At CES 2023, JLab announced the Work Buds, a pair of true wireless earbuds with an optional flexible boom mic. You can plug the mic into either earbud to instantly give yourself much clearer mic quality than is possible from a microphone that's sitting right by your ear because physics exists.
When JLab first showed me the Work Buds alongside a few other things it's launching, I just kind of went "huh" and moved on to the next product (which happened to be its teeny tiny earbuds). My first thought was that I wasn't sure anyone would really want to use that setup.
But as I was talking to the JLab team, I kept coming back to the Work Buds. In the space of about 15 minutes, the idea had completely wormed its way into my brain. By the time I left, I went from "Does anyone want this?" to "I, personally, want this right away." And then I insisted on giving it one of our 'Best of CES 2023' awards.
Thanks to my job, I've been able to try so many of the best wireless earbuds, and they're usually – at best – okay for call quality. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 handle it best; I use AirPods Pro 2 every day, and they're fine for earbuds, but not great overall.
I also have a ton of video chat meetings every week in my job, and I can hear the quality of people using earbuds on their end, and it isn't great – you can hear other people around them in some cases, or it's just muffled in others. As a result, I usually use a crappy headset with a boom mic provided by the company when on calls, so I can be heard well.
But true wireless earbuds are what people want to wear, and I'm no different – I like to wear them for music generally, and I wear them most of the day to help me focus… so the JLab Work Buds seem to solve all my problems at once. They have multi-point pairing so I could use them for music from my phone and then switch to my laptop for calls. I can detach the boom mic when I'm not using it so I don't feel silly. I can be heard in much better quality. I'll be more comfortable using just in-ear buds.
Likely to be priced at about $70 (around £60 / AU$100) when they're released later in 2023, I don't expect them to blow me away when it comes to sound quality, but JLab makes some of the best budget wireless earbuds when it comes to sound quality, so I expect they'll be good enough to enjoy.
JLab points out that earbuds with a boom mic are great for people who don't want to wear a full-on headset because they don't find them comfortable, or because it'll mess up their hair – both fair points too.
The mic does cause a shift in the weight and balance of the earbuds, and I think you'll have to be careful about getting a secure fit with them – JLab said it will include multiple fin sizes to hold it easily against the outside of your ear (much like the Beats Fit Pro do) as well as multiple in-ear tip sizes.
Looks-wise, the mic kind of takes me back to the days of van drivers having their long Bluetooth headsets on years ago – but those just had the one purpose of calls, and they really communicated that you were someone who felt they had to be able to answer calls at all times no matter what.
Now we look like that all the time with our wireless earbuds in – but the trick to the JLab Work Buds is that you can look like everyone else mostly, and then just add the mic when needed.
As you can tell, I'm a convert to the idea – I'm looking forward to testing them, to see if their unique feature makes them worthy of a spot on our list of the best wireless earbuds.
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Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Entertainment, meaning he's in charge of persuading our team of writers and reviewers to watch the latest TV shows and movies on gorgeous TVs and listen to fantastic speakers and headphones. It's a tough task, as you can imagine. Matt has over a decade of experience in tech publishing, and previously ran the TV & audio coverage for our colleagues at T3.com, and before that he edited T3 magazine. During his career, he's also contributed to places as varied as Creative Bloq, PC Gamer, PetsRadar, MacLife, and Edge. TV and movie nerdism is his speciality, and he goes to the cinema three times a week. He's always happy to explain the virtues of Dolby Vision over a drink, but he might need to use props, like he's explaining the offside rule.