JBL thoughtfully approaches consumer audio demands with the E-Series line. This plastic collection seeks to meet our needs by providing affordable Bluetooth products without sacrificing sound quality or functionality. The E55BT model is a jack of all trades. The headphones are MultiConnect-enabled and are decked out with 50mm dynamic drivers. They do everything well enough. But you know what they (who are “they” anyway) say: jack of all trades, master of none. Is that the case for the E55BT?
Anyone in the market for affordable headphones that put sound quality above build quality. In a perfect world, the two would always be top-notch, unfortunately, many budgets—mine included—don’t always allow for that kind of financial liberty.
Students: With five colorways (black, red, blue, teal, and white) there’s bound to be a look for you. The Bluetooth is convenient, so you don’t have to worry about wires when packing up from one class to another. Plus, we 20-somethings keep a painfully tight budget, typically not by choice, so if value is important, keep reading.
Commuters: Sound isolation is impressive with the E55BT. Clamping force keeps out a good chunk of ambient noise without inducing headaches. The ability to switch from one device to another is helpful if you’re watching a video on your tablet and receive a call on your phone. No more fumbling to worry about, just click that MultiConnect button.
JBL includes the necessities with the E55 BT: a 3.5mm stereo jack and micro USB charging cable. Don’t know what to do with the cardboard box? Give it to your baby niece as a gift, it’ll keep her entertained for hours.
Build & Design
If you want a corny joke, looks like your gonna have to phone dad because JBL doesn’t include virtual assistant compatibility.
These are technically classified as budget headphones and it shows. Though the plastic housing squeaks and creaks in the hand, it fortunately disappears when wearing them. It’s cool that the fabric headband matches the tangle-free cable, but it fails to provide any sort of cushioning. Normally, this would be problematic as most of us have a low tolerance for headphone discomfort, but due to ergonomic weight distribution, the E55BT can be worn for an hour and a half without fatigue. After that, the cushion-less headband becomes a real pain. Similarly to the Beyerdynamic DT 240 PRO, JBL has opted for synthetic protein leather earpads. Not only does this keep costs down, it appeals to a wider range of consumers.
Design-wise, they’re nothing to write home about. It makes sense that JBL would forgo pandering to aesthetes in order to please ears. But the proportions are just silly. The 50mm driver housing protrudes too much relative to the flat headband. Features are slim. If you want a corny joke, looks like your gonna have to phone dad because JBL doesn’t include virtual assistant compatibility. That said, they do fold flat and up at the hinges, so that’s nice. The right ear cup is outfitted with the power switch, basic playback controls, and a MultiConnect button. All three of the playback controls sit perfectly flush with each other, making it nearly impossible to distinguish between them. Using them was a complete “guess and check” process. I didn’t like it in high school algebra and don’t like it now.
Connection lags but unlike JBL’s Under Armor Sport Flex wireless earbuds, it doesn’t drag. If you’re streaming video, there’s a 0.5-1 second delay. Not ideal, especially in a $120 pair of headphones. Personally, I would’ve preferred aptX compatibility over MultiConnect functionality. Although, switching between devices works smoothly with the E55BT. I wish I could say the same for the general connectivity. Even with the source device no more than three feet from the headphones, static interrupts the signal multiple times a minute. If you reset the headphones, it does remedy this for a while though.
The tangle-resistant cloth cable is useful, includes a mic and single-button remote, and one end bends at a 45° angle. Both jacks are reinforced with strong stress relievers. The optimist in me thinks that it’ll hold up for a while.
With volume at 50 percent, I was able to exhaust the full 20 hours of music playback from the headphones. Note: even at 50 percent, these are loud. There’s no way that anyone could safely listen to that for more than a few minutes, tops. I usually found myself hovering at a quarter of the volume. When you do run out of juice, it takes two hours via micro-USB for the headphones to top back up. C’mon, JBL, micro-USB? Can we make the switch to USB-C, pretty please?
Looking beyond the iffy connectivity, JBL has tuned the E55BT headphones to have an altered sound signature. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it’s enjoyable and meets what most consumers like: emphasized bass and highs, relative to the mids. Just don’t expect to get a good mix out of them; these aren’t reference headphones.
The supra aural design helps create a seal, isolating the listener from the environment, contributing to the bass. This also helps to create a wider soundstage, the illusion of a perceived 3-D space, by taking advantage of the natural contours of the ear. Leveraging our anatomy helps to reproduce the natural hearing process.
The JBL E55BT deliberately distort the bass, and Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish” is a prime example of how this altered sound can be advantageous for certain genres. Supposedly a response to Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”—if you’re one for celebrity feuds —“Swish Swish” relies on an energetic (120 bpm) tempo to carry the nightlife-inspired beat.
The bass is much more energetic than listening with something like the Audio-Technica ATH-M40X.
Things really start poppin’ 20 seconds in. Overemphasis of the lows pushes into the mids, resulting a drop in vocal clarity for the sake of a more “fun” sound. This phenomenon is most apparent 1:14 to 1:22 when the bass does double time under Perry’s “-ire” rhyming pattern. The bass is much more energetic than listening with something like the Audio-Technica ATH-M40X. This is okay, because both headphones have their respective places on the audio stage, a tool for a specific purpose.
Though not a radio hit, Lorde’s “Sober” has plenty of dynamic range to test the fidelity of the mids. Like “Swish Swish,” the song is overtaken by exaggerated lows. While appealing, this formulaic beat undercuts Lorde’s vocals, causing them to sound recessed. It’s a disservice to Lorde’s depiction of addiction within a mutually abusive relationship, “Jack and Jill get f****d up when it gets dark . . . but what will we do when we get sober?” Hindering the vocals isn’t typically a huge issue with poppy rhythms like this (see above), but the song itself is so lyrically driven that it just doesn’t work.
Circling back to the soundstage, it’s actually one of the best aspects of the JBL E55BT. In the last 30 seconds of “Sober,” the lyrics, “Limelight. Lose my mind,” repeat through the right channel as the refrain comes through the left and right channels. Lorde’s voice is easy to perceive as distant, relative to the repeated lyrics, which sound as if they’re being sung less than a foot away from the right ear.
Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile perform a deft duet in “Why Only One?” The bass and mandolin pairing illustrates the altered nature of the JBL E55BT. The two artists play in tandem from the 12-second mark on. JBL’s E55BT reproduction of Meyer’s upright bass performance, perceptibly lops off detail from Thile’s agile mandolin picking.
Upon initial listening, the higher end of the spectrum comes through clearly. However, this is the highest end of the frequency range that we’re hearing in the song. Hence why it sounds so appealing at first. Listen closer though. There isn’t much below that point due to the drivers’ refractory response, causing the bass to linger and eat into both the upper mid-range and lower end of the treble.
Though the rickety plastic is often a little too malleable, the fact of the matter is that if you’re on a budget but want to dip your toe, or even your whole foot into the next echelon of audio, the JBL E55BT are a worthy adversary of similarly priced options. Rendered more open than the ATH-M40X, the E55BT reproduces a superb soundstage. Good sound quality is always a gamble with Bluetooth headphones, especially due to unpredictable interference issues, but when the E55BT make things work. Yes, yes, yes. The sound isn’t flat, but it’s not meant to be. If the poppy color options didn’t signal this well enough, the E-series line is a fun, affordable collection that brings MultiConnect capabilities, comfort, and good sound to the table.