In the sea of earphones already present in the market, many already stand themselves apart from the crowd with distinguishing traits like great audio quality or top-tier noise cancellation. So how is Samsung exactly differentiating the Buds Live from its competitors? A redesign/building on the previous galaxy buds released on March 2019 into a lifestyle version of the popular buds. Samsung’s very bold marketing claims back this product’s existence as they aimed to have top-tier active noise cancellation while allowing external voice like conversations and higher frequency noises through to allow for increased situational awareness.
However, there’s a problem with the marketing as they try to achieve two very conflicting aims. For one, to allow sounds like conversations and other higher frequency noises to reach the ear without the use of a passive seal to block other noises. Two, without the aforementioned passive seal, they aimed to have ANC on the Buds Live. This means that the ANC software on the Buds Live will have to filter out way more noises compared to having a proper sealed one.
Keep note that Samsung did include this in the marketing materials, “Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) on Galaxy Buds Live received UL Verification for cutting background noise by up to 97% in low-frequency bands.” So, did the ANC work as described in the marketing, or was it just clever marketing that doesn’t necessarily paint the whole picture? Suffice to say, the ANC barely made any discernable difference to the AC humming or lower-pitched voices from colleagues few cubicles away in the office. Anything louder or higher frequency that, good luck with that as the Buds Live doesn't do much as its ability to reduce the noises is limited by design. It does have other merits to it though as having less than stellar ANC is not the deal breaker here.
The Buds Live design is plasticky and feel less premium, but plastic is not totally bad here as it gives the Buds Live less heft to it so it’s light enough to sit in your eyes softly. Due to its design of sitting just outside your ear, you won’t get listening fatigue from all day use as there are no stuffy insulation sealing off your ear canal. Sometimes I even forget it is in my ear when I reach home from work. Samsung built a vent in the middle of the Buds Live to allow for more ventilation to prevent stuffiness.
The 12mm dynamic speakers tuned by AKG drives all the sound produced by the Buds Live and surprisingly the audio quality is actually decent for what it is. Other earbuds in the market deliver the best audio quality by sealing off the external environment with a passive insulation and while the Buds Live is aiming for that without a proper seal. I will give Samsung credit where it is due as the Buds Live sound decent enough considering its position of not sitting directly in the ear canal. With the Buds Live positioned outside the ears the speaker drivers will have to produce sound clear and loud enough to not get drowned out by the external noises coming in at the same time.
The sounds coming from the Buds Live sound noticeably louder than the Buds or Buds+, while not sounding distorted by any means. You can still pick up the highs (bass, drums etc) and mids (instrumentals and vocals) coming from the Buds Live clearly, however lower frequencies sounds like the trailing vibrations of bass and drum instruments certainly got lost amongst the other sources of audio if external noise is coming in at the same time.
Now here’s the most interesting thing about the Buds Live as the Buds Live is by design supposed to sit outside your ear canal. But in the strictest sense everyone’s ear structure is different, and hence by definition the fit and position of the Buds Live relative to your ear is different for everyone. The sound quality of the Buds Live would then be extremely subjective to most people depending on the position of the speaker drivers relative to the entrance of the ear canal. Push the Buds Live closer into your ears and they will certainly start to sound better but at the expense of added discomfort.
As for the microphone, the 3 mics that Samsung did include (2 facing outward and one bone conduction mic facing inward) did do its job. The Voice Pickup Unit sounds like some fancy tech where it senses when your jaw is moving, and as your jaw vibrates this data is converted into voice signals. The voice pickup unit is essentially a device detecting bone conduction and turning it into audio signal. In a noisy environment, all three mics combine to give you incredible call quality from the Buds Live.
The voice picked up from the mics on the Buds Live sounded good where it worked, but on rare occasions it did sound very distant like speaking in loudspeaker mode, it was as if the mic was focusing on another source of sound other than my voice. Was it maybe interference from an external environmental factor or was it the Buds Live’s software bugging out, more testing needs to be done.