To a certain extent, all new gadgets are an evolution of the devices that came before them, improving on existing technology while also adding brand new features for less. With the Galaxy Buds 2’s active noise cancellation, solid audio and voice quality, and $219 price tag, Samsung is setting a new standard for what we should expect from affordable wireless earbuds.
In years past, prioritising ANC in a pair of wireless earbuds meant dropping $300-400 or more. But with the ANC-equipped Galaxy Buds 2, which joins other affordable newcomers like Nothing’s $135 Ear (1), ANC feels less like a luxury inclusion and more like a standard feature that should be available on all but the cheapest headphones. And by using the Galaxy Buds Pro as a template, Samsung has created affordable earbuds that deliver almost the same experience as Samsung’s premium earbuds, but for $70 less.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2
WHAT IS IT?
Samsung's mainstream wireless earbuds for 2021
Super simple design, built-in touch controls, ANC, compact wireless charging case, good sound quality
Battery life is just OK, no ANC strength adjustments
As with previous Galaxy Buds, the Galaxy Buds 2 come in a compact wireless charging case, with the only distinguishing feature on the outside being a USB-C port for wired charging. The main difference on this model is that the case features a glossy finish instead of the more matte texture Samsung has favoured before, with the case’s interior sporting the same colour (olive, white, lavender, and black) as the buds for a little matchy-matchy goodness.
Samsung seems to have fully leaned into function over form for the earbud design itself, with the Buds 2 almost completely devoid of any distinguishing characteristics or branding. All you get is two plastic shells with a few holes for microphones and silicone ear tips on the end. The whole setup is super minimalistic, almost like the kind of generic earbuds you might see in a sci-fi movie.
You won’t see any markings, but the Galaxy Buds 2 still come with built-in touch controls, so you can pause your current track with a single tap, skip forward with a double tap, or go back to a previous track with three taps on the sides of the buds. And by default, if you want to turn ANC on or off, all you need to do is tap and hold. The one downside to this is that while you can customise some of the touch controls, if you want to reserve the touch and hold command for something like volume, there’s no way to set the ANC toggle to a different gesture.
The Galaxy Buds 2 lack the more in-depth ANC settings found on the Galaxy Buds Pro, so there’s no setting to adjust the strength of ANC — it’s either on or off. The Galaxy Buds 2 case comes with a couple small indicator lights that let you know how much extra juice it has left (which goes from green to yellow to red depending on charge levels). Samsung tossed in a total of three sets of silicone ear tips (small, medium, and large) and a spare USB-C cable (but no power brick).
Setting the Galaxy Buds 2 up couldn’t be much simpler. Those with Samsung phones should get a popup notification the first time you open the case, which will quickly guide you through the pairing process. And for those on other Android phones or even iOS, you can simply download the Galaxy Wearable app and go from there. It’s important to note that some of Samsung’s more experimental features like the reduced latency gaming mode in Samsung Labs are only available on Samsung devices.
Once paired, Samsung has created a new earbud fit test to help you figure out which size eartips you should be using, which for me had me upgrade to the large tips even though both the medium and large tips felt equally comfortable. If you ever need to pair your buds with another device, all you have to do is open the case, and before taking the buds out, tap and hold on the buds for about three seconds until the lights in the case start flashing.
All told, everything is extremely straightforward and works as expected, which is all I’m really looking for from affordable headphones.
Sound and ANC
When it comes to sound quality, the Galaxy Buds 2 come really close to matching the audio you get with Samsung’s more premium buds, which probably says more about the Buds Pro than the Galaxy Buds 2. In certain situations like on “Modjo’s Lady,” the Galaxy Buds Pro makes the highs come through brighter and clearer while maintaining a slightly rounder tone on the bass line compared to the Galaxy Buds 2. But it’s extremely close, and for most of the lossy music you get from major streaming services, unless you are doing direct side-by-side comps, the difference sounds pretty negligible.
The real eye opener is when you compare the Galaxy Buds 2 to the standard Apple AirPods, which not only don’t have the same acoustic range as the Galaxy Buds 2, but the lack of real ear tips to help seal away outside noise means you’re more likely to suffer from distractions. The Galaxy Buds 2 simply make Apple’s AirPods look and sound a bit dated, and while there are rumours that Apple is already is working on a follow-up in the near future, the Galaxy Buds 2 make me feel like new AirPods can’t come soon enough.
The ANC on the Galaxy Buds 2 isn’t bad, though the Galaxy Buds Pro have a clear advantage. On the Galaxy Buds 2, high-pitched sounds like the screeching of brakes on the subway or police sirens come through more, as do low rumbles like the tires of an 18-wheeler. For $219, I don’t think it’s a dealbreaker, but for people looking for the kind of ANC that delivers a cocoon of silence, you’ll probably want to upgrade to more expensive headphones like the Buds Pro or Sony’s WF-1000XM4.
The Buds 2 feature three onboard mics, which use beamforming and a new machine learning-based algorithm to filter out distracting sounds. And while no one is ever going to get the Buds 2’s mics confused with a desktop mic, voice quality is more than serviceable. If you need some extra help hearing things (or just don’t want to take the buds off when ordering coffee or whatever), the Galaxy Buds 2 also supports Samsung’s Ambient Sound feature, which can be set to three different levels of sound amplification.
Underwhelming Battery Life
The total runtime of the Galaxy Buds 2 might be the weakest part of its kit, not because it’s bad, but because previous Samsung headphones like the Galaxy Buds+ boasted a whopping 11 hours of battery life on a single charge. The Galaxy Buds 2 have practically the same battery life as the Galaxy Buds Pro, with the Buds 2 lasting around five hours with ANC turned on (7.5 hours with ANC turned off), or around three hours of talk time if you’re on a call. That’s not quite enough to stay powered up during an entire workday, but as always, you can quickly recharge the buds by tossing them in their case, which holds around three to four more full charges.
Time for some real talk: There’s nothing on the Galaxy Buds 2 that we haven’t seen before. They have pretty much the same wireless charging case Samsung has been using for years, and their design is more of an exercise in minimalism than something meant to catch your eye (though that’s not necessarily a bad thing). And ANC has been a known quantity for years on both high-end headphones and pricier earbuds.
Where the Galaxy Buds 2 excels is in combining all of those things along with solid audio quality and easy-to-use controls in a pair of wireless earbuds that cost just $219, which makes the Galaxy Buds 2 one of the first earbuds to really bring ANC into the mainstream. Sure, battery life could be a bit longer, and I’d like a little more customisability over ANC strength or volume adjustments. But for $219, the Galaxy Buds 2 are just good little earbuds, and that’s the kind of simplicity I can appreciate.