I’ve long been a fan of JBL’s headphones. They’re well priced, sound great and offer the features many of us most want. The JBL LIVE 650BTNC is no exception. For under $200 you get excellent sound, effective noise cancellation, and access to Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. I think they’re great; you will too.
JBL describes their new, top of the line headphones this way:
Your Sound, Unplugged: In your world, music is essential, so slip on a pair of JBL LIVE 650BTNC wireless over-ear noise-cancelling headphones and elevate your day. Equipped with powerful 40mm drivers, JBL LIVE 650BTNC headphones deliver JBL Signature Sound punctuated with enhanced bass so every track on every playlist pops. And when the music is the only thing that matters, the active Noise-Cancelling technology allows you to block-out ambient sounds so nothing disturbs your groove. Need some help getting through the day? Easily access the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa with a tap on the ear cup and play your favorite playlist, text your friend or check the weather and much more, without glancing at your phone. But that’s not all. With a cool, lightweight and comfortable design, you’ll enjoy up to 30 hours (20 hours with BT + ANC) of music streaming with 2 hours of recharging time, multi-point connection capabilities and a convenient detachable cable with remote/mic, that lets you play on even when the battery goes off. Rock out uninterrupted with the JBL LIVE650BTNC headphones.
So let’s dig. Bit more deeply into the LIVE 650BTNC.
Inside the box you get the headphones, a 3.5mm to 3.5mm aux cable, a USB to micro USB charging cable (no, JBL hasn’t moved to USB-C yet), a carrying pouch, and some literature. It is a full package, although I’m perplexed by the decision about the charging cable, I don’t think many people will have a use for the 3.5mm to3.5mm cable. Then again, these are wireless headphones, so the aux cable is there as a legacy “just in case” solution.
The headphones themselves look and feel great. I received a pair of the blue version, but the headphones are also available in the traditional white and black we have come to expect. I think the blue looks great. They aren’t too bright, but they do let these headphones stand out in an ever-more crowded market.
Comfort-fit fabric headband: Shaped around your head with a fitting fabric headband and soft ear cushions, the LIVE650BTNC are super comfy.
The headband is covered in a textured fabric that looks nice and, more importantly, is quite comfortable. The material is fairly soft, and there is just enough padding on the underside to keep them comfortable as they sit on top of your head for hours at a time. I especially love the fact that the upper and lower parts of the band are different shades and the very top of the headband has the JBL logo in a subtle but slightly raised form. Those small details give the headphones a polished, refined look.
The adjustment mechanism that allows the headphones to fit almost any sized head is, of course, made of metal. There is a fair amount of movement between the smallest and largest setting, and each increment “clicks” into place, so the adjustment you make stays put. The ear cups also fold into the headband making them easier to transport.
The earcups have plenty of padding and are covered in a smooth, synthetic material. I will admit that the first few times I used the headphones, I found them to cause a bit of ear fatigue after some time. Now, however, that is no longer the case; I find wearing these headphones for an extended period to be a pleasure.
Inside each earcup, there is either an L or an R indicating the proper orientation for the headphones.
In keeping with recent JBL design language, the outside surface of the headphones has the JBL logo; it’s fairly large and will be noticeable to anyone who sees you wearing them. This outside area is simply a static plate on the left ear cup while the surface on the right ear cup is a touch control that activates the voice service of your choice.
The left ear cup had the micro USB charging port and a small hole for the microphone. Nearby there is a second small hole. This one is part of the active noise cancellation built into the LIVE 650BTNC headphones.
The right ear cup has a good deal more going on. There is a toggle to power the headphones on and off, a three button rocker to control the volume and provide track control, a 3.5mm cable input, a Bluetooth pairing button, a button to activate the active noise cancellation and a power indicator light. It has a lot of controls in a fairly confined space, but the layout is smart enough that, within a short while of using them, I was familiar with their placement.
It is particularly noteworthy that the entire surface of the left ear cup used to activate either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa is at one end of this row of controls. That makes it easy to find and activate your voice service of choice without having to give it too much thought. Speaking of voice services, JBL has this to say:
Get help from your Voice Assistant: Play your favorite playlist, text your friend, check the weather and much more by simply tapping the ear cup to activate the Google voice assistant or Amazon Alexa. Use the all-new JBL App to easily set your preferred voice assistants
Once I paired the headphones with my phone and downloaded the JBL App I was able, among other things, to select the voice service I wanted to use. Interestingly, JBL doesn’t include Siri in the range of options. That’s fine by me, since I find Google and Amazon’s offerings far better. I opted for Amazon Alexa access but love knowing I can easily switch over to Google Assistant if I want. I will, however, admit that I have not found myself using voice services via headphones all that much, but I expect that will change with time.
Press play. Mute distractions: Keep the noise away and stay focused on the music with Active Noise Cancelling.
The active noise cancellation built into the headphones works quite well. I haven’t had the chance to try them on a plane yet, but I expect they will do a decent job shutting out engine noise. I do love the fact that they don’t have the ANC buzz that is so common when using ANC-enabled headphones when not playing music. When I pause the music, I just get welcome quiet surrounding me; it’s awesome.
30 Hours battery life with ANC off and Speed Charge: Rock on for 30 hours with Active Noise-Cancelling turned off or 20 hours with Bluetooth and Active Noise-Cancelling on. A quick 15-minute charge lets you extend the fun for an additional 2 hours.
The battery life of these headphones is impressive. The fact that you can get 20 hours of use with both Bluetooth and ANC turned on is remarkable. And 30 hours of playback if you aren’t using ANC? How can you not be impressed? Add in the fact that a 15-minute fast-charge gives you another two hours to rock out, and you have headphones that won’t let you down regardless of how far you are traveling. Of course, in the unlikely possibility that the headphones do run out of charge, you can always plug a cable in and use them as you would traditional wired headphones.
Speaking of Bluetooth, it is worth noting that JBL used as Bluetooth model that supports multi-point connections so you can easily switch between two devices. That’s great for people like me who may be using both my phone and my tablet at the same time.
As for sound, let me put it this way… these headphones come from JBL so, of course, they sound great.
My JBL Headphones App: Personalize your listening experience by tweaking the JBL LIVE 650BTNC sound preferences via the free My JBL Headphones App
I’m listening to Bill Withers Use Me as I write this paragraph, and it sounds great. The JBL app makes it sound even better though. With the equalizer turned off, you get a nice balance between his vocals and the guitar/bass/drum riff that runs through the song. Turning the Jazz setting on brings out the riff even more while pushing the vocals back a tiny bit. The Vocal setting obviously brings the vocals forward but results in a sound that is a bit too thin for my tastes. The Bass setting does the opposite. While it may be a bit too much for some people, this last setting offers the most submersive experience of the four. Finally, if none of these settings work for you, you can also create your own custom EQ settings. That kind of flexibility means you can tune the headphones to your taste and, I have no doubt, get an audio experience that makes you quite happy!
Key to this great sound is the 40mm drivers JBL uses. They aren’t the largest drivers we’ve seen in headphones, an increasing number of over-the-ear headphones employ 50mm drivers, but they do an awesome job of allowing listeners to get lost in their music.
Overall, the JBL LIVE 650BTNC is an impressive offering. They sound excellent, are comfortable to wear for an extended period, have effective noise cancellation, intelligent buttons layouts, and they even connect to Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. What surprises me most is the MSRP of under $200. These headphones prove you don’t need to spend a fortune to get wireless headphones with ANC and great sound. I’m no prophet (nor am I a prophet’s son), but I have a feeling these are going to do quite well for JBL. Check them out here.
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample
What I Like: Look great; Substantial but not too heavy; Amazing battery life; Effective noise cancellation; Connect to Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa; Sound excellent; Nicely priced
What Needs Improvement: I initially encountered some fatigue after wearing them for an extended period of time but don’t seem to have that issue any longer