These are enjoyable casual-use earphones with solid active noise cancellation. But they trade away some of the balance of the other Samsung Buds pairs in search of bass thrills.
- Effective ANC
- Powerful sub-bass
- Doesn’t quite reach battery life claims
- Disjointed bass
- Occasional jarring connectivity blips
- Very limited water resistance
Active noise cancellationThese earphones have good ANC, helpful for quietening down the noise of the outside world.
SSC codecWhen used with a Samsung phone, the Buds FE can transmit over Samsung Scalable Codec (SSC), a bespoke high-quality codec.
IPX2These earphones have very limited IPX2 water resistance, enough to handle some rain but little more.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds FE are a more affordable pair in Samsung’s true wireless earphone line-up. We had the Galaxy Buds 2, the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, and now these.
As big Samsung fans may know, the “FE” stands for fan edition, a label used in the company’s phone and tablet series.
There’s good news and bad news. The Samsung Galaxy Buds FE have all the key features of the pricier Galaxy pairs, including active noise cancellation and auto-pausing ear sensors. However, these earphones use a completely different set of drivers, and don’t have quite as faithful tuning as their siblings.
The changes made here are clearly deliberate, and the most notable is a big old double scoop of cochlea-quaking sub-bass. It can be flat-out too much with some songs, but it does add an energy many will enjoy.
- 5.5g per earbud
- Weak IPx2 water resistance
- Black and white finishes
The Samsung Galaxy Buds FE are small true wireless earphones. They are fairly subtle and good-looking, with no giant Samsung logo on the buds themselves.
Samsung isn’t printed on the buds at all, in fact, just on the top of the charging case.
There’s no earpiece stem here either. Samsung clearly wasn’t out to make a statement earphone like the Nothing Ear (1). And unlike the other Buds earphones, these have a flat back panel, arguably making them look all the more conventional.
Comfort is great. The earpieces are light, and they have a little silicone fin that runs across the outside. It’s a much smaller version of the kind of anchor used in sports earphones to add some stability without complicating the fit. You just bung the Samsung Galaxy Buds FE in and you’re done.
These are far from sports earphones, though. They have pretty pathetic IPX2 water resistance, which means they can handle falling water at an angle of up to 15 degrees from the vertical. A bit of rain, in other words, but nothing more.
This is a rating so low you can’t really consider the Samsung Galaxy Buds FE water resistant, but I have used this pair in the rain, on long runs and in the gym and have not encountered any issues.
Still, only the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are made for genuinely challenging conditions. They have IPX7 water resistance, ready for an actual dunking.
- Good active noise cancellation
- Ambient mode
- 5-hour battery life (tested) with ANC
Poor water resistance aside, the Samsung Galaxy Buds FE have a respectable spread of features.
They use touch-sensitive earpieces for control, just like the other Galaxy Buds earphones. Some might find the flat backs make this seem more intuitive.
You long-press to switch between the active noise cancellation (ANC) and ambient awareness mode, which plays some noise of the outside world through the earphone speakers.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds FE’s active noise cancellation is quite good for a non-flagship true wireless earphones, and a noticeable step up from the Galaxy Buds 2’s.
While we’re not on the same level as the Bose QuietComfort Ultra here, but you do get more than the basic ANC effect of stopping engine rumbles from ruining your music. You can use the Samsung Galaxy Buds FE’s ANC without any music playing to make noisy environments less distracting while working, for example.
The ambient mode isn’t the most stunningly natural I’ve heard. However, it was comfortable to use for a few hours while working from home and waiting for a courier delivery. Perhaps it’s just the way the microphones are positioned, but the Samsung Galaxy Buds FE’s ambient mode doesn’t seem to amplify the click-clack of your keyboard too much, relative to its amplification of sound elsewhere around you.
Samsung says these earphones will last up to 8.5 hours per charge, or six hours with ANC turned on.
This is optimistic. Using the Samsung Galaxy Buds FE at moderate volumes, I found the first earpiece died after 5 hours and one minute. The second joined it at 5 hours 24 minutes. It’s not a bad result, but it doesn’t match the claim and is not notably good.
This was with the ANC switched on 90% of the time, and the ambient mode used a few times.
Such a disparity means you should expect these earphones to last closer to 18 hours with a fully charged case in tow rather than the headline figure of 30 hours (which refers to use with ANC turned off).
The Samsung Galaxy Buds FE also have a sensor to tell when they are in your ear, pausing and disabling ANC when one is taken out. These earphones connect to the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app on your phone, which lets you apply EQ and, for example, tweak what touch gestures on the earpieces actually do.
It also offers a “find my earphones” function, which plays a tone through the earpieces — dead handy. And if you have a Samsung phone, you can use Samsung’s SSC codec (Samsung Scalable Codec) instead of AAC or SBC. It claims to make constant on-the-fly adjustments for the best experience.
When testing with a Motorola Edge 40 Pro, my experience was fairly mixed. While you can go long stretches without any issues, connectivity blips can really stand out. I’ve taken these earphones out for several runs, and on one, the Galaxy Buds FE kept reverting to a mono or very low bitrate signal, and there were lots of micro stutters that made it sound like Kylie Minogue was losing the beat.
These seem to be techniques used to style out momentary connectivity woes. But it’s just proof you can’t really style this stuff out. Suddenly going mono, or the musical equivalent of becoming super-pixellated? It’s all pretty noticeable.
- Puppy-like enthusiastic low bass
- Bass pulls focus
- Otherwise solid tuning and tonality
So far, the Samsung Galaxy Buds FE do not seem a drop down from the Galaxy Buds 2 in any appreciable way. They’re even an upgrade for noise cancellation.
They have a totally different driver array, though. Where the Buds 2 and Buds 2 Pro have an interesting dual driver arrangement, with a woofer and a tweeter, the Buds FE just use a single dynamic driver. Like most earphones.
When you open up the case, there’s no “sound by AKG” (a venerable audio company owned by Samsung) tagline, which is found in the Galaxy Buds 2 case. So, are Samsung’s sound experts washing their hands of these?
I take it to be a suggestion the FE’s makers just weren’t aiming for the same sound profile as the rest of the series, and that plays out in the Samsung Galaxy Buds FE audio to an extent.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds FE have a much more pronounced bass boost than the Galaxy Buds 2. It’s not a thoughtless bump across the entire bass range, though.
Samsung avoids stodging up the sound too much by making the low and sub-bass the most hyped area of the lot. While this is quite a warm-sounding earphone, it doesn’t end up too clouded or confused through an excess of mid-bass.
That said, in quite a lot of songs this leads to the bass sounding disconnected from the rest of the sound. It’s an unbalancing bass response, even if it’s not boomy in the usual sense. It actually led to me turning down Yussuf Dayes Black Classical Music as the strong low bass of the kick drum becomes uncomfortably ear-pounding at otherwise normal volumes.
On the positive side, the mids are a little less recessed here than they are in the Buds 2, and I find the treble a little less “hot” or shouty. But just as was noted in our Buds 2 review, the Buds FE are not masters of treble detail.
There’s good news, though. The Galaxy Wearable app has a bunch of EQ presets for these earphones. And while I find none of them really help for the Buds 2, a couple can help tame the Galaxy FE. Samsung’s Clear setting removes the Galaxy Buds FE bass’s excesses, adds some spark to the treble and arguably makes the earphones sound more coherent than the step-up Buds 2. But it can make the treble sound a little pinched too.
However, if you aren’t coming for the big bass, maybe you shouldn’t go for the Galaxy FE in the first place.
Should you buy it?
You want ANC without a high price
These are a good choice if you want a sensibly priced pair of earphones with active noise cancellation and don’t mind trading some balance for bass.
You want a balanced audio experience
The Galaxy Buds FE have more of an unbalancing low bass boost than the other Samsung earphones, and battery life is shorter than claimed at five hours.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds FE are a good fit for someone who likes their bass extra-deep and punchy. This pair goes big on sub-bass, but it does mean they are less well-balanced than the step-up Galaxy Buds 2.
Active noise cancellation gets a slight upgrade, though, and you don’t lose out on any key features just because these are more affordable “FE” earphones.
How we test
We test every set of headphones we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
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Tested with real-world use
They have very basic IPX2 water resistance, which won’t protect them from much more than rain.
You can use any phone with these earphones, but with a Samsung, you can use a better streaming codec called SSC.
Yes, these earphones have ANC, and an ambient aware mode.
First Reviewed Date
Samsung Galaxy Buds FE
20 20 – Hz