Much like Microsoft's "premium" Zune in-ears, you're paying a little more for device parity and branding, but the Level Ins aren't all flash. Behind their sleek Galaxy design is a sound that's perfectly tailored to suit mobile audio, lending credence to trilling trebles and booming bass—at the expense of mid-tone detail.
There are better choices for audiophiles, but the Level Ins are a great-looking, portable option if you want to get the most out of your mobile media consumption.
If you're familiar with Samsung's mobile options, you'll feel right at home here.
Sporting a white coat with silver highlights, the Samsung Level In are reminiscent of the company's mobile devices. The ear pieces are one-half reflective silver, one-half arctic white, and handsomely contoured. The flat white cable features a three-button mic/remote combo and neck-split adjustment, and terminates into a straight, gold-plated jack. It's a sexy design that just might turn heads.
Unfortunately, the materials are primarily plastic and rubber, and don't feel as sturdy as they could for the price. Yes, flex points are reinforced with a little extra padding, but I've seen much better protection in this price range. The harder plastic of the ear buds adds some welcome armor, but it also makes for an uncomfortable in-the-ear feeling if you push them in too far. If you plan to go out-and-about with the Level Ins, be careful where and how you stow them.
There are a few extras, too, but nothing exciting. Samsung promises portability with an included zip-up carrying pouch, and there's a staggering number of sleeve options: three pairs of moldable foam tips, and four pairs of silicone tips. The in-line remote will let you take/end calls, adjust volume, and skip through tracks in a playlist—all the standard functionality.
Our frequency response test measures a sweep of audible frequencies from 20 through 10kHz (roughly the range of human hearing), with each frequency sounding at 78 dB. The test reveals how a set of headphones emphasizes each frequency, from bass to treble, graphing the shape of a product's sound.
The Level Ins provide healthy emphasis to sub-bass and bass elements, sounding around 90 (+12) dB across the bass range and slowly tapering down into lower volumes. At 1kHz, playback drops similarly to the shape of an equal-loudness countour, falling a little below the input level around 70-74 dB. Frequencies are emphasized again around 1.5kHz, and take a sudden drop into very unemphasized territory around 4kHz, plummeting to below 60 dB. After 4kHz (in the high treble range), volume rises drastically.
This shape makes for prominent bass and sharp treble playback, which adds dynamic range to compressed audio, but can sound overwrought when you're listening to high-quality, low-compression audio files.
Because of their in-ear design, the Level Ins are great isolators. Especially when using the included foam tips, the buds mold and fill your ear canal, blocking out plenty of outside sound. Our test measured an average amount of bass isolation—the Level Ins block between 10 and 15 dB of low-frequency sound, which isn't much.
Things get better as they grow higher in pitch, however, with isolation surpassing -20 dB well into -40 dB in the mid-high and high range. Expect most vocal chatter, squealing tires, and anything generally high-pitched to be much harder to hear with these in your ears.
Great for casual listening, not recommended for audiophiles
The Level In headphones are billed as mobile accessories on Samsung's website, and that's where they shine. What I would call basic audio sources, like PlayStore games and music apps like Pandora, are treated to plenty of dynamic range. Rumbling bass tones are brought to the forefront, and trilling highs are given plenty of emphasis. Basically, these in-ears sound great when they're playing the simpler stuff.
They're a little aggressive when it comes to high-quality audio, however. The added bass/treble resonance can be a bit overpowering, drowning out certain mid- and high-mid range sounds like male vocalists or supportive middle brass like saxophones. It's bearable at lower volumes, but I found that turning up to my usual listening levels made me wince more than once. If the audio track is mixed at maximum quality, the Level Ins tend to blow out the top and bottom.
That's not to say they're poorly engineered. Cheap in-ears often struggle with distortion-free playback, but the Level Ins are as good as any audiophile cans in that regard. From bass instruments like tubas, to high-pitched flutes and piccolos, these Samsung buds maintain a clean sound without clipping or distorting elements.
The only issue with close listening is that the left speaker is just a little louder than the right, and trained ears will pick up on this after a few rounds with familiar content.
One great thing about in-ear style headphones is that they're natural isolators—they block out ambient noise while keeping your music in. The Level Ins are a testament to that feature, and with a good fit they naturally block sounds like office chatter and squealing brakes. Likewise, they keep lots of sound locked in, so no one around you will ever hear those screeching avians in Angry Birds.
For a more in-depth look at our hard data and test results, check out the Science Page.
Perfect for the smartphone and tablet crowd—if you can find a deal.
Whether you use them for phone calls or to listen to Spotify during your commute into the city, the Level Ins provide an enjoyably punchy sound that adds dynamic range without introducing distortion. They'll absolutely blow away your stock ear buds, that's for sure. The real hangup here is the price; paying $150 for "mobile accessory" headphones that don't provide truly audiophile-quality sound is just way too steep.
If you get them for a cheaper price or as a gift, then they're perfectly serviceable in-ears. Just understand that a big part of the price equation here is the sexy style, rather than raw performance. If you're just on the prowl for the best-sounding in-ears that money can buy, take a peek at the JBL Synchros S200 in-ears. They're not as sleek looking, but they're more durable, product much better sound quality, and they can be found for a cool $100.
Our Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) test measures the presence of clipped notes or unwanted noise during music playback. For all headphones, less than 3% THD is an ideal result. Distortion is usually higher in sub-bass and bass production than in the mid- or high-range, and a little in the sub-bass region is acceptable, though not ideal.
The Samsung Level Ins performed beautifully here, testing with less than 3% THD from the lowest to the highest audible notes. The complete lack of audible distortion, even in the deepest sub-bass notes, is a testament to the quality of this product's speaker materials.
While you might not realize it, many headphones play music back a little louder in one speaker channel than the other. When there's a "mix" of this effect across frequencies, it's much less audible, especially if it's less than 4 dB in volume differentiation. This is one area where the Level Ins have a bit of trouble: Testing revealed that they tend to favor the left channel over the right for most of the audible frequency range, giving almost 5dB of volume to the left channel until almost 4kHz, well into the higher frequencies.
You probably won't notice this on a day-to-day basis, but I started to pick up on it after listening to the Level Ins after testing them. Consumers with sensitive ears: You've been warned.
Meet the tester
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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