Get an IPA or two in me, and I’m liable to start rambling about how Apple retained the stupid, eartip-less design on the second generation of its industry-dominating AirPods, forcing anyone who wants earbuds that are actually comfortable to shell out an extra $90 for the better-designed AirPods Pro (or Beats Powerbeats Pro).
Yet I’m elated that Samsung stuck with identical looks for the second generation of its Galaxy Buds—now called the Galaxy Buds Plus—because they had such a good design to begin with. The tiny, comfortable in-ears all but disappear during longer listening sessions, with cozy silicone ear fins that keep the featherlight headphones in place no matter what.
Instead of visual changes, the Galaxy Buds Plus come with a major internal overhaul. They now have an industry-leading 11 hours of battery life (more than double the juice offered by AirPods and AirPods Pro), better microphones, and special new audio tuning from Samsung-owned AKG. The old Galaxy Buds are still better than the standard AirPods, but these new Galaxy Buds Plus kick the absolute crap out of them. The best part? Both pairs cost less.
I love how cheap and comfortable the original Galaxy Buds are, but it’s not as though they are without issues. The 7-hour battery of the original model is awesome when out and about, but I found myself recharging the case—a wireless charging pillbox that only boasted 10 hours of extra battery life—much more than I wanted to.
They also don’t sound particularly awesome. I’d put on some OutKast and enjoy the bass response (and even a relatively pleasurable soundstage), but the music always felt a bit muffled above that. The audio quality is nowhere near what you get from competing devices from Jabra, Sony, Master and Dynamic, and others. Heck, even AirPods sound just as good.
Perhaps worst of all (in the grand scheme of things) is poor call quality. I often call a discerning listener (Hi mom! Yes, I’m testing headphones again) to test this, and she said listening to me through the original Galaxy Buds is like hearing my beautiful, angelic voice (her words) through a thick moving blanket.
But I came through loud and clear on calls with the Galaxy Buds Plus. Each earbud has three microphones (two external, one that faces your ear) to suss out what you’re saying from the background noise.
Audio quality has also massively improved. The Galaxy Buds Plus come with a new dual-driver setup that spreads musical pleasure out a bit more evenly, with dedicated bass and treble drivers that rumble down low and sparkle up high at the same time. The new drivers and AKG tuning bring the bright edges of Andre 3000’s voice forward in the mix but retain the low end of the sound. There’s still a bit of mud to slog through in the midrange—super guitar-heavy songs from metal bands, for example, can be a bit muddled—but this is a much more pleasurable listening experience over the first generation, and nearly as good as the sound you’d hear on headphones that cost $50 to $100 more.
Alongside the big batteries in each earbud, Samsung has also increased the size of the battery in the wireless charging case … a tiny bit. You’ll get 11 hours from the pill-shaped treasure chest, but the fact that you get 11 from the earbuds themselves means a total of 6 more hours between trips to a wall charger or charging mat. Nice.
One thing I wish Samsung added? Support for AptX or AptX HD codecs, which make Bluetooth audio sound closer to CD quality when possible. It’s not something you’re probably missing with wirefree earbuds playing Spotify, but I still like to see the little AptX icon pop up on my phone to know it’s doing the best it can.
What I like most about the Galaxy Buds Plus is how usable they are in my everyday life.
Taking a flight across the country? They’ll easily get you there without a trip to the charging case—and the case even rapidly charges if you’ve forgotten. Strapping on your sneakers for a long weekend run? They’re IPX4 rated, so they can handle rain and sweat, and are easily some of the most stable earbuds I’ve ever tested on runs. Want to quickly pause music to order something at the coffee shop? Go for it—they’ve got an ambient sound mode that lets you hear your surroundings, and you can program it to the touch controls on each earbud.
Sure, they may not be the best sounding or have the most bells and whistles—most notably, they lack the noise-canceling offered by Apple and Sony’s flagship models—but they do everything I want them to do very well. They also do it for nearly $100 less, costing an Apple-biting $150 ($19 less than you’ll pay for standard AirPods 2 with a wireless charging case).
It’s rare that companies mess with a good thing and make it definitively, wholeheartedly, better. The Galaxy Buds Plus are easily some of the best wirefree earbuds you can buy right now, and unlike the AirPods 2, they’re actually worth the upgrade.