The JBL Live 650BTNC Bluetooth noise cancelling over-the-ear headphones have built-in Google Assistant or Alexa support. At $249.95 it offer features found in more expensive headphones.
The JBL Live 650BTNC is not its most expensive noise-cancelling model – the JBL Everest Elite 750GA over-the-ear at $399.95 and the JBL Everest Elite 150NC in-ear buds at $299 are.
Interestingly I had access to all three during the review period
and for the money the JBL Live 650BTNC is superb only missing ‘adaptive’ noise
cancelling – basically it is on or off. But you gain a huge 20/30hours (ANC on/off)
and a faster 2 hour charge time.
First, a word about ANC – automatic or adaptive noise
ANC use external mics to hear the outside world and generate the inverse sound to block it out. This requires sound isolation – external noise cannot leak through the headphone to the eardrum. Hence over-the-ear is most popular although the JBL Everest in-ear work very well via a tight ear canal fit.
Adaptive NC adds the ability to let some or all of that external
noise through – important if you need to be aware of your surrounds.
Before we get into the review, let me tell you about my
favourite ANC headphones.
For my train commute (2 hours) I use my three-year-old Sennheiser PXC-550 ($499.95 – still a current model), and they have the wonderful ability to play via USB cable and charge at the same time as well as 20/30 hours battery ANC on/off.
I also use the Sony WH-1000XM3 (GadgetGuy review here $549.95) as our reference headphones as these support aptX/HD, LDAC hi-res DACs and have altitude sensitive ANC that cannot is terrific on planes. Unfortunately, it lacks the USB charge/DAC of the Sennheiser which means I cannot use them while charging. Still at 30/38 hours ANC on/off and the hi-res music it is hard to find better.
My wife uses the Bose QC35 II (GadgetGuy review here $499.95) which are smaller and lighter. While Bose practically invented ANC, the Sennheiser and Sony are ahead – at least to my ears. Let’s just say Bose is trendy and command a premium price.
My penniless son and his wife use the new Plantronics BackBeat Go 810 (GadgetGuy review here $239.99). For my money, this punches well above its weight, and the gap between it, the Bose and the JBL is paper thin.
So we have lots of expertise in reviewing NC headphones and
what to look for.
An entry-level, noise cancelling, over the ear, headphone
with voice assistant support.
How does it sound?
Oversize 40mm drivers provide 16Hz-20kHz sound. You can pay $150
more for the Everest 750GA to get more sub-bass from 10Hz, but I cannot hear
the difference. In fact, the human hearing range is 20Hz-20kHz, and most cannot
hear the lower or upper registers anyway.
The typical JBL sound signature is warm and sweet (bass/mids
boosted, treble recessed) – perfect for movies and music. JBL reaches this nirvana
on most of its sound bars, speakers and top end headphones.
Using BT with NC on these are more mid-centric (bass
recessed, mids boosted, treble recessed) which is perfect for clear voice and
hands-free phone or voice assistant use. When NC is off, it boosts the treble
to make it more of a bright vocal signature.
Maximum internal active volume is 100dB (we cannot measure that), but JBL is always spot on with their specifications.
In passive 3.5mm cable mode you can hear the true native mid-centric
Fear not audiophiles. It has enough bass for movies and music and its perfect for streaming video. It has very good stereo separation – a surprisingly wide left and right sound stage that adds more to streaming video than all the other brands mentioned above.
Download the JBL My headphone app for Android or iOS. It
finds the headset and then offers to pair with Google Assistant or Alexa.
The app allows for ANC on or off, indicates battery levels
and importantly provides an EQ which allows for Jazz, Vocal and Bass pre-sets and
what appears to be a +/-10dB boost from 32Hz to 16kHz. A little tweaking in a
custom setup and there was the characteristic warm and sweet signature for
movies and music. Note the EQ is only active when used with the app.
So, we tested BT/NC with a Windows Surface Pro 5 and a range
of movies and music. As predicted the sound was mid-centric (its native sound)
but we were able to use the Dolby Audio settings to boost the bass to near warm
Hands-free calling was fine but lacks your voice feedback to
feel you are talking to the other person in person.
Voice Assistant – Google or Alexa and maybe Siri
We tested with Google Assistant, and as expected, setup was
flawless. The JBL app will download the appropriate skill.
To activate Google Assistant simply touch the left side cup
and ask a question. Easy. Although it is a little spooky asking a question with
ANC on – you cannot hear yourself speak! JBL, please note – you could easily
fix this with a firmware upgrade.
There are buttons for power, volume +/-, accepting/rejecting
calls, BT setup and multipoint swap. Voice assistant activation is via left cup
touch. Once you get used to them, it is easy. But more expensive headphones
have touch controls and auto shut-off etc.
ANC works well
I compared noise cancelling by using an old steel series
mechanical keyboard and wearing various headphones while writing this article.
The JBL Live 650BTNC was almost as good as the three top Bose, Sony and Sennheiser
and marginally better than the Plantronics. All kept the clackety-clack out well.
On the train I compared the Sennheiser and JBL and while the
Sennheiser was marginally better both stopped the sounds of mobile phones ringing
and babies crying.
These use PU leather (polyurethane) covered deep cup foam pads
and synthetic fabric materials on the headband. At 260g they are
heavier than the Sennheiser and Bose at 235g
lighter than the Sony at 277g
heavier than the Plantronics at 190g
The main difference is that the more expensive headsets use
leather pads and headbands which do breathe a little better and offer better long-term
wear comfort. After an hour or so I wanted to remove them if only for a few
seconds to let my ears cool down. I find that Sennheiser is good for three or
more hours. Sony despite the extra weight is good for a couple of hours.
They also had a heavier ‘clamp’ around the head, but I put
that down to begin straight out of the box.
It comes with a fabric pouch (the cups swivel flat for
packing) and a 3.5mm to 2.5mm fabric covered, tangle-free cable complete with a
line-in microphone. By the way, I never understood the use of 2l5mm at the headphone
end – don’t lose the cable.
Overall build quality is excellent. It should withstand
years of daily use.
BT and Multi-point connections
BT 4.2 is good for up to 10 metres.
It supports two concurrent device connections and allows you
to switch from tablet to a phone with ease.
It uses the standard SBC codec which is fine for its
Charge from 0-100% is typically under two hours. Quick
charge is 15 minutes for 2 hours use.
JBL supplies an orange, micro-USB to USB-A flat cable with
the new reversible USB-A connector. No charger comes with it, but it will work
from 5V/.5A (about four hours) to 5V/3A (under two hours) and any Qualcomm fast
The battery is 3.7V/700mAh and gives
20 hours with BT and NC
30 hours with BT no NC
35 hours with 3.5mm cable and NC
Indefinite as a passive 3.5mm cable headphone although
32ohm draw may flatten a battery faster than typical 8ohm headphones.
GadgetGuy’s take: JBL you have done it again with features well over the price
The JBL Live 650BTNC are excellent headphones at a price that is hard to beat. The purpose of mentioning the other brands is not to take away from JBL but to show that paying more does not equate to getting more. In fact, compared to my recollection of the JBL Everest 750NC this has better separation, volume, battery life and BT multi-point.
If this is your first foray into ANC headphones, then this
is the one you should strongly consider. It will give years of service, and you
are not missing anything in sound quality or ANC effectiveness.
If you want to compare headphones it is closest to the Plantronics BackBeat Go 810 (review here)
RRP is $249.95, but online shoppers might shave a few
dollars off (beware of freight costs).
Value for money
Ease of Use
Terrific native mid-centric sound with EQ to add bass or treble as needed
Widest left/right sound stage I have heard
Google Assistant integration is flawless
Huge 20/30 hours BT/NC/On/Off battery life
Good noise cancellation but not quite as sophisticated as more expensive brands
No USB charge and playback (DAC) – so far only Sennheiser has this
Can get a little hotter compared to leather cup pads – not a big deal
No voice feedback for voice assistant or hands-free mode