Some things, such as night following day, are literally inevitable. Others, like a new pair of true wireless earbuds turning up in the office every few minutes, only feel inevitable. And so to the JBL Live Pro+ true wireless in-ear headphones. It wasn’t inevitable that they’d arrive, it just felt like it.
As we all know, the market for true wireless earbuds around the £100 ($120, AU$180) mark is full to bursting. Yes, JBL is one of the most famous names in all of Consumer Electronics Land – but is that enough to help the Live Pro+ stand out? Or is this product just more of the same?
The JBL Live Pro+ is on sale now, and in the UK costs pennies less than £100. In the United States it’s priced at around the $129 mark, while in Australia it’ll set you back AU$179 or so.
As already observed, we can’t move for true wireless in-ear headphones at this sort of money. Everyone from Cambridge Audio to Sony, from Panasonic to Sennheiser, has a similarly priced pair to sell you – and they’re by no means the only ones.
Good luck, JBL. You’re going to need it.
Fair’s fair, JBL is off to a good start with the Live Pro+. After all, it’s by no means a given that the £100 ($130, AU$180) asking fee for a product like this will buy you the active noise-cancellation or oversized (11mm) full-range dynamic drivers that are included here. Six beam-forming mics (covering telephony, voice assistant interaction and noise-cancellation) is a pretty impressive number by prevailing standards, too. Wireless connectivity via Bluetooth 5.0 is sufficient to handle the highest-resolution tier offered by your favourite streaming service.
The JBL strengthen their case even further with the stability, breadth and straightforward usability of the control app. With plenty of tinkering available to the user, including selecting the degree of noise-cancellation (or ambient amplification), fiddling with EQ settings and re-arranging the touch-control instructions, choosing you favourite voice assistant (Google and Alexa are available) and so on, it’s among the more useful and good-looking control apps around.
Battery life of seven hours from the buds, with three further charges held in the case, means a competitive (but far from class-leading) total of 28 hours all in. Wireless charging via any Qi-certified pad is a nice touch, though, and 10 minutes on the power is good for an hour of playback.
The JBL LivePro+ earbuds are from the ‘dangly stem’ school of design, and their rather bulbous in-ear portion combines with the stem to make them look relatively ungainly. Unless you’re particularly small-eared, though, they’re easy enough to position securely and comfortably despite their 10g weight – there are three different-sized sets of eartips provided to help with that.
You’ll make your own mind up about the merits (or otherwise) of the dangly stem design, but it does at least allow plenty of space for a capacitive touch surface. And in the case of these JBL the touch controls (which cover all the top-line functions) are responsive and reliable – which is all you can realistically expect. It’s possible to mitigate or accentuate the design with your choice of finish, too – the LivePro+ are available in seven different colours (with matching charging case), from black and white to pink and gold.
With EQ settings left well alone, the JBL LivePro+ are a perky, almost vivacious listen. A CD-quality file of Grace Jones’ My Jamaican Guy is served up with very decent rhythmic expression, impressive levels of detail retrieval and more eloquence through the midrange than the price has primed us to expect. This is a vocal performance packed with character, and the JBLs communicate it really well.
There’s proper immediacy to the way the LivePro+ handle the midrange, and enough space around a vocal for it to sound convincing – and this positivity extends both up and down the frequency range, too. At the top end, the JBLs have (almost too much) bite and attack, so the early ’80s drum sounds are splashy to start with and only get harder as you wind up the volume. This is a brittle and edgy-sounding recording, and the LivePro+ do nothing to dull the sharpness of its corners. Down in the lower frequencies, bass sounds are pushed forward just a little – presumably in the name of ‘excitement’ – but they’re pretty well controlled and have enough discipline and momentum to keep up.
Audio codecs SBC, AAC
Microphone type beam-forming feed-forward/back
Battery life 7 (buds); 21 (charging case)
Waterproof rating IPX4
Weight (buds) 10g
The big dynamic variations in the Borodin Quartet’s charge at Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major pose no problems – these earbuds understand ‘loud’ and ‘quiet’ more than well enough. The sort of lower-level harmonic variations aren’t really given much expression, though – the LivePro+ are far happier having fun than they are knuckling down to their studies. They’re an almost juvenile product in this respect.
They’re a reasonably large-scale listen, though, and can piece together a soundstage without too much difficulty. Both of these recordings need proper attention paid to their spaces and silences, and the JBLs are organised enough to do so. And anyway, not everyone wants to be academic about the music they listen to – and as far as ‘engagement’ and straightforward ‘fun’ are concerned, the JBL are a match for any true wireless in-ears around its price point.
The active noise-cancelling is useful, up to a point. Each of the three stages (‘everyday’, ‘travel’ and ‘active’) offers a progressively assertive level of noise-cancellation, while ramping up the pretty obvious suggestion of ‘counter-signal’ at the same time. This is a feature that the majority of rivals go entirely without, though, so we shouldn’t expect miracles. And the ‘pass-through’ mode is useful and worthwhile, too.
If you’re interested in a deeper understanding of your favourite music, these probably aren’t the earbuds for you. But if, on the other hand, you want to be carried along by that same music’s energy and drive, the JBL LivePro+ have got quite a lot of what you need. And in a wider selection of colours than you were probably expecting.
- Sound 4
- Features 5
- Build 4
Read our review of the Panasonic RZ-S500W
Also consider the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus
These are the best in-ear headphones 2021: budget to premium