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Home / Reviews / Audio / Headphones / Samsung Galaxy Buds FE review: a sound bargain

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE review: a sound bargain

ANC in-ears at a very tempting price - just be prepared for big bass

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE review buds with case

Stuff Verdict

Surprisingly effective ANC makes the Galaxy Buds FE a real contender in the sub-$100/£100 space. Tuning won’t be to all tastes, but custom EQ makes up the difference


  • Effective ANC for the price
  • Comfy, fairly secure fit
  • A punchy listen


  • Some will find them too bass-heavy
  • Battery life only average
  • Gives up features to hit the low price


Samsung has been giving its smartphones the “fan edition” treatment for a few generations now . They take the best bits about the current flagship and dilute them down to hit a price point that won’t crater your bank balance. The Samsung Galaxy Buds FE turn that thinking onto true wireless earphones for the first time.

The result is a new baby brother for the Galaxy Buds 2 and Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, with similar styling and the must-have features including active noise cancelling. That doesn’t sound too too shabby for a pair of buds under $100/£100. But surely something has to give in order to hit such a tempting price point? After a few weeks of listening, I’m convinced these are something of a budget hero – even if they aren’t perfect.

How we test headphones

Every pair of earphones and headphones reviewed on Stuff is used for a minimum of a week’s worth of daily listening. We use a playlist of test tracks made up of multiple genres to assess sound, and use our years of experience to compare to other models. Manufacturers have no visibility on reviews before they appear online, and we never accept payment to feature products.

Find out more about how we test and rate products.

Design & build: Fin and light

I’ve long been a fan of bud-style earphones, so it was great to see Samsung sticking with a familiar shape for the Galaxy Buds FE. Each bud has a sculpted fin to help keep it locked in your ear, without needing to jam the silicon tip too far down your ear canals. I got a much more secure fit than I typically get from stem-style earbuds. I also found them very comfortable to wear for the best part of a working day. Once I’d found the best fitting ear tips, anyway – there are three sizes included in the box.

It looks like there’s a physical button on each earbud’s outer casing, but these are actually touch-sensitive surfaces. They can be customised using the Samsung Wearable companion app – more on that later.

IPX2 water resistance is the bare minimum I’d want before wearing earbuds in the rain, or attempting a sweaty workout. Rivals such as the Jabra Elite 5 manage IP55 for similar money, and you don’t have to spend much more to find superior IP57 protection. That said, I got caught out in the rain a few times with no ill effects.

There are no on-trend colours like you’ll find with the pricer Galaxy Buds 2 and Buds 2 Pro. Your only choices here are black or white. The compact charging case has a white exterior no matter which you go for, but the inside is colour-matched to the buds. I like that Samsung has kept the case as compact as possible. I could squeeze it into the same jeans pocket as my smartphone, and at just 40g I’d often forget it was in there.

Features & battery: so-so stamina

Those touch-sensitive surfaces mentioned above? They’re extremely touch-sensitive; I found them easy to knock accidentally when adjusting the fit, pausing tracks when I didn’t intend do. Out of the box there’s the usual single tap to control playback, and a tap and hold to switch between the different ANC modes (on, transparency, and off). Double and triple tap inputs can be turned on in the companion app to skip tracks, too.

Samsung hasn’t skimped on features in order to keep the price down. The Galaxy Buds FE get in-ear detection, which automatically pauses playback when you remove a bud. There’s an ear fit test, and even a find my earbuds function that plays sounds remotely in case you misplace them.

Bluetooth connectivity is more basic. The Samsung Scalable Codec (SSC) offers a step up from basic SBC and AAC, but only if you’ve got a Samsung smartphone. Automatic switching between devices also relies on being signed into a Samsung account.

Samsung reckons the Galaxy Buds FE are good for six hours with ANC enabled, or eight and a half with it switched off. I found that a little ambitious, with the buds often conking out after just five hours. That’s still on par with many sub-$100/£100 earphones, though. The case can supply three full charges and still have a tiny bit in reserve. That should get you through a long haul flight with just a few breaks. You don’t get wireless charging here, so it’s USB-C top-ups only.

Interface: almost fully featured

The Galaxy Buds FE use the same Galaxy Wearable app as the rest of Samsung’s earphones (and most of its smartwatches). It’s clearly laid out and fairly comprehensive, although it does want an awful lot of personal data access up front. I’d rather it only ask for it when enabling the relevant features, such as reading notifications aloud.

It handles over-the-air updates, includes a few welcome accessibility options like adjusting the left/right sound balance, and the ear fit test is good reassurance you’ve picked the right sized ear tips. Battery percentages are easily visible on the homepage, and the handy Android homescreen widget puts toggles for ANC modes and disabling the touch controls in easy reach.

At first I was happy to see an equaliser option in the Settings menu, but there’s no custom option – just a handful of presets. Only a couple really felt using, with the others straying way too far into booming bass territory. I’d suggest avoiding it altogether and using a third-party app such as Wavelet for EQ adjustment if you’re not a fan of the default sound.

Sound quality and noise cancelling: quiet riot

Samsung has used a bespoke dynamic driver for the Galaxy Buds FE, rather than trickling down the ones found in the Buds 2 or Buds 2 Pro. The tuning is completely different, too; while the pricier models have a more nuanced sound, here the emphasis is totally on warm, impactful bass.

Not everyone will appreciate how the hefty low end dominates the mix, even in places it shouldn’t. Voices on podcast recordings were more boomy than they needed to be, and heavier electronic tracks were properly OTT. There’s still a decent amount of mid-range clarity, but treble has never been much of a Galaxy Buds strong point.

Happily the Clear EQ preset dials things back a bit. I preferred it for almost every music genre, but it was practically a necessity for my throwback industrial rock playlist. It doesn’t over-egg the high end in calmer, less energetic tracks, which avoid sounding harsh – even if detail is only average for the price. Audiophiles will need to accept $100/£100 isn’t going to go very far in this respect.

I was more impressed with the active noise cancellation, which is surprisingly effective for a pair of budget earphones. Multiple microphones and ANC algorithms inherited from the other Galaxy Buds mean I could happily listen to spoken word podcasts on public transport without any major distractions. That’s something other affordable noise cancelling earbuds usually struggle with. It coped well with big shifts in outside noise, too.

The ambient sound mode comes across as rather artificial, and the ANC would sometimes go into overdrive in one ear; the noise floor would climb dramatically, and I had to pop them back in the case before they’d reset. With no strength adjustment in the app, this bug is hopefully something Samsung can iron out with an update.

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE verdict

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE review verdict

If you’re set on a pair of noise-cancelling earphones and don’t have a huge amount to spend, the Galaxy Buds FE should be high on your list. They’re comfy, have a companion app that brings a decent level of sound customisation, and can mute the outside world as well as some rivals costing twice as much.

The bass-heavy tuning won’t be for everyone, and the bare minimum water resistance means they aren’t my top choice to soundtrack a sweaty workout. They aren’t the last word on battery life, either. But commuters more concerned with silencing fellow passengers’ conversations than critical listening will find an awful lot to like.

Stuff Says…

Score: 4/5

Surprisingly effective ANC makes the Galaxy Buds FE a real contender in the sub-$100/£100 space. Tuning won’t be to all tastes, but custom EQ makes up the difference


Effective ANC for the price

Comfy, fairly secure fit

A punchy listen


Some will find them too bass-heavy

Battery life only average

Gives up features to hit the low price

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE technical specifications

Drivers6.5mm dynamic
Bluetooth versionBluetooth 5.2
Codecs supportedSBC, AAC, SSC
Battery life6hrs/8.5hrs (buds, ANC on/off), 21hrs/30hrs (case, ANC on/off)
Dimensions19x17x22mm, 5.6g (buds)
50x50x28mm, 40g (case)
Profile image of Tom Morgan-Freelander Tom Morgan-Freelander Deputy Editor


A tech addict from about the age of three (seriously, he's got the VHS tapes to prove it), Tom's been writing about gadgets, games and everything in between for the past decade, with a slight diversion into the world of automotive in between. As Deputy Editor, Tom keeps the website ticking along, jam-packed with the hottest gadget news and reviews.  When he's not on the road attending launch events, you can usually find him scouring the web for the latest news, to feed Stuff readers' insatiable appetite for tech.

Areas of expertise

Smartphones/tablets/computing, cameras, home cinema, automotive, virtual reality, gaming