It’s shameful to admit that we spent much of the time before composing this review trying to think of puns revolving around the word “case”. After all, there’s no escaping the exciting novelty that JBL’s Tour Pro 2 bring to the party with their cute display that gives full touchscreen functionality from the front of the earbuds’ charging case. Gimmick or not, it’s something unique to JBL.
Time will tell if that sort of thing catches on, and while such an innovation may be the first thing to grab your attention, we’re more concerned about high-quality sound than a touchscreen in a place we’ve never seen before. There’s little use in recommending a pair of wireless earbuds for sporting pretty patterns or fun gimmicks if they make your music sound like it was recorded at the local swimming pool.
This is the standard that the JBL Tour Pro 2 must live up to, and it’s a high one. At this price, there’s serious competition from the likes of Bose's QuietComfort Earbuds II, Sony's WF-100XM4 and of course Apple’s AirPods Pro 2, so a fancy charging case isn’t going to be enough to stave off such heavyweight rivals if JBL can’t deliver genuinely outstanding audio. Let’s find out if the new Tour Pro 2 are up to the task.
Comfort & build
The JBL Tour Pro 2 are as stylish and comfortable as you’d expect at this price. Some of our team had a little more trouble making a full seal, while others found these new earbuds nestled happily in their ears after a little perseverance. If you don’t manage to get a perfect fit first time, you may find yourself limited by the fact that JBL only offers three choices of ear tips to accompany its latest pair of wireless buds.
General build quality, though, is good, and while the earbuds themselves aren’t particularly remarkable to look at, their ridged edge pattern and neat, short stems are far from offensive to the eye. That case is a lovely item, robust and sturdy while never straying into the realm of bulky or obtrusive. The coveted touchscreen, meanwhile, is relatively responsive and usually pretty precise, even if it can take a few attempts to get a reaction from some of the display’s fiddlier commands.
JBL’s latest pair of earbuds are well-furnished in the features department, boasting a large stable of tricks for an impressive wireless experience. The buds themselves are call-enabled, with a substantial 40 hours of total playback (if you’re a very frugal user) with the case. On a single charge on the buds, you'll get eight hours of play with ANC on (or 10 hours with ANC off), while a 15-minute charging session can bolster battery life by around four hours. For comparison, Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds II offer around 24 hours in total, whereas Apple’s AirPods Pro 2 manage roughly 30.
As you’d expect, JBL has also brought active noise cancelling (ANC) to the Tour Pro 2 party, with the JBL app and smart case both offering access to the standard Noise Cancelling, Ambient Aware or Talkthru modes, and while there’s certainly a difference between these three options, none of these settings is especially remarkable. Standing next to a moderately busy road with Noise Cancelling activated removes the general rumble of traffic, but the louder wooshes and bumps of individual cars, not to mention other intrusions, still filter through.
Codec Support AAC, LC3, LC3+, SBC
Battery Life Up to 8 hours (single charge in earbuds with ANC on), up to 10 hours (ANC off); total 40 hours (with charging case)
Finishes x2 (Black, Champagne)
Weight 6.1g (each)
Most of these functions, including spatial audio, ANC and JBL’s onboard equaliser, can be set and adjusted via the charging case screen as well as through the app itself. In a further attempt to justify its own existence, JBL’s novelty display also allows for your smartphone’s notifications and alerts to come through, as well as allowing control of VoiceAware settings to let you choose how much of your own voice you hear on calls, autoplay and a very handy Find My Buds feature. There’s even a case flashlight, but it’s so limited in its brightness that you’d struggle to light up a mouse’s cupboard with it.
The question, though, is whether that display on the case is really needed. Sure, it’s nice to be able to make adjustments on the fly from a new interface, but considering that you’ll likely be playing music from your phone as a source (and therefore always have it handy wherever your buds go), there isn’t much of a necessity to also have a case display in addition to your phone and the detailed JBL app. Maybe we’ll be proved wrong, but this feels more like Google Glass than Google Earth.
All of this agonising over novel charging cases shouldn’t distract us from the main event: sound. Considering the superb sense of refinement and balance offered by Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds II, not to mention the effortless dynamic quality of the AirPods Pro 2, there’s some serious competition to be had at this flagship price level. Our expectations, frankly, were high.
Sadly, the Tour Pro 2 don’t quite meet them. There’s nothing actively wrong with JBL’s game effort, but little truly grabs us as we work our way through our favourite tunes. Few tracks are coloured by a predominant or overbearing sonic bias, but whether you’re wanting to groove to Noisette’s Never Forget You or rock out to Wig Wam’s In My Dreams, there’s just a slight lack of dynamism, detail or personality on display throughout.
Cranking up Kanye West and Jay-Z’s No Church In The Wild should be an invigorating experience, but the Tour Pro 2 always feel as though they’re holding back somewhat. That primal, driving drumbeat just doesn't thump like you feel it should, and there’s a limit to the expression and feeling from the track’s charismatic performers. It’s far from an unpleasant listen, it’s just not quite an essential one, either.
Smoother, more chilled efforts fare a little better. Pick out a softer track from De La Soul’s seminal 3 Feet High And Rising album and you may find the JBL’s more muted presentation better suited to tracks like Eye Know or The Magic Number, even if heavier, punchier offerings just don’t feel as thrilling as you’d like.
Spatial audio compatibility is one of the Tour Pro 2’s flagship features, adjustable via the JBL app and case to accommodate three different modes: Movie, Music and Game. Setting the Tour Pro 2 to Music before loading up Apple Music and digging out sections of Gorillaz’s Cracker Island sees the technology working respectably, with voices and instruments somewhat separated into their own distinct areas with relative conviction. However, the JBL’s implementation of this spatial audio tech pales in comparison to the AirPods Pro 2’s more assured performance; during the album’s title track, Thundercat’s upper-range vocals envelop you in an echoey fog, while the funky piano on Silent Running has a far more distinct personality all of its own when played on Apple’s wireless buds. The difference is stark.
Ultimately, then, the listening experience offered by the JBL Tour Pro 2 feels a little thin, limited by a lack of excitement and dynamism that rivals are able to offer at this level. The Tour Pro 2 aren’t a bad listen, but they fail to truly thrill on a sonic level.
JBL had its work cut out if it wanted to muscle in on the action against some seriously impressive rivals. Hovering around this price are some of our favourite earbuds, be they the Award-winning Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II or Apple’s superb AirPods Pro 2, both exceptional performers that would have taken something seriously special to be knocked from such lofty perches.
JBL’s latest don’t quite have the firepower to dethrone such worthy rivals. Yes, that case is a fun novelty and yes, everything’s well-made, well-designed and easy to use, but there’s something missing from the ensemble when it actually comes time to getting stuck into your catalogue of favourite songs. The Tour Pro 2 buds sound fine, but fine just isn’t going to cut it when you’re coming up against the best in the business.
- Sound 3
- Features 4
- Comfort 4
Read our review of the Apple AirPods Pro 2
Also consider the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
Read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review