Samsung may be best known for its ace TVs and its seemingly endless line of Galaxy phones, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a few accessories to go with your shiny new S5 . The Level Ons are part of Samsung's new range of headphones -- sitting alongside the Level Over cans and the Level In earphones.
If the name didn't give the game away, the Level Ons are on-ear headphones, with earcups small enough to make them suitable for use out and about. At £150 in the UK and $180 in the US, they're going head to head with the ever-popular Beats, with its new Solo 2 headphones , which clock in at around £170 or $200, but is the Samsung name enough to put these headphones above the competition?
There's no escaping the fact that Samsung is positioning the Level Ons directly against the Beats Solos -- both headphones are on-ears, with similar sized earcups, both are made largely from plastic with a rubber padded underside to the headband, and both models fold up for easy storage.
While the Solo 2s come in a variety of garish hues, Samsung's headphones are a little more restrained coming in black (the model I had) and a white and tan version. I'm not keen on the black model -- it's a very plain design, with little in the way of flair that would make you want to flaunt them out and about. The dull aesthetic makes them look more like the sort of thing you'd find bundled in the box with a smartphone than an accessory you'd want to splash out on.
They're not a set of headphones that will turn heads when walking down the street -- the Beats logo on the side of the Solo 2s at least attempt to add some cred. The white model, with its two-tone effect, has more going for it.
If you really want to make a fashion statement with your headphones, the Levels probably won't cut it -- the Sennheiser Momentum on-ears with their leather and metal headband look much more premium (not to mention mature) and cost around the same. And if you'd rather just get on with listening to music and don't care a jot about what people think of what's sat on your head, they're probably a good choice too.
The all-plastic build doesn't feel particularly luxurious, but then neither do the Solo 2s. The Levels feel a little cheap, although they can handle a good deal of flex before you start to hear any unpleasant creaking. A fairly firm case is supplied in the box, which should help them survive being shoved roughly into your carry-on luggage.
The cord is removable -- meaning it can safely pop out of the headphones themselves when you inevitably get it caught on a door handle -- and features an inline remote, with media controls. Annoyingly, the controls are designed to work mainly with Galaxy phones, and will only work to an extent with other Android phones.
Plugged into an LG G3 , I could pause tracks, skip tracks with a double click and increase volume, but not lower the volume for some reason. The controls won't work at all with iPhones , so if you're an Apple fan, feel free to move on.
The Level Ons are reasonably comfortable, thanks to the headband. It doesn't grip your head with quite the same vice-like strength as other on-ear headphones I've used. I could comfortably wear them for a couple of hours at a time before needing to let my ears breathe. I certainly wouldn't want to wear them non-stop for an entire day, but I could say the same about most, if not all, on-ears.
If you're looking for headphones that punch you in the head with so much bass your skull shakes like a nervous dog, keep on moving. Even the Beats Solo 2s have brought the bass attack down a little in favour of a more balanced sound, and you'll find a similar audio profile on the Levels.
There is bass there, and a decent amount of it, but it's not so forceful as to cut through everything else in the song. The thumping kick drum on Knife Party's intense track "Internet Friends" was powerful, but didn't deliver the sharp punch that would leave dedicated electro fans with a grin from ear to ear. The underlying bass hum behind the track was warm, but the Levels don't provide a particularly tight control over the low end, making the sound a little muddy.
In Meshuggah's brutal song "Combustion", the kickdrum was again powerful, but the guitars and cymbals didn't have the same high-end sparkle that's present in the Sennheiser Momentum on-ears, nor do the Levels achieve the same mid-range warmth, making them sound a little less rich and full than the Momentums -- although I preferred the Levels over the Beats for rock and metal music.
The highly cushioned earpads and moderately tight fit form a good seal on your ears, which helps eliminate a good deal of ambient sound. Traffic noise around central London crept through easily, but they do a good job of blocking out murmurs from an office. You won't need to crank them too high to hear your music properly -- unless you sit next to someone who screeches all day at hilarious YouTube clips.
The black plastic design of the Samsung Level On headphones may be rather plain, but they're inconspicuous and the folding mechanism makes them easy to pop into a bag. Fans of electro and rock are sufficiently catered for in their sound quality, although audio purists won't be too keen on the muddy low end or the lack of clarity and sparkle in the high end.
The total lack of iPhone support kills the Level On headphones' appeal for non-Android users, and they need to be quite a bit cheaper for their uninspiring audio quality to be acceptable. With so many other great on-ear headphones in the same price range -- such as the superb Sennheiser Momentums , to name just one -- the Samsung Level Ons are tough to recommend to anyone but die-hard Galaxy fanatics.