Current testing methodology is v1.2
February 11, 2020
1.52 x 2.75 x 1.04 in
I’ve had my Samsung Galaxy Buds+ for a couple of years now.
I like my headphones the same way I like the feeling I get from coffee – wired. Call me old-school, but for the longest time, I just couldn’t trust wireless sets to be worth using as a daily driver.
As someone who plays rhythm games like Osu, O2Jam, and Cytus, even the latest Bluetooth tech has way too much latency to make wireless earphones usable, not to even consider how bad it used to be in earlier Bluetooth iterations.
Bluetooth signals used to also be hilariously bad, skipping or even dropping out when I do so much as put my phone in my pocket.
There’s also the sad joke that is the battery life of Bluetooth earphones, which is why I always had a backup wired pair with me when I brought them out. It wasn’t that big of a jump to just not own any wireless earphones at all after that.
Samsung Galaxy Buds+
The only wireless earphones I haven’t gotten rid of – the highest praise I could ever give.
I’m not a fan of wireless earphones, much less the true wireless variety. However, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ has exceeded all of my expectations and more—and, in doing so, has proved that there’s some hope yet for wireless tech.
- Headphone Type: Closed-back true wireless in-ear monitor
- Driver Type: 2 x dynamic driver
- Frequency Response: 20 – 20,000 Hz
- Bluetooth version: 5.0
- Supported codecs: AAC, SBC
- Weight: ~7 grams (per earphone)
What’s in the Box?
- Samsung Galaxy Buds+ earphones
- Charging case
- 3 pairs of wings (S, M, L)
- 3 pairs of ear tips (S, M, L)
- 1m charging cable (USB-C to USB-A)
Stuff I like
- Great tonality out of the box
- Actually good EQ presets
- Ridiculously long battery life
Stuff I like less
- No ANC
- Narrow, cramped soundstage
- Fit isn’t the most comfortable
Most importantly, though, I just never found a use for wireless earphones. I was homeschooled for most of my life and I was tethered to the computer or iPod day in and day out.
That was until college rolled around and I snapped one of the wires clean off of a DUNU Titan 1 that I finally took the plunge.
From out of the depths I caught a fish like few else: the Samsung Galaxy Buds+.
A Bit of Background
As they’ve done for many of their core products, Apple used their brand identity (and “courage”) to make true wireless earphones cool and fashionable to the mainstream market. Naturally, just about every major mobile brand has followed suit since.
Samsung, however, was actually ahead of the curve on this, having released their Gear IconX earphones about a year before the original AirPods.
As indicated by the “+”, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ is an upgraded version of the Galaxy Buds from 2019 and could be considered a third-generation successor to the IconX.
In exchange for a $20 jump in the retail price, the Buds+ improves on all of the internals of the original – better microphones, better battery, a dual driver audio setup, and better tuning.
When they were still in active production, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ could be had in a variety of colors: black, white, blue, pink, and red were a few I recall off the top of my head.
As part of a wider marketing campaign with K-Pop superstars BTS, they also released a purple-and-black special edition, which I have here for review.
The packaging of the regular Buds+ is pretty spartan – small and with minimal graphics. The BTS version, as you see in my photos, gets quite the premium treatment. With boxes in boxes and even a set of exclusive photocards, it’s as much a love letter to BTS ARMY (the name of their fan community) as much as it’s a selling point.
As for why I bought this one? Nothing particular, really.
The color scheme was nice and I got them for basically the same price as the regular version, plus BTS was in my playlist rotation at the time. I wasn’t a superfan by any means, but I liked them enough that the purchase made sense.
Everything else about the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ BTS version is identical to the regular one, for better or worse.
The earphones have a stemless design that’s packed to the gills with the tech they need to do their thing.
While they aren’t built like, say, the Master & Dynamic MW08, they feel nice in the hand and are held together very well. Metal isn’t really something you’d want in earphones that put their weight entirely in your ears anyway.
Fit and Comfort
And indeed, the choice to go with a plastic build does what it can to keep the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ fairly light and comfortable in the ears.
Being this sort of round pod-like design, the earphones can’t quite fill into the ears to create a secure fit. The included silicone fins do have this covered, but at least in my case, their sizing doesn’t quite exactly what I need and they end up feeling a bit full.
Now, this could be fixed in part with the right ear tips, but the Buds+ doesn’t really have them. Instead of the more common rounded shape, the ear tips of the Buds+ have an angled profile that simply seals the ear canal rather than helps hold onto it.
My guess is that it’s better for people who don’t quite like IEMs that fill their ears.
Being a Bluetooth earphone, I do have some obligation to go through the features and gimmicks that these earphones come with. Thankfully, they don’t have any ANC so I don’t have to try and test what’s out of my field of experience.
The controls are simple but useful. The touch pads on each earbud respond to taps for basic controls like play/pause, back/next, and picking up calls, while holds can be configured through the Galaxy Wear app to activate your phone’s voice command assistant or ambient sound (i.e. Transparency Mode).
While you can use the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ without the app, it’s still a good idea to get it since it’s the only way you can change the earphones’ ambient sound volume and EQ preset, of which there are 5 on top of the default.
With a lack of ANC and spatial audio, one could almost say the Buds+ is a bit old-fashioned for a TWS earphone, but I feel it’s all the features I’d want.
And besides, ANC would only take away from the Buds+ frankly ridiculous 12 hours of battery life. Depending on your use case, it really can last that long, and I’ve yet to find another pair of wireless earphones that could pull that off.
So yes, I was drawn to the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ for their battery life. But their sound was what made me stay.
Now, I don’t really buy into the “Tuned by AKG” marketing (AKG is to Samsung what THX is to Razer – known audio brands bought out to mostly give their audio products more legitimacy).
However, they do seem to draw some influence from them in their choice to tune the default Buds+ EQ setting to the equally buzzword-y Harman curve – a quasi-scientific target sound signature that regular listeners mostly liked.
And I do indeed like them.
The Harman target found that most people preferred a decent bump in the bass, and the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ does provide this to a degree.
It’s got a decent amount of bass impact that I’d describe as “Hi-Fi” as opposed to “cinematic”. It’s punchy but fast, not lingering on bass rumble the way that something like the AKG K371-BT would do at times.
Bass extension is also quite good, reaching down to the deep, pulsating bass lines on Geoxor’s “Ephemeral” without breaking a sweat.
While it’s emphasized, though, it doesn’t jump out at you as more basshead-friendly sound signatures would. Not even the “Bass Boost” EQ setting could help with this, as I’ll explain later.
No, what really jumps out at you is the midrange.
With a noticeable boost in the upper frequencies, the mids of the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ become quite forward in the mix, like sounds are shouting in your face. Songs like DUSTCELL’s “DERO” are especially sharp on the ears at points.
Now, this doesn’t apply to all songs. Tracks like “Kingslayer” by Bring Me the Horizon and BABYMETAL showcase the Galaxy Buds Plus’ ability to handle both male and female vocals even in the tough, overproduced environment of alt-metal.
In more isolated environs like Keiichi Okabe’s “Kainé”, Emi Evans’ haunting, vulnerable vocals shine through beautifully.
Owing to that same upper-frequency bump, the treble of the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ is similarly pleasing but inconsistent.
Sure, the extra sparkle provides a bright counterbalance to the bass, but high-frequency sounds are shot to piercing when they land on that treble peak, as it is with the hi-hats on GHOST DATA’s “Full Bodied”.
Otherwise, there’s really not much I can comment on here besides the treble detail being a bit fuzzy at times as a consequence of Bluetooth compression.
The soundstage of the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ is…well, it’s bad.
They’ve got a very narrow sound field that just feels like a line going straight through your skull from one ear to the other. Songs like Phum Viphurit’s “Lover Boy” make this lack of depth pretty clear. But we kind of already knew that.
IEMs are already extremely short on space compared to headphones, which is why a lot of designs put the drivers well into the housings to tune how they resonate and get a bit more “air” into their sound.
But going true wireless makes this even harder as you now also need to cram the Bluetooth radios, microphones, control interfaces (a touchpad, in the Buds Plus’ case), and the batteries in that same space.
iFixit’s teardown video of the Buds+ reveals that their two drivers are mounted right inside the nozzle of the earphones, giving next to no space for the drivers at all.
Samsung, for what it’s worth, did its best here.
So what we find in the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ is an upper midrange to treble bump that sticks out like a sore thumb on what is otherwise a well-tuned Harman sound.
Could the EQ presets in the Galaxy Wear app fix it? Surprisingly, yes.
I’ve covered my general disdain for earphones with multiple tunings in my coverage of the Joyodio Shine because I believed an EQ on your device could do the same job better anyway. The Galaxy Buds+ and its companion app were what got me to believe that in the first place.
The “Clear” preset is what you’re looking for – it’s mostly the same as the “Normal” setting but with the treble emphasis shifted up to a higher frequency to add further sparkle to cymbals. While it can be too bright for some, it reduces that shouty quality in the midrange and removes the sibilant treble peak.
The “Treble Boost” preset is also worth looking into if you want a more neutral sound. Keeping the treble profile of the “Clear” preset, “Treble Boost” instead lowers the bass to give the upper frequencies more room to breathe. It’s an interesting sound that reminds me a bit of some Etymotic monitors.
All of the others aren’t quite as pleasing to my ears, but are perfectly fine as well. Like its opposite, “Bass boost” makes the low-end more audible by reducing the treble; “Soft” tames the midrange peak for a more relaxed presentation; and “Dynamic” boosts both bass and treble to produce a rather generic-sounding V signature.
As I mentioned before, you don’t need the app to get the Buds+ to work, but it does bring out what I feel is its absolute best.
The question left now is: is that “absolute best” enough? I personally like to believe so.
When I bought it at $149, I was hard-pressed to find anything else with this combination of sound quality, wireless performance, and battery life—most especially that battery life.
Now some three years on, I’m still hard-pressed to find anything that could replace the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ on all of these fronts.
I want to make it clear again – I’m not a fan of Bluetooth audio. Now that I’m out of college and working from home, I find even less of a reason to use wireless headphones.
But on the uncommon times I do have to leave the house, I concede that true wireless has its benefits. And of these, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ provides those benefits in a way that nothing else I’ve found could do.
This post was last updated on 2023-11-28 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.