellent Galaxy Buds+, Samsung has a new set of true wireless buds. This time they’re called the Galaxy Buds Live, and they look like beans. Surprisingly, they fit very well, and the audio performance is overall great. At the same time, they don’t block out much external noise, and that’s something many people want. The active noise canceling also does little to quiet the world. In fact, all it really does is waste power. And yet, the $170 Buds Live are so very comfortable that I can forgive a few shortcomings.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
The Galaxy Buds Live, which I will intermittently and lovingly refer to as the Galaxy Beans, look like large, shiny kidney beans. I know that it might not sound appealing to jam something bean-shaped in your ears, but they’re probably the most comfortable earbuds I’ve worn in… well, maybe ever. Like Apple’s AirPods, the Beans sit in your ear but don’t poke inside the canal with silicone tips. I haven’t liked most of the hard-tipped earbuds I’ve tried. The OnePlus Buds, for example, don’t stay put and irritate parts of my ear. However, I can wear the Galaxy Buds Live all day and not think about it. They’re IPX2 rated, so you can sweat on them (and I have without ill-effects) but don’t submerge them.
They nestle right in there.
The “inside” of each bean-shaped bud has a small speaker that sits just outside your ear canal. It’s easy to insert them, and the rubber bumper at the opposite end helps them hook behind the folds of your ear. I just want to stress how much they look like beans and how much I like that, but I don’t like the use of glossy plastic on the buds. The shiny surface looks cheap and makes ear gunk all the more visible. There are touch-sensitive zones on the shiny plastic of the earbuds, but it’s hard to adjust or remove them without accidentally triggering the buttons.
The earbuds don’t seal your ear canal like the Buds+ and most other true wireless earbuds; they just sit there. The speaker seems to be well-aligned with my ear, but some sound will find its way out regardless. Those around you might be able to hear what you’re listening to very, very faintly, but that’s only likely in a very quiet room. My wife only noticed sound from the Buds Live several feet away after I asked her to listen for it. More problematic is the degree to which sound from the outside world bleeds into your ears. That’s to be expected because of the design, but it does limit the situations in which I prefer the Beans over the Buds+.
Samsung redesigned the charging case for the Beans after using a pill-shaped case for its last few true wireless buds. This one is a square puck with rounded corners. There’s a USB-C port on the back and a wireless charging coil on the bottom. Inside, the Beans drop into grooves with a pair of charging contacts and are held in place with magnets. The case has the same glossy finish as the buds, so it’s not easy to keep clean. It’ll look a bit gross after being handled all day, but the functionality is there.
Because the Galaxy Buds Live don’t go in your ear canal, there’s no need to include multiple eartips. However, Samsung does include a set of larger bumpers that you can swap in to make the Beans more stable if they don’t stay put in your ears. You also get the case (obviously) and a USB-C cable.
Sound quality, features, battery
The Galaxy Beans won’t let you down in the sound department—they have buoyant, bright highs, and well-separated mids. The bass is on the weak side, but that’s to be expected with this design. You won’t get the same punchy lows you do with some other buds. The audio is enjoyable overall (but maybe not the most accurate), and the Beans work well on my devices with no detectable A/V lag on either the Pixel 4a (AAC) or Note20 Ultra (Samsung’s custom Scalable Codec). There’s no AptX codec support, but most devices won’t need that to provide a satisfactory experience.
The Beans have three microphones, one of which uses bone conduction to pick up your voice. In my testing, voice call performance was great. People on the other end could hear me fine, and they didn’t report any distortion or garbled words. However, the poor noise isolation can affect this. That’s unfortunate for a device that’s supposed to feature noise canceling.
This is the first time Samsung has attempted active noise canceling in the true wireless form factor. It’s just odd to see ANC in earbuds that don’t seal in your ears. Because so much sound can leak in around the Beans, ANC is only modestly effective. The Beans can partially filter out lower, constant noises like the drone of a fan, but speech and most other sounds get through unattenuated. On the plus side, the ANC hiss is almost undetectable.
I usually leave the ANC off because it cuts the 8-ish hours of battery life to 5-6 hours. That’s on the weak side for premium earbuds, and there’s just not much benefit from the ANC. Without ANC, I have no serious concerns regarding battery life; it’s good enough. The case has about three more charge cycles in it, and the buds fill up fast.
To get the most out of the Beans, you need the Samsung Wearable app. Annoyingly, you also have to download an additional plug-in for the Buds Live after getting the main app installed. I don’t know why Samsung still does this with its accessories. The app (and plug-in) lets you view the battery level, adjust the EQ, change touch controls, and more. On the matter of touch controls, you can disable them entirely or change what a long-press on each earbud does. The rest of the controls (play/pause, skip, back) are unalterable—I’d like a little more customizability. The earbuds support single listening mode with either Bean, but there’s no multipoint support. That means you have to manually connect the Buds Live to the device you want to use.
Should you buy it?
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Maybe. The Galaxy Buds Live are probably my favorite set of true wireless buds right now, but that’s largely because of how comfortable they are. Not everyone’s ears will be such a good fit, and the two different bumper sizes only offer so much adjustment. That said, I can wear these earbuds for hours without any discomfort.
Samsung’s charging case is competent but not perfect. While the pill-shaped case of the Buds+ is easier to slip in a pocket, the Beans case still offers a compact form factor, ample additional power, USB-C, and wireless charging. It checks all the boxes, but I don’t like the glossy plastic on either the case or the buds. The copper color probably hides earwax better than the black, though.
The audio quality is excellent aside from weak bass, and the sound leakage is low enough that no one will hear it in most situations. The open design also allows some sound from the outside world in, which limits when and where I want to use the Beans. I usually prefer earbuds the block out the world, but not everyone agrees. Noise-canceling is supposed to provide that as an option, but it’s ineffective without a fully sealed in-ear design. I’ve settled on leaving ANC off when using the Beans because it doesn’t provide enough benefit to justify the loss of battery life. Without ANC, I can use the Beans almost all day.
Left: Galaxy Buds Live, Right: Galaxy Buds+
Unfortunately, the appeal falls apart if the Beans don’t nestle in your ears just right. Samsung says it worked hard to get the shape just right, but I’m sure some people won’t find the Beans comfortable. The Buds+ sound a little better thanks to the closed design, they last longer on a charge, and they’re cheaper. If you’re fine with the slightly stuffy feeling of in-ear buds, the Galaxy Buds+ are probably a better purchase.
Buy them if…
- You find in-ear buds uncomfortable.
- You don’t mind some environmental noise leaking in while listening.
Don’t buy them if…
- You want earbuds that block out environmental noise.
- Your ears are not bean-shaped.