Apple has dominated the true wireless market ever since the company largely established it, delivering unsealed audio with the infamous, but no less iconic design of the AirPods. However, while this iOS-friendly pair of earbuds gets the biggest spotlight, Samsung’s true wireless offerings have been steadily gaining popularity—especially among people who don’t reside in Apple’s walled garden. Both companies recently released their newest entries, the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) and Samsung Galaxy Buds 2.
But in the battle of the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) vs Samsung Galaxy Buds 2, who wins?
The Apple AirPods 3rd generation has a more rounded speaker element opening meaning a better fit in your outer ear—and a worse fit at the ear canal opening.
Which pair of true wireless earbuds is easier to use really depends on what device you own. If you use an iPhone, the overall experience is going to be easier with the AirPods (3rd generation) than with the Galaxy Buds 2. With that said, the two have pretty different fundamental experiences, so it should be fairly easy to figure out which set of buds is for you regardless of your smartphone’s operating system.
The Galaxy Buds 2 features a pretty standard look and feel for true wireless earbuds from Samsung, and really true wireless earbuds in general. The buds are small and rounded, with touch-sensitive panels and silicone ear tips. The buds fit securely in your ears and come with multiple sizes of ear tips, so establishing a decent seal requires little effort. The touch controls allow for a degree of on-ear control. Here’s what you can do by default:
|Two taps||Next track; answer/end call|
|Hold||Previous track; custom option; decline call|
Conversely, the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) features the same unsealed design of its predecessors, now with a slightly rounder bud shape intended to make for a more comfortable fit. Similar to the AirPods Pro, the AirPods (3rd generation) has indentations in each stem, and you can squeeze them to control playback and more. Here’s what the controls are by default:
|Action (stems)||Either earbud|
|Two taps||Skip forward|
|Three taps||Previous track|
|Press and hold||Siri|
|"Hey Siri"||Change volume, request directions, playback control, receive messages, and more|
However, the matchup gets a little less even as you look at the features. Notably, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 features active noise cancelling (ANC), something the AirPods (3rd generation) lacks. There’s also an ear tip fit test in the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app, so you can get figure out the ideal tip size get the best isolation performance possible (more on the app in a bit).
To take advantage of automatic ear detection, you need an iPhone or iPad.
The Apple AirPods (3rd generation) brings some of the bells and whistles from the AirPods Pro, most notably Apple spatial audio, which creates a virtual surround sound for media mastered for Dolby Atmos and 5.1 or 7.1-channel formats. Apple’s new generation true wireless earbuds also incorporate accelerometers for head tracking, so the audio source will sound locked in place, regardless of how you turn your head. As of the newest iOS update, the spatial audio also has a “spatialize stereo” setting, which will let you automatically convert non-Atmos media into spatial sound—it doesn’t work as well as the stuff made specifically for it, but it’s a neat gimmick that offers a new way to experience old media.
See also: The best workout earbuds
Both earbuds feature IP ratings, which means they should be fine for working out. The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 is IPX2 rated, which means it’s protected from sweat. The Apple AirPods (3rd generation) is IPX4 rated, which covers splashes of water too. However, these earbuds definitely aren’t ideal for the same kinds of workouts. After, all the unsealed fit of the AirPods means you’re going to hear everything in the gym, but it could be considered a safety feature if you’re out for a run (provided you can get the buds to fit securely).
The Samsung Scalable Codec is a nice option if you’re hooked into Samsung’s ecosystem.
The Apple AirPods (3rd generation) and Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 feature similar connection options, but a few things give Samsung’s true wireless earbuds the edge. The Apple AirPods (3rd generation) uses Bluetooth 5.0 and supports the default SBC, as well as AAC, which makes sense—iPhones only use these two codecs, after all.
The Galaxy Buds 2 supports SBC and AAC too, but it also uses the Samsung Scalable Codec, which only works on Samsung devices. Samsung’s codec works a lot like aptX Adaptive, constantly balancing between sound quality and connection strength. It doesn’t hit the same sound quality of high-end codecs like LDAC, but it’s a step up from SBC and is more reliable on (Samsung) Android devices than AAC.
The Galaxy Buds 2 also uses Bluetooth 5.2, which means it will handle the power draw of Bluetooth connections a little more efficiently at greater ranges. Additionally, Bluetooth 5.2 means that these true wireless earbuds may one day support the new LC3 codec when it eventually replaces SBC as the default Bluetooth codec.
You can take control of the earbuds from the Wearable app.
Apple and Samsung have taken very different approaches to the software situation for their true wireless earbuds, but the headsets have two things in common—the software is pretty integral to the overall experience, and each pair of buds is locked to a single operating system.
Just like all other products in the line, the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) uses the iOS (or iPadOS) Settings app for control and customization. This means, that only users with iPhones or iPads can install firmware updates or access premium features like spatial audio, Find My AirPods, or hands-free Siri. In the settings app, you can also customize what happens when you press the force sensors on each stem, and toggle automatic ear detection.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 uses a more traditional app for software features: the Galaxy Wearable app. This app is only available on Android, so iPhone users will miss out on firmware updates, the ability to toggle between ANC and ambient sound mode, access to the ear tip fit test, and the app’s selection of EQ presets. There’s no custom EQ option here, but the presets still represent more customization than the Apple experience, which relies on the hands-off Adaptive EQ feature.
The Galaxy Buds 2 supports Wireless PowerShare like all the Galaxy Buds that came before it.
The AirPods (3rd generation) makes improvements in battery performance over its predecessors, and that’s enough to give it the edge in this match up. At a consistent output of 75dB(SPL), the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) lasted 6 hours, 21 minutes on a single charge. Additionally, the AirPods charging case holds enough juice for an additional four charge cycles, which means over 30 hours overall. The charging case now also supports the new MagSafe charger (which is just a magnetically secured Qi wireless charger), as well as regular wireless charging and wired charging over Lightning connections.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 isn’t too far behind the AirPods, lasting 5 hours and 9 minutes on a single charge with ANC on under the same testing conditions. With ANC off, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising for its performance to exceed Apple’s earbuds, too. The Galaxy Buds 2 charging case offers 15 hours of listening time, which makes for just over 20 hours cumulatively.
Both pairs of true wireless earbuds support fast charging to an equal degree. With 5 minutes in the charging case, both the AirPods (3rd generation) and Galaxy Buds 2 will get an hour of playback time.
The AirPods (3rd gen) is in cyan, Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 is the yellow dashed line, and the SoundGuys Consumer Curve is the pink line.
Aside from the typical shortcomings of an unsealed fit, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 and Apple AirPods (3rd generation) are pretty competitive with each other in terms of frequency response. Sub-bass output is far more accurate with the Galaxy Buds, because it uses silicone tips to seal the ear canal. However, when it comes to listening to music at least, there really aren’t that many sounds in this range, and the AirPods’ integrated bass reflex ports do a lot to mitigate bass leaking, at least in ideal conditions.
The AirPods (3rd generation) also features midrange output that hews a little closer to our target curve, and a slight boost in high range output compared to the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2. If you’re listening in a quiet environment, either will sound great for just about any kind of music.
However, while these two pairs of true wireless earbuds sound great in ideal (quiet) conditions, only one sounds good in non-ideal conditions. The unsealed fit of the AirPods (3rd generation) means you’ll hear pretty much any environmental noise, so auditory masking will almost certainly be an issue. In comparison—if comparison is even really warranted—the sealed fit and ANC of the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 means the isolation performance should let you listen comfortably just about anywhere.
It’s not just about sound quality, though. Bad auditory masking can lead people to turn up the volume to unsafe levels to compensate—noise-induced hearing loss isn’t something to mess around with.
The AirPods (3rd generation) will no doubt prove popular among iPhone owners, but there are far better, more comfortable options out there for less money.
Like a lot of the features of these buds, microphone performance will likely depend in part on which device you use with the earbuds. On the iPhone, the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) microphone sounds better than just about any true wireless option on the market. However, with pretty much every pair of AirPods we’ve reviewed, that sound quality takes a hit when paired with Android devices or different computers. In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 just doesn’t sound as good, but it should sound a little more consistent across platforms.