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Galaxy Buds 2 review: Samsung shrinks its wireless earbuds

The latest model in the Galaxy Buds line costs $150 and features active noise canceling along with a lighter, more compact design that makes the earbuds comfortable to wear for several hours.

The Galaxy Buds 2 earbuds are technically the third generation of Samsung's entry-level true-wireless earbuds, but their name makes sense. Introduced alongside new Galaxy foldable phones and smartwatches at Samsung's August Unpacked event, the Buds 2 are a departure from the original Galaxy Buds and the upgraded Galaxy Buds Plus, which shared a similar design aesthetic. 

The Buds 2 hew more closely to the newer Galaxy Buds Pro and Galaxy Buds Live, both of which have eye-catching glossy curved designs and the same compact charging case as this new model. In fact, it's the Buds 2's design and fit -- they're 15% smaller and 20% lighter than the Buds Plus -- that makes them a potentially more likable alternative to the slightly better sounding Buds Pro. Available for preorder now and shipping Aug. 27, the Buds 2 ($150, £139, AU$219) come in four color options (graphite, white, olive and lavender) with a white charging case.

8.2

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2

Like

  • Small, lightweight design offers a comfortable, snug fit for a variety of ear sizes
  • Buds barely stick out of your ears
  • Good sound
  • Decent active noise canceling and great headset performance for calls
  • Compact case with wireless charging

Don't Like

  • Low-level IPX2 water-resistance
  • Missing a few features found on Galaxy Buds Pro
  • While Bluetooth audio works with iPhones, Galaxy Buds app for iOS isn't supported

Like the Buds Pro, the Buds 2 are equipped with active noise canceling. That means all the latest Galaxy Buds models now feature some form of active noise canceling, though it's slight with the Buds Live, which have an open design sans ear tips. While the Buds 2 look more like shrunken versions of the Buds Pro, I found them more akin to the Buds Live in that they barely stick out of your ears and are discreet. Because they sit more flush with your ears -- and have that curved design -- they also pick up less wind noise. 

While the bean-shaped Buds Live fit me securely, some people complained they weren't a good match for their ears. The same might be said for the Buds Pro. When I tried them, I had to use my own extra large ear tips to get a tight seal. The smaller Buds 2 should fit a wider range of ears -- Samsung says they were designed for "all-day comfort" -- and I liked how they felt. When I tried the largest of the three included ear tips, they fit snugly and comfortably. (A single Buds 2 bud weighs 5 grams while the Buds Pro and Buds Plus buds both weigh 6.3 grams.)

I wore them for over 4 hours straight on a plane ride from Salt Lake City to New York with no discomfort. And even without the stabilizing rubber fins found on the Buds Plus, I was able to run with the Buds 2 without a problem. However, these aren't as sports-friendly as the Buds Pro, which are fully waterproof with an IPX7 rating. The Buds 2, like the Buds Plus, are only IPX2 sweat-resistant. That means they should be fine for lighter workouts, but there are probably better options for runners

Read moreBest true-wireless earbuds for 2021

Bass-forward buds

The Buds 2 have a similar sound profile to the Buds Plus. They're a bit bass-forward, which means they're warmer, more forgiving-sounding earphones. While the highs are a little more restrained (at least there's no sibilance), there's enough detail and the soundstage is reasonably open, though a touch less spacious than the Buds Pro's soundstage.

The Galaxy Buds 2 are available in four colors.

Drew Evans/CNET

Samsung didn't provide much detail on the drivers, only mentioning that they were "two-way" (they have a tweeter and woofer), but I thought the earphones were pleasant to listen to and tonally appealing, particularly if you listen to bass-heavy music. They'd work fine for all genres but seem a little more geared toward hip-hop and today's pop music. That said, they don't deliver the richer, more articulate and refined sound of higher-end end buds such as Sony's WF-1000XM4, Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless II or even Samsung's own Galaxy Buds Pro. Still, most people should be satisfied with their sound in the same way that people are satisfied with that of the Apple AirPods Pro.

App control 

If you're an Android user, you can tweak the sound using Samsung's Wearable app with some equalizer preset modes, but I mainly stuck with the default setting. Note that the Buds 2 work with iOS devices -- and all Bluetooth audio devices -- but like the Buds Pro, they aren't compatible with the Galaxy Buds iOS app, which means you won't be able to upgrade the firmware unless you have an Android device. (After the Buds Plus and Buds Live, both of which are compatible with Galaxy Buds iOS app, Samsung seems to have given up on iOS users.)

You can also customize the touch controls in the app, and adding volume controls is an option. As with the Galaxy Buds Pro and Buds Live, the touch controls work well and are responsive, but if you fiddle with an earbud to get it to sit better in your ear, you can end up pausing your music. If you want, you can turn off the touch controls in the app.

samsung-galaxy-buds-2-modeling1

The Galaxy Buds 2 don't stick out of your ears as much as some earbuds do.

David Carnoy/CNET

Noise canceling: Good but not stellar 

The noise canceling falls into the good but not stellar range. Because the fit was so great for me, I got a certain amount of passive noise cancellation even without turning active noise cancellation on. With the ANC on, they did a solid job muffling cabin noise on my flight. But the Buds Pro are better at muffling noise and the Buds 2's noise canceling just isn't in the same realm as what you get from the Sony WF-1000XM4 or Bose Quiet Comfort Earbuds

Along with the active noise canceling, you get an Ambient mode that lets you hear the outside world. It's the equivalent of Apple's transparency mode on the AirPods Pro, which arguably sounds the most natural of any ambient or transparency mode I've tested -- it gets closest to making it seem like you have nothing in your ears. Samsung has improved its Ambient mode so it sounds natural at the low and even the mid setting, though the high setting really does artificially augment the sound around you. However, the AirPods Pro remain the gold standard in the transparency department. 

The buds have two outer mics along with one inner mic, as well as proximity sensors for detecting when the buds are in and out of your ears.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

The Buds 2 are missing some of the extra features found on the Buds Pro like 360 Audio -- it's similar to Apple's spatial audio and now works with more Samsung devices -- and the ability to pause your music and shift from noise-canceling to ambient mode when you speak, so you can have a quick conversation while wearing the buds. They also have a proximity sensor, so your music pauses when you pull both earbuds out of your ears (most earbuds auto-pause if you only pull one out), and an accelerometer and gyroscope are listed among the specs, so they do have some premium features. 

As with previous Galaxy Buds, there's also a low-latency gaming mode, and the earbuds will automatically switch between your Galaxy devices. There's no true multipoint Bluetooth pairing, however, for switching between say, a computer and your phone. While these support Samsung's proprietary Scalable codec streaming audio format for Galaxy devices and the widely used AAC codec, they don't support the aptX streaming audio codec that is supported with some Android devices. It's also worth noting that you can use the left or right bud independently as a single bud. (Some people like to use a single bud for making calls or just listening to podcasts or other audio in one ear.) 

During my testing period, I didn't experience any notable connectivity hiccups and my connection with the buds was generally rock solid; they're equipped with Bluetooth 5.2. I did one firmware upgrade shortly after receiving my review sample and you can expect Samsung to offer the occasional firmware upgrade going forward to fix any bugs and improve performance slightly. 

The Galaxy Buds 2 (left) vs. Galaxy Buds Pro (right).

David Carnoy/CNET

Impressive noise reduction for calls

The Buds Pro got high marks for voice calling and the Buds 2 also performed very well in my voice-calling tests. Samsung says that they have three microphones on each bud -- two outer beam-forming, one inner -- a Voice Pickup Unit  and a new "machine learning-based solution" that Samsung says filters out a variety of distracting background noises.

I made calls in the crowded and noisy Salt Lake City airport with people talking around me and the people I spoke with said they could hear very little background noise. They also said my voice sounded relatively clear and barely warbled (I could hear them well). In all, I thought these buds were solid for voice calling -- at least when it came to making calls using a smartphone. Your mileage may vary a bit for video-conferencing calls on your computer.

Battery life is rated at 5 hours for music listening with noise canceling on (you get an extra three charges from the charging case, which offers USB-C and wireless charging) and 7.5 hours with it off. There's a quick charge feature that gives you an hour of play time from a 5-minute charge.

From my testing, those numbers seem accurate, but it's worth noting that the Galaxy Buds Plus were renowned for their excellent battery life -- up to around 11 hours -- and the Buds 2 offer more average battery life. But these do have active noise canceling and are smaller, so some dip in battery life is expected.

Galaxy Buds 2: Final thoughts

As I said in the intro, the Galaxy Buds 2's standout feature is really their design. Not only are these earbuds smaller and lighter than the Buds Plus and the line-topping Buds Pro, but they nestle in your ears nicely and are relatively discreet. In some ways they remind of the Beats Studio Buds, which also cost $150 and are compact and lightweight. The Beats offer good sound with decent though unspectacular noise canceling and transparency modes. While the Beats are more geared toward iOS and have hands-free Siri (the Buds 2 have hands-free Bixby for Galaxy users), they have a companion Android app and have crossover appeal for Android users. 

I like the Beats' physical buttons for controlling playback and changing sound modes. But the Buds 2 may be a little better for making calls and may fit some people's ears more securely. At the moment, I'd give a slight edge to the Buds 2 over the Beats Studio, but we're already seeing some discounts on the Beats Studio Buds and the Galaxy Buds 2 should also start drifting toward $120 (and maybe less) in the coming months, particularly with the price of the Galaxy Buds Pro already sitting at $170, or $30 off their list price. The Buds Plus should stick around for a while as a budget option and if you're thinking about upgrading from them, the Buds 2 do feel like an upgrade, just not necessarily a huge one, though the noise canceling is an appealing extra.

The Buds Pro are superior to the Buds 2 at least when it comes to sound and performance. But in order to get the best performance out of a set of earbuds, they have to fit right. And for a lot of people, the smaller Galaxy Buds 2 will be the better fit -- and better choice.