Once upon a time (four years ago, to be exact), real wireless headphones resembled their cable ancestors, meaning they were small rounded buds of a circular shape, without wires or cables.
I was lucky enough to try the first batch of these products in the fall of 2016, starting with the pioneering Bragi Dash, to the myriad of Chinese brands operating at a breakneck pace. At the time, these products were innovative, but now looking back in retrospect, they were flawed in crucial areas such as audio quality and connectivity. These early headphones couldn’t maintain a consistent connection as soon as I left (where there are fewer walls than the initial bluetooth signals bounce).
That all changed with Apple’s AirPods. Instead of making the headphones have a traditional shape, Apple adds elongated stems to the buds to help connectivity and audio quality (there’s just more room to house conductors and sensors). The design worked: the AirPods had at that time an audio quality and a range of connectivity never seen before for wireless headphones.
Unfortunately, the great success of the AirPods meant almost every wireless headset that came after they used the same elongated stem design, which in my opinion doesn’t look fantastic.
So Samsung’s line of wireless headphones has been a breath of fresh air. Whether by decision or necessity, Samsung has refused to adopt the AirPods look, mainly adhering to the look of circular headphones (Galaxy Buds Plus, launched in early 2020) or with something more radical like the Galaxy Buds Live (kidney bean-shaped) (released in the fall of 2020)).
Most worked well, but did not have active noise cancellation, which made them difficult to use in a noisy city like Hong Kong.
Well, Samsung fixed it with its latest versions, the Galaxy Buds Pro. These return to the traditional shape of Galaxy Buds Plus circular headphones, but add active, smart noise cancellation. It was this last part – smart – that impressed me the most.
Before we talk about the smart look, let’s go over the hardware: the Buds Pro weigh 6.1 g each and feature a small cargo box that opens like a box of engagement rings. Aside from the reflective surface resembling a shiny mirror on the outside of the buds, they are mostly indescribable in appearance. They don’t look weird like the Live Bean-shaped Buds or come out of the ears like the AirPods.
Buds have removable silicon tips that allow for a more sturdy fit, not to mention helps block sound by providing a seal around the wearer’s ear canals. Inside it offers a dual dynamic control system (an 11mm woofer and a 6mm tweeter), which produce a full, lively sound.
The buds can last five hours on a single charge and the case provides two and a half additional charges for approximately 18 hours of total listening time.
Active noise cancellation and transparency mode
As mentioned, the Buds Pro offer a very solid active noise cancellation. I would say they don’t drown out the sound as well as Huawei’s FreeBuds Pro, but they are on par with Apple’s AirPods Pro. There’s also a transparency mode (i.e. the headphones let you ring on purpose so the user can listen to audio and be alert to their surroundings) and it works great.
One of the reasons the transparency mode is excellent is that Samsung offers users the options to select three different levels of transparency. Apple’s AirPods Pro and Huawei’s FreeBuds Pro allow sound to come out at full volume, which in a city suffering from significant noise pollution such as Hong Kong can be overbearing. With the Buds Pro, I simply set the transparency volume to the lowest setting so I can let the sound in without hurting my ears.
But the best part about the Galaxy Buds Pro for me is that it has the ability to switch between active noise cancellation and transparency mode on the fly. Here’s how it works: Headphones can detect when the user is talking and automatically reduce the audio volume and switch to transparency mode for 10 seconds, after which it returns to noise cancellation mode and volume mute. audio returns to normal.
With Apple and Huawei headphones, I would have to manually switch to transparency mode with my fingers – Samsung’s buds save me that second extra of violin.
Smart switching also works well: almost as soon as I’ve finished saying the first syllable, the headphones will have already marked my music and turned on transparency.
Audio quality and general use
As mentioned above, the Buds Pro produces a complete sound. Samsung’s app also allows you to customize the equalizer, though I’ve found that the default setting sounds ideal already.
Samsung announces “3D audio” with these headphones, which is similar to Apple’s “space audio,” as the headphones will attempt to recreate the audio’s original location if the user moves their head. This, like the Apple app, is contrived and I quickly turned it off and even used stereo sound.
I made a few calls with the outbreaks and the other party told me they could feel good, even though it seemed “distant and flat.” Given that these headphones don’t have elongated stems that come close to my mouth, I think it’s an understandable compromise.
Bottom line: my new favorite headphones and the ones you need to wear
Galaxy Buds Pro noise cancellation may not do as good a job of blocking sound as Huawei or Apple headphones, but it does win in other features, such as transparency mode, appearance (in my opinion) and the price. At $ 200, free with pre-orders for the latest Samsung phones, in fact, they are cheaper than the AirPods Pro and Huawei FreeBuds Pro. That just means I would recommend Buds Pro the next time someone asks me for headphone recommendation.
For me, a music lover who also believes Hong Kong is unbearably noisy, the Galaxy Buds Pro has become my must-have item whenever I go out, along with my phone and wallet.