Samsung’s new Galaxy Buds Live are quickly becoming my go-to pair of true wireless earbuds.
They aren’t superior to the competition in every way, you can pick up far more expensive and accomplished earbuds from Sony and Sennheiser for unrivalled audio quality, but they’re solid all-rounders at a good price.
What I’ve particularly enjoyed is the fact that Samsung has genuinely innovated in a space that’s difficult to be creative in, and in an industry that likes to copy each other. The bean-like shape works surprisingly well. They snugly fit in the contours of your ear, whilst being small and lightweight so they don’t protrude or fall out.
I’ve been using both the Pixel Buds and Galaxy Buds Live (alongside the Galaxy Buds+) for the last few weeks and I am reasonably confident that Samsung’s earbuds edge out Google’s. Here’s why.
Hundreds of users have been complaining about persistent connectivity issues in the Pixel Buds since May. The problem appears to be that the earbuds temporarily lose audio in certain useage scenarios. Users have reported audio cutting out when walking, travelling on public transport, moving their head too vigorously or simply sat still. Others have reported their buds dropping out at exactly 1 minute 50 seconds. You can read my coverage of it here.
Google released an update on August 20th to tackle this issue, which it has for some, but not for others. Pixel Bud owners are still contacting me with complaints about the issue despite the update.
The reason for the connectivity issue isn’t clear. But in an interview with me last month, Sandeep Waraich, senior product manager for wearables at Google said that it’s likely related to Bluetooth interference, whilst also hinting that a smaller RF antenna, which is a result of the earbuds’ miniaturised design, could be a factor.
Many users have reported no problems with their buds whatsoever, others have had several replacements and ultimately settled with a pair that worked. So it seems to be a game of roulette when it comes to whether or not you get a working pair of Pixel Buds. I’ve experienced exactly this, my first review units didn’t turn on or connect to my phone at all.
My second pair worked almost perfectly. I have also experienced the connectivity issues, but not as seriously as others. When crossing a road a few weeks ago and listening to Spotify, I whipped my head right and the audio cutout briefly. If I cup both ears with my hands when wearing the buds the audio will stop streaming, although I can’t imagine this in a similar real-life scenario (they worked fine under a hood and beanie).
The Galaxy Buds Live have no comparable connectivity issues.
Samsung is taking another look at the longevity of its products. The company announced at its August Unpacked event that it will now offer three years of Android support for its Note and Galaxy phones. A few days later, repair company iFixit found that the Galaxy Live earbuds are very repairable – giving them a high score of 8 out of 10. In comparison, Apple’s near-impossible to repair AirPods Pro received a 0 out of 10 from iFixit.
iFixit hasn’t done a teardown of the new Pixel Buds, but a user teardown on its site revealed the difficulty in dissembling them without damaging the outer casing. The Galaxy Buds Live, however, come apart with a pick and some pressure from a vice.
iFixit said they’re “some of the easiest buds we’ve ever opened”. This is important because the small lithium-ion battery in the Galaxy Buds Live – and all other earbuds – will deplete. The battery becomes less efficient from the very first time you use any battery-powered device. So if you want to hold on to the buds for a long time, you’ll want easily replaceable batteries. Although iFixit says it might be difficult to source the CP1254 lithium-ion button battery in the Galaxy Buds Live.
Repairability is true value for money and it seems Samsung agrees.
The Galaxy Buds Live have a clear, well-balanced sound and – when the dynamic or base boost EQ profiles are enabled – excellent base. The Pixel Buds perform similarly well and have improved thanks to the new base boost function that came with last week’s feature drop.
The air vent on both models means they don’t have that plugged-in feeling, but it also means there is less passive noise cancellation – particularly in comparison to Samsung’s previous Galaxy Buds +. Clearly hearing ambient noise is a matter of taste, but Samsung’s offer of active noise cancellation to cut this out is virtually non-existent. The feature barely works, if at all.
Elsewhere Google’s promise of continually upgrading the Pixel Buds with feature drops – a semi-regular feature update program that started on Pixel phones last December – means the buds will always improve. We’ll have to see if that means they’ll be better at maintaining a solid connection.
For now, though, with the design, repairability and reliable performance – the Galaxy Buds Live are my favourite of the two earbuds.
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