JLab Audio has been around since 2005 and is a relatively new player to the personal audio market. They (seem to) specialize in low- to mid-range (based on standards from 10+ years ago) budget audio and have a full selection of wired, wireless, on-ear, in-ear and bluetooth speaker products.
I say “based on standards from 10+ years ago,” because I remember a time when buying a decent pair of headphones or earbuds didn’t involve $200 price tags like we’ve seen more and more of over the last several years. No, I’m not an old fart, but I do sometimes miss those days.
Most other times, though, I’m a bit of a nut about my music experience. Any new headphones or earbuds that I buy have specific requirements around quality, comfort and performance, and I’m blessed enough to be able to say that often times the price tag isn’t my biggest concern. Still, I respect those products that deliver a great experience without a premium price tag–and that is JLab’s top-line mission (“without the rockstar price,” they say).
The JBuds Air Sport True Wireless headphones are the first of JLab’s products I’ve tested. The packaging is simple and elegant: not overly large, but still utilizing magnets for holding the box shut giving it a great premium feeling. Inside the box, the buds rest inside their charging case, and everything is a very lovely and minimal matte black with only a small, unassuming logo on each earpiece. The buds themselves are each a single, continuous piece of plastic that wraps around the ear, and it has a small set of included alternate ear tips allowing for the best fit. Visually, these are among the most basic-looking earbuds I’ve seen in a while, but not in a bad way; they are simple and elegant, just like the box they come in.
The charging case is large–maybe 4 times the size of an Airpods case–but nonetheless compact considering what is included. When the buds are put in the case, they are held in with magnets, and if you are among those who find the Airpods case’s “snap” satisfying, the JBuds Air Sport case should also scratch that itch for you (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it).
The bottom of the case has a cutout/channel that holds an included, integrated USB Type-A cable for charging the case, which I find to be a bit odd. While I certainly understand how nifty it is to not have to carry an additional cable around with you, and I think I can imagine why it was designed this way, I do have concerns about longevity of the cable since it doesn’t appear to be replaceable (although, I think the case is around $10 to replace, so maybe not such a big deal).
Moving on to the buds, they are an in-ear style that sit in the ear canal, and the ear hooks are small…seemingly too small upon first inspection…but fit very comfortably on my ears. One test I like to do with earbuds of all kinds is to see how they feel when I’m laying in bed, on my side, with my head on a pillow–and these are surprisingly comfortable in spite of hooking on the ears.
Speaking of hooking on the ears…make sure you read the directions on how to put these on. Once you do it a few times it gets easier, but it’s not immediately intuitive and even after a week of use, there are still times that I struggle to get them on quickly. Once they’re on, though, they don’t move. And pairing was simple; no awkward paring one to the other is required, as they connect to each other as soon as they are removed from the case.
Overall, the design is great, as is the fit and comfort. But when examining the performance, things start to get interesting. Consider that these are truly wireless earbuds for only $70, so a few tradeoffs are expected when compared to the Apple Airpods or the Jabra’s Elite 65t.
The buds boast a 6-hour battery life, and I found myself getting through listening sessions without any sort of discomfort or battery issues. The included case claims 34 additional hours of recharge time, allowing for up to 40 hours of use before needing to recharge the case; this is significant for truly wireless earbuds. And they’re Bluetooth 5, which is a great feature on a more budget-friendly offering.
The audio performance, although it has a few quirks, is somewhere between “about what I expected” and “better than expected,” but I think is perfect for the user that JLab is marketing toward. These provide a very balanced listening experience with a slight bias toward lower frequencies, and even at full volume the sound doesn’t distort (although, I think this is because they don’t get crazy loud, even though they are plenty loud at full volume without being overly uncomfortable).
One weird design choice/quirk regarding the performance is JLab’s three, predefined EQ settings that are accessed via touch gesture (which I’ll explain more later)…there is no companion app, no real sound customization, just straight functionality and only 3 options when it comes to choosing your preferred sound profile.
- JLab Signature accentuates the lows and highs and happens to fit my preferred listening experience;
- Balanced provides a more flat experience, and
- Bass Boost…you can figure that third one out.
This is interesting because it seems that JLab presents this simplicity of experience as a feature–not a limitation–and I think it is executed well. I get that some people don’t want to mess around with apps; I’m not one of them, but considering many companion apps are hot garbage anyway, maybe JLab figured they’d stick with what they’re good at.
Next are gestures, of which there are a lot.
Each bud has a touch-sensitive area that can be tapped or held in various capacities providing different results. A “single tap” on either side changes the volume one notch at a time, and a “single tap and hold” will skip tracks. A “double tap” on the left activates your smart assistant, while on the right it controls play/pause (side note–removing these from your ears mid-track will not pause automatically as with some other truly wireless earbuds). A “triple tap” on the left cycles through the aforementioned EQ settings, and on the right it activates or deactivates “Be Aware Mode,” which allows you to hear what’s going on around you. And when your phone rings or you are on a call, the gestures for the right bud change entirely but provide opportunities for answering, rejecting, and hanging up calls.
Or in other words, possibly the most complicated (and thorough) single list of gestures on any wireless headphones that I know of. The functionality is great, and while there aren’t really any missing features when it comes to gestures, it is somewhat tricky to keep them all straight. I was really hoping tapping one while rubbing the other would activate some sort of developer mode, but I was disappointed.
A quick note for fans of using single ear buds: the right unit is the primary one, and if you want a more mono experience, it has to be with the right ear bud.
The only real down side to these buds is “Be Aware Mode,” which I think has good intentions but a lackluster delivery. I found there to be a slight delay between actual sound and what is pushed through the speakers, which can be kind of annoying. The onboard microphones are incredibly sensitive, which is in some ways good if you want to eavesdrop on a conversation that is slightly out of your active hearing range, but not so great for phone calls. The sound that is pushed through when Be Aware Mode is on is extremely mechanical and tinny-sounding as well.
That said, I don’t think this one misstep should be a deal breaker. At the end of the day, for only $70, you get a relatively advanced set of earbuds that are IP66 sweat resistant, offer Bluetooth 5 and 40 hours of play time on a single charge of the case, great fit and a sleek design. The audio quality is exactly what it needs to be when you’re going to the gym or for a run, or even if you’re just sitting at work. You can control them with a set of gestures more complete than pretty much any other headphone on the market, and they’re comfortable. Sure, you don’t get the best customization options when it comes to sound or the best call performance, but if you’re looking for relatively inexpensive truly wireless earbuds, you should certainly give these a look.