True Wireless earphones have only been around a short time and for the most part, many of the models from the big names have been pretty hit or miss, and mostly misses – at least from what I could gather. I recently decided to dive into them as I wanted something that I could use for walking around, doing activities like physical exercise, yard work, chores, and just walking to and from the parking lot at work.
I did quite a bit of research into them, but the ones I’ve been most interested in didn’t seem to get either good review from people I trust, or just didn’t have the right signature for me. These included models from Sennheiser, Sony, and Audio Technica, and even ones from Master & Dynamic, Advanced Sound, and others. But more recently, the AKG-tuned Samsung Galaxy Buds appeared. At first, I didn’t even bother to look at them. Samsung headphones? Yeah.
But then I started looking into it more and found out they decided to tune it using the Harman International research that Dr Sean Olive et al. performed over the past decade on headphone psychoacoustics and audio preferences. The Harman Target curve has been developed from a series of tests over the years to get a preferential sound profile that would attract to a wide audience. Now, this isn’t the standard sound curve you’ll find in products like Beats, or Sonys or others that are found in brick and mortar stores, but it’s somewhat a cross between that type of consumer bass-heavy V-Shape sound and a more audiophile tuning. The Harman curve, though, isn’t the be-all end-all. In fact, while I actually do like the general sound tuning, I do like my target curve to be slightly warmer, more mid-focused and a little easier on the treble region.
Meanwhile, popular IEM personality Crinacle, started using them and gave me the thumbs up on them in conversation. I was curious. Really curious – the use of case of a true wireless in-ear is quite awesome. I could do so many things while enjoying tunes at the same time and not have to worry about my cable catching something, getting in the way, and continually manage them as well as the player. And so, I took a dive into the world of true wireless.
Use Case #1
Daily housework chores – vacuuming, cleaning, cooking, moving furniture around – all of these are brilliantly easy to do now without wires in the way. The Galaxy Buds not only performed well sonically in these activities but also did not ever fall out. Not even when I was moving bookshelves up and down our house from the third floor to the garage on the bottom floor. Vacuum noise still was audible, but much more muffled with music on. Cooking in isolation actually wasn’t as pleasurable as I wanted, mostly because I do use audible cues to cook food, so turning on the ambient sound mode did help in this case.
One thing to note is that I am able to leave my phone, the source, at one corner of my house and perform my tasks without dropping of connection or any hiccups. Nice to see Bluetooth 5.0 and the Samsung variable codec at work.
Use Case #2
I have some massively over-grown trees in my backyard. We have a greenbelt in the back that has a nice little wooded area and unfortunately this past year has seen the greens grow pretty heavily and quickly. One of the trees spilled well over our fence line and even touching our grass, over 12 feet in from fence and 20+ feet wide. I had to chainsaw the heck out of the branches and feed them through a mulching wood chipper. The Galaxy buds partnered with me through this exercise, providing enough sound isolation to not blow my ears from the sound of sawing and chipping, while giving me fun tunes to rock out to all the while. I never felt like the buds would fall out and get chipped away into a billion pieces either.
Use Case #3
I sometimes have to park several blocks away from my office due to limited parking and therefore, the Galaxy Buds come in quite handy. Road noise is completely eliminated, however if I turn on ambient sound, I can hear it for safety reasons. Generally, I don’t really have to worry too much about this though.
Use Case #4
I occasionally take a light rail train into our downtown area for meetings and, again, the Galaxy Buds did a good job of removing much of the train and crowd noise on the ride. One other nice things about the Galaxy Buds is that they are pretty discrete. They do stick out a tad bit from the side of your ear, but the fit is very comfortable and people may not see them in.
Use Case #5
Along the same lines, at work, because they are pretty invisible to a lot of people, I do occasionally get the colleague who thinks they are talking to me, but I can’t actually hear them. Is that a good thing? Maybe.
Sounds and Profiles
So, the Galaxy Buds – quite useful for daily activities. And the sound – they are surprisingly very good! The default tuning is a near perfect representation of the Harman Target curve, which is pretty enjoyable. It presents bass with just a tad emphasis but not over-bearing and muddy. Mid-range is a little recessed, and makes male voices a little thin, and does emphasize female vocals over males. That said, the treble is airy and maybe a tad hot for some, but is also wide and spacious.
I found the Galaxy Buds to be on-par with detail resolution, speed and just general quality as other IEMs in its price range of $129 and maybe even reaching up to $199 IEMs I’ve reviewed in the past. With the Galaxy Wearables app, which unfortunately is only available on Android, and not available on iOS, several EQ profiles can adjust the sound of the buds to your liking.
The Bass Boost EQ makes the Buds a tad muddy and really loses a lot of definition, especially if you enjoy upper-mid range presence and clarity. I am not a fan of it, but it does provide a little more subbass and noticeable rumble and punch.
The Soft EQ is one of my favorites. It provides some need warmth and richness to the bass and lower midrange that gives a little more body to male vocals and the general sound, without losing too much of the upper mid-range and treble. It does come across as a tad smeared, when compared to the Etymotics ER2XR, which shares very similar frequency response curve and sound to this EQ, but the Galaxy Buds has much better treble qualities than the well-liked ER2XR, which makes the Buds just a little more airy, wide, and versatile. If you want a direct competitor, than the Moondrop KXXS and the Soft EQ Galaxy Buds square up quite nicely. The Buds are limited by Bluetooth codec limitations, however, I find them very similar in sound, tonality, and technicalities with KXXS winning just slightly in resolution due to being wired.
The Dynamic EQ changes the Buds into a V-shaped IEM with emphasized bass and treble and drop in the mid-range. This is a more fun tuning, which is quite comparable to the TFZ No 3, which has recently come out and quite liked. I found the No 3 to have more slam and clarity, but it’s also a little brighter and harsher as well.
The Clear EQ setting gives the upper-mid range and treble a little more emphasis, by dropping some of the mid-bass a bit. This actually does make sound come out clearer and cleaner, albeit a tad lean sounding. The stock tuning and the clear EQ tuning remind me of the Moondrop Kansas Pro quite a bit, to the point where it’s hard to distinguish the two. The Kanas Pro is just a tad brighter, and has some upper end energy that may be fatiguing to some, and that also provides a little more air and a slightly wider soundstage.
Finally, the Treble Boost tuning turns the Galaxy Buds from a Harman tuning to a more traditional Diffuse Field tuning – in this case it’s comparable to the Etymotics ER series of in-ears. While the Etymotics will beat out the Galaxy Buds in resolution, detail retrieval, and isolation, the Galaxy Buds don’t sound that bad. They still have a tad more warmth to them than the DF-tuning, and actually makes them quite pleasant with the added bass boost over the normal Etymotics tuning.
So, I’ve rambled on a bit now, but I have to say, after the month and half of having these new partners-in-crime, I am just puzzled and mystified and how great of an overall package these are. They are simple to use, quick to pair, and just work right. They have great range, and touch controls that make sense and work. They have an app that has a bunch of settings and tweaks that make wise changes. And they have the sound that keeps me interested and entertained. And, most importantly, they fit really well!
Now, I don’t want to pretend these are world-beaters. These are not going to take down some of the higher end In-Ears in technicalities, resolution, or just general sound quality, but these can easily go to combat against the budget world and IEMs, including the crazy price-to-performance Chinese brands, and come out on top or at least die trying. I have no qualms as to keeping these and using them as a daily driver alongside my qdc Anole VX. They are getting equal run-time with me currently and I don’t foresee that changing until something else comes along.
These have essentially replaced my budget to mid-tier IEMs. Who knew I’d like Bluetooth IEMs? Who knew I’d like consumer-brand headphones? Who knew this would come from Samsung of all companies?
I am still surprised every day by these. That’s all. They are worth $129.