JBL Live Pro+ TWS review: AirPods Pro competition?

(Pocket-lint) – We’re getting used to pointing it out, but the wireless earbud market really has turned into a seriously fierce battleground. If you’re happy to spend over a couple of hundred then you’re into a world of high-quality products that standout from each other, but below that mark things get pretty crowded.

JBL’s Live Pro+ TWS earbuds don’t look especially unique, but we’re really impressed by how they feel to use day-to-day, and the features they offer for a price that undercuts the likes of Apple’s superb AirPods Pro. JBL’s ‘buds might not quite match Apple’s on quality, but they’re closer than they have any right to be at this price.

Design

  • Available in white, black, beige and pink
  • IPX4 waterproofing
  • Stem design

The Live Pro+ TWS doesn’t look like anything particularly groundbreaking on the surface – which is a good thing in many ways. They’re in the now long-established family of earbuds that feature a protruding stem, and are pretty standard within that group.

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Whichever colour you pick, you’ll get a uniform matte finish with a slightly contrasting shiny stem, but it’s all nice and understated. These don’t draw attention at all when they’re in your ear, which will likely be a good thing in most people’s eyes. 

They slip magnetically into a similarly generic case, of the same colour, which is nice and small and so easily pocketable. The case nice and light and passes the test of being satisfying to snap closed.

Three indicator lights on the case’s front let you know battery levels, although they’re nestled alongside four other notches that make it more confusing to read the lights – tiny design touches like that can matter. 

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There are also an impressive array of touch controls on each earbud, which have normal defaults like play/pause and volume control – but can be fully customised in JBL’s app, which is a welcome touch. These work well and promptly, although we found it took a little while to get used to exactly what gesture prompted each outcome. 

Nonetheless, overall JBL has done a really decent job here, with sturdiness to the earbuds themselves that makes them feel they could survive a few drops. More to the point, we found them genuinely comfortable to wear once we selected the right size of tip. That included long listening sessions, and isn’t something that every earbud we try can match. 

Sound quality

  • Adaptive noise-cancelling (ANC)
  • 11 mm dynamic drivers
  • Ambient modes

For most of us, how a set of earbuds sounds is more important than how they look – although it can be a close-run thing! Thankfully, we can report similarly impressive results on the sonic front from the Live Pro+ TWS.

Using them straight out of the box, as they’re tuned, you get a nicely balanced sound that isn’t too reliant on bass and does a good job genre-hopping. Rock sounds full-throated, but twirling folk isn’t too delicate for its soundstage, either. 

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You can change up the equaliser (EQ) settings should you want some more control, which can give noticeable bonuses under certain conditions. In general we found the earbuds a really enjoyable partner for listening sessions. Volume’s not an issue, either, as they can get plenty loud.

That’s also helped by the on-board adaptive noise-cancelling (ANC), which has three levels of assistance to pick from – Everyday, Travel and Active. Each offers a slightly different level and sort of cancelling, but Everyday is likely to be your default option to help dull out the outside world’s noise.

It’s solid stuff – blocking out droning background noise nicely – although you shouldn’t expect miracles. A serene overground train journey was hushed up by the earbuds, for example, but a more raucous underground equivalent proved a less relaxing affair. Something like the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds – which cost a chunk more – are particularly good at drowning out surrounding sound.

For when you need to hear, the JBL ‘buds also offer pass-through modes that let you take in more of your surroundings, such as people talking. We found these a little fiddly to turn on without using JBL’s app, but resorting to that was always pretty straightforward. 

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It’s a set of options that gives you plenty of control over how you listen, but even if you don’t engage with it too much you should have a pleasant time listening to your tunes with the Live Pro+ TWS – it’s great for low-maintenance sessions. 

One sour note for the earbuds comes in call quality – it’s not shockingly bad, but you’d certainly hope for better given the stems’ beamforming microphones. It certainly pales in comparisons to some of the better alternatives we’ve tried. 

Software and features

  • JBL Headphones app
  • Customisable gestures and settings
  • 7-hour battery life, 21 extra hours in case

On the software side of things, JBL has created a slick experience. Its control app is easy to use and hosts absolutely loads of customisation options for the earbuds, letting you set your noise-cancelling levels, pass-through, and more.

You can easily change what tap gestures trigger actions on the earbuds, which voice assistant you interact with through them, whether they’ll detect your ears, and more. There’s even a little audio test to check if they’re getting the right seal in your ear, much like Apple offers for the AirPods Pro. 

Also housed here is the system for setting EQ levels, and the ability to add custom settings of your own design. These are easy to setup and save, and it makes for a degree of control that’s really impressive – especially at this price. 

It’s bright and easy to navigate, and that’s echoed by the strength and speed of connection we experienced using the earbuds. They connect quickly once out of their case and work fluidly. 

Battery life, finally, clocks in at around seven hours of listening, while the case houses an extra 21 hours’ worth. That’s fairly standard, if nothing special, but we’re also pleased to see that the case charges wirelessly, so you don’t have to worry about power cables if your phone is similarly equipped. 

Verdict

We really enjoyed wearing JBL’s wireless earbuds for a couple of weeks. There’s a completeness to the package it offers that belies its asking price. You get loads of control and customisation, along with solid active noise-cancelling (ANC) to go with a soundscape that’s perfectly impressive on its own. 

These ‘buds look nice, feel great, and are reliable for long listening sessions – which is a winning combination in our experience. There are some very minor hiccoughs and the earbuds’ sound quality probably could have blown our socks off a little more, but this feels like a fairly-priced package that’ll find a loyal audience. 

Also consider

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Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s earbuds are the best choice for iOS users, even if their asking price is a chunk higher – they’re often available with discounts now though. More to the point, the integration is peerless, the sound is superb, and they have a few advantages over JBL – especially when it comes to call quality. 

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Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

For those on Android (especially on a Galaxy from Samsung), these little earbuds are a great option. They ditch the stem if you’re not into that look, and come in at a very similar price and sound very impressive. Call quality is great, although you will miss out on the control options that JBL gives you. 

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Writing by Max Freeman-Mills. Editing by Mike Lowe.





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