In 2018, JLab helped pave the way for cheap true wireless earbuds with its JLab JBuds Air. These wireless workout in-ears received an IP55 rating, boast a comprehensive array of on-board controls, and include a charging case with an integrated USB charging cable. If you’ve been apprehensive about total wireless earbuds due to their generally higher cost and less-than-reliable connectivity, JLab’s $49 earbuds are a great, low-risk pick.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on April 22, 2020, to make note of the JLab Go Air and update scoring for connectivity.
Who should get the JLab JBuds Air?
- Athletes. What with JLab Audio being the official audio sponsor of Major League Soccer, it should come as no surprise that these earbuds are designed for us athletes. The IP55 dust- and water-resistance makes these all but indestructible.
- True wireless listeners on a budget. While there are other cheap true wireless earbuds out there, these are actually worth your time. Not much is afforded in the way of accessories, but you can select one of three EQ presets and listen for three hours before having to charge up.
- Commuters. These earbuds effectively isolate you from surrounding noise without the assistance of noise reduction software, provided you find the correct combination of ear and wing tips.
Does it come with accessories?
Purchasing the JLab JBuds Air affords you two pairs of proprietary Cush-Fins, three pairs of ear tips, a charging case with an integrated USB cable, and the true wireless earbuds. The inside of the packaging is user-friendly and displays the earbuds’ advanced controls, which I often referred to when learning the ropes.
How is the JLab JBuds Air built?
I hope that you’re fond of plastic because everything from the 500mAh charging case to the earbuds themselves are constructed from it. While this does cheapen the look and feel of the JBuds Air, it also keeps costs down and allows for the IP55 durability rating. Whether the trade-off is worth it depends on the listener, but if you plan on relegating these earbuds to the weight room, embrace its all-plastic getup.
First, let’s address the biggest drawback of the earbuds: their size. While not as large as the Bose SoundSport Free truly wireless ‘buds, these are bulbous. Don’t be turned away by the appearance, because each earbud weighs just 6 grams. And what the JLab JBuds Air lacks in svelte style, it makes up for in functionality. The included earbuds provide an effective fit that remains stable while running, cycling, weight-lifting, and rock-climbing.
The nozzles are angled for an ergonomic fit, but this can’t combat the discomfort felt after just one hour of wear. While this would be unconscionable for something like studio headphones, it’s par for the course when it comes to workout earbuds as most of us don’t spend more than an hour at the gym anyway.
Headed to the gym? How long do you typically listen to music while exercising?
— Sound Guys (@realsoundguys) September 11, 2018
With the included charging case, you’re provided an extra 10 hours of playback and the earbuds automatically charge when holstered. I was initially dubious of the USB cable’s durability, but JLab states it’s tested to withstand at least 10,000 bends before showing signs of wear.
Playback controls and EQ options
Aside from basic playback controls, the earbuds allow for advanced control operation, like adjusting the volume or accessing your respective virtual assistant — be it Siri or Google — by double-tapping the right earbud. Like the JLab Rewind Wireless Retro, clicking either earbud panel three times allows you to cycle through three EQ presets: signature, balanced, and bass boost. Of course, you can also download the JLab app to perform the same adjustments.
You can control volume directly from the earbuds, a rare feature for true wireless products.
Taking a call? Stick to your phone’s microphone
When speaking through the JLab JBuds Air microphone, my voice is rendered inaccurate, a consequence of low-end attenuation. Taking calls in a completely quiet environment isn’t even a pleasant experience for whoever is on the other end of the call: it just sounds like you’re speaking from 10 feet away. If you want better microphone quality, you’ll have to pony up for more premium earbuds like the Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus or Apple AirPods.
The JBuds Air earbuds are good for working out
The JLab JBuds Air earbuds are water- and dust-resistant and have an IP55 rating to show for it. Aside from that, they fit extremely well. Sure, the bulky build is an eyesore, but with the provided Cush-Fins installed, it’s next to impossible for the earbuds to be removed unintentionally.
These aren’t just gym-appropriate, though; running outside with these earbuds in is a delight since their shape isn’t conducive to wind noise — that wind tunnel effect that happens with certain earbuds. That said, the earbuds isolate noise well, so you’re going to want to keep to the sidewalks and designated paths to stay safe.
How long does the battery last?
Battery life is below average for a pair of true wireless earbuds. Upon subjection to a constant 75dB(SPL) output, our objective testing measured a 3.07-hour playback time. While this isn’t remarkable, it’s sufficient for most of our commutes and workouts. And running out of juice isn’t a huge worry since the 500mAH charging case provides an additional 10 hours of battery life.
Connection strength is fine
A 10-meter connection range is allowed by the JLab JBuds Air Class 1 Bluetooth 5.0 support, but it doesn’t provide aptX support — a shortcoming pardoned by its affordable sub-$50 price. iPhone users, however, benefit from the AAC support which lessens any potential audio-visual lag that we Android users encounter. Thankfully, the auto on and connect feature works without a hitch every time the earbuds are removed from the charging case. This makes listening to the earbuds a pleasant experience that is only occasionally interrupted by intermittent connectivity stutters.
Related: The future of Bluetooth LE Audio
Do these JLab earbuds sound good?
These are cheap true wireless workout earbuds, and they sound like cheap true wireless workout earbuds. Low-end frequencies receive plenty of emphasis which is great for keeping you pumped during your routine, but clarity and midrange frequency perception suffer. Again, if you don’t intend to use these beyond the trail or gym, the sound quality is appropriate — potentially ideal for some — but if you’re hoping to get a jack-of-all-trades deal out of the JLab JBuds Air, you’ll want to into some truly wireless alternatives.
For the sake of consistency during testing, all songs will be discussed through the lens of the JLab balanced EQ preset. For the record, switching from balanced or signature to bass boost makes a huge difference, but alternating between balanced and signature is harder to differentiate especially when passively listening. Signature, however, amplifies the bass and treble frequencies while balanced attempts a more neutral-leaning reproduction.
Lows, mids, and highs
In Pynk by Janelle Monae, the song opens with a synthesized bassline coupled with snapping, and the low-end is emphasized — although not terribly so — from the get-go. Comparing the JBuds Air to the Sony WF-1000XM3, the former produces less clarity than the latter because of auditory masking.
A clear example of how the bass emphasis impacts the midrange frequencies is anytime that Monae sings the word “pink.” If you want to hear this in succession, skip ahead to 0:21. Each time Monae sings “pink” her the “-nk” consonant sounds (/ŋk/) are masked by the bass.
Although this is something that self-professed audiophiles actively avoid, those of us who want to use these for exercise will thoroughly enjoy the bass boost in balanced mode. It’s not overwhelming, but it asserts a noticeable presence. If you want something with even more oomph, feel free to opt for the bass boost mode. For me, however, it was too emphasized and severely undercut clarity.
Youth performed by Daughter is recognized for its ability to elicit disparate, solemn feelings from listeners. The minor notes plucked from the guitar difficult to hear above the drum hits during the chorus. The fundamental frequencies are audible, but the delicate harmonic resonance that we Daughter fans have familiarized ourselves with are lost to the kick drum.
Again, although this may be a shame for analytical listeners, we gym-goers don’t tend to contemplate the harmonic resonance of an Am chord while finishing up our set of rows.
What’s the difference between the JLab JBuds Air and the JLab JBuds Air Icon?
We’re already familiarized with the JLab JBuds Air, and if you’re happy with what you’ve read, you may be even happier to know that the JBuds Air Icon feature a much longer battery life and smaller housing design. The touch-capacitive controls may or may not be an upgrade depending on what you prefer; I found the touch controls to be less reliable than physical buttons. Both headsets are IP55-rated, but the JBuds Air Icon make a huge improvement over the first-generation model with its new dual connection system which improves stability.
For just $15 more, I think the improvements are worth getting the JLab JBuds Air Icon over the JBuds Air. If, however, you already own the JLab JBuds Air, the upgrade is a harder sell.
How do the JLab JBuds Air compare to other true wireless earbuds?
If you’re holding fast to a strict $50 budget, another great option is the Edifier TWS1. These earphones support aptX and Qualcomm True Wireless Stereo Plus, something that’s incredibly rare especially at this price point. If you’re unfamiliar with the technology, it creates two independent connections, one to each earbud, from the source device for minimal latency and greater connection strength. They’re IPX5-rated, but don’t create as secure of a fit as the JBuds Air for exercise. If you value sound quality over all else, these are the best sub-$50 ‘buds out there.
Unlike the Bose SoundSport Free, the JBuds Air is hardly showing signs of aging. The price is perfectly reasonable for most consumers looking for durable workout earbuds and features unique features exclusive to JLab. If you’re on a tight budget, you’re not going to find a better bang-for-your-buck than the JBuds Air. That begin said, you can get some great alternatives for just a bit more cash. One of our favorite pairs of cheap true wireless earbuds are the Creative Outlier Air, which support aptX and AAC, are IPX5-rated, and have a stellar 7.78-hour battery life.
The JLab JBuds Air are the best bang-for-your-buck true wireless workout earbuds available.
Perhaps you’ve accrued some extra funny money; if that’s the case, it’s worth considering the Apple AirPods Pro or Beats Powerbeats Pro for iPhone users. Both sets of earbuds house Apple’s H1 chip which improves battery life, allows for hands-free Siri access, and makes usage across iOS devices smooth as butter. The AirPods Pro are Apple’s first noise canceling earbuds and have been completely redesigned from the AirPods (2019). Beats’ headset, on the other hand, has an earhook design that provides added security, letting you move according to your workout’s demands.
Should you buy the JLab JBuds Air?
As of March 2020, these earbuds aren’t as enticing as they once with given the release of the upgraded JBuds Air Icon. The three-hour battery life is showing its age and the IP55 certification is available on nearly all other JLab earphones.
If you’re really hesitant about giving true wireless a go, the JLab Go Air is a safe pick. These are even smaller than the Air Icon and provide five hours of playtime on a single charge. What’s more, they’re more affordable than the older JLab JBuds Air and operate via the same Bluetooth version and support the same AAC and SBC codecs. The IP rating has been downgraded from IP55 to IP44, but for all intents and purposes, the two are nearly the same. Alternatively, if you want something a little sleeker with better audio quality, check out the Edifier TWS1.
Still looking? See the best true wireless earbuds
Frequently Asked Questions
The JLab JBuds Air charging case is officially rated to provide an additional 18 hours (two charge cycles) to the earbuds. If you listen at loud volumes, you may have to charge the earbuds and case more frequently.
The JLab JBuds Air earbuds have a wireless range of 10 meters.