In a market inundated with tiny, wire-free earpieces and wireless charging cases that look like deluxe boxes of dental floss, does the budget wired headphone still have a place?
Those once-essential cables between the buds and your music source now seem surplus to requirements and with 3.5mm headphone jacks vanishing from your kit, one wonders whether wired designs have effectively been engineered into obscurity?
But wires sound better than Bluetooth, and while wireless in-ears are getting ever cheaper, we're yet to hear a really great pair that costs less than £50. All of which means that if you want really good sound on a really small budget, wired is the way to go.
It's this market that Flare Audio is looking to tap into with its Jet range. While the British firm’s flagship set of in-ears sells for £400, the Jet range consists of three budget options all coming in at under £50 ($65). Of this three-strong Jet-branded range, we’re testing the Jet 3s, the dearest in the range. How will they fair against the excellent, identically priced SoundMagic E11C in-ears?
The Jet 3s’ packaging is refreshingly minimal – they come in a small pouch similar to an instant coffee refill, which is perfect for the job and environmentally friendly.
Frequency response 5-20KHz
Headphone output 3.5mm
Cable length 1.15m
Driver diameter 10mm
There’s a 10mm driver in each earpiece, gold-plated connectors and 1.2m of stress-tested cable, which is nicely rubberised and doesn’t kink or tangle easily. The precision-turned titanium earpiece casings are light and stylish.
A nice touch is a blue loop at the base of the left earpiece and red at the base of the other. It means you won’t search at length for the correct earpiece for each ear and, along with the subtle etched logo on the driver casing, lends an understated, studio-worthy, professional look to the buds.
There’s a leather drawstring bag included, should you require one, and a total of three different-sized tips. The Jet 3s have the ‘standard’ 3.5mm headphone cable connection, so you’ll need an adaptor dongle for connecting to USB-C or Apple Lightning ports.
On the right earphone cable, there’s an in-line mic and remote, which is a simpler design than the three-button systems of more premium headphones. It comprises just one button, but offers several functions and performs them well. Single-button headphone controllers also have broader smartphone compatibility than their three-buttoned siblings.
When listening to music, you can play/pause tracks with a single press, or skip to the next track with a double press. A long press summons Siri on our iPhone, and should also call up the voice assistant of an Android device.
During phone calls, we found the mic clear and that pressing and holding the remote button mutes our voice effectively; a small feature but immensely useful. Of course, the drawback of the single-button system is that you have to dig out your device in order to change volume.
Overall, the Jet 3s offer a light, comfortable and unobtrusive design, plenty of natural noise isolation and very little cable noise.
We cue up Radiohead’s All Hail To The Thief album on Tidal, and the Flares dig up a reasonable amount of detail in the opening track, 2+2=5.
There’s the initial reverb in our right ear layered with the low-level, murmured conversation, giving way to a central, well-integrated bass beat and Thom Yorke’s textured and emotive vocals. The timing is somewhat muddled across the frequencies, though, and the headphones are a little too bright through the treble.
The album continues to Sit Down. Stand Up and we’re met with plenty of the engineered pops and clicks that the band intended, but the delivery is a tad harsh and overly pronounced. The piano is there, but the midrange isn’t quite potent enough, and although Yorke’s vocal still takes centre stage, the 3s aren’t delivering a fully cohesive soundscape. At this level, it’s an acceptable performance, but it’s far from blowing us away.
This album is a litmus test for timing in most headphones, and through Backdrifts the shortfall is revealed. It’s a punchy listen with most abrupt stops dealt with, but the Jet 3s struggle to hold all musical strands together across the frequencies here.
They are beaten by the class-leading SoundMagic E11Cs, both in terms of this particular timing issue and overall. That holds true whether using our laptop, iPhone or iPad Mini.
We listen to The Marshall Mathers LP on Tidal, and while we can enjoy the Jet 3s for a while due to a relatively well-balanced bass, their forward nature and punchy but unsubtle character makes for a tiring listen over time.
If your budget only stretches to £50, the Jet 3’s classy, premium-feeling cable and titanium shells will appeal. But, despite our admiration for the build quality, the sound quality isn't up to scratch, even at this low price.
Our search continues for another great pair of budget wired in-ears to rival the SoundMagics.
- Sound 3
- Comfort 4
- Build 4
Read our SoundMagic E11C review