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JBL Live 650BTNC Review

An impressive combination of good quality at a reasonable price that makes for a good value
JBL Live 650BTNC
Credit: Laura Casner
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Price:   $200 List | $114.95 at Amazon
Pros:  Good sound quality, good active noise cancellation, less expensive than competitors
Cons:  Not comfortable for those with larger ears/heads
Manufacturer:   JBL
By Max Mutter and Michelle Powell  ⋅  Apr 2, 2020
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69
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 15
  • Sound Quality - 30% 7
  • Noise Isolation - 25% 7
  • Comfort - 25% 6
  • User Friendliness - 10% 8
  • Portability - 10% 7

Our Verdict

Providing good sound quality and respectable active noise cancellation for a fraction of the cost of the field-leading models, the JBL Live offers one of the best overall values currently on the market. If you're looking for a pair of headphones that can provide a good listening experience and some concentration-aiding noise isolation but are dismayed by the astronomical price tags you see on most models, these are the headphones for you. While no aspect of these headphones is fantastic, most are well above average. Theonly real caveat we'd add to our recommendation of these headphones is the fact that some people find them uncomfortable. Though most people will probably find the fit acceptable, those with larger ears or craniums may find the JBL Live to be a bit restricting.

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Price $200 List
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Pros Good sound quality, good active noise cancellation, less expensive than competitorsGreat sound quality, great noise cancellation, comfortable, user friendly featuresGreat sound, comfortableInexpensive, powerful bass, effective active noise cancellation, comfortableIn inexpensive, reasonably good sound quality, portable
Cons Not comfortable for those with larger ears/headsExpensive, both sound quality and noise cancellation fall just short of being the best in the fieldNoise isolation not on par with other high-end modelsLacks some brightness in mid and vocal ranges, headband may be to large for smaller headsPoor noise isolation, not comfortable for large ears/heads
Bottom Line An impressive combination of good quality at a reasonable price that makes for a good valuePremium cans that offer unique features on top of great sound quality and noise cancellationA great choice if you don't care for active noise cancellationImpressively inexpensive given the sound quality, active noise-canceling performance, and comfortOffers a decent listening experience for a relatively low price, but certainly doesn't stand out in any aspect
Rating Categories JBL Live 650BTNC Jabra Elite 85h Bose SoundLink Wire... Soundcore Life Q20 Tribit XFree Tune
Sound Quality (30%)
7.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
Noise Isolation (25%)
7.0
8.0
5.0
6.0
4.0
Comfort (25%)
6.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
5.0
User Friendliness (10%)
8.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
6.0
Portability (10%)
7.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
Specs JBL Live 650BTNC Jabra Elite 85h Bose SoundLink Wire... Soundcore Life Q20 Tribit XFree Tune
Type Over-ear Over-ear Over-ear Over-ear Over-ear
Noise cancelling Yes Yes No Yes No
Manufacturer reported battery life (hours) 30 36 15 40 40
Measured weight (ounces) 9.1 10.5 7 9.3 10.3
Included case Lined drawstring pouch Semi-hard case Semi-hard case Lined drawstring pouch Semi-hard case
App Yes Yes Yes No No
Earcup padding cover material PU Leather Leatherette Micro suede Alcantara Leatherette Leatherette
Charging cable length (inches) 47" 12" 47" 40" N/A
Microphone for voice? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Bluetooth version 4.2 5.0 4.0 5.0 4.1
Onboard buttons Volume, play/pause, forward/back, noise cancelling, voice assistant, power/bluetooth, answer/decline/mute calls Volume, play/pause, forward/back, noise cancelling, voice assistant, power/bluetooth, answer/decline/mute calls, toggle between sound modes Volume, play/pause, forward/back Volume, multifunction, power, NC Volume, play/pause, forward/back, noise cancelling

Our Analysis and Test Results

Noise-canceling headphones tend to fall into one of two camps: premium models that offer great performance at correspondingly high prices, and low-budget models whose active noise cancellation leaves a lot to be desired. The JBL Live is one of the few models to occupy a middle range, and it does so with aplomb. Sure these headphones cost significantly more than those budget models, but their performance can at the very least be considered in the same league as that of the much more expensive premium models.

Performance Comparison


Great value in a pair of headphones that is only a small step back...
Great value in a pair of headphones that is only a small step back from models that cost significantly more.
Credit: Laura Casner

Sound Quality


The JBL Live's overall sound is good, but falls a bit short of being audiophile approved. It will almost certainly be a significant improvement over the earbuds that came with your phone, but lacks some of the definition and nuance that top-tier models possess.


We would call the Live's sound bass-forward. These headphones are able to produce deep and rotund bass notes. Notably, that low end is able to control its power, keeping its articulation tight and well-defined where many comparable models fall down the slippery slope into muddled roars.

The bass is clearly the strength of these headphones, and they accordingly lean into that aspect. Just as the natural laws of acoustics tend to make live concerts sound bassier, the JBL Live tends to find the low end in any composition and pull it to the forefront. This strategy works well for many types of music and is great if you need some motivating tunes. It also tends to create a more robust and engrossing sound than most of the comparable models on the market.

These headphones excel in the bass range, with decent clarity in the...
These headphones excel in the bass range, with decent clarity in the mid and treble frequencies.
Credit: Laura Casner

Music that negates this bass-boosting strategy, namely acoustic arrangements, can sound a bit thin with these headphones. Luckily the clarity is good enough that these songs maintain a good amount of resonance despite the lack of low end. That clarity does tend to degrade a bit at higher volumes, however, so don't expect great results when blasting your favorite acoustic album.

Overall, though it has some weak points, we think the JBL Live does more than enough to provide a good listening experience for pretty much any type of music.

Noise Isolation


The JBL Live's active noise cancellation and noise isolation, in general, are both above average. The noise-canceling technology particularly excels with consistent low-pitched hums, like the background noise of a plane or bus. Even without music playing these noises almost disappear, though they are still discernible if you're actively listening for them. Turn on even low-volume music and those noises are rendered completely inaudible.


While no pair of noise-canceling headphones can completely filter out higher-pitched and less predictable sounds like talking, the JBL Live lets in noticeably more of these noises than the top noise-canceling headphones on the market. However, these noises take on somewhat of an ethereal, disembodied quality, almost like you're hearing them whilst underwater. We generally found the noises that made their way through the headphones to be fairly easy to ignore. Additionally, the active noise cancellation allows you to drown those noises out with lower-volume music, which is all most people will need to stay focused while working in a noisy office or to remain engaged while watching a movie on a long flight.

The JBL Live struggles to totally block out voices, but in general...
The JBL Live struggles to totally block out voices, but in general we found its noise cancellation capable of making music sound better in most noisy situations.
Credit: Laura Casner

Comfort


We feel most people will find the JBL Live to be quite comfortable, but if you're planning to wear them for hours on end and you have a larger head, you may want to go a different route.


To make their headphones look sleeker and be less cumbersome, many headphone manufacturers have trended towards designs that are most comfortable for those with smaller heads and ears. The JBL Live certainly fits into that category. The design is fairly ergonomic and though somewhat stiff, the padding on the earcups feels quite comfortable during wear. However, both the earcups and the headband are just small enough that all of our testers with heads and/or ears that are even slightly larger than average reported a feeling of constriction when wearing these headphones. Most of those reports came in the form of the earcups pressing up against the ears and creating some uncomfortable hot spots, but others reported the headband also feeling annoyingly tight. It should be noted that all of these complaints came after wearing the headphones for multiple hours. Even those with larger craniums had no issue wearing the headphones for an hour or two.

The padding is cozy, but the earcups are a bit small for those with...
The padding is cozy, but the earcups are a bit small for those with larger ears.
Credit: Laura Casner

User Friendliness


The JBL Live offers a fairly seamless and intuitive user experience and offers a few extra convenient features not often seen in this price range.


The controls on these headphones keep things simple with an on/of switch, a play/pause button, and two other buttons for adjusting volume. Long presses on the volume buttons allow you to skip tracks, and a long press on the play/pause button can summon virtual assistants. Active noise cancellation turns on by default when you turn the headphones on, and there is a dedicated button if you'd like to turn that function off. All of these buttons are located on the right earcup. They are quite small, making it easy to mix them up at first, but we got used to the layout after just a few music sessions. There is also a touch-sensitive control on the left earcup solely for interacting with virtual assistants.

The JBL Live keeps things simple when it comes to on-headphone...
The JBL Live keeps things simple when it comes to on-headphone controls.
Credit: Laura Casner

Perhaps the most convenient feature is the Live's ability to pair with two Bluetooth devices at once, allowing you to switch between the two seamlessly. It's important to note this doesn't mean you'll be able to listen to both devices simultaneously, or even hear alerts from both devices when wearing the headphones. It just means you don't have to dig through Bluetooth menus every time you switch from listening to music on your phone to watching movies on your laptop.

You can also download the My JBL Headphones app if you'd like to adjust the EQ of the headphones. The app includes Jazz, Vocal, and Bass EQ presets, as well as the option to customize the EQ.

One minor thing to note: these headphones charge with a standard micro-USB cable, so those looking to make a complete switch to USB-C may be disappointed.

The JBL Live comes with a drawstring canvas pouch that keeps the...
The JBL Live comes with a drawstring canvas pouch that keeps the headphones clean, but offers little protection.
Credit: Laura Casner

Portability


These headphones fold up fairly small and flat and come with a soft-lined canvas bag for storage and traveling. A hard case would provide some extra peace of mind when stuffing these headphones into a bag, but that would be a bit of an unrealistic expectation at this price point.


Value


All things considered, we believe the JBL Live offers about 70-80% of the performance of the field-leading headphones at (in many cases) half the price. This combination makes them one of the best deals currently on the market.

Conclusion


The JBL Live 650BTNC stuffs good sound, functional noise cancellation, and user-friendly features into a fairly economical price tag. If you're looking for good sound and active noise cancellation but don't want to pay a premium price, these headphones are a great middle ground.

Max Mutter and Michelle Powell