Despite not dominating headlines like Apple and Sony, JBL is no stranger to the world of wireless headphones and has a number of options on its website spanning a wide range of prices.
Its over-ear Bluetooth designs have been somewhat hit and miss when we’ve tested them over the years, but the brand has tasted five-star success with a couple of pairs of wireless earbuds of late, a trend it’s going to hope continues with the JBL Live Pro 2 TWS. On paper, they’re both affordable and feature-packed, but should the class leaders be concerned by their sound quality?
In the grand scheme of wireless earbuds pricing, the JBLs sit just above entry-level. At £130 / $150 / AU$200 they’re a little cheaper than the likes of the Apple AirPods 3 which come in around £169 / $179 / AU$279 and a lot cheaper than some of our favourite premium wireless earbuds, such as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II at £280 / $299 / AU$429. Their closest rivals actually come from the same stable. We’ve tested and awarded the JBL Reflect Flow Pro five stars at £160 / $180 but they’re now available at a similar price, which makes for an interesting comparison.
These earbuds look good enough for the money without setting the world alight. Some rivals offer more circular housings with touch pads, but JBL has gone down the tried and tested route of adding stems to the Live Pro 2 TWS.
The fact they’re glossy and boast an almost mirrored finish (available in Silver, Blue, Rose and Black) does elevate them above the duller-looking buds you can find at this level, though. The top section of each stem, near the 11mm driver, is touch-sensitive, and can be assigned to handle playback, volume, or cycle through different sound modes.
Codec support SBC, AAC
Battery life 8 hours (BT + ANC), 30 hours (including charging case)
Finishes Silver, Rose, Blue, Black
Weight 4.8g (each)
The JBLs come with three different sizes of silicone tip; small, medium and large. Each tip has a couple of small recesses carved into them which help guide them onto the oval tubes which protrude from the main earpiece body. They’re easy to swap around, but we’d still like to see manufacturers at this level actually offer more size options. Three doesn’t really seem enough and just gives owners fewer avenues to get the fit just right. During testing we found the JBLs quite comfortable, but they didn’t feel quite as rock solid and immovable as we’d like.
The earpieces slot into a charging case and are held in place magnetically. The case is petite and compact, which helps with portability and you can charge it via USB-C or wirelessly should you have a compatible charging pad.
Thanks to their IPX5 rating, the JBLs are water-resistant and designed to withstand a low-pressure water stream from any angle.
A row of diagonal lights on the front of the case indicate the level of battery left. And the numbers claimed by JBL are good for a pair of wireless, noise-cancelling wireless earbuds. JBL claims around eight hours of playback with Bluetooth and ANC turned on and ten hours if it’s turned off.
Add the rechargeable case to the equation, and the total battery life goes up to 30 hours with ANC, and 40 hours without. By contrast, the AirPods 3 only offer six hours of playback and don’t have ANC, while the Sony WF-1000XM4 also come in at around eight hours with Bluetooth and ANC activated.
JBL has given the Live Pro 2 TWS various features to call upon to help with fit, noise, cancelling and sound quality. Many are accessible through the touch controls on the earbuds, or the dashboard that greets you in the accompanying JBL Headphones app.
The app is your go-to place when first setting up the headphones (or when you lose them thanks to their Find My Buds feature), as it includes not only a fit test to make sure you’ve got a perfect seal but also an ear canal test to optimise the ANC for every individual.
With the Live Pro 2, you can enable adaptive noise-cancelling and the headphones will do all the heavy lifting automatically. They take into account your environment and alter the strength of the ANC accordingly. And it works well – external rumblings are kept to a minimum and you’re not really aware of it making any changes in the background.
One of the features that really helps with ease of use, Multipoint Bluetooth, is also included, which is good to see at this level. It provides you with the extra flexibility of being able to connect to two source devices at once, e.g. a smartphone and a laptop, and switch as required without having to physically pair each time you want to swap.
They also auto-pause when you remove an earbud and resume when you put it back, although during testing we found them to be a little over-sensitive. They would sometimes start playing again when out of our ears, which could be down to us catching the touch controls as they are near the top of the stems and the place where you tend to hold them most.
JBL uses six mics to help with call quality, and testing in relatively sedate environments, voices come through with a fair amount of detail and clarity.
The app’s dashboard looks great and allows you to access all the functionality of the headphones in just a couple of taps. You’ve got basic options such as switching between ANC, Ambient Aware or TalkThru, but you can also access more advanced features, such as the built-in equaliser if you want to tweak the audio. You can also switch between Smart Audio or Smart Video modes that optimise either sound quality or improve lip-sync depending on how you’re using them.
It’s a shame, though, that you can’t be more precise when it comes to customising the controls in the app. For example, we’d prefer to have controls for volume, playback and switching sound mode all assigned to the touch controls, as you can on some rivals, but the JBLs don’t allow you to have this particular combination. This means you’ll need to interact with your smartphone to perform one of the tasks, which feels like a bit of an unnecessary speed bump. There’s also no aptX HD or LDAC support for anyone looking for higher-quality audio, although at this level we don’t think it’s the end of the world.
If you’re looking for a solid and robust sound, then the JBL Live Pro 2 TWS deliver that and more. They’re not shy in coming forward, especially in the lower frequencies where there is plenty of power on tap.
Play Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy and the JBLs don their big size 12s and power their way through the track’s hefty bassline. Okay, they’re not exactly subtle with it, but there’s a good level of detail to those bass notes, and, to be fair, throughout the rest of the frequency range. There’s a decent amount of extension too. Eilish’s vocal sounds crisp and insightful and holds its own in the presence of those hefty low-frequency hits. If you do find the bass a little over-egged for your tastes, we found going into the equaliser and tweaking it can produce good results.
Compared to a rival like the JBL Reflect Flow Pro, they do sound clearer and more insightful – in fact, they’re a clear step up in most departments. Play Kid Laroi’s Stay, which is a bouncy, lively, poppy tune, and the JBLs match it with an enthusiastic performance. Dynamics are good and vocals are expressive enough at this level, as is their sense of timing and ability to follow rhythms. We wouldn’t say no to a bit more of all the above with their successors, but what they do offer is more than adequate at this level.
The JBL Live Pro 2 TWS occupy an interesting space in the wireless earbuds market. They’re a step up from sub-£100 / $100 cheap wireless earbuds and allow you to access better sound quality without having to make the jump to more premium options from the likes of Bose, Sony and Sennheiser. They’re an entertaining listen, easy to use and manage to pack in a lot of useful features. We think they’re well worth a listen.
- Sound 5
- Features 5
- Comfort 4
Read our review of the JBL Reflect Flow Pro
Also consider the Apple AirPods 3
Read our Sony WF-C500 review