Bottom line: Consumer Reports pitched the popular Apple AirPods against the Samsung Galaxy Buds and concluded that despite the AirPods being one of the best-selling earphones of all time, thanks to their ease of use and features, the one important area where they seemingly lack is sound quality. As a result, they couldn't make it to Consumer Reports recommendations, something which the cheaper Galaxy Buds did with a much better overall score.
Considering that the Apple AirPods fit so well in the company's ecosystem, many consumers don't bother looking at alternatives. And while they're not aimed at audiophiles, everyone can appreciate good sound quality from earphones that sport such a sleek form factor.
According to Consumer Reports, in its True Wireless Earphones Face-Off that puts the Apple AirPods against Samsung's Galaxy Buds, the latter emerge as the "clear winner".
The Samsung Galaxy Buds don’t just sound better than the AirPods, they’re among the best-scoring Bluetooth headphones Consumer Reports has ever tested. They’re a little cheaper, too. The Galaxy Buds usually sell for around $130, compared with $160 for the AirPods ($200 with an upgraded charging case).
With tests spanning over weeks, Consumer Reports found that while the AirPods did a "decent job of reproducing music and movie dialog" and are a reasonable choice for casual use, their one weak spot is bass. "The AirPods deliver the physical thump you get from percussive low sounds like a kick drum, but the earphones lack depth," while the midrange blurs together different instruments making it difficult to pick out individual sounds.
In terms of sound quality, Consumer Reports say that their testers found the Airpods' audio nearly identical to the $30 wired earbuds that used to come for free with previous iPhones.
The cheaper Galaxy Buds on the other hand, while not perfect, have an "obvious depth" that the AirPods lack. Also, with better sound in the mids and highs, the difference between the two earphones is undeniable, even to those who aren't audio snobs.
The Galaxy Buds sound fantastic, well beyond what you hear with your average headphones. They come standard with modern features like USB-C and wireless charging compatibility, and you don’t need to blast the volume to hear over your surroundings. In general, they work better on iPhones than the AirPods do on Android devices.
Although the publication does acknowledge that AirPods "might be enough" for many people, a score of 56 couldn't earn the AirPods a recommendation from Consumer Reports, which went to the 86-scoring Samsung Galaxy Buds as they raised the bar for true wireless earphones.