Around-the-neck wireless earbuds are unavoidable these days. You step on a subway platform, and you see them. You go to the gym, and you see them. You pass your mail carrier on your street, and you see them. Even in the face of that ubiquity, I'm still not sure what to call them — and I'm not alone. When we recently polled Verge readers on what to call these Bluetooth fashion crimes, the winning name was: "I just like clicking buttons!" (Thanks, Ross.)
"Neckbuds" was a close second, and it's fun, so let's go with that.
I wanted to hate neckbuds from the moment I saw them. Not just because of how they look, but because they’re a clumsy stopgap on the path to what I consider the "real" future: actual wireless earbuds. A handful of companies showed these off at CES in January, and I was so convinced that they would come to market this year that I wrote that on this website. (As of this post, I'm still waiting.)
So when I first noticed a handful of people wearing neckbuds in the wild, two thoughts kept crossing my mind: "These will never be popular," and "I will never wear those."
I was wrong. In both ways, I completely missed the mark. I let cosmetic fear cloud my judgement about what wound up being a not-so-ludicrous and surprisingly pleasant product. But this is not because I've found myself suddenly okay with the idea of wearing a futuristic prison collar made by LG. It's because Samsung made the Level U, which is the best pair of neckbuds yet.
They're not perfect, but they're worth the hassle
The experience with Samsung's Level U, which is available for around $70, is far from perfect. None of the included earbuds fit comfortably in my ears, a problem I always seem to have. (I've made do with the "active" option — the ones with the extra rubber that pushes up against one of the folds in your ear.) Worse are the moments when the Bluetooth signal cuts out when my iPhone is deep in my pocket.
But in a handful of situations, these are completely worth the hassle. The battery life is excellent, hovering somewhere around the advertised 10 hours. They pair quickly and easily with my phone. And considering my daily headphones are usually a pair of Sony MDR7506 studio headphones, the Level U neckbuds are an attractive option in the oppressive summer heat of New York City.
They're great for working out because of how light they are, and I don't have to worry about tangling myself in a cord. More specifically, I love wearing them on my bike. I can load up Google Maps and a little bit of music, put these on, and go. Since I can never get a good seal with them, I can hear cars and other bikes around me while still listening to directions. They also don't make me work up any extra sweat, so I can just about forget that they're there.
That's probably the best thing about the Level U neckbuds: you don't need to worry about how you look. The small, plastic horseshoe that you sling around your neck slips so comfortably under a shirt collar that, on a number of occasions, I forgot I had the whole thing on in the first place. And even if you don't have a collar to tuck them in, the Level U is by far the nicest pair of neckbuds that any company has made.
I know I shouldn't care about what people think of my appearance, and neither should you. But wearing a pair of neckbuds without worrying how you look doesn't get any easier just because that's true. For now, Samsung's made a pair that I really, truly like, and one that I will think twice about chucking in the garbage when I finally get my wireless earbuds.