The wireless noise-cancelling headphones market is hugely overcrowded, so if you can bring a unique selling point to the table, it definitely helps you to stand out from the crowd.
Hence the ‘Club’ element of these JBL Club 950NC headphones. This points to the fact that this particular range of headphones (Club comprises three models in total) has been inspired by some of the superstar DJs in JBL’s stable, such as Armin Van Buuren and Nicky Romero.
It would be easy to assume the result is an upfront, bass-heavy pair of headphones that major in quantity, but not necessarily quality. But you’d be wrong.
There’s a Bass Boost function that can be controlled via a button on the right earcup, but it’s an ingredient you can either add or remove as you see fit. During our time with the headphones we leave the boost turned off. It definitely adds power and more bass weight, but the trade-off is precision and clarity. The whole presentation sounds cloudier and muddier with it switched on.
Continuing the DJ theme, you can even use the ‘My JBL Headphones’ app for Android and iOS devices to select preset EQ modes that relate to each of the DJ’s mentioned above plus a couple of other JBL ambassadors. Each has its own particular sonic flavour to try out, but again, we tend to favour the standard out-of-the-box audio that you get from the Club 950NCs.
Design style Over-ear
Bluetooth version 5.0
Noise cancellation Yes
Battery life 22 hours
Voice control support Yes
Touch controls No
And the standard audio is good indeed. The JBL’s deliver a clean, clear and open sound. They favour an enthusiastic, lively presentation that’s fun to listen to wirelessly, but equally fun through a wired connection to a 3.5mm headphone socket. There's plenty of space and headroom for tracks to shine from any genre and the Club 950NCs work well with everything from punk to progressive trance.
Play Dua Lipa’s Don’t Start Now and the track’s upbeat, funky tempo plays into the JBL’s hands. They follow the tunes’ funky path faithfully. The song’s short, stabby bassline, plucky percussion and expressive vocal, are all given plenty of room to breathe thanks to the spacious soundstage.
Christine and the Queens’ People, I’ve Been Sad has a much slower pace and more considered tempo but the JBLs don’t panic. We are still treated to lashings of detail, from the subtle pans across the soundstage, to the delicate flutterings of string instruments.
When the music quietens and Christine switches to singing in French, the JBLs do a good job communicating the different dynamic shifts and emphasis on the staccato elements of her delivery. Rivals such as the Sony WH-1000XM3s and the Dali iO-4s do it better, though – they’re more dynamically subtle and, consequently, even more convincing.
Taking vocals out of the equation, we switch to Hans Zimmer’s Inception soundtrack, and it’s the Dalis and Sonys that squeeze more out of the dynamic shifts at the start of the track Time. The strings rise and fall and the pulsing drumbeat washes over you, wave after wave with great conviction from the JBL’s, but you get greater tonal finesse from the top pairs at the money and a greater sense of emotion.
Foldability and portability are two of the key design traits for headphones such as the Club 950NC and the JBL’s tick both boxes.
The earcup stems boast metal hinges that allow the headphones to fold inwards and upwards, towards the underside of the headband. In this position you can place them in their clamshell carry case. Like the case, the headphones are sturdy and feel like they’re built to last.
In terms of comfort, the news is more mixed. The JBL’s don’t feel particularly light, certainly not as light as the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM3s. A look at the spec sheet confirms the JBLs weigh in at 372g compared with the Sony’s 255g. Another similarly-priced rival, the Beats Solo Pros, weigh 267g.
The grip from the earpads is firm but not uncomfortable – they can pivot and twist to help get the best fit possible. You can actually peel the magnetic earpads away from the earcup body which should make them simple to replace.
They don’t feel as well cushioned as some rivals, though, and it’s a similar case with the cushioning around the middle section of the headband. We find it on the firm side and its presence can be felt during long listening sessions. That’s not to say they’re massively uncomfortable, but there are rival pairs out there that are better.
As is the case with all headphones of this ilk, you’ll need to spend a bit of time acclimatising to the various features and buttons at your disposal.
Along the edge of the left earcup, there are power, Bluetooth pairing and Smart Ambient buttons. There’s also a 2.5mm headphone jack for the supplied headphone cable which itself features an in-line mic and one-button control.
Power up the JBLs for the first time and they should automatically start the pairing process. Then you can add an extra device (up to two max) by pressing the dedicated Bluetooth pairing button.
A solid blue LED light indicates you’re paired, while a white LED a bit further along the edge of the earcup shows noise-cancelling is enabled.
The Club 950NC’s Adaptive Noise Cancelling is activated by pressing and holding the Smart Ambient button, while a short press controls either the Ambient Aware or TalkThru feature, which can be assigned in the app.
TalkThru lowers the music volume so you can have a conversation, while Ambient Aware allows more ambient noise through so you’re not quite as isolated from your surroundings.
Both features are executed well, and the JBLs’ noise-cancelling tech does a solid enough job of cutting out background noise. Spend a little extra, though, and you’ll get even better tech from the likes of Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wirelesses.
Call quality is good, with the JBL’s employing a dual-mic configuration to help deliver clearer voices.
The circular surface on the outside of the left earcup, marked with a JBL logo, is actually a button which activates either Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa.
Switch over to the edge of the right earcup and you can see a strip of controls for playback and volume. There’s one long button with raised sections at the top and bottom for volume up and down. They also double up as controls for skipping forwards and backwards. The middle section plays and pauses a track. The controls feel chunky, solid and they’re also quick to respond, although they aren’t particularly nice to use.
A small LED flashes red when the battery is running low and glows solid red while charging via the USB-C input next door. The JBL Club 950NC’s offer 55 hours of playback over just Bluetooth and up to 22 hours with Bluetooth and ANC turned on. Hooked up via the headphone cable and just using noise-cancelling, battery life goes up to 30 hours. A 15 minute charge should get you two hours of play time.
These figures are decent for this category of headphones, but Sony WH-1000XM3s pip the JBLs with closer to 30 hours of battery life with Bluetooth and noise-cancelling activated.
To make the most of the Club 950NCs, download the My JBL Headphones companion app for iOS and Android. Here you can see the battery life left in the cans and also enable an ‘Auto-off’ function that cuts the power after they’ve been left alone for 10 minutes. During testing, the headphones turn themselves off randomly a couple of times, which appears to be a slight glitch.
The app also allows you to experience some of the audio processing features at your disposal and gives you the ability to configure some of the controls, such as whether you want the Smart Ambient button to be assigned to TalkThru or Ambient Aware.
You also have access to an equaliser with presets assigned to certain JBL ambassadors, including Armin Van Buuren, Nicky Romero and Tigerlily. Press the Stage+ button in the app, pick your DJ and you can experience audio tweaked with them in mind. Or, you can create your own equaliser setting.
There is something for everyone in the noise-cancelling headphone market, especially around this sort of price. But that fierce level of competition means the JBLs have their work cut out. They’re a fun and exciting listen, but they don’t quite deliver that memorable listening experience you get from the very best pairs.
- Sound 4
- Comfort 4
- Build 5
Read our Sony WH-1000XM3 review
Read our Dali iO-4 review