True wireless earbuds are the epitome of audio convenience. With no wires to tangle you, a regular mobile battery supply provided by their cases and the usual presence of touch and voice controls, they have the potential to be that most attractive of gadgets – that which just melt into the background of your life and get the job done.
This usually comes at a price. True wireless earbuds command a premium for their intricate designs. Which is what makes the JLab JBuds Air both enticing and frustrating – they’ve got a great feature set at a great price. But the comfort and sound performance just aren’t up to scratch in order to recommend wholeheartedly.
Price and availability
Available now, it’s the price that will have your eyes popping out and wallet widening in anticipation with the JLab JBuds Air. They sell for a mere $49.99 / £49.99 (around AU$90), making them among the most affordable true wireless buds we’ve seen on the market.
The only pair that can compare at this price point is the Funcl AI earbuds, which currently cost just $71, but previously shipped with an early-bird discount from their IndieGoGo campaign page which took the price down to $49 for a eager early adopters. However, whereas the Funcl AI punched above their weight for the price point, with the JLab JBuds Air you very much get what you pay for.
The JLab JBuds Air use the tried and tested true wireless design formula, with a unique twist of their own. Like most true wireless earphones, they’re completely wireless, instead being Bluetooth buds that pair together to connect with your phone, snapping magnetically into a case that also provides them with battery life.
With the JBuds Air however, the curvy pillbox-like case comes with an integrated USB charging cable that can be pushed flush into a recess in the case. This is handy in terms of being ever ready to grab a quick charging boost. But the rubber cable keeping the lead connected to the case doesn’t look as though it’d survive any rough n’ tumble, meaning you’d be left without a means to charge the buds should that cable snap.
The case does do a worthy job of keeping charge though. Its 500mAh capacity offers about 10 hours of juice for the buds, which hold around 3 hours of consecutive playback themselves. That’s not the best battery life we’ve seen, but not awful either.
As for the design of the earbuds, the JBuds Air are certainly on the bulkier side of the true wireless market. They’re of the stem-free family, as opposed to the protruding design of the Apple AirPods or Funcl AI, and though they’re light at 6g each, we just couldn’t get them to fit comfortably. They’re certainly a snug fit for our ears, and we’d no worries of them falling out if working out wearing them – but whether applying the two pairs of Cush-Fins in the box of the three pairs of ear tips, we couldn’t find a configuration that didn’t eventually irritate our ears.
Plastic and rubber is used heavily in the construction, and though that doesn’t inspire much in terms of any desire for high-quality materials, it does mean that the JLab JBuds Air can be reliable used for workouts. They’ve acquired and IP55 rating for dust and water resistance, meaning a bit of gym-sweat shouldn’t be a problem for them in terms of durability.
And, if you like to have a chat with your virtual assistant when wearing true wireless earbuds without pulling your phone out, there’s a shortcut built in here. Double tap the right earbud for access to Siri or the Google Assistant.
The JLab JBuds Air come with three preset equaliser options that can be set either through an accompanying app, or by clicking either earbud’s button panel three times to cycle between the signature, balanced and bass boost option.
We spent most of our listening time in the ‘neutral’ balanced mode, but bass boost acts as the name suggests, pushing low frequencies to the fore, while signature ramps up the treble along with the bass.
While the lack of aptX or AAC support is an understandable concession at the price point, the actual audio quality we experienced was not. No matter what the source or volume level, we were met with a distracting level of distortion when using the JBuds Air, making it difficult to enjoy what we were listening to.
Even in the balanced mode, we found bass a little too harsh. With Bjork’s Hyperballad, when distortion wasn’t creeping into any negative space in the song, bass frequencies would just drown out any shimmer or twinkles present elsewhere in the song. The JBuds Air just aren’t capable of pleasingly reproducing anything with delicacy. However, they can be bangers for anything with some thumping bass and a beat. Mstrkrft’s It Ain’t Love sounded suitably fierce, which its compressed arpeggios forgiving for the distortion present within the earbuds.
The JBuds Air are particularly bad for watching video, too, as there’s an unignorable degree of lag between what you see on screen and the timing with which the corresponding audio hits your ears. Likewise, the microphone was considered too echoey for our call recipient to be sensible for hands free use.
Connectivity is reliable at least. Pair once, and the JLab JBud Airs will work consistently to team up with your audio player of choice as soon as they’re released from their charging case, and the claimed 10 meter connection range seems accurate too.
The JLab JBuds Air are tempting at their bargain-basement price point. They’re an entry point into the exciting world of true wireless headphones, and offer the convenience that makes the form factor so appealing.
But they just can’t match pricier competitors in the audio quality department. If you’re in need of a secondary pair of buds for a workout, they’ll do the job at a price where you won’t worry too much if something adverse happens to them. But if you want to do any serious critical listening, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.
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