Review: JBL Everest 100 Bluetooth earphones

A couple of weeks ago we had a close look at the excellent JBL Everest 700 Bluetooth headphones. They were good sized, over ear models. Now, same company, same range, but very different in most ways, here are the JBL Everest 100 Bluetooth earphones.

Features

The most obvious difference is that these are in-ear models. They have nice silicon tips (three sizes provided) and “wings” (also three sizes) to lock them in place. The two earpieces are connected by cable with a small control panel near the right hand earpiece.

Power is provided by two 50mAh Lithium Polymer batteries. That JBL says there are two of them suggests that they are located in the ear pieces, not the control section. However the Micro-B USB socket for charging them up is there, protected from the elements by one of those clumsy, flexible plugs. I don’t think even after all these years anyone has come up with an elegant protective cover for any form of USB socket. JBL says that they provide a play time of up to eight hours.

It’s Bluetooth or nothing. There’s no wired connection. JBL specifies no particular codec for the carriage of stereo audio so I think we can safely assume it is the basic SBC codec, not the higher quality AAC or aptX codecs.

They also support hands free phone operation.

JBL specifies their frequency response at 10 to 22,000 hertz and their maximum output level at 103dB sound pressure level.

These earphones are available in black or white. Their total weight is 16 grams.

Performance

There are five main things to consider when choosing Bluetooth ear phones: price, comfort, sound quality, control and connection reliability. Price is easy: $169.95. I couldn’t find any significant discounts at major retailers, and you’d be taking your chances with some of the ebay options. (Used in-ears? Eeewww!)

The three sizes of silicon ear tips ought to provide a suitable option for just about anyone’s ears. Likewise the wings. I’ve never fully understand the point of these and in the past, given the option, I’ve not bothered to attach them to the earphones. But these were already attached, and I think they may actually help a little with keeping the earphones firmly in one’s ears. Well, in mine. It isn’t any kind of “lock”. It’s just that by pressing up against one of the ridges of the ear, they increase the downwards pressure on the ear opening. Slightly. It all helps.

The net result was comfort and security. I didn’t feel I had to wedge the tops as firmly into my ears as usual, so there was less wear and tear on me. The pre-fitted middle-sized fixtures worked for me so I didn’t need to change. Because they held their position, there wasn’t that sense of a gradual opening up to the outside world, with the bass diminishing as the seal with the ear holes slowly starts to leak.

Connection reliability? It’s winter here in Canberra, and so far this year it has been a very cold one. So my hands keep getting plunged into my pockets, one of which contains the iPod Nano. My fingers curl around the device and the sound starts dropping out.

There was adequate Bluetooth reliability with these earphones. Which is to say, leave a clear path for the 2.4GHz radio waves to get from device to earphones. It won’t penetrate far through water and my hands, like the rest of my body, and yours too, are mostly water. Even then, with the iPod Nano in my right pocket, there was one narrow position where I turned my head to the right by around thirty degrees which would cause the connection to stop.

I put the iPod Nano in the usual place in my front yard and turned to walk away to check the range and the sound immediately stopped. And there I was just a metre away. I must have put the Nano at an angle which minimised the strength of its signal. I rotated it and it worked better. Nonetheless it cut out a couple of metres away. It turned out that having the Bluetooth source immediately behind one led to the weakest reception. I could get ten metres away cleanly so long as I kept my head pointed in the right direction.

So, in short, find a pocket for your device where the connection is clear regardless of the direction in which you turn your head and don’t wrap your hand around the device. Once I’d done that, performance was fine.

Happily, if the Bluetooth connection did fail, the earphones would just keep on trying until it came back so there was no intervention required, other than stopping whatever was causing the problem.

Control

The control is necessarily simplified, with just three buttons. The multifunction button – play/pause/answer call/hang up/power and pair (with a press and hold)/power off (press and hold)/skip (double tap)/skip back (triple tap)/fast forward (double tap and hold)/fast rewind (triple tap and hold) – is raised clearly enough to be easily found with the fingers, but is quite heavily sprung. I couldn’t reliably triple tap, typically having it interpreted as a double tap. The two volume keys were slightly heavier.

If you want to pair to a different device, you’ll need to be out of range of, or have Bluetooth switched off in, the device to which it’s currently paired.

There’s a female voice produced by the earphones which provides some guidance. It’s not too intrusive, though. It announces that you’ve switched on the earphones, switched them off, that they’re connected when the connection is established, and gives brief instructions on how to pair if it’s not connected.

Finally, sound quality. These are amongst the best Bluetooth earbuds I’ve reviewed so far. The treble is tailored so that it is not aggressive in the ear-piercing way that to many earbuds produce. Yet it is extended and full. There is a tendency towards a slightly bright sound, but not excessively so.

I couldn’t quite make up my mind whether the bass was a little recessed, or completely in balance. My perceptions can be changed by what I’ve been listening to lately, and many devices are engineered to emphasise bass. On balance, I think the bass was just a few decibels quieter than a precise balance, but when required it was powerful and extended.

I think these earphones have been engineered to provide a refined listening experience rather than a raw, R&B beat.

Conclusion

The JBL Everest 100 Bluetooth earphones are fine sounding and practical. A slightly less touchy Bluetooth connection would have been preferable, along with higher quality codec support, but even the way it presently is, the results were very good.