True wireless earbuds are increasingly dropping in price; while you can fork out for a model from big names like Apple, Sony, Beats, and Bose, more and more companies are releasing their own AirPods alternatives for under $100.
JLab’s latest offering, the JBuds Air Executive True Wireless earbuds are one of these alternatives – but can they measure up to pricier options in terms of connectivity, battery life, and sound quality?
Price and availability
The Jbuds Air Executive True Wireless Earbuds are available to buy for $69, which works out at around £55 / AU$100.
That’s a lot cheaper than the reigning most-popular true wireless earbuds, the Apple AirPods (2019), which cost upwards of $159 / £159 / AU$249, and most other models we’ve tested.
Still, prices below $100 aren’t unheard of in the world of true wireless earbuds – the Optoma NuForce BE Free5s cost $99 (around £75 / AU$135) at launch, and can regularly be found on sale for less.
Similarly, the Funcl A1 true wireless headphones are available to buy for $79 (around $60 / AU$110).
The JBuds Air Executive buds aren’t the prettiest earbuds we’ve seen, sporting chunky black housings with the JLab logo in silver – with their protruding stems, they look like a beefed-up and less polished version of the Apple AirPods.
The housings are touch-sensitive, and can be used to control your music playback, summon your device’s voice assistant, answer and reject phone calls, and control the EQ settings of the earbuds.
We found that these touch controls worked well enough; however, with myriad different functions assigned to each bud, you’ll need to remember a number of different ‘tap’ combinations, which can become confusing.
Tapping the right earbud three times activates Be Aware Mode; this allows environmental noise to pass through the buds, which is great if you’re crossing a busy street and need to be aware of your surroundings.
We found the eartips a little uncomfortable initially; however, JLab includes three alternative sizes as well as fins to help keep the buds in place, so after a little trial and error we settled on the smallest tips and found they were much more comfortable, creating a better seal against our ear canals.
The JBuds Air Executive buds feel pretty secure once fitted, and with an IP55 dustproof/waterproof rating, they should be suitable for working out.
They come in a compact, ring box-sized charging case made from plastic and vegan faux-leather; we really like its pocket-friendly size and grown-up design.
The top of the case has a small cut-out to reveal three LEDs that indicate the battery status of the charging case, while a USB charging cable fits snugly in a groove running along its sides.
Battery life and connectivity
The JLab JBud Air Executive True Wireless earbuds offer six hours of battery life, while the charging case provides an additional 24 hours – that's not bad for true wireless buds, and it should be more than enough to get you through a long-haul flight.
Pairing the earbuds to our smartphone was a breeze, and we didn’t experience any connection dropouts while we were using them.
Once you’ve connected to these buds once, they’ll automatically pair with your device when you remove them from the charging case; while this process isn’t as quick as the Apple AirPods' lightning-fast connectivity, it’s still a helpful feature that will save you the tedious job of scrolling through your Bluetooth settings to pair them manually.
Generally, the audio quality of the JLab Audio Air Executives is passable; they provide a warm, rounded-off soundstage that’s enjoyable to listen to and easy on the ears.
They don’t get particularly loud, but if you can achieve a good seal (you should be able to do this by trying out the different eartips included in the box), you’ll find the listening experience far more immersive.
This warm soundstage causes the lowest bass frequencies to bleed into the mids, resulting in a slightly muddy tone; it’s not a huge issue if you’re going to use these earbuds for casual listening on your commute or during a workout, but audiophiles will likely be frustrated by the lack of clarity and separation between frequencies.
This is particularly noticeable when you have the earbuds on the default EQ setting, JLab Signature, which is supposed to amplify the vocals and bass; it definitely achieves this, but at the cost of sounding unnaturally manipulated.
We used this setting when listening to Dark Parts by Perfume Genius, and we found that the bass drums sounded a little muddy – but the rest of the instrumentation sounded fantastic.
The piano was clear and sympathetically presented, while dissonant vocal harmonies blended beautifully. As the track progressed and the instrumentation fell away, the fragility of the lead vocal was revealed, unveiled magnificently by the earbuds.
Toggling through the different EQ settings, we tried Balanced, which provided a more accurate-sounding reproduction of our music, with a drier, clearer sound; this setting will likely appeal to audio purists, but it does come across as a little thin and underwhelming – it won’t have you tapping your feet, put it that way.
Listening to Little Dragon’s Paris, we were impressed by the snappy percussion and resonant vocals, while dripping synth ostinatos danced around the mix with clarity.
We also listened to this track using the final EQ setting, Bass Boost. We found this made the lowest frequencies overpowering, while simultaneously diminishing the impact of the vocals – probably not the best setting for general listening.
However, we can see the application of this setting for working out: if you run to a beat, Bass Boost could be just the thing to bolster your performance with strong, thunderous bass and sub-bass.
For the price, the JLab JBud Air Executive True Wireless are extremely capable, with good connectivity, decent battery life, and a secure design.
The audio quality does leave a little to be desired, but for casual listening, soundtracking your commute, or working out, they’ll do the trick – and it won’t be as big a hit on the wallet if you lose or break them as would be the case with AirPods or other pricier alternatives.
It’s important to take the price of these earbuds into account when assessing the sound quality. It would be easy to assume that, at $69, they would sound terrible – but they really don’t.
Much like the Funcl A1 true wireless buds, which impressed us with their balanced soundstage, these earbuds punch well above their weight. They aren’t audiophile-quality by any means, but they’re absolutely worth considering if you’re looking for a cheap pair of true wireless earbuds.
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