Whether you like them or not, Apple’s AirPods have played a key role in changing the wireless earbud game forever. It’s nearly impossible to walk down the street without spotting little white stalks sticking out of ears left and right. As a result, Samsung has launched a new set of beans — or rather buds — that go by the name Galaxy Buds Live. Our latest head-to-head pits the Apple AirPods vs the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live to see which emerges victorious.
Both pairs offer comparable specs and a similar starting price of less than $200, but how do they stack up? We’ll break them both down in this battle of the buds and hopefully help you to make an informed decision.
Sleek designs and iconic fits
AirPods have inspired many a copycat since they launched just a few years back. The white plastic construction paired with long stems has become one of the most popular designs for truly wireless earbuds at just about any price point. The Apple AirPods (2019) include two tiers: one with a standard Lightning charging case, and another with an identical charging case that also supports wireless charging. The latter costs an additional $35, whereas Samsung includes this to boot with its Galaxy Buds Live for $169. The AirPods are cheaper now, but when released in 2019, the wireless charging variant ran $199.
See also: Apple AirPods (2019) review
If the AirPods are the trendsetter then the bean-like design of the Galaxy Buds Live is catching the eyes of the industry for just how unique it is. Available as kidney beans, black beans, or cannellini beans — sorry — black, bronze, or white, the Galaxy Buds Live sit snug inside your ears with no protruding stem. The Galaxy Buds Live buds do have wing tips, if you can even call them that. A small silicone ring sits on the interior of either earbud and keeps the fit secure to the outer ear. Lily found this surprisingly comfortable, and was even able to exercise while wearing them.
Neither bud seals the deal
There’s one thing that AirPods and Galaxy Buds Live have in common, and that’s the fact that both skip the soft ear tip design. Instead, both pairs of earbuds take a one-size-fits-all approach, which means that a good seal can be hard to find. You might notice some ambient noise making it difficult to hear your music as a result.
See also: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review
Another problem with the lack of a seal is that it’s pretty easy to knock either pair out of your ears. The Galaxy Buds Live fare a bit better, but only because there’s no stem to snag when you’re working out or walking around the house.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Are you in control?
Like most high-end wireless earbuds, both the AirPods and Galaxy Buds Live feature some form of interactive touch controls. You can control playback on either pair, though you’ll have to ask Siri for some help if you want to change the volume on your AirPods. On the other hand, the Galaxy Buds Live allows you to adjust volume and even toggle active noise-cancelling right from the buds themselves.
Automatic ear detection is another point of contention between the two — the AirPods automatically pause when one is removed and restart when it’s back in your ear. Both Galaxy Buds, however, have to be out of your ears for playback to pause, and you have to tap a bud to restart your music after a pause.
The charging cases that house each pair are comparable in terms of function and quality. Apple has retained the classic tall and thin design while Samsung opted for a more open ring box layout. Both are made of heavy-duty plastic, so you should feel nice and safe when you tuck your earbuds in to charge.
Each case secures using magnets, though the AirPods have an advantage in terms of security. The stem slides deep into the case and doesn’t budge, while the Galaxy Buds Live sits atop the chargers and may not always lay perfectly flush. The Galaxy Buds Live get bonus points for Qi wireless charging support, a feature that even the original Galaxy Buds had at no extra charge.
Working out might not work out
A trusty pair of earbuds is a key component of successful workouts, but neither of these pairs is your best bet. Although many people wear their AirPods to the gym, they feature no water or dust resistance so you could fry them with an intense session. On the other hand, the Galaxy Buds Live are slightly more durable with an IPX2 rating that should handle the sweat from light work but not much more.
See also: Best workout earbuds of 2020
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Compatibility and connection
Apple’s AirPods are designed to deliver the best experience possible for iOS users — but Android lovers are left in the dust just a bit. For starters, the connection process for iOS devices is a breeze, and they reconnect when you open the lid. It’s easy to connect the AirPods to an Android device too, but trying to keep them running smoothly is tougher. Our tests led to lag and occasional dropouts — less than ideal for listening to just about anything.
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Some of the problems may come from the fact that the AirPods only support Apple’s complex AAC codec, which Android doesn’t consistently process. This means you aren’t quite getting consistent, high-quality audio when streaming over AAC on a non-Samsung Android device.
The Galaxy Buds Live, conversely, connects to both Android and iOS with relative ease. You’ll have to manage them with the Galaxy Wearables app, though it’s available on both the App Store and Play Store. The app makes it easy to change your settings, and you can even peek behind the curtain at Galaxy Labs for a taste of what might be to come.
You can use native Spotify controls and the Bixby assistant on the Galaxy Buds as well, but only if you’re an Android user. The pairing process for the Galaxy Buds Live is a delight, as it’s pretty much as simple as opening the lid thanks to Bluetooth 5.0. You’ll see a pairing card pop up if you’re on a Samsung device, or choose the Galaxy Buds Live from the Apple Bluetooth menu.
Samsung’s Galaxy Buds offer AAC support too, which means a high-quality connection on iOS devices. They make the most of the Samsung Scalable Codec for Galaxy devices and the SBC codec for other devices. All of that is to say that you can connect these beans to just about anything.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus
Isolation and noise cancellation
If you’re looking for earbuds to block the world out, neither the AirPods nor the Galaxy Buds Live will serve you well. However, there’s a major difference between the two headsets because the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live support active noise-cancelling. This means background noise is combated, so you’re able to better hear your music in a variety of environments.
Unlike most noise-cancelling earphones, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live don’t rely on passive isolation. This design is intentional as it allows you to hear important sounds like a train ticketer or intercom announcement, while simultaneously cancelling out predictable low-frequency sounds like the drone of the train or subway car. Your mileage may vary with the Galaxy Buds Live’s noise-cancelling performance though, because effectiveness is wholly dependent on finding a proper fit — even with the open-type build. If the earbuds jostle around your ear canal and outer ear too much, the noise-cancelling won’t work as well. You can get a true noise-cancelling experience on other high-end pairs like the luxurious Sony WF1000-XM3 if that’s a dealbreaker for you.
Samsung didn’t make a traditional pair of noise-cancelling earbuds because it wanted to try something different, and it positioned itself nicely to compete more directly with Apple’s famed AirPods. While Apple may have cultural clout, it didn’t venture into the world of open-fit noise-cancelling earphones as gallantly as Samsung. Of course, ANC may be toggled off with the Buds Live so you can fully hear your surroundings and preserve battery life.
On the other hand, the Apple AirPods only way to block out noise is by way of passive isolation. This means the headset relies completely on the physical barrier it creates between the outside world and your eardrum via sealing to the ear canal’s entrance. Of course, the AirPods don’t seal so passive isolation is very poor. Rather than being a detriment, Apple touts this as a feature because it allows you to experience and hear the world while listening to your music.
Solid isolation is key to a great pair of truly wireless earbuds, but neither of these is your best bet. Earbuds that make a great seal in your ears often sound quite a bit better than buds that are supposed to fit in every ear, which is the case with both of today’s options.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
How do they sound? What about mics?
Both pairs of earbuds are built to give the average consumer solid listening experiences. The isolation problems tend to mean that bass lines and other sounds get lost on the AirPods, but Apple’s earbuds do emphasize vocals well in songs and phone calls. High frequencies like cymbals are easy to notice, though sometimes that’s not what you’re looking for.
The overall sound of the Galaxy Buds Live is similar to that of the AirPods, but it again benefits from the active noise-cancelling feature. By combating low-frequency sounds, your brain is freed up to process low notes from your music. If anything, the boosted low frequencies make midrange sounds like vocals or guitars a bit harder to hear on the Galaxy Buds.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live microphone:
Apple AirPods microphone:
When it comes to microphone quality, the AirPods take the cake. Apple has had top-notch earbud microphones for a while, and the latest AirPods are no exception. The Galaxy Buds Live is equipped with possibly the best setup to come from Samsung, with three microphones in each earbud. It’s not a knock against Samsung, the AirPods are simply equipped with one of the best microphones around.
Winner: Apple AirPods
Listen for hours on end
All of the sound quality in the world is lost if you have to spend half of your time charging, so how do these earbuds compare? Well, there’s a clear winner whether you have active noise-cancelling enabled on the Galaxy Buds Live or not. With ANC, we managed 5 hours, 15 minutes of playback on the Galaxy Buds and 8 hours without ANC.
On the AirPods, we saw an average of just 4 hours, 7 minutes when connected to an iOS device. They managed just 3 hours, 29 minutes when paired with an Android device.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Apple AirPods vs Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: which one should you buy?
While both buds took home points in select categories, we have to give the crown to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. It’s simply the better choice if you’re pairing with a number of devices, both Android and iOS.
Sure, both pairs suffer from isolation issues, but it’s easy to use the Galaxy Wearables app on either platform to control your setup and fine-tune your sound. There are even more perks if you have a Samsung device, like Spotify controls and the Samsung Scalable Codec too.
Noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds that make a statement
Of course, if you have an iOS device there’s probably a good chance you opt for the AirPods anyway for the familiarity of the ecosystem. The pairing process is quick and smooth for iOS devices and the microphone is unmatched as well.
The second-generation AirPods with a new charging case.
$134 at Amazon
If you’ve decided that neither of these is the pair for you, there’s always the higher-end AirPods Pro, with its soft ear tips and active noise-cancelling. They’re more water-resistant as well, with an IPX4 rating. Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Plus is great too and offers superior comfort with gel ear tips and formed wingtips that lock in place.
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