If you are a careful spender, considering upgrading to wireless headphones can be a slightly depressing experience. Affordable headphones suddenly become a lot less affordable as soon as you stick a Bluetooth chip in them.
But as full-size Bluetooth headphones costing under £100, the JBL E55BT buck this trend somewhat.
Build and comfort
A diamond-shaped embossed pattern on the cups does a decent job of adding a little visual pizzaz, helping the JBLs avoid being the equivalent of a Tesco Basics wireless headphone.
But get your hands involved and there’s an obvious lack of the luxury feel.
Like most affordable headphones, the JBL E55BTs are mostly plastic. The cups and inside of the headband are plastic, and the leather-effect pads are too.
Only the structure of the headband is metal, although a fabric covering across the entire headband reduces how much plastic you actually see. The fit is much like the build: functional, but not luxurious.
Large oval-shaped over-ears pads give enough room for most ears, and the headband keeps the pair on your head reasonably securely without an uncomfortable vice-like feel. The padding on the headband is minimal, and sound isolation is perfunctory.
Thanks to their over-ear configuration, the JBL E55BT don’t get less comfortable the more you wear them, though.
They’ll do the job for all-day office listening, and any pressure on top of your head gradually melts away - these are not heavy headphones. The cups fold into the headband for extra portability.
The E55BTs come in four finishes: black, white, red or blue. The colours are almost Beats-like, slapping you in the face with their vivid look.
Though these are primarily wireless headphones, they also come with a fabric-covered cable (with a one-button remote) should the battery run down.
You’d need to be forgetful to end up in this situation, though, as the JBL E55BT battery life is good.. JBL claims 20 hours, but we may have even squeezed out a little more from a single charge.
Bluetooth performance is good too. Once active, flicking the power toggle on the right cup starts pairing the headphones with the previous paired device.
You may hear a few splutters as they perform a digital handshake, but after that their reliability is solid. Bluetooth lag is minimal, so you can watch Netflix or YouTube videos without the dialogue trailing behind.
The E55BTs forego some of the extras, leaving you with just the headphone essentials at a decent price - there’s no aptX or NFC here, just three buttons on the right cup to alter volume and playback. There’s minimal lag from theses controls too.
Audio performance seems to be similarly weighted towards essentials- there are no show-topping flourishes here. That's pretty much what we'd expect from headphones of this type at this sort of money.
As full-size headphones with 50mm drivers, the scale of the JBL E55BTs' sound is reasonably good. Like most in this class, there’s a crowd-pleasing bass boost, but it’s less aggressive than that of Beats headphones.
There’s greater separation than truly bargain-bin headphones and the treble isn’t muffled or too obviously curtailed. However, the E55BTs aren’t particularly sweet-sounding or insightful either.
Bass decay is a little slow, making JBL’s decision not to wantonly turbo-charge the low end all the more important. Mid-range detail and definition is limited, and there’s a honking quality to the upper mid-ramge that can become abrasive with some genres of music.
The make-up of the JBL E55BT sound isn’t entirely coherent, then, but its shortcomings only chip away at the overall delivery rather taking a sledgehammer to its foundations.
When considered within the context of the price,the JBLs don't sound too bad at all. We hear the best results with electronic music, which tends to underplay some of the tonal limitations less than tunes packed with ‘natural’ instruments.
The JBL E55BTs are a solid bet if wireless functionality is a must and the budget is limited. They’re comfortable for long listening sessions and Bluetooth performance is solid.
However, if the idea of an on-ear pair isn’t a turn-off, the AKG Y50BTs are a considerably better buy.
MORE: JBL sets a world record
See all our JBL reviews