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How Samsung beans destroyed wireless ear mold

It was not hard to see Yongseok Bang, the lead designer of the new Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, the moment I joined in a video call with him and other employees gathered around a table in one of Korea’s conference rooms. Samsung South. Right in front of Bang was a black notebook with a large white bean stamped on the front. He quickly confirmed to me that the team had called inside Samsung’s latest wireless ears with the same nickname “beans” that the rest of us did as soon as the leaks started. Samsung moved in a different direction with the final brand in an attempt to highlight the Buds Live outdoor model. Oh well.

For the next 30 minutes, Bang talked to me about how Samsung made it a priority from the start to come up with a design that would stand out from everything else on the market. This is Samsung̵

7;s first batch of open type earplugs and in a world with AirPods knockoffs wherever you look, the company wanted to make it a little bolder.

It is fair to say that Samsung succeeded.

Early prototypes of the Galaxy Buds Live show Samsung’s efforts to nail the right shape and size.
Image: Samsung

Bang said it took Samsung two years to bring Buds Live to market, a time frame that included a lot of experimentation and trial and error. There were three areas of focus: originality in design, ergonomic fit, and a desire for shape to follow function – another way of saying these earbuds had to sound good no matter how they ended up looking.

So how did the company sit in the bean form? Samsung studied the ear ear closely and found that a bean-shaped factor could snugly cradle the ear with a pleasantly surprising, comfortable fit. She conducted design tests with over 2,000 people to finalize accurate measurements and weights.

But getting the Galaxy Buds Live to accommodate smaller ears was one of the biggest design challenges. (In my review, I mention that a friend had trouble getting them to put her ears on quietly.) Small wing tips were added to her ears for this purpose; Live Buds landed naturally on the cone folds for people with medium and large ears without any assistance, and the wing boxes – two sizes come in boxes – helped to keep them inside the ears on the small side. They supposedly at least. In the photo at the top of this article, you can see that the company researched numerous ideas for silicone covers and other accessories for holding the loops securely across the ears.

Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

A picture of Samsung Galaxy Buds Live in someone's ear.

Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

Samsung also had to approach the engineering process differently than it had with the more traditional Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Buds Plus. Bang pointed out that the ingredients are placed sideways compared to those placed vertically as in Buds Plus. This allowed for a slimmer, more delicate design that would not extend significantly beyond the ear, as many wireless loops do.

Some of the Galaxy’s drawings of the Galaxy Buds and its carrying case.
Image: Samsung

Since the Buds Live are completely inside the contours of your ear, the Bang team had to be careful of placing germs. The distance between the two external microbes was initially far enough to ensure performance, but user tests showed that one of the microbes could sometimes be covered by longer ears. So the engineers optimized the distance and added a small groove to the outside of each pair of ears to help carry your voice into the microbe. Bang told me that Samsung tested the microbial performance on hundreds of people.

The points on these prototypes were possible microphone locations that Samsung tested before deciding on the final placement.
Image: Samsung

Look at that first line? The case of Galaxy Buds Live at first also looked like beans.
Image: Samsung

As for the carrying / charging issue, it actually started with a bean shape much like the ears inside. But according to Bang, the consensus was that this style looked more like a sunglasses case than an ear case. With a focus on pocketability and easy opening, the team sat down to design the final issue that some have compared to a jewelry box. ‘It is a runner that runs along three sides, making it easier to open in any way that makes you look more comfortable.

Sound quality was never lost. Samsung was determined to nail the first open type ears, and I was very pleased with the listening experience. You can rotate the Buds Live so that they sit deeper in your ear for more powerful bass and less sharp ambient sounds – this is how I prefer to wear them. No matter how you fit them, there is always a fair amount of external noise flowing, as expected with this form factor.

Bang struck me with a car analogy, comparing Buds Live to a convertible. The open air style is like lowering the roof, he said, and active noise cancellation is not so different from the roof covered by a cloth. It will not block all the noise around you – not even close – but it can help reduce mid and low noise. Noise cancellation was the most compelling part of Galaxy Buds Live in my rehearsals. With no ear plugs, Samsung is significantly limited in what it can do to silence your surroundings.

The Galaxy Buds Live design team made these posters to celebrate the finished product.
Image: Samsung

But in almost every other aspect, Samsung reached those focus areas that guided the development of the Galaxy Buds Live. The style is unique and fresh, the fit is comfortable, and they sound pretty good. As for what follows, Bang said it all depends on customer feedback. The company has been encouraged by the early reviews, so the bean shape factor may be here to stay.

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