JBL Live 650BTNC Headphones Review

By What Hi-Fi? Review Source



These noise-cancelling headphones are quite fun, right until the moment they become absolutely exhausting.


At times it seems like there’s no such thing as ‘middle ground’. Taking things to one extreme or another has become far more common and altogether more popular.


Look at the list of our favourite wireless noise-cancelling headphones, for instance. There are plenty of products in the premium segment, and lots (including a pair from JBL) at the very affordable end, but nothing in between.

No one ever accused JBL of lacking ambition, though, just like no one ever accused JBL of having too modest a model range. The Live 650BTNC over-ear wireless noise-cancelling headphones are JBL’s attempt to occupy the middle ground. And it would seem that if the Live 650BTNCs are good enough to earn a recommendation, JBL will have the middle ground all to itself.


But there’s more to earning a recommendation than just showing up at the right price.

Comfort

We’ve no complaints in terms of the way the JBLs are constructed. The plastics that much of the headphones are made from feel a bit cheap and slightly thin, but nevertheless the Live 650BTNCs feel sturdy enough. The moving parts move with freedom (though not too much) and there are no rogue groans or squeaks from the frame when it’s sitting on the listener’s head.



The tough-feeling fabric on both the inner and outer portions of the headband feels good, too. It should prove hard-wearing, and it’s different enough from the more usual faux leather to make the Live 650BTNCs look vaguely interesting. Fake leather does show up in the covering of the memory-foam earpads, but we wouldn’t have thanked JBL for serving up fabric-covered earpads.

Despite the assertive branding, the JBLs are a tidy design. Unlike a lot of over-ear headphones, there’s not that much of a gap between the sides of the wearer’s head and the headband, so there’s not quite the usual suggestion of ‘Cyberman’ about the way you look when wearing them. And at 249g all in, you won’t be bent under the burden of them, either.

Build

Here, for once, is a pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones that doesn’t pile every one of its switches and user interface onto the right-hand earcup. The Live 650BTNCs merely put the vast majority of their features over on the right-hand side.


JBL LIVE 650BTNC TECH SPECS:

Bluetooth version 4.2 Cable length 1.2m Headphone jack 3.5mm Active Noise Cancelling Yes Built-in mic Yes Amazon Alexa Yes Google Assistant Yes Frequency response 20Hz - 20kHz Battery life 30 hours (ANC off), 20 hours (ANC on) Weight 249g


On the right, you’ll find buttons for power on/off, volume up/down, play/pause, active noise-cancelling on/off, Bluetooth pairing and call answer/reject/end. There’s also a socket for using the JBLs with a cable, should the battery run flat. It’s a little 2.5mm input, though, so you’ll need to take good care of the 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable adaptor in the package.

Noise-cancelling is a simple two-stage affair – either ‘on’ or ‘off’. When it’s switched on there’s a definite reduction in external sound, with only the mildest hint of inner-ear pressure to let you know how hard the JBLs are working.

JBL also bundles a USB charging cable in with the Live 650BTNCs. The socket is on the left-hand earcup, which makes a nice change - but it’s a micro-USB, which is a bit retrograde. The battery is 700mAh, which should be good for around 20 hours of listening with noise-cancellation switched on, or 30 hours with it off – and it can go from ‘flat’ to ‘full’ in roughly two hours.

The left earcup is also used to summon your choice of voice assistant – Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are both catered for. Just hold a hand over the entire earcup for a moment and then your bidding can be done (as long as you speak slowly and distinctly).

The JBLs use Bluetooth 4.2 for wireless connectivity, and once the digital audio information is on board it’s served up by a couple of 40mm full-range drivers. JBL is claiming a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz.


Sound

It seems ‘excitement’ is what JBL was shooting for when it voiced the Live 650BTNCs. And, to be fair, in some ways it has succeeded. One sure-fire way of creating a sense of excitement is to ramp up the low-frequency response. An overly bassy presentation can easily sound ‘big’, and certainly the Live 650BTNCs are certainly more than big enough where low-end presence is concerned.