Ratings in depth
design
features
usability
performance
value

It was only a matter of time before Samsung went after the booming headphone market. Lord knows it's successfully gone after all the others.

The Samsung Level Over pair we have here sits at the tip of a new three-pronged attack which also includes the Level On over-ears and the Level In in-ears.

They're not exactly cheap, costing $350 in the US and £300 in the olde worlde, though you might find them for a touch less online if you look around. And for that money you get a beefy pair of shiny cans in white or black with some very smart features on board.

As well as aptX Bluetooth and active noise cancelling, the Samsung Level Over incorporates a touch panel on the right-hand ear cup which puts super-easy control of your music literally at your fingertips.

It's a unique feature and by far the best of the Level Over's party tricks - we'll come back to that.

samsung level over
The Level Overs are stiff but they do flex and they're comfy

Features

In the box you get a rugged carry case, a 3.5mm cable with clicker for controlling music and answering calls, a microUSB cable for power and charging as well as the obligatory double-pin airplane adapter.

The carry case is the biggest I've ever seen for a pair of headphones like this, and that owes to the construction of the headphones themselves. The ear cups do not swivel for comfort and convenience like many other headphones do at this price point, so case has to allow for a deeper fit. It's not ideal for travel, that's for sure and makes them quite cumbersome.

Despite that, the Level Overs are still quite comfortable to wear. The ear cups and headband are nicely padded and even wearing them for long periods didn't get awkward or too hot which is always a good sign.

That said, I'm not a huge fan of the design aesthetics. They're made mostly from smooth plastic, which for an expensive pair of headphones doesn't offer the premium feel I would expect. In fact they feel really quite cheap to the touch.

Some will like the element of bling that the shiny white/black finish brings, but I'm drawn to a more robust, adaptable and premium design. They're very on-brand for Samsung, though, and look very much at home next to my white Galaxy Note 3.

samsung level over
They're also available in shiny black as well as shiny white

Operation

The Level Overs support Bluetooth and aptX for high quality wireless playback and work in conjunction with the 'Samsung Level' Android app which aids quick pairing as well as offering some very functional 'Sound Alive' EQ settings.

The app allows you to design your preferred soundscape by selecting a plot on a 25-square grid with treble/bass top and bottom and instrument/vocal left and right. Tapping each square on the grid instantly changes your sound settings so you're able to tune the headphones into your preferred range without much drama.

It's a cool way of experimenting with the way the headphones perform, and it does make a huge difference, but unless you want to continually return to the app as you change music types, you'll probably find yourself leaving it on normal.

level over sound alive app samsung

The app will also let you use your headset to integrate more deeply with Samsung's Android devices, enabling you to use S-Voice (no one uses S-Voice) and text-to-speech through the built-in microphone. Placing and answering calls through the headset is very straight forward too.

But it's the touch-panel controls that intrigue the most. The problem with many 'smart' headphones is that they have multiple buttons on them in different arrangements for tweaking volume, play/pause, pairing etc. And knowing which button you're pressing without taking the headphones off your head is often impossible.

What Samsung has done is transform the outer surface of the right-hand ear cup into a touch panel, introducing touch-gestures instead of analogue buttons. Swipe up/down to change volume, left/right to skip tracks, tap for play/pause.

touch panel
Touch gestures make the Level Overs very easy to use

It works really well and it makes quick operation very intuitive. Of course, if you've got them wired up you'll use the clicker to do all of this, but I anticipate most people opting to go wireless if they're paying for the feature.

This concept does come with its flaws though. The touch-panel is always-on when the headphones are powered up, which means it's fairly easy to do things by accident. For example, I kept accidentally launching Songbird and auto-playing the irritating Samsung theme tune - an unintended tap will do that to you.

I felt this was fair enough though, the more you use these headphones the more you get used to the operation. And anything is better than having five different buttons on the side of the ear cup.

The other feature, of course, is noise cancelling. Sort of a default feature for active headphones these days and it's a technology that hasn't improved for many years. The Level Overs do an excellent job of filtering out background white noise from air con units and aeroplanes but as with any ANC headphones, you'd be wise not to expect miracles.

level overs from the side
They're made from plastic, much like Samsung's Galaxy Android devices

Sound quality

So far then, the Samsung Level Over headphones are coming out on top but it's how they sound that really matters and sadly for me they only sound... ok. In truth, I was a bit disappointed with them.

The ear cups do provide a decent sound stage via some good isolation from outside noise even without noise cancelling turned out. They pump out some excellent bass and the high frequencies on many tracks really fizz.

But it's the midrange that lets these headphones down. As a result, the soundscape really lacks any kind of balance.

A truly flat and accurate frequency response is not for everyone, true. Many people really like a booming bassline and to many pairs of ears a sharp high-end is seen as a sign of excellent dynamic range. But what really pulls any pair of headphones together is a wholesome midrange - that significant part of the soundscape between bass and treble that adds detail, really fills out the sound and gives you a warm hug as you listen.

That sense of fulfilment is lacking with these Samsungs, and so while elements of their performance do sound impressive, you're left with quite a cold signature that leaves you feeling there's something missing.

It made no detectable difference through the supplied 3.5mm cable and the sound discrepancy is amplified if you switch to a more accomplished pair of cans. Clearly the Level Over was never going to be a match for our reference headphones the Oppo PM-1, but I also found the noise cancelling version of the Sony MDR-1s, now available for about $300/£215, to offer more balance and warmth, albeit without most of the smart features.

The Sony's look better, too, and their solid, premium build and swivelling ear cups combine to make a more complete package.

head band
Ultimately, the Level Overs look good but lack in key areas

Verdict

I was disappointed with the overall sound performance of the Samsung Level Over headphones but that's not to say that they sound bad. They don't, and I'm confident that many people will like them. They're bassy and have a zing about them that will no doubt be pleasing to many ears.

That decent but not brilliant performance, combined with the brilliant touch controls, app integration and simple Bluetooth connection make them easy to recommend. But if you're after the best-sounding headphones at this price point, these are not they.