Price (RRP): $249.95
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 cancelling
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.
Review: JBL Live 650BTNC
What is it?
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 sound signature.
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 and sweet.
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 purpose.
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 charger.
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.
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).