One great thing about the current crop of cheap wireless earbuds is that they're coming with some variances. You can get your standard fare of inexpensive buds that you might only use in dry places indoors, or maybe something more rugged. How about longer battery life? Or would you prefer active noise cancelation (ANC)?
JLab tries to offer something that weaves through all those types of features and does so with a design that is supposed to keep stability and comfort in mind at all times. Any pair that uses ear hooks will fall under that category, and that's what the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC feels like.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC
Bottom line: JLab focuses on keeping the Epic Air Sport ANC in place around your ears while trying to deliver a slew of features on the inside. It's a lofty goal at this price point, and the results speak for themselves in both directions.
- Good audio quality
- Very stable fit with extra tips
- Ridiculous battery life
- Pretty good durability
- Okay ANC mode
- Good app support
- Touch controls need work
- Mediocre call quality at best
- Case is larger than most
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC: Price and availability
JLab launched the Epic Air Sport ANC in August 2020, making them available for $99. The price started edging downwards during the holidays and has since hovered back down around $60-$70 at different times in 2021. Finding a pair isn't terribly difficult, given JLab's presence in both online and brick-and-mortar retail.
They only come in the black color scheme, but they include JLab's favorite blue foam tips for some flair.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC: What's good
JLab may not be a brand everyone recognizes, but there's a consistency to appreciate in how it goes about making earbuds. Generally, comfort takes some priority, explaining why there are no less than five pairs of ear tips in the box for these earbuds. That point is already obvious from the product design, where ear hooks are the primary stabilizer for keeping them in place.
Anyone active will like the ear hooks. Who wants to be fiddling with earbuds while running or concentrating on hitting your reps in a tough workout? The Epic Air Sport ANC is made for those very scenarios. I've always liked how ear hooks help maintain a consistent seal for good audio quality. The fact JLab includes foam tips in the box is a testament to trying to get the fit and seal right. It's been an ethos in the company's design, and it shows here.
The IP66 rating is actually pretty modest in the grand scheme of things. While you could break a sweat in these, it's critical to ensure you wipe them clean and dry when you do. They're not really for water submersion, so forget swimming, and steer clear of saltwater.
One more thing about the comfort: the tips have some ingenuity in mind. For example, there are two large sizes, one of which tries to cater to users with taller inner ears for a better seal. The mediums are made the same way, and CloudFoam is closer to a medium, albeit with the flexibility to truly passively seal out background noise.
I'll get to the charging case further down, but its size serves to offer some serious battery life. JLab squeezed whatever it could into the case, resulting in 70 hours of total time with ANC off. Turn it on, and that goes down to a still superb 55 hours. The earbuds themselves can play for up to 15 hours per charge without ANC and 11 hours with it on. The volume level will naturally affect those numbers, but when you're good at passive isolation, you may not have to pump up the volume so much.
JLab squeezed whatever it could into the case, resulting in 70 hours of total listening time.
ANC is something of a newer avenue for the company. Not a first, mind you, as other models have already done it, but the Epic Air Sport ANC is supposed to do it better. The reality isn't as effective as it should be, and I wasn't overly taken with the ANC performance. I could tell that passive isolation helped a lot. If these were earbuds that didn't have the same stability, I suspect the results would've been different.
You can always count on JLab to also try adding as much bass as it can — or at least letting you decide. The JLab Epic Air ANC app has a decent set of tools, the most important of which is the equalizer. There are only three presets, with one custom profile that you can adjust as you want. I do like that the app remembers what you set it at, so you can select it again at a later time. ANC and Be Aware (JLab's ambient mode) also have sliders to adjust the scope of those features as well.
Don't expect a lot of codec support here. There's SBC and AAC, which is fine, but no aptX. Everything I listened to had a nice verve to it, but I adjusted the EQ after listening to my short test playlist. There's a decent balance here, with a slight skew toward the lows, though not as much as I initially expected. JLab clearly tried to go neutral out of the box.
It's just too bad there were no physical buttons integrated into the earbuds. The touch controls appear to be straightforward, but in practice, they were really inconsistent. I would try to pause and instead raise the volume. Things like that happened with more regularity than I would like, but then again, I've rarely seen touch controls on earbuds that aren't finicky.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC: What's not good
That leads me to phone calls, which are mediocre from start to finish. JLab needs to address that with a firmware update because there is a strange tendency for intermittent drops or hiccups during calls. The dropouts would rarely ever happen when playing music, even if the mics were active with ANC or Be Aware mode. However, once they were tasked with handling a call, they would cut out here and there. The worst part was that it wasn't me noticing; it was those on the other end. "You cut out there" was a comment I heard too often.
That's my biggest criticism of the Epic Air Sport ANC, and it should at least be somewhat remedied by improving the onboard software. We'll have to wait and see what happens with that.
Another very JLab-like thing to do is to integrate the charging cable into the case itself. There's no USB-C port here because of that, which means you will need to have a USB-A port or wall adapter to charge back up. You could also lay it down onto your trusty Qi wireless charging pad since it supports wireless charging.
'You cut out there,' was a comment I heard too often.
ANC performance is okay, but it's also a good thing JLab pushes the slider in the app to the max: it doesn't do the best job, and you'll want every bit of noise-canceling you can get. As I noted earlier, passive isolation helps a lot, but I expected something a little more dynamic here. When you offer a slider, I'd like to hear noise cancelation do its thing in increments.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC: Competition
JLab has the comfort and battery life down pat here, and the audio generally sounds good, so it does key things well. Other headphones for runners do, too, and that's why it's worth pointing out that your priorities take precedence. What do you want most, and what are you willing to compromise on to get them?
If we're looking at something along the same lines — meaning ear hooks in tow — then you could try looking at something different, like the Bose Sport Open Earbuds. If battery life trumps all, you could give the Tribit FlyBuds C1 a look, given how long they last per charge. For something truly rugged and with app support that puts most to shame, the Jaybird Vista are still a very viable choice.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You want truly wireless earbuds
- You're on a tighter budget
- You want to be comfortable and stable
- You want a lot of battery life
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You want dependable call quality
- You want the best ANC performance
- You prefer a smaller case
- You're willing to spend more
It's hard not to do a double-take at the battery life numbers with the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC. Using them myself, I can attest to their longevity, and that's really valuable, especially when you have to make compromises to charge them again. The comfort is a huge plus, and for simple reasons. Combine ear hooks with great ear tips, and half the battle is won. None of that would matter if these didn't sound good, but they pass that test, too, and have dedicated app support to prove it.
While I wouldn't put these among the best true wireless earbuds available, they are still a solid pair when you focus on the positives that may apply to you. If you can handle what misfires here, then the Epic Air Sport ANC will probably suit you more than if you wanted them for casual use. That's especially true if you plan on doing a lot of talking.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC
Bottom line: The JLab Epic Air Sport ANC are solid earbuds buoyed by a trio of performative features that make them that way: comfort, sound quality, and battery life. They have a ruggedness to them, though they do also come with a few compromises you will need to accept to get all the good stuff.
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