- Cheaper than competitors
- IPX5 rated (sweat and water resistant)
- Comfortable fit and design
- Decent battery life
- Solid Bluetooth stability and range (most of the time)
- Average audio quality
- No volume controls on earbuds
- Fit not as secure as competitors
The JBL Free earbuds are not quite as good as its main competitors but they’re much cheaper.
Design & Fit
The JBL Free have a pretty typical earbud design but they are a little different from other true wireless earbuds in that they don’t come with any ear fins or wings. They only come with three different size ear tips and two protective sleeves for the earbuds themselves. As such, the fit is secure but not nearly as secure as the Jaybird Run or Bose SoundSport Free. If you shake your head vigorously, you can definitely feel the earbuds move around a little in your ear. Still, that’s with violent head motions – for jogging and mild workouts, you should be just fine. But the nice thing is that the JBL Free earbuds are lighter than the SoundSport Free and Jaybird Run so they have that going for them.
The JBL Free are IPX5 rated, meaning they are sweat and water resistant so you’re good to go for workouts. Also, the sound isolation is pretty good with these guys. I’d say it’s slightly better than the Bose SoundSport Free in this regard. I couldn’t really make out what Payne Train was saying to me when he was sitting about 10 feet away from me. But of course, this might be a bad thing for some people. I know a lot of runners actually prefer when they can hear a little ambient noise for safety purposes.
Track Management / Volume Controls
The JBL Free have one multi-function button on each earbud. On the right earbud, you can use tapping gestures to take/end calls, pause/play music, access Siri and pair both earbuds. On the left, you can skip a track or go back to the previous song. Missing from all that is volume controls. That’s right, no volume controls – that means you’ll be using your phone to change the volume, which is kind of a bummer.
The built-in microphone works pretty well though. Payne Train had no problems hearing me during our test phone call. However, just a heads up, when taking calls the earbuds automatically enter mono mode, meaning audio only comes out of the right earbud. Some people may prefer this but personally I’m not a fan. On the positive side, there’s no auto-pause feature. When you take the earbuds out or you just fidget with the fit, the earbuds continue to play music. I like that. The AirPods, for example, pause every time you take them out, even if it’s just for a second, which can get pretty annoying.
Battery Life / Bluetooth Stability
The JBL Free offer decent battery life – not quite as good as Jaybird, Bose or Apple but still not bad for true wireless earbuds. Expect to get around 3.5 -4 hours of playback on a full charge. In addition, the portable charging case adds an extra 20 hours of juice. That’s pretty impressive. Plus, there’s a quick charge feature. Pop the earbuds in the charging case for 15 minutes and you’ll get an hour worth of playback so that’s always nice to have. Overall, not bad battery life all things considered.
In terms of Bluetooth stability and range, we had mixed results. Sometimes the earbuds would work fine. Walls, doors and people didn’t interrupt the signal – I was able to go to the other side of our office building with multiple obstacles in the way with no problems. One time I was able to go about 90 feet before I encountered any disruption. Then other times I couldn’t go more than 40 feet without the connection between the earbuds cutting out. It was a little bizarre.
Unfortunately, we don’t have too good of news to report here. The JBL Free don’t get all that loud, the audio is a bit shallow and a little raspy. Further, they provide little bass and the highs are not very good. In Jeff’s words – “they sound like cheap headphones”. That’s a bit harsh – I’d say they offer just average audio quality. And it’s important to note that a lot of people will be getting these to workout in making audio quality not as important since your mind will be pre-occupied. Overall though, we were a little surprised – we were expecting more from JBL in this department.
Getting back to the positives, the JBL Free are pretty affordable comparatively speaking. They have an MSRP of $150 [see on Amazon]. Here’s how that compares to its main competitors:
– Bose SoundSport Free MSRP: $250 [check current price on Amazon]
– Jaybird Run MSRP: $180 [check current price on Amazon]
– Apple AirPods MSRP: $160 [check current price on Best Buy]
So if you’re dead set on having true wireless earbuds but you’re on a budget, the JBL Free may be the way to go.
The JBL Free are good but not great. They’re lacking in a couple key categories – namely audio quality and volume controls. Still, considering they are $100 cheaper than the Bose SoundSport Free, they are at least worth your consideration.