When it comes to premium earbuds, Apple and Samsung are two dominant names in the wireless marketplace. While both brands offer supreme performance and comfortable designs, which set of flagship buds is the best overall? Is it Apple’s second-generation Apple AirPods 2 or the all-new Samsung Galaxy Buds 2? We’ve taken a look at each set of buds based on specific criteria, including design, control, and sound and call quality. Our final verdict is below.
For those looking for more wireless earbud options, check out our roundup of the best true wireless earbuds you can buy right now.
With hard, plastic eartips and long white stems, the AirPods 2 boast the same aesthetic as the previous model of AirPods. In fact, besides now offering wireless charging, little has changed between AirPods and AirPods 2. While the eye-catching design has caught on for some, many still think they look odd protruding from people’s ears, and the lack of silicone eartips or any kind of earfin means that they don’t stay super snug in your ears.
Samsung, on the other hand, offers a smaller, more ergonomic in-ear design with its Galaxy Buds 2 that were recently launched at their Galaxy Unpacked Event in August. The headphones come with small, medium, and large eartips, fit snugly inside your ears and even come with silicone earfins to ensure they don’t fall out during strenuous exercise. In our full hands-on review, the Galaxy Buds 2 stayed in our ears for long periods of time without any kind of discomfort or sweating, even staying put while we took a long snooze. After waking, the Buds still hadn’t fallen out of our ears.
In this category, there is no competition. The Galaxy Buds 2 are better-looking, more comfortable, and snug in all the right ways.
Winner: Galaxy Buds 2
Both Apple and Samsung wireless buds use fairly seamless tap-based controls for a number of functions, including play/pause, call answering, and digital assistants.
In Apple’s case, the actual taps are delivered to the bud stems. Default tapping of your stems will let you either play audio or skip a track. By logging into your AirPods settings (only available through iOS), users are able to re-assign each bud’s double-tap commands, with options for play/pause, track skipping, previous track, and Siri. Speaking of Siri, fans of Apple’s voice assistant will be glad to know you can now wake Siri by just saying “Hey Siri” instead of tapping to wake. This is a nice function to have for those looking to assign other non-assistant commands to the stems. In terms of responsiveness, the stems themselves work pretty reliably as command triggers, but we recommend tapping lightly — too firm and the bud can come loose from your ear.
Out of the box, the Galaxy Buds 2 offer a bit more in terms of control, but a stem-less design means you’ll be tapping the outside of the buds that are in your ears. Normally, this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but when it comes to sensitivity, the Buds 2 are a bit too sensitive. Even the lightest of touches when trying to adjust will set off an unintended play/pause command or ANC (active noise canceling) change. Luckily, you can turn off the touch sensor with the Galaxy Wear app, but you’ll lose those touch features altogether, and yoou’ll need to launch the app to turn them back on.
Getting into the actual tap commands, single, double, and triple taps all perform different functions, including play/pause, call answering, and voice assistant cueing. A hidden gem for Samsung is the inclusion of an assignable “fourth” command (only available through Android). Instead of sequential taps, users can long tap to access either voice commands, quick ambient sound (which reduces music volume so you can hear outside sounds), as well as volume down.
Overall, we found Samsung’s controls a bit easier to use and customize, and the additional fourth command was just enough to edge the Galaxy Buds 2 over the less option-filled AirPods in the control category.
Winner: Galaxy Buds 2
Apple’s AirPods will let you listen to your favorite music for five hours between charges, which is still fairly good in the world of true wireless headphones. In addition to quick pairing and low video latency, they are also some of the loudest true wireless headphones out there. Thick bass and bright highs are joined by a relatively flat midrange, with a sound signature that lacks the transparency you might expect from over-ear headphones in this price range, but that is easily satisfactory from compact headphones.
But even though the AirPods aren’t a slouch, the Galaxy Buds 2 slightly outperform the AirPods in virtually every way when it comes to the listening experience. First, and perhaps most significantly, the Galaxy Buds 2 come with active noise cancellation. And while they’re not quite at the same level of ANC as the AirPods Pro, for $50 cheaper than the non-ANC AirPods 2, you can’t go wrong. And to be clear, Digital Trends reviewer Caleb Denison said the Buds 2 had “the best noise-canceling buds I’ve heard from Samsung yet,” so combining that with punchy low-end, a boost in upper-treble for shining vocals, and decent mid-range that brings everything home, the Galaxy Buds 2 may not quite reach premium performance, but considering Samsung’s mass-market appeal, they’re not far away. Plus, with the expanded EQ app (for Android devices only), you can dial in your audio just the way you like it.
Caleb Denison/Digital Trends
Another thing to consider when it comes to listening experience is just how life-proof headphones are. In this case, the Buds 2 slightly nudge out the AirPods 2 with an IPX7 rating, which means they can withstand workout sweat and dripping water (though they’re not fit for the pool). The AirPods 2, on the other hand, boast no such water resistance.
Winner: Galaxy Buds 2
Charging case and battery life
Perhaps the thing we love most about the Apple AirPods 2 is their charging case. A small, rounded case with a flip-top lid, the case boasts 19 hours of reserve battery (in addition to the AirPods’ 5 hours of listening time and 3 hours talk time per charge), and can even be upgraded to include wireless charging. We love the way this case feels in our pocket, and the addition of wireless charging on the latest model (for $40 extra) is a welcome one.
The Galaxy Buds 2 case doesn’t offer the same kind of longevity, but the pillbox-style case does come with wireless charging at no extra cost. With ANC enabled, users can expect up to 5 hours of playtime and 3.5 hours of talk time. With the charging case, and with ANC enabled, you can expect 20 hours of playtime and 13 hours of talk time total. With ANC disabled, you’re looking at up to 7.5 hours of playtime and 3.5 hours talk time — 29- and 14-hours with the case, respectively.
Additionally, you should be able to get about one extra hour of playtime off a quick five-minute charge and about 2.5 extra hours off a 10-minute charge, getting the charging and overall battery performance of the Galaxy Buds 2 right in line with the AirPods 2.
The AirPods and Galaxy Buds 2 are more than adequate when it comes to call quality, both for the bud-wearer and the person they’re talking to. But there are a few subtle differences. The AirPods 2 are equipped with individual mics in each bud that do a very good job of zeroing in on voices while isolating unwanted background noise. This makes for easy and natural-sounding conversation. The default call-EQ can be a bit flat, but we prefer a safe and reliable mid-range sound over phone calls with boomy bass or sharp treble.
On paper, it would seem that the Galaxy Buds 2 should deliver better call quality than the AirPods, due mostly in part to Samsung’s triple mic system that adapts each bud to the noise environment. But generally speaking, we found that while phone calls came in adequately on the Galaxy Buds 2, our call recipients claimed we sounded a bit tinny and digitized. The default call-EQ was also a little boomier than the AirPods.
Winner: AirPods 2
Apple offers three different AirPods packages. For $159, you’ll get the AirPods with a standard charging case. For just a little more, you can net yourself the earbuds with a wireless charging case for $199. Apple also offers standalone wireless charging cases for $79. For those that opt to purchase AppleCare+, the replacement fee for damaged AirPods and both the standard and wireless charging case are only $29. If you didn’t purchase AppleCare and need to replace parts, the price for a single replacement AirPod is $69, standard charging case for $59, and wireless charging for $79.
Galaxy Buds 2 pricing is a bit more streamlined than the AirPods. You can currently pre-order a set of Galaxy Buds 2 with included wireless charging case for $150. The one caveat is that for lost or damaged buds or chargers, you’ll need to reach out to Samsung Support for any replacements. A number of third-party Galaxy Buds charging cases are also available online, but we recommend contacting Samsung instead of purchasing an off-brand charge case.
While it’s always nice to have options, we’re giving this category to the Galaxy Buds for having the overall best price. And in cases where something goes wrong, you can still reach out to Samsung for additional support.
Winner: Galaxy Buds 2
While there is a lot to like about both pairs of these true wireless earbuds, there is no question that the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2, which will retail for $150 compared to $159 for the AirPods ($199 with wireless charging case), are the better value.
With an awesome listening experience, better fit, and better control, the Galaxy Buds 2 beat out Apple’s second-generation true wireless AirPods, making them our winner in this head-to-head contest.
Want a little more insight? Check out our full reviews of the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 and the Apple AirPods 2.