JBL’s new wireless earbuds are smarter than your average AirPods rivals

JBL Live Buds 3 in purple
(Image credit: JBL)

Wireless earbud technology (and sound quality) has come on leaps and bounds over the years, but it’s fair to say that their charging cases still only do what they say on the tin.

Well, that was until JBL unveiled the first-ever 'smart' charging case, which debuted with its flagship Tour Pro 2 wireless earbuds. The little box features a touchscreen display, opening the doors to a range of duties from displaying battery life to switching sound modes. Our staff writer Harry McKerrell certainly had a lot of fun with it.

So, it’s little surprise that this innovative feature has now trickled down into a more affordable range of AirPods alternatives. JBL’s Live TWS 3 series, which has just launched at CES 2024, features the latest version of the case, with a 1.45-inch LED touchscreen.

You can take your pick from three different versions of the buds, with each one offering a slightly different style depending on how you want to wear them.

The ‘Buds’ (top picture) sports the most compact and discreet design of the trio, while the ‘Beam’ features a stem design with larger touch-sensitive control surfaces.

Finally, the ‘Flex’ (pictured below) introduces a more open earbud design for those who don’t necessarily like the feeling of having eartips burrowing deep into their ears.

JBL Live Flex 3 wireless earbuds in blue

(Image credit: JBL)

The earbuds all support Bluetooth 5.3 out of the box, with LE (Low Energy) following via a future firmware update that is also set to add multipoint Bluetooth (which will allow the buds to connect to more than one device at a time).

You should be able to get ten hours of playback out of the buds per charge, with the case providing an additional 30 hours. Not bad at all.

The JBLs are also IP55-rated dust- and water-resistant, meaning they should be strong enough to withstand the effects of dust and the odd rain shower and therefore competitive on that front with the best running headphones out there.

Will the idea of a smart case catch on? Apple has supposedly patented an AirPods case with a built-in touchscreen, so it looks like one of the options the company is considering for future earbuds. What do you think? Cool feature or an unnecessary gimmick? Let us know in the comments below.

The JBL Live TWS 3 series will go on sale in June for £180 (€200/$200) in a choice of four colours – purple, blue, silver and black.


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Read our JBL Tour Pro 2 review

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Andy Madden

Andy is Deputy Editor of What Hi-Fi? and a consumer electronics journalist with nearly 20 years of experience writing news, reviews and features. Over the years he's also contributed to a number of other outlets, including The Sunday Times, the BBC, Stuff, and BA High Life Magazine. Premium wireless earbuds are his passion but he's also keen on car tech and in-car audio systems and can often be found cruising the countryside testing the latest set-ups. In his spare time Andy is a keen golfer and gamer.