JBL has a firm grasp on the wireless speaker market as its Flip and Charge lines are some of the most recognizable on the market. Lest we forget, however, that the company also knows how to produce reasonably priced headphone to appeal to the masses. The JBL Live 650BTNC features excellent noise cancelling for the price. These comfortable smart headphones may very well be your next audio companion, as they’re among the best JBL headphones out there.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on February 18, 2021 to include a table of contents and to include new places to buy the JBL Live 650BTNC.
Who is the JBL Live 650BTNC for?
This is a great option for listeners looking for an economical alternative to Beats. The headphones boast a bass-heavy sound and fashionable exterior. The Live 650BTNC isn’t just for budget Beats fans, though; the noise cancelling capabilities make the headphones a great choice for anyone who uses public transit to get to and from work or considers themselves a frequent flyer.
Related: Best noise cancelling headphones
How is the JBL Live 650BTNC built?
Plastic ear cups keep weight down but durable components are used where it matters: the metal-reinforced headband is solid and made comfortable by way of the lightly cushioned cloth covering. This mixed material construction allows the JBL Live 650BTNC to remain relatively affordable while also appearing rather fashionable.
Housed within each ear cup is a 40mm dynamic driver. The synthetic memory foam ear pads are deep enough to prevent rubbing against the outer ear, unlike the comparably priced Sony WH-CH700N ANC cans. What’s more, the padding makes listening comfortable for hours at a time and is moderately comfortable with glasses.
The curved touch panel on the left ear cup serves as the action button for commanding Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. Tapping the panel once prompts Google Assistant to read out notifications. Pressing and holding the JBL lets you reply to a message, make a command, set a reminder, etc.
The JBL 650BTNC integrates Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa and serve as a great option for anyone wanting a fair priced Beats alternative.
All other controls reside on the lateral edge of the right ear cup. Unfortunately, the playback and volume controls are nearly impossible to find on the first try. Coincidentally, I came across a similar issue with last year’s JBL E55BT headset. Further down the Live 650BTNC is the conjoined noise cancelling/Bluetooth pairing button, neither of which functions I needed.
How good is the JBL Live 650BTNC’s battery life?
As indicated by our objective testing, battery life is quite good. When subjected to a constant 75dB(SPL) output, the headphones provided 18.5 hours of playback with noise cancelling on. While this is 1.5 hours shy of JBL’s listed 20 hours of performance, the fact of the matter is that 18.5 hours is plenty.
When the battery does fully deplete, charging isn’t a major deal as the headphones support quick charging: 15 minutes connected to the included microUSB cable affords two hours of playback. Sure, it’s a minor disappointment that the company went with microUSB instead of USB-C but the dated connector contributes to keeping the price below $200.
The headphones only support the SBC Bluetooth codec which, while not ideal, is fine for most listeners. If you’re really itching to get the best audio quality from the headphones, use the included 3.5mm cable. After all, wired listening still laps any wireless codec in terms of fidelity.
One of the more functional features is multipoint connectivity. This allows you to simultaneously connect to two devices and alternate between them. In order to do so, pause media on the primary device and play it on the secondary one.
How good is the JBL Live 650BTNC’s sound quality?
The JBL Live 650BTNC is a pair of consumer headphones, and this is reinforced by the emphasized bass response. While it’s not overwhelming to the point of being annoying to listen to, there’s no way these cans are going to be mistaken for a set of studio headphones.
For every 10dB difference in frequency response, a noise sounds twice as loud. That means a 40Hz tone will sound twice as loud as a 250Hz tone. When listening to music, female vocals and males with higher registers are difficult to hear over low-frequency instruments.
Isolation is just ok, but when noise cancelling is activated, the outside world fades into the background. While ANC performance is sure to be outshined by the likes of Bose and Sony, at least their top-tier models, it’s excellent for the price. In fact, noise cancelling outperforms Sony’s comparably priced noise cancelling headphones when it comes to filtering out low-frequency noises.
Lows, mids, and highs
In Spencer Sutherland’s comedic ballad Sweater, the song opens with an exaggerated bassline which is made to sound even more heavy-handed by the JBL Live 650BTNC drivers. This is a great example of how the low-end masks vocals since Sutherland’s falsetto vocals are difficult to hear when the bass line kicks in.
To hear this, skip ahead to the hook at 0:09. Here he sings, “That’s my sweater.” This line isn’t underscored by anything until the final syllable of “sweater” when the bass drops back in. The reintroduction to the beat makes it all but impossible to hear Sutherland annunciate the “T” in “sweater.” What’s more, the clapping throughout the song sounds off because the harmonics are nearly completely masked by the bass.
The JBL Live 650BTNC do not produce very clear audio because of how emphasized the bass frequencies are.
Although clarity isn’t the JBL 650BTNC headphones’ strong suit, the powerful bass makes for a fun sound. This is something most consumer headphones have adopted and is great for listeners who prefer some oomph in their music.
How is the JBL Live 650BTNC’s microphone quality?
The integrated headset microphone is disappointing, but considering that even the best wireless headsets have similar issues, it’s tough to get too mad. I’m compelled to opt for my Samsung Galaxy S10e over the JBL Live 650BTNC every time a call comes in. What’s more, the microphone is unable to effectively attenuate environmental noise, making it a pain for the person on the other end of the call. While it’s not an uncommon issue, it’s still worthy of note.
The sloping frequency response of the microphone’s voice band indicates that it’s unable to clearly relay a majority of human voices. The lack of emphasis from 90-130Hz might not affect your voice as much as it does mine, but for those of us with deeper voices can sound a little off.
Should you buy the JBL Live 650BTNC?
If you want great noise cancelling for less, yes. The JBL Live 650BTNC may not be the clearest sounding headphones, but they are comfortable, portable, and effectively filter out external noise with ANC toggled on. Aside from that, Google Assistant and Alexa integration is a wonderful convenience: having texts read aloud and being able to immediately reply without touching my phone is a joy.
That said, if the poor microphone quality is impossible to overlook, the similarly priced Sony cans may be a more appropriate pick. They’re lightweight, easy to operate, and have a significantly better microphone.
Next: Sony WH-CH700N review
Frequently Asked Questions
No, the JBL Live 650BTNC support up to Bluetooth 4.2.