I listen to music pretty much constantly, and it’s not unusual to see me on the road with just a carry-on and still have 3 or 4 headphones on me that I’m testing.
First off, Bluetooth changes everything. It’s so nice to not ever worry about cables, or even proximity for the most part, like having your phone charging by the laptop and still able to walk around the room. Audio quality is great now, only downside is having to charge something, but they’re all pretty good about battery now.
I’ve been enjoying a category I’ll call: Bluetooth, over ear headphones that let people know not to bother you, that you feel kind of cool wearing, that are great for planes, and cost around $300-400. The pioneer in this category is Beats, and I bought a pair of their Studio Wireless (in matte titanium, natch) after Apple bought them because I wanted to see what the fuss is about. More recently I got some horribly named but well-reviewed Samsung Level Overs, so this is a comparison of those two. (Another contender in this category would be the Parrot Zik ones, but just skip those. Great idea, annoying in practice.)
Let me start with how the Beats are better: they fold up, look cool, sound pretty decent on calls, and everything works nicely with the iPhone. For me they have two fatal flaws: comfort and noise. The earcups are kind of small, or my ears are kind of huge; whichever it is, sometimes after wearing them for a few hours my left ear starts to become quite sore. Second is they have active noise cancellation (ANC) that causes what can only be described as a constant hiss you can hear both while music is playing and while it’s off, it’s like like noise addition rather than noise cancellation. The fit and finish of the Beats are nice, as well as the accessories like cables, how it indicates how much power is left, et cetera.
The LEVEL overs (wow that’s awkward to write) are big, and they don’t fold, but they float around in my backpack pretty much the same as the Beats, especially if you don’t use the included case. The battery seems to go forever. The ANC can be turned on and off (battery goes longer with it off), and when it’s on it’s good, like miss-the-announcement-for-your-flight good. For me this is the deal-maker — I didn’t realize what I was missing with mediocre ANC before on the Beats, I’m now able to concentrate and relax much better on planes. I’ve flown every third day in the past month, so this is a big deal to me. They also feel like they’re better made — less plastic feeling than the Beats. The have a touch gesture control on the right cup like on the Zik, but it actually works well. The cups fit completely over my ears and in general it feels more comfortable on my head, I can wear it for hours at a time and it’s totally comfortable. I don’t think they look as cool, but that’s probably because I haven’t been conditioned with pictures of my favorite musicians and athletes wearing them. (Though not in football anymore.)
Main downsides: the cable it comes with doesn’t “work” with an iPhone or Mac as a mic or control device, and is also clunky. (Bluetooth control works fine.) This is apparently because the remote control resistor on Apple-targeted cables work differently from everyone else’s, which I think we can all agree in 2014 is ridiculous for both sides. My fix for this was to use the cable from the Beats, which you can also buy online, which looks cooler, is smaller, and works great with my Mac for G+ Hangouts and Skype calls. Perhaps related to this is when the Beats or many other Bluetooth headsets I’ve used are connected to the iPhone there’s a battery indicator and the Samsung doesn’t support this, but since the battery life is so good I don’t worry about this too much.
Too long; skipped to the end: The Samsung sounds better, is more comfortable, and is better made. Try it out if you’re considering buying headphones in this category. I don’t expect this to be a long-term advantage because I’m fairly certain Apple will do amazing things with Beats in the future, even if that just means a lightning connector, but I’m guessing that’s a 2015 thing.
Extra credit: What headphones do I use in other categories? (An update to my 2009 post.) For in-ear wired I use Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom molded to my ears, but I also recommend Sennheiser IE 8i for friends who don’t want to go to audiologist, for running/exercise or when being discreet like on a subway I use the Plantronics BackBeat GO 2 with charging case, at home I like the Auduze LCD3 usually with a Red Wine Audio amp. I agree with many of the assessments in Marco Arment’s mega-review, and I got turned on to the Samsung’s by Wirecutter’s noise cancelling review.