The lightweight and well-designed Samsung Level U is very comfortable to wear and a good in-ear option for people who don't like to have eartips jammed in their ears.
After the success of LG's Tone Bluetooth headphones we're seeing an onslaught of around-the-neck Bluetooth wireless headphones, including this one from Samsung, the Level U, which comes in two colors and retails for $70 (£50, AU $100). Like all Bluetooth headphones, the Level U connects wirelessly to your smartphone (or tablet), doubling up for enjoying music and as a headset for taking calls.
Since the this headphone's earbuds are designed to sit loosely in your ears, the best way to describe the Level U is a cross between a Bose in-ear headphone and an LG Tone. Like the Bose Freestyle and SoundTrue In-Ear , the Level U is designed for someone who doesn't like having eartips jammed in their ears, and it's a very comfortable in-ear headphone (the flexible neckband is a lightweight "horseshoe" that sits comfortably around the back of your neck).
I started out using the standard Hybrid Gels (they are simply a soft silicone earbud cover). They were fine but the buds didn't stay in my ears quite as well as I'd hoped. However, that issue was resolved when I switched over to the Stabilizing Wing Ear Gels, which created a more secure fit. Both sets of Gels only come in one size but they seem to fit a variety of ear sizes so you could label them one-size-fits-all.
Like the aforementioned LG Tone headphones, the Level U's earbuds are magnetic and clasp together to help "reduce clutter when not in use." That said, when I wasn't using them, I left the buds dangling on my chest, unclasped, and sometimes forgot I was wearing the headphone. And that's why people like this type of Bluetooth headphone: You simply leave it around your neck and stick the earbuds -- or often just a single bud if you're taking a call -- in your ears when you need to.
Samsung says the Level U has dual-mic noise reduction to prevent outside noise from interfering with your music or with calls. That noise reduction helps, but the open design of the earbuds does allow plenty of sound to leak in so I can't say these are the best for noisier environments (along with some office and home use I also tested them on the streets of New York and also wore them on the subway).
Battery life is decent; it's rated for 10 hours of music playback and you get voice prompts telling you that the headphone is on and in pairing mode. The back of the neckband also vibrates, alerting you to incoming calls, a nice feature.
A set of buttons on the right side of the neck band allow you to pause and play your music, answer/end calls, skip tracks forward and back and raise and lower the volume. The buttons are well placed easy enough to operate by feel alone.
If you have an Android phone, you can download the free Level App to access and control advanced settings of the headphones which include the ability to have the headphones read text notifications to you (I couldn't really tell what else was advanced).
The one thing I was disappointed about was that this wasn't water and sweat resistant. I thought it worked well as gym headphone and I was able to run with on the treadmill (the buds stayed in my ears), but I can't tell you how well it will deal with sweat over time.
I tested the headphone with the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6 and didn't notice a difference in sound quality when switching among the devices.
The headphones have 12-millimeter drivers and sound pretty decent with less demanding music but show some weaknesses with bass-heavy and more complicated tracks. This a fairly well-balanced headphone and has a reasonable amount bass but that bass isn't all that plump or tight and it distorts at higher volumes.
More acoustical material like Laura's Marling's "Strange" or Kacey Musgraves' "Merry Go 'Round" come across well, but anything a little harder driving, such as the Kings of Leon's "Knocked Up" or even Kelly Clarkson's pop hit "Heartbeat Song" get rough around the edges at higher volumes.
I threw a pretty eclectic mix of music at these headphones (I'm not a musical snob) and suffice it to say, this headphone isn't for critical listeners. You'll get better, cleaner sound and deeper bass from LG's Tone Infinim and Sol Republic's Shadow Wireless , both of which are true in-ear headphones that are better noise isolation (with the open design, you do lose some bass). But for more casual listening it's fine and it works decently as a headset. Callers said I sounded clear and I could hear them well enough so long as I wasn't in a really noisy environment.
As for the Bluetooth connectivity, I can't say it was stellar. I did encounter the occasional hiccup when I was walking around with my phone in my pocket, but the connection was stable when I was listening at my desk at work with the phone sitting on the desk. Alas, Bluetooth is far from perfect (it doesn't transmit through water, and -- guess what? -- your body's made up of mostly water).
Though it doesn't offer the greatest sound, I liked the Level U and found it very comfortable to wear and use, which is what makes it recommendable. Like Bose earphones, it's a good in-ear headphone for people who don't like to have eartips jammed in their ears. At $70, it's not a bargain (it feels more like a $50 headphone), but it is competitively priced against LG's Tone models, which start around $50 online.