I’ve been a big user of active noise-canceling headphones for several years now. The obsession really started when work began requiring more cross-country travel, and I found myself trying to find ways to drown-out the airplane noise. Until the past year, most of the ANC headphones I’ve tried have been wired. It hasn’t really seemed like a hassle; it’s just a tether between me and the audio source. But then the new Samsung Level On wireless headphones hit my mailbox, and now I don’t know if I can go back.
The Samsung Level On wireless headphones use Bluetooth to connect to anything: phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, small woodland creatures, etc. I’ve played with Bluetooth headphones before, but the range and audio quality just didn’t seem up to snuff. Like many gamers, I have an ear tuned to directional sound and HD audio, so having any part of a song or podcast garbled really bugs me. A spotty connection or fuzzy audio due to bad Bluetooth is just grating. The Samsung Level On wireless headphones don’t suffer from any of this.
Depending on the device you’re connecting to, the driver downloads can take some time to install and work. On my Lenovo Windows-based laptop, for instance, it took about seven minutes from initial Bluetooth “discovery” to getting the full functionality out of the Samsung Level On wireless headphones. The process was about half that on my LG smartphone, and I imagine it’d be even lower on a Samsung handset. Because, you know, it’s Samsung and all.
Whatever you’re connecting to, the functionality is worth the wait. The Samsung Level On wireless headphones have one of the cleanest designs you’ll find on a pair of ANC headphones. Their only button is the on/off switch to activate active noise cancellation. All volume, pausing and track forward/backward is handled through a touch-sensitive exterior panel.
I was skeptical that this would work, but it controls beautifully. The touch-based controls are pretty consistent too. I can only recall a few instances where I needed to swipe up two or three times to get the volume to increase, or swipe down a couple of times to get it to reduce. Pausing a track is a simple double-tap on the earpiece, and you can un-pause the music or podcast the same way. Advancing to the next track involves a simple swipe forward, while going to a previous track requires a swipe backwards from the front of the headphone toward the back.
One of the nicer features of the Samsung Level On wireless headphones is its use of rechargeable batteries. About half of the active noise-canceling headphones I’ve reviewed have been rechargeable, while the others use standard AA batteries. The battery life for all of them, including the Samsung Level On wireless headphones, hovers in about the same 10-hour range. In the case of the Level Ons, it’s 11 hours when using both Bluetooth and ANC, and about 20 hours if you’re using a Bluetooth connection with no noise cancellation. However, at some point you’re going to need to give the headphones some more juice. And it’s nice to know that drained headphones won’t drain your wallet with the need to buy more batteries.
The overall audio quality of the Samsung Level On wireless headphones is impressive. Again, I was skeptical that a Bluetooth headset, especially one with active noise-cancellation, would live up to the expectations set by my current front-runner, Audio-Technica’s QuietPoint ATH-ANC9 headphones (check them out here). The ATH-ANC9 don’t have the best audio quality I’ve reviewed — that distinction goes to the Velodyne vQuiet ANC headphones (check their specs) — but they have the best combination of audio fidelity and ANC of all six headphones I’ve tested. Somewhat surprisingly, the Samsung Level On wireless headphones are on par with the QuietPoint. Out of the box they aren’t quite as strong in the bass lines, but bass settings can be adjusted. In my opinion, the need to tinker with settings is a worthwhile sacrifice for the convenience of Bluetooth and nearly-identical audio quality.
That quality stays true for a long distance, too. Normally a Bluetooth connection doesn’t hold more than 30 feet, even lower if there’s something impeding the line of sight. In two separate tests, I was able to keep the audio going flawlessly for upwards of 25 feet with multiple obstacles. In one test I walked from my desk, which is behind a cubicle, 30 feet across the office and into the printer room before it started to garble. In another test, I walked up three flights of stairs and past multiple walls before it started to drop words. That’s just flat-out impressive.
I was just as impressed with the ANC quality of the Samsung Level On wireless headphones. My fall-back test is always a cross-county trip on a Boeing 737. For three years the QuietPoint headphones have performed better than every other ANC headphone I’ve tested. That’s no longer the case. While the Level Ons allow a bit more ambient noise, it’s not due to the ANC technology itself. The Level On headphones have six built-in microphones powering their active noise-cancellation system. Instead, it’s because the Level Ons are on-ear headphones.
Over-ear headphones like the QuietPoint set completely surround even the outside of your ear. Samsung’s Level Ons sit on your ear, which allows for an occasional sound to sneak past the ear cup at the curve of your ear. I’m pretty picky about ambient noise and am quick to revert to the QuietPoint set I normally fly with. On my latest trip, the Level On headphones stayed on my head the entirety of both cross-country legs.
In short, if you’re looking for a new set of noise-cancelling headphones, you should give the Level Ons a glance. Samsung’s new kid on the block is poised to also become the bully. Not in a bad way, mind you, but in the “beat up the competition” sense. The Samsung Level On wireless headphones have made a bold statement that Bluetooth headphones can, indeed, be a heavyweight in the ANC headphone battle.