JLab is one of those companies that has found a nitch in audio by making good quality bang for your buck products for both children and adults. They even have some great wireless earbuds for exercise which have been receiving nothing but positive reviews. But with their most recent Flex BT headphones, they’re trying to take the leap into premium while still remaining affordable. So are the Flex BT headphones worth the $150 price tag or is too good to be true?
When you open the box you’ll get a nice hardshell carrying case to put the headphones in while traveling, a blue micro USB charging cable, 3.5mm audio cable, instruction booklets, and a cool little sticker of the logo.
Build & Design
When it comes to the build, the Flex BT feel both good and bad. The metal headband adds a nice sense of security, but besides that the headphones are entirely plastic save for some metal plates on the sides of the earcups. It’s a smooth matte plastic that feels good to the touch, but doesn’t do much to make you feel like these are premium, or even durable. That said, it’s worth mentioning that during my testing these held up fine so it’s not that they’re actually fragile. They just don’t look like they can take a beating for something that’s supposed to have a metal build. The buttons and ANC switch on the bottom of the left earcup feel solid when being used, but otherwise just feel cheap because of the matte plastic finish. If you couldn’t tell, I’m just not a fan of the soft plastic feel.
But enough of the negatives, there’s some positives to talk about too. For one, these are really comfortable. The Plush Cloud Foam padding on the top of the headband and earcups make these feel like they’re floating on my head. Normally when wearing headphones on top of hats, the headband pushes down slightly on the little button in the middle of my hat (which I just found out is called a “squatchee”) and becomes instantly uncomfortable. That wasn’t the case with these just because the padding is that good. The same can be said for for the earcups which also feel like they’re barely there. So much so that my first impression was that these fit a little loose and don’t provide a good seal. After wearing them for a while however, I realized that the seal is fine. The earcups are just so padded that you barely feel them covering everything. Definitely a plus in my book.
Another plus is the folding design that allow you to stuff them in a bag if you need to. Of course, you should probably use the included hardshell carrying case just to be safe but I had no issues just throwing these in a bag. The ear cups also rotate a full 90-degrees so you can wear them around your neck when you’re lounging about. Design-wise these are a little bit bulkier than I would like, but I do enjoy the overall look. Your mileage may vary, but the D-shaped earcups fit my ears perfectly and it’s a nice departure from the circular or oval earcups I’m used to. One thing I’m not a huge fan of the branding on each earcups, but at least it’s done tastefully. A simple logo is definitely better than a company name plastered on the product.
The Bluetooth connection between these and my source devices wasn’t spectacular, but it wasn’t bad either. Just average. If you stay within a range of 20 feet you shouldn’t have many issues, but beyond that it’s hit or miss. It’s not that the connection is terrible and drops out completely, but you’ll notice a quick stutter or two in the audio if you turn your body the wrong way. While watching YouTube videos there really wasn’t a lag at all unless you’re about 10-15 feet away from the source, and who’s really going to be that far away while watching movies anyway.
On the bottom of the left earcup you’ll find three buttons, a 3.5mm input, and a switch. The first two buttons control the volume and you can also hold them down for a second or two longer in order to skip between tracks. Then there’s the play/pause button which doubles as the power button if you hold it down. After that there’s the ANC switch which has a little indicator light on it that lights up red when you switch it on. On the right earcup there’s only a tiny microphone and the micro USB input for charging. As I mentioned before, the controls work great and I haven’t had any problems with them other than trying to memorize exactly which button is which when you’re wearing them. But like every other pair of headphones you eventually get used to it.
Being both Bluetooth and active noise cancelling headphones, we weren’t expecting much in terms of battery life to begin with. JLab claims that with both turned on you’ll get about 10 hours of constant playback and that was spot on during our testing. That said if you need to squeeze more juice out of them you can use only Bluetooth for up to 30 hours, or you can use the included audio cable with only ANC for 60 hours.
One weird thing to note before we get into the sound quality section is that turning on ANC seemed to completely blow out the lows to the point where it sounded like the drivers themselves were rumbling in the ear cups if you have the volume anywhere over 75%. I read that fresh out of the box these need a break-in period, so I let them play for about 20 hours straight but the problem was still there. That said, the ANC actually does work fairly well but the blown out lows were not enjoyable at all. This could be an issue just with my unit so for testing I kept it turned off.
The low end didn’t sound too controlled even with the ANC turned off. Bass kicks rumbled their way into the lower mids. Overall it makes these sound kind of muddy and not really too great for sitting back on a commute and just enjoying your music.
Though vocals were fine for the most part, instruments in the mids sounded a bit narrow. The background elements of “Walking Far From Home” by Iron & Wine didn’t sound as dynamic as I know them to be.
Highs were actually my favorite part of these headphones. They were never even close to harsh and though the cymbals lost some details and sounded a bit muffled at times, they did still manage to add a nice layer to music. This was most noticeable in “Generator ^ Second Floor” by Freelance Whales when the cymbals come in during the chorus.
For $150, it’s hard to recommend the JLab Flex BT headphones purely because of sound quality. Build quality is fine and I actually really like the design of these, but when it comes down to it sound quality is most important aspect and it doesn’t live up to the price tag. The active noise cancelling is actually decent, but in my experience using it ruined the sound. Connection was also decent, but where these headphones shine is comfort. I expected these to feel tight and uncomfortable, but they were way more comfortable than other pairs of headphones I’ve tested in this price range. If you’re coming from the earbuds that came with your smartphone, these are easily a step up. But if you’re used to high end audio experiences these might disappoint you.