Samsung’s new premium Level earphones and headphones look impressive, but how do they really sound, and are they worth the money?
Back in April, the company decided to introduce a line of premium audio products to complement its top tier smartphones, phablets and tablets in the form of the ‘Level’ series; and now we’re testing them out.
Level In earphones – £130.00 (black) | £130.00 (white)
Across all of the Level offerings, the ‘premium’ concept can be felt from the off. Each box itself is sturdy with a magnetic latch, which in this instance you’ll find nestled a pair of Level In earphones and a reinforced carry case containing a myriad of interchangeable ear buds of varying sizes and materials (silicone and memory foam for comfrot and fit options).
Samsung’s Gear family of smartwatches has proven that the company can make premium accessories that utilise high quality materials and an attractive overall aesthetic if it really wants to. The sculpted look of the Level Ins is certainly appealing, with a pearlescent white plastic on the outside and a mirrored inner face. For £130, we’d have liked metal at least somewhere on the design, but it would appear the old Samsung design tropes aren’t easy to kill.
The flat anti-tangle cable is a great inclusion, with the right ear featuring an in-line remote – expect varied results from tapping the remote’s controls, depending on the phone you’re using, they won’t always work as indicated – what was decrease volume when plugged into a Samsung Galaxy S5 became skip track when plugged into an HTC One (M8), just something to bear in mind.
Audio quality from the three-way speaker design is respectable. You’ll notice a richer bass over your average off-the-shelf buds, but does it offer up £130’s-worth of premium audio quality? We’re not convinced. Perhaps if noise-cancellation was built in to sweeten the deal, we’d better understand the Level Ins, but right now they just don’t sound as great as you’d expect for the price.
Level On headphones – £169.00 (black) | £169.99 (white)
For an additional £39, the difference between the Level Ins and Level Ons is night and day, reflecting the fact that you simply can’t achieve the same depth from an in-ear experience versus an on-ear experience.
Whilst the price is still very steep, and there are other, more affordable offerings that produce a similar result, for the die hard Samsung fan, these cans are worth considering. The audio quality is fantastic, clear mids and a balanced bass create a warm, natural sound. The higher details aren’t as pin sharp as we’d like, but you’ll still get an enjoyable audio offering from the Level On headphones.
Design-wise, the story is a familiar one – for the most part, glossy plastic dominates the outer face of these cans, however, the ear cups have comfortable foam inlays covered by leather that help block out background noise. The headband, which sat low and wide on my head, also comes with a padded inner edge for added comfort and it’s fully adjustable on both sides.
The 3.5mm audio cable, which features an inline remote, is completely detachable and as the Level On’s arms are hinged, the whole kit packs down into the protective carry case when not in use.
Level Over wireless headphones – £299.00 (black) | £299.99 (white)
The best of the bunch, the Samsung Level Over headphones are veritable beasts and that’s based on more than just their sheer size alone. Although they are extremely large cans, Samsung’s packed a lot of tech inside to deliver some serious sound to your ears.
On paper, there are a number of impressive specs, most notably a ‘bio cellulose’ structure, which ensures that the large 50mm drivers don’t make direct contact with the frame, something that could otherwise result in distortion.
Whilst it’s difficult to truly tell whether said bio cellulose is doing its job, the sound is broad, rich and clear, with a nice, varied bass, balanced mids and pin sharp highs. Your tunes also benefit from hybrid noise cancellation – passively as a result of the large comfortable leather-clad ear cups and by tapping the ‘ANC’ button, Active Noise Cancellation then subdues background noise to a mild hiss using externally munted microphones.
These tech-heavy headphones also feature NFC pairing, which works by tapping your phone on the outside of the left ear and there’s a touch pad for volume control and music playback on the right ear, which proved very intuitive (that is to say, we didn’t read any instructions and got on with it problem-free).
Should you wish to stay wired, there’s an optional audio jack in the hard case, as well as a classic dual jack adapter for any ancient aeroplane you might find yourself on and a USB to microUSB lead for charging the Over’s internal battery. Samsung says you’ll get up to 30 hours of music playback without using ANC (15 with), but factors like volume, how often your switch ANC on or off and even the type of tunes you listen to will all affect battery longevity.
The top-tier price tag affords you a pearlescent finish plastic on the outside, which is actually rather attractive, complemented by tan leather with a quilted-stitch padded head rest that boasts exceptional comfort.
There’s also an Android app should you fancy tweaking the EQ beyond the default sound. A five-by-five grid displays suggested levels of bass, treble, vocal and instrumental you’d like to favour, or if you’d rather, there’s a full set of sliders for fine-grain control.
Samsung Level In, On and Over verdict: Level up or game over?
On the whole, we can see that Samsung has tried hard with its Level line up. We’d agree that each of these buds and cans hits the premium market, but we’re not sure if they have real staying power. As such, the price tags Samsung’s asking for are unquestionably off the mark, especially when you consider what else is out there from the likes of Sennheiser and Bose as two of the most prominent rivals in the space.
Those determined to become Level-headed should buy from the States over the UK, as the price tags are notably lower for every one of the Level products on offer.
There’s in fact a fourth member of the gang who we haven’t mentioned, which takes the shape of the Level Box – a Bluetooth speaker akin to the Jabra Solemate, however we presently only have access to the Level earphones and headphones. Should the Box make an appearance, we’ll be sure to include it too.
So are you tempted by Samsung’s new Level line or would you rather lay down cash for premium audio accessories from a brand you already know and trust? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.