It’s evident from first glance that the Galaxy Buds Live has a very unique design and style that’s in a class of its own. This is especially so if you choose the striking Mystic Bronze colour option, which is completely unlike anything else on the market and pairs perfectly with the Galaxy Note 20.
Once you pop open the case, you’ll see the bean-shaped earbuds in all their glory. They rest at an angle in the case and are secured magnetically, so picking them up was a cinch.
I struggled a little with putting it on at first, because there is absolutely no previous frame of reference for how one can wear a bean-shaped gadget. Samsung used the phrases “ergonomic design” and “adaptive fit” in its marketing materials, so I set out to test these claims by making a few friends try out the earbuds too. They did seem to fit fine no matter the size of their ears, so it looks like Samsung did their homework.
Wearing comfort is high because they have an earbuds design as opposed to an in-ear one, which means nothing sticks into your ear canals. But this design choice has downsides too. The degree of seal and fit will vary depending on your ear shape, and without silicone wings or ear tips, the Galaxy Buds Live don’t sit as securely.
The Galaxy Buds Live and older Buds+ side by side, with a pen for scale.
For me, I found that the earbuds tend to try to inch their way out of my ear whenever I shook my head, or even just try to smile or open my mouth. This means it’s probably not a good idea to take it out. Given its poor IPX2 rating, you probably won’t want to expose it to the elements too much anyway.
The loose fit had me constantly reach out and push the earbuds back in, which brings me to yet another episode of my number one running gripe of true wireless earbuds: touch controls.
Compared to Google’s second-gen Pixel Buds, what I currently consider the gold standard of touch controls on true wireless earbuds, the controls on the Galaxy Buds Live is limiting and unintuitive. It doesn’t even have the basic function of turning the volume up or down built-in. You have to programme it yourself with the only customisable gesture available: tap-and-hold. But if you use it for volume controls, you’ll lose the ability to activate and deactivate active noise-cancelling.
I found that the Galaxy Buds Live lets in a lot of ambient noise, so much so that the active noise cancellation has virtually no effect. Ironically, the Galaxy Buds+ actually block out more noise with its ear tips even though it doesn’t have ANC.
As for audio quality, the Galaxy Buds Live feature relatively large 12mm drivers tuned by headphone specialists AKG (owned by Harman and a subsidiary of Samsung). It also has what Samsung calls “bass ducts” to create deep, rich bass.
Now, the Galaxy Buds+ features a dual-driver system that produced very consumer-friendly sound that makes it pleasant to listen to. But more importantly, its in-ear design allowed me to get a better seal, giving it an edge over the Galaxy Buds Live, even with larger drivers.
To be sure, I listened to the same tracks on the Galaxy Buds+ side-by-side with the Galaxy Buds Live. These include the Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber’s Stuck with U, and Marshmello and Halsey’s Be Kind. I found the Galaxy Buds Live’s rendition to be shallower and less warm compared to that of the Galaxy Buds+. The overall soundstage was also noticeably flatter.
Two areas the Galaxy Buds Live did deliver are battery life and call quality. Samsung promised 8 hours of listening time on a single charge, and up to 21 hours together with the charging case. Although this is lower than that of the Galaxy Buds+, they are comparable with other flagship models and do come close to that number in my real-world test.
Call quality was similarly outstanding. With a total of three beam-forming mics, I could field several phone calls for work on the Galaxy Buds Live with no issues. Samsung says that it has also built in a “voice pickup unit” that can sense when your jaw is moving, converting that resulting vibration data into voice signals. Sounds like complicated tech, but it works.
The Galaxy Buds Live have an undeniably interesting design, and they look especially striking in Mystic Bronze. The level of finish is very high too, matching the $288 price tag.
It’s safe to say that what you get out of the Galaxy Buds Live is going to depend greatly on how good a seal you get—and there are some reviewers out there who seem to have much better results than me. So, my recommendation would be to go down to a store and try them out for yourself first. But even if they do, there’s the Galaxy Buds+ which are slightly cheaper and, to me, sound and fit better.
The Galaxy Buds Live seems to fit fine in most ears, but looks dangerously close to falling out on smaller ears.
INTERESTING DESIGN, BUT PERFORMANCE HINGES COMPLETELY ON HOW IT FITS YOUR EARS.
AT A GLANCE
DRIVER 12mm, bass duct
BATTERY 8 hours / 21 hours (earbuds / case)
NOISE CANCELLATION ANC
VOICE 3-mic, voice pickup unit