These are nice headphones, but there are other really nice headphones out there that don't cost $149
Samsung is finally getting in on the premium audio game with its "Level" series of headphones and speakers, which were recently announced for the U.S. It's offering up four models in the series — Over, On, In and Box — that bring high prices and presumably high quality to those who have an affinity for the Samsung brand and some disposable income.
I managed to pick up a pair of the Level In earbuds, which retail for an extremely hefty $149.99 in the U.S., and use them for my daily headphones for the past few weeks. Samsung is definitely making a step in the right direction with these high-quality earbuds from both a design and material perspective, but the Level In headphones are still a luxury purchase for a limited audience — read along for the full review.
It's rather difficult for a pair of small in-ear headphones to provide quality, high-end sound by over-ear headphone standards, but as you can see by the use of them every single day on the streets and in the subways of every city, they're more of a necessity item than anything else. You give up audio quality for the comfort and ease of having a small set of earbuds that can be wound up and stuck in a pocket, and although big headphones are making a resurgence as of late, earbuds are the way to go for many.
Samsung is trying to promote its Level In earbuds as offering uncompromising sound, with a "dynamic 3-way speaker" that offers "... rich, clear treble and mid-range sound through dual balanced armature driver units while a single low-range speaker handles deep bass response." But the limits of acoustics in a small set of earbuds hamper any manufacturer's ability to do all that much with a pair of earbuds, and Samsung is no exception.
I'm far from an audiophile, in that I think the "high quality" setting in Google Play Music for streaming All Access tracks is just fine in terms of fidelity, but I do spend a pretty large amount of my time with headphones crammed into my ear holes. My go-to pair of headphones prior to using the Level In are Logitech's Ultimate Ears 350vm — $60 retail, marked down to somewhere around $25 now that they're getting older — and they have served me well for the better part of two years.
I can't say I noticed a single bit of quality difference in the music or podcasts that I listen to hours a day between Samsung's $149 Level In headphones and my $60 (or less) Logitechs. Across spoken word podcasts and electronic, rock and alternative music genres, the Level In earbuds sounded great — but so do my other headphones that are one-third the price.
Samsung isn't lying when it says that it offers rich bass and balanced mid-range, but it is being a little less genuine when it makes the assumption that you can't get that from another brand offering the same set of features at a lower price.
Style and feel
In the modern age of headphones, the look of what you're using seems to be just as important as the sound (looking at you, Beats). Samsung has thought of this, naturally, and has done a great job making its entire Level line of headphones and speakers clean, stylish and most importantly well-suited to pairing with other Samsung products.
- More: Buy Samsung Level In headphones from Amazon ($149.99)
I'm using the white and silver color option, which has a bit of a pearlescent look to it, but there's also a more subdued black pair for the same price if that's more your thing. The white model adds some chrome plastic around the earbuds and play/pause/volume buttons (the latter of which don't seem to work on my LG G3), and brushed silver plastic on the headphone jack, while the black models swap that out for some dark grey and black plastic instead.
The Level In headphones come in a beautiful box that's ridiculously sturdy and closes with a magnet (maybe thats where some of the $149 is going), and inside you'll find several sets of different earbud tips. You get multiple sizes of standard flexible rubber tips, and the same sizes in a soft memory foam-like option. I found the foam ones didn't offer me enough noise cancellation, but they do help with comfort for long listening sessions. You also get a hard-sided zip-up pouch for the headphones and extra tips, though most people will just end up winding these up and stuffing them in their pocket or bag, surely.
The earbuds themselves are quite large, actually, and could easily cause some discomfort problems depending on the size and shape of your ears. I have relatively large ears — using the second-largest included rubber tips — and still noticed in some cases that the hard plastic of the earbud was rubbing up against the outer side of my ear. Considering that there's basically only one way for earbuds to go in your ear, there's little room for adjustment to improve comfort.
This will really depend on the size and shape of your ears, but may be something to consider when buying these — just like any other earbuds you'll want to potentially try them out and return them if they don't work for you after a few hours of listening.
Samsung clearly isn't targeting true audiophile headphone junkies with its line of Level headphones, and the Level In are no exception. These $149 headphones are a complete and utter luxury purchase, that will only serve those who are faithful to the Samsung brand and want to buy a high-end accessory for their high-end phone or tablet. There are dozens of headphone choices out there that will provide equal (or better, honestly) sound for less than half the price, as well as the same high quality and features Samsung bandies about here.
I don't think a single person that drops $149 on the Level In headphones will be disappointed with the listening experience, material quality or design — but they may be a bit disappointed by how much they had to spend to get that complete package.