Samsung Level Over headphones review
Headphones are everywhere right now, from established brand names to apparent armies of newcomers busying the market. So when a big name like Samsung releases a new flagship series of headphones boasting "superior HD organic sound" - whatever that means - it inevitably makes people stand up and pay attention.
Here in the Samsung Level Over over-ear format, the Korean company has opted for Bluetooth wireless connectivity and noise-cancellation technology, working alongside a Samsung Level app to provide a better listen for Android phone users.
But priced at a hefty £300 is the brand relying on its name, or are the Level Over headphones a truly top-drawer set of cans worth every penny?
We've seen a lot of headphones over the years and even ones half the price of the Level Over typically use better materials. Samsung has opted for a giant hunk of plastic, here finished in white (there's a black option too) that fails to reflect that £300 asking price by any measure. We smell a whiff of Beats Studio about these.
They're also a big set of cans, not that their 350g mass feels weighty when mounted on your dome - but that's really no surprise given the mass of plastic. That size feels at odds with the wireless Bluetooth feature in our minds, and they're bigger than a set of headphones we'd typically want to use when out and about.
However, despite the aesthetic charm of many a celebrity makeover, the Level Over are very comfortable to wear. We found their lightweight nature to feel almost floaty, helped by the cushy brown-coloured padding of the headband and earcups. Wear them for hours on end - like we have been in the office - and you'll almost forget they're on. But they are rather large - we've got a big bonce but didn't need to extend the adjustable band for our needs, so those with small heads will probably find these nothing short of huge.
Included in the box is a carry case, 1.2m cable with 3.5mm jack fitting and three button physical remote on the wire, plus a micro USB cable to charge up the built-in battery required for the noise-cancellation.
When we first tried on the Level Over we thought they sounded almost muffled in some frequency areas compared to our usual go-to Sennheiser Momentum on-ear headphones. Positioning is integral for the best listen with over-ears, as the way the drivers sit in relation to the ear canal can adjust what you'll hear (there is that but, as we've come to conclude over time, that the Samsung cans aren't our preference compared to the Sennhesiers).
Over a long weekend we've been breaking in the headphones across a variety of genres and pushing them up the volume scale. They deliver a good sound quality overall, at ample volume depending on source, but given the price point it's not the cleanest listen out there.
Listening to Royal Blood's Little Monster failed to deliver the clarity in the variety of cymbal clashes and hi-hats that we wanted - it's all just a bit too sharp - and the mid-range lacked.
Moving on to some bass-heavy underground numbers from Bcee, Dose, DLR and other producers showed off the typically loud dance music mixdown to better effect, with the bass burbling along well enough without flicking that low-end-engage switch of a certain Beats competitor.
The more we listened the more we began to spot certain capabilities from the 50mm drivers used in the Samsung too. Logistics' Transcending opens with some subtle low-end that we've not even spotted when listening on our full hi-fi setup, proving that there's a wide frequency range on the table from these over-ear cans.
It's no surprise that Samsung has gone in heavy on the app front, being the smartphone leader that it is. Download the Samsung Level app and there's even more control at your fingertips. The headphones connect easily via Bluetooth 3.0, delivering a quality signal without wires, and once paired there's the SoundAlive EQ control that offers basic and advanced adjustments.
Go basic and a five-by-five grid of 25 squares is a simple way to quick select between classic, pop, jazz and rock EQ arrangements, or select those in-between squares as to your personal preference. Go advanced and there's a seven band EQ which we found to be far more effective to boost a little of the mid, lift the bass a touch and roll off a touch of that sharp high-end.
However, we found the maximum volume achievable from our LG G3 smartphone via the app wasn't as high as we wanted, with a wired connection to our office Mac giving the better, louder listen overall.
This EQ adjustment is exclusive to the Android app, of course, so any other EQing or volume settings will need to be derived from the source programme used to make for a different listening experience.
Plug in the Level Over via USB and they'll begin charging, delivering a purported 15-hours of active noise-cancellation and music to your ears. We listen to music far too loud, so outside intrusive noise isn't too much of a bother for us, but the point of active noise-cancellation is to quieten or mute surrounding sound using small built-in microphones.
It works well enough in the Level Over and isn't too aggressive like some systems we've used, so things like a stiff breeze won't distort your listen. But not the entirety of external sound is muted, making it not the most effective system we've ever used.
If the battery runs flat the headphones continue to work as passive cans, with the noise-cancellation a no-go until there's more charge back in the battery again.
After a number of days with the Samsung Level Over mounted to our ears we've come to appreciate just how comfortable they are to wear. Which is a good job, because take these cans off and you'll have to look at their shiny, budget-looking plastic finish.
For wireless Bluetooth headphones we also find the giant size to be bigger than we'd want to wear out and about, but perhaps that's "the Beats effect" taking hold. If you do venture out into the big, bad world then active noise-cancellation works well without going over the top and impacting the listen.
As a listening experience there's plenty of capability in these Samsung headphones, but it's not a polished listen given the default over-sharp high-end and lacking mids. App-based EQ adjustment may tweak your listening experience, but we've heard cleaner headphones for half the price.
Which is the main issue: the price. At £300 it's more game over than Level Over, as you'll be able to find better-built headphones with equal or better output from reputable brands such as Sennheiser, Sol Republic or plenty of others for far less money.