Bottom line: JBL prioritizes the kind of sound it figures most ears would probably like, and while that mostly works out well, there are nagging caveats that come with everything else. They are fixable, though, so it will depend on if future firmware updates set things right.
- Excellent audio quality
- Comfortable fit
- Decent ANC performance
- More direct voice assistant access
- Okay battery life
- Good app support
- Finicky touch controls
- Inconsistent call quality
- Random audio cutouts
Let's get one thing out of the way from the start: The JBL Live Pro+ TWS look like AirPod clones, but aren't cheap AirPod clones, and that matters because they do have their own sound. A sound certainly filled with more bass than Apple's earbuds often manage, and the ancillary features suggest JBL's earbuds belong in the conversation with other pairs in the same price range.
It's obvious what the play is here, and that's to be an alternative that looks and sounds better. Except times have changed, and the wireless earbud category has never seen this much competition before. Does JBL's pair here stand out as a leader, or as another pair to join the club of decent performers looking to carve out their own place in the market?
JBL Live Pro+ TWS: Price and availability
JBL launched the Live Pro+ TWS in April 2021, making them available for $180. The price has barely moved since then, save for a few bucks shaved off here or there. They won't be hard to find now that they're available, and you will be able to choose from black or white color variants.
JBL Live Pro+ TWS: What's good
These aren't the kind of earbuds that come with a lot of fanfare. They're not coming to market with a brand new feature no one has ever seen, nor with a design that looks or feels all that original. It's hard to even find a particular type of user or use case that the Live Pro+ TWS would even specialize in. That's the foundation setting up what is ultimately an unremarkable pair.
And that's okay because it's less an indictment against JBL and more a reflection of what the proverbial sandbox looks like today. The Live Pro+ TWS were built with leisure lifestyles in mind. How do I know that? The lack of any serious "proofing" of any kind. Well, that's not entirely true. The IPX4 rating isn't something to scoff at, though it does ensure that these earbuds aren't going to fall under a ruggedized category in any way. You could get away with some workouts, but overly sweaty runs in the hot sun? Best to wear something different. And keep them away from too much water.
JBL uses a set of ear tips that come in five different sizes, and among them are similar sizes that are either shallow or deeper. More manufacturers should consider making tips like this because getting a good seal for certain ears may not require wearing the deepest pair. Sometimes, shallower tips produce better results. There's good variety here to find at least one pair that can do it.
The charging case is a modest size, veering toward the smaller variety. Easy to pocket and looking good to boot, you can also charge it up on a Qi wireless charging pad. It offers three additional charges to the one the earbuds hold, so we're looking at 28 hours of total rated time. That's with active noise cancelation (ANC) off. Turn it on, and the number only drops to 24 hours total. That's up to six hours per charge with ANC on, which isn't bad, depending on how loud you go with the volume.
It's clear JBL prioritized the audio sensory features in the Live Pro+ TWS to make the point that they are just as good as any other pair in their ballpark. ANC is better than I expected it to be, but I was surprised at how much the mode affected audio playback. It alters the equalizer considerably, muffling mids, moderating lows, and tweaking highs. The onboard ANC does a good job holding off low-frequency sounds, doing its best with the tougher high-frequency ones.
What's interesting about the audible shift is that it emphasizes the My JBL Headphones app and its included EQ. There are only three presets, but the basic EQ is also at your disposal, letting you create and save your own presets. I created one or two for precisely the moments where I had ANC or Ambient Aware on. The variance in presets offset any shift these modes caused. For instance, even with the included presets, Bass and Jazz sound very different depending on whether you have ANC on or not. The best way to get the most out of how these earbuds sound is to utilize what the app gives you.
Despite the audio lifeline from the app, there are some things JBL doesn't mention. The first, is the lack of codec support. There's no AAC or aptX at all, leaving the standard SBC as the only one around. Most times, I would take issue with that kind of omission, but these earbuds manage to get away with it.
The touch controls are hit or miss, which is hardly surprising to me. JBL joins a club chock full of other vendors who continue to struggle to figure out how to get it right. It's not that they're awful on these earbuds — they're not — it's just that they aren't all that reliable. Key to it all is remembering what's assigned to the left and right earbuds, which is how I ended up either not answering an incoming call or mistakenly turning on TalkThru when I was only trying to skip to the next song.
JBL Live Pro+ TWS: What's not good
Two pervasive issues popped up with a degree of regularity that troubled me for a pair of earbuds at this price. First were the audio drops and hiccups that I would randomly get while listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks. I couldn't figure out what was causing them because there was no pattern to discern. It wasn't an issue of distance, nor of obstructions getting in the way. They would happen 15 feet away or a mere 30 centimeters away in a pocket or in hand.
There were times when they didn't happen at all, like on a walk outside, whereas just lounging in the backyard would somehow cause one. I'm not clear on what was doing it, as I experienced the same thing when pairing the earbuds with another phone.
Then there were phone calls. I found them to be a mixed bag, where those I spoke to couldn't hear me clearly, or I couldn't always make them out. In one instance, the connection went so awry that it sounded like a dying robot was on the other end of the call. What was baffling about all this was that some calls were really smooth, with no complaints on either end. I've rarely seen this kind of swing in call performance in a pair of earbuds.
JBL gives Google Assistant and Alexa plenty of runway, and you can pick among them in the app. Once selected, you have the voice assistant you'd prefer to use, not necessarily the one already running on the paired phone.
JBL Live Pro+ TWS: Competition
You will find more than one pair of earbuds in JBL's lineup. JBL headphones come in a variety of designs and options. The Live Pro+ TWS won't make the best wireless earbuds list, but they do hold their own, and could certainly benefit from a firmware update or two.
For something similar, and with a lot of upsides, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro already present themselves as serious competitors. On a tighter budget, you would find the Jaybird Vista a worthy alternative, especially when you dive into the excellent app and deep EQ features there.
JBL Live Pro+ TWS: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You want truly wireless earbuds
- You want ANC and ambient modes
- You want to be comfortable
- You like having an app with EQ
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You want dependable call quality
- You get impatient with cutouts
- You're not clamoring for more bass
- You're willing to spend more
Remember when I said the JBL Live Pro+ TWS were unremarkable? It's because they don't do any one feature that much better than a competitor's pair of earbuds might. But that doesn't make them unworthy of your attention. You might like the sound signature, including how you can tweak it. The app's presence is huge, as is the usefulness of that EQ. With a comfortable build and decent battery life, JBL does check off some important boxes here.
3.5 out of 5
Still, the issues I encountered aren't pervasive amongst other pairs in the same price range. The finicky touch controls are an exception because you're less likely to find a pair that does them all smoothly, but Bluetooth hiccups and inconsistent phone calls aren't signs of audio prowess. You may find success wearing a pair of these, but until JBL addresses these things, these earbuds won't stand out enough.
Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.
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