Samsung’s headphone tech has progressed at a fantastic clip, thanks in no small part to the company acquiring Harmon (and, by extension, the great audio tech AKG was putting out) in 2016. We’ve seen the Galaxy Buds and the better buds, the Galaxy Buds+, in action — now it’s time for something a little… different. This is Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live.
A real Live one
Which, we’ll admit, are a little strange to look at. They look like little kidney beans and are about the same size as some of those larger options you see in the grocery store and wonder ‘Who the heck eats these things?’ But you’re not supposed to eat these, or plant them (sorry, Jack!). These particular beans go in your ears where… they actually fit surprisingly well. They don’t look as though they should but they do.
What we were worried about was their ability to withstand aggressively vigorous movement. Specifically aggressively vigorous, sweaty movement. The Buds Live should handle the sweaty part rather well but staying in place… that really depends on you. Maybe don’t do gymnastics while wearing them — running or lifting should be fine, unless you’re also doing parkour. The fit isn’t overwhelmingly tight but we tried our best to dislodge them (while headbanging to Holy Roller by Pantera-influenced Throwdown) — there was a slight shift in the right bud. Your morning 5K probably won’t have any issues.
The build is a hard, compact plastic that, even if dislodged by time in the social-distancing pit, should survive the impact. Just don’t stomp on it or you’ll be crying. Then again, that statement applies to everything from Lego to laptops.
The Galaxy Buds Live come with a sturdy plastic case — it’s smaller than the pill-shaped container the Galaxy Buds+ shipped with but Samsung promises six hours on a charge, with 3.6-times that available from the case. We’d have taken a deeper dive into the specs but a) we didn’t have a screwdriver small enough and b) the documentation in the box was suspiciously blank. Samsung claims 22 hours in total. We’ll test that shortly
The buds have the option to run with Active Noise Cancellation active, which may cut down on battery expectations a little. We’ve used them for a few hours at this point and have yet to run them out — even while standing out in the South African winter night hunting comets for hours.
There has been one small issue to date — the Galaxy Buds Live seem to battle with range a little, especially when there are walls in the way. And this is with a Samsung Galaxy Note as its paired device so it’s unlikely to be a hardware compatibility issue. The Buds Live were also updated to the latest firmware version before the issues manifested. It’s not serious — audio drops out a little if you’re a bit far from your device. Hardly worth commenting but we were within standard Bluetooth range for these hiccups. We expect another software update will sort out the issue.
Brave new world
We certainly hope that’s the case because otherwise the Galaxy Buds Live are fantastic. In terms of call quality, they’re about on par with the Galaxy Buds+ but music audio is great. This may have something to do with the improved fit (yeah, the kidney-bean design language is growing on us) but audio is very well balanced. This is even the case with chaotically dense music (like Sick by Mors Subita); individual instruments are discernible, heavy bass kicks are in evidence, multiple vocal tracks can be heard but none of the elements are overpowering the others.
If overdrive audio is your thing, though, the Galaxy Wearable app provides it. We’re quite taken with the audio in Normal mode but if you’re after a bass or treble boost, the app will oblige. There are also Clear, Dynamic and Soft modes, for those with… other… sensibilities.
The app also allows modification of the touch controls — we found that they’re a little sensitive, registering a double-tap (track skip, by default) as a triple (track skip backwards) on occasion. Adjusting the buds in your ears tends to pause, as well, but Samsung seems to have that in hand. If you’re adjusting, the pause just seems to… let go when you’re done. The app also includes the ability to find your earbuds (they’re kinda small and perhaps easily lost), lets you get your notifications read out loud, and has several advanced settings worth playing with too.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live Initial Verdict
Right off the bat? Yeah, we like these far more than we thought we would when we saw the kidney-bean design. They’re comfortable without making your ears feel like they’re gunking up, are very lightweight (at just 5.6g per bean) and the fit is good enough that we’d take these running, or to a moderately intense mosh pit. Okay, maybe not a full pit. If it drops, it’s toast.
The cherry on the cake, though, is the sound quality. The audio is Samsung’s best yet, making the most of whatever you throw at it. Mostly we’ve been throwing metal at it but if you can make that genre sound clear and detailed, there’s not much you can’t handle. What?
The only x-factor here is the pricing. If Samsung’s true to form, these’ll wind up as a pre-order bonus for Note 20 buyers and will cost between R3,000 and R3,500 at retail. We’ll have official details shortly, though, and will update here once Samsung spills the (heh) beans. Sorry, sorry…