The COVID-19 pandemic has forced consumers around the globe to change their habits, myself included. With lockdowns in place at various points in time, and travel restricted, many people have found themselves hungry for new sources of entertainment and communication. Technology has helped to fill these voids.
One device that helped me adapt to this change was True Wireless Stereo (TWS) earbuds. As I spend more time at home and communicating through online meetings with friends, family and coworkers, having reliable and high-quality audio equipment has been vital. TWS earbuds are key for both work and pleasure.
Recently, I tested two of JLab’s TWS products, the Epic Air ANC True Wireless and the Epic Air Sport ANC True Wireless.
One of the first things I noticed about the JLab Epic Air ANC True Wireless was how comfortable they were. While testing these devices, I wore them most of my workday, which would have been miserable with a poor-fitting product. Instead, I hardly noticed that I had them on. JLab has provided six different sizes of tips to give the earbuds a perfect fit.
Impressive Battery Performance a Major Highlight
A major perk of both devices is their impressive battery lives – I was able to use both devices for the entirety of my workday (eight hours) without a charge. Adding in the battery life of the charging cases, both the Epic Air ANC True Wireless and Epic Air Sport ANC True Wireless can provide over 30 hours of playback before recharging the case, with the sport edition lasting up to 70 hours. This playback time is enabled by a 90mAh battery in each earbud and a 700mAh battery in the charging case for the Epic Air ANC True Wireless and a 120mAh battery in each earbud and a 1,000mAh battery in the charging case for the Epic Air Sport ANC True Wireless. The battery lives of these devices outperform most of their competitors, including Apple AirPods and Galaxy Buds.
However, this impressive battery life comes with a downside. The large batteries take up a lot of space and are heavy, making the earbuds larger than AirPods and Galaxy Buds, and their cases bulky and a bit oddly shaped. This makes them awkward to fit in your pocket. If you are carrying a backpack or a purse, this may not be an issue. But I enjoy bringing my earbuds with me when shopping or going for a walk around the neighborhood, occasions where I would not normally bring a bag with me.
Touch Controls and Noise Cancellation: Imperfect But Helpful Features
Both devices feature touch controls that allow users to change volume, skip tracks, adjust EQ settings, and activate noise-cancelling by just tapping the JLab logo on each earbud. With so many options, the controls can be a bit confusing at first but become familiar with repetition. Commands that require multiple touches occasionally misfired but for the most part were responsive. The touch controls can also be customized through JLab’s Air ANC App, which while difficult to use can be quite helpful.
Another major feature of the devices is their noise control modes – “noise cancelling”, “be aware” and noise control off. The noise-cancelling mode is marketed as removing the uncomfortable “vacuum” sensation that some users experience when using the same mode on other devices. I never got such a sensation while using the devices. However, the noise-cancelling was a bit underwhelming. While they were effective at blocking out noise on hikes and at outside cafés, the noise-cancelling did not hold up as well at busy grocery stores, where a good amount of ambient noise made its way through. The “be aware” mode captures ambient noise around the users and helps them remain aware of their environment. I found this mode useful when checking out at the store or a café, allowing me to keep my earbuds in and my music playing while talking to cashiers or wait-staff. Overall, the noise control modes were useful but a bit less impressive than I expected based on the product description. They were still a major bonus for a sub-$100 device, though.
Good Sound Quality For The Price
In terms of sound quality, I was pleased with both products’ performances. They come with three initial EQ settings – balanced, bass boost, and JLab Signature. While the bass boost was a bit too bass heavy for my taste and the balanced setting a bit lifeless, the JLab Signature setting delivered the best experience. The driving bass notes on “Fantasy” by The XX were full and compelling while the rich texture of swirling strings, piano arpeggios and ornamental chimes on Radiohead’s “Daydreaming” came through distinctly but well balanced. EQ settings can also be personalized on JLab’s Air ANC app. While the sound quality was good, the microphone quality was less so. When using the earbuds on calls, friends often noted that my voice sounded less clear and more distorted, though I was never unintelligible.
Conclusion: Diverse Features, Decent Performance, Low Price
Overall, the JLab Epic Air ANC and Epic Air Sport ANC offer good value for money. The earbuds have amazing battery performance, good sound quality, and useful customization tools that help balance out the slightly disappointing noise-cancelling and the unintuitive app. Together, these devices pack an impressive array of features and performance for under $100, making them a solid choice for consumers.