By Tim Gideon Review Source
Available in black, blue, green, red, or white models, the 500BT's circumaural (over-ear) design features exceptionally comfortable memory foam on the ear pads and the underside of the headband. The outer ear cup panels are matte plastic, and the headband is covered in fabric. Large JBL logos are emblazoned on the outer panels of both ear cups, and they are both Live buttons—more on that in a moment.
There are controls located along the side panel of the right ear cup. There's a power/pairing switch that includes a status LED, a multifunction button that controls playback and call management, and plus/minus buttons that adjust the volume when tapped or track navigation when held. We're not fans of combining these two functions on the same button, as it's too easy to skip a track accidentally when you mean to adjust the volume. You can also summon voice assistants with the multifunction button, though the outer panels also allows for this.
There's an Ambient Aware button, as well as a Bluetooth button, along the same control panel edge. Pressing the Ambient Aware button cycles between two modes we'll describe in a moment. The problem with all of these buttons is that they're are small and feel similar, and it can be hard to memorize which does what.
Near these controls, there's also a jack for the included 3.5mm headphone cable, which has a sporty cloth-lined look to it, and features a single-button remote and inline microphone. The included micro USB cable is of generous length, and connects to an uncovered port on the left ear cup.
The JBL logo on the right earcup's outer panel is sensitive to touch and holding your finger there will summon Apple's Siri, while the left panel works for Alexa and Google Assistant—you assign which one you want to use in the My JBL Headphones app.
For those who are used to always-on speakers that use wake words, the need to press a button in order to summon your voice assistant might make the whole experience lose some of its appeal. Regardless, plenty of users will still find the voice assistant button a useful inclusion—just know that the overall experience isn't as deeply integrated as many always-listening Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri products are.
The free My JBL Headphones app is very useful. It recognizes your headphone model once you've paired it, and then guides you through the relevant features, like setting up Alexa or Google Assistant or adjusting the EQ. Beyond the smart features, the main star of the app is the excellent EQ, which has multiple bands you can boost or cut to fine tune the sound signature, and you can save your custom settings as well. There are also two modes that allow you to hear your surroundings—TalkThru and Ambient Aware. Both can be turned on or off in the app, and both allow you to hear your surroundings without removing the headphones, while TalkThru also lowers the music volume levels for conversation.
JBL estimates battery life to be roughly 30 hours, which is quite good, though your results will vary with volume levels, EQ settings, and your use of the ambient audio features.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the headphones deliver a thunderous bass response, even without the bass boosted in the app's EQ. At top, unwise listening levels, the bass doesn't distort, and at more moderate levels, the lows are still quite powerful. Thankfully, JBL has also done some serious boosting and sculpting in the highs to balance the sound signature. This isn't a listening experience for purists, but those who want deep bass will be pleased that the highs aren't overpowered by the boosted lows.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Live 500BT's general sound signature. The drums on this track sound heavy and huge—not quite thunderous, but close. That's noteworthy because the drums don't necessarily pack much of a bass punch typically. Callahan's baritone vocals receive plenty of low-mid presence and the higher register percussive hits and acoustic strumming also get a strong high-mid and high frequency presence, keeping things balanced despite the heavily boosted lows.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop receives a solid amount of high-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its punchy, prominent place in the mix. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat, as well as the drum loop's sustain, are also delivered with power and depth that makes it feel like there's a subwoofer inside these headphones. The vocals are delivered with strong clarity, and perhaps some added sibilance.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound a tad unnatural through the Live 500BT. The lower register instrumentation is boosted and pushed forward in the mix to an obvious degree. The higher register brass, strings, and vocals still retain their crisp, bright presence, but they get more than just subtle anchoring from the bass-boosted lower register instrumentation here.
Ultimately, bass lovers will appreciate this sound signature, and those who want to dial the bass back a bit can do so in the app. It's possible to get the sound signature here to a more reasonably boosted and sculpted place, but there's no sense in buying the Live 500BT if what you're after is an accurate, flat sound.
On a down note, the built-in mic offers poor intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 8, we could just make out the words we recorded, with more garbled audio to deal with than usual.