With the Live Free NC+ TWS, JBL has added great-sounding, rock-solid all-rounders with a pleasant, warm sound character to their range. They are equipped with a high level of functionality that can be customised via the app. Some compromises have to be made with the active noise cancellation, which has a discreet effect, while the ambient mode and the Talkthru function proved to be powerful despite a perceptible background noise. These weatherproof true-wireless headphones also score points with a stable, comfortable fit and a lightweight, compact transport case that supports wireless charging via Qi.
- comfortable, stable fit
- IPX7 water and sweat resistant finish
- fast charging function
- case can be charged either via USB-C connection or wirelessly via Qi
- clever charging status display for headphones and case
- app connection with individual sound and system adjustments
- good ambient and talkthru function (except for the background noise)
- support the AAC format
- no aptX
- rather weak ANC mode
- connectivity problems with Google Assistant
- headphones cannot be switched on and off manually
- only the app can tell which mode is active
JBL’s Live Free NC+ TWS wireless in-ears are tuned for all-purpose everyday use, support Bluetooth 5.1 technology and can both reduce and amplify outside noise, while the additional Talkthru mode is specifically for conversations. Individual system and sound adjustments are also possible via connection with the app, and there is also integration with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice services.
The wireless earpieces feature IPX7 water- and sweat-resistant construction, which suggests durability, protecting the system in the event of weather-related moisture and making them easy to clean. At the same time, the fit is extremely comfortable and suitable for long-term use. Even sporting activities such as jogging are possible as long as the vibrations are not too strong, as the gel caps of the earpieces ensure a stable hold in the ear. The only noticeable thing is that the housings protrude slightly out of the ears, which means you cannot wear a tight-fitting hat or cap without experiencing some pressure discomfort.
When we tested the endurance of the batteries, these in-ears achieved an average runtime of six hours at a raised volume level, while the runtime with active noise cancellation was five hours. In addition, these headphones can be fully charged twice in the transport case, which has a very handy format, weighs just 40 grams, and serves as a charging station. In ANC mode, the total runtime is 15 hours, which increases to about 18 hours without noise cancellation. Charging these in-ears takes just under 100 minutes, while the quick-charge function can be used for spontaneous top-ups. This provides capacity for about 70 minutes after ten-minutes of power supply. The case can be charged either via the USB-C port or wirelessly via Qi, and here a charging cycle using the included USB-C to USB-A charging cable also takes less than 100 minutes. A great feature is that the transport case has a charging status display, which shows how much battery reserve is still available while the earphones are charging with the help of four LEDs. Very practical!
Device and voice control options
Pairing these in-ears, which can also be used individually in single-mode and support a fast connection with corresponding Android devices via Fast Pair, happens as soon as the case is opened. The system is switched on and automatically set to pairing mode. However, it is not possible to switch the headphones on and off manually via the touch-sensitive surfaces, which is a bit of a shortcoming, as these in-ears have to be placed back in the charging device to switch them off. However, it is advantageous that the assignment of the touch control, which reacts very reliably and precisely, can be adjusted via the app. This makes it possible, for example, to select volume control instead of track selection. The sensor-based automatic start/stop function of these in-ears, which is used to pause playback when they’re taken off, can also be activated and deactivated at any time.
In the factory settings, a single tap on the left earpiece switches between ANC, ambient mode and basic sound, while the Talkthru function is switched on and off by tapping twice. The right side controls playback, with double-tapping to skip forward and triple tapping to skip back. Phone calls can also be accepted and ended on both sides by double-tapping. Holding the left or right side activates voice assistants. However, the speech intelligibility during phone calls proved to be somewhat limited, as the caller’s voice was quite washed out and soft. The person on the other end of the line can be understood well but sounds a little muffled. The stability of the Bluetooth connection was impressive; it did not break off even over several rooms and offered a range of up to eleven metres within an urban environment.
However, when using Google Assistant, connectivity problems were experienced, which is not what we have come to expect from previous JBL earpiece generations with voice service integration. If a connection is established, the integration works well in that it is possible to communicate with the Assistant at any time by holding the earpiece surface assigned via the app. In addition to requesting information, messages can also be read out and answered. However, unfortunately, the range of functions of the device control is significantly reduced, as the voice control takes over one side of the headphones.
The harmonious-sounding tuning of the Live Free NC+ TWS has a comforting basic warmth and a clear sound image that seems down-to-earth rather than too bright. At the same time, the round, well-defined and dynamic bass reproduction seems neither slim nor bulky. Even though the headphones reproduce down to the lower registers, the primary presence is in the mid to upper bass range, which is not short of punch, which adds to the fun factor. Vocals and lead instruments are also reproduced with presence and take up appealingly lively space without seeming over-focused. Since voices are also very intelligible, these in-ears are also recommended for listening to podcasts, audiobooks and films. Compared to the upper bass range and the lower mid-range, the higher frequencies seem a little more restrained, although the high-frequency range does not drop noticeably and is clear but quite unobtrusive. Only at higher volumes can the reproduction sound more demanding and sometimes a little bit sharp. The audio codec does not support aptX, but in addition to the Bluetooth standard SBC, a higher-quality version is available in the form of the AAC format.
ANC, Ambient Aware and Talkthru modes
As far as handling is concerned, the ambient noise control still seems to be in need of improvement, as it is only apparent via the app whether the basic sound, the noise cancellation, the ambient mode or the Talkthru function is active. There is neither a voice prompt nor a visual indicator when switching between modes. The ANC mode also shows weaknesses as high-frequency elements are hardly lowered, and while the filtering in the lower and middle frequency range is more effective, it is still rather subtle. In contrast, the picture is completely different when it comes to amplifying external noise, even though both modes have perceptible background noise. Nevertheless, in ambient mode, medium and high frequencies, in particular, are cleanly amplified by the microphones so that voices in the immediate vicinity remain intelligible up to a medium volume and orientation is possible even at higher levels. The Talkthru function also significantly reduces the playback volume so that a conversation can be held without any problems. Public address announcements are also perfectly understandable in this mode.
JBL Headphones App
The free app for connection with these in-ears is clearly structured and offers various personalisation options in addition to an accurate battery status display for the headphones and case. An EQ is available for sound adjustment which, although it does not offer many ready-made presets to choose from, stores several custom settings so that the earpieces can be flexibly adjusted if required. In addition, three so-called “Smart Audio Modes” are available and, according to the manufacturer, they are intended to optimise either the stability of the wireless connection, the audio quality or the synchronicity during movies. In addition to the options already mentioned, such as the assignment of the touch control or integration of voice services, a search function can also be used, which allows the headphones to be located using a beep. Firmware updates can also be carried out via the app.
- Ear couplingIn-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)20 - 20.000 Hz
- Impedance16 ohms
- Sound pressure level (SPL)94 dB
- Weight without cable14 g; case: 40 g
What's in the box
- Eartips in three sizes (S/M/L)
- Gel caps in two sizes (S/M)
- USB-C to USB-A charging cable
- Charging case
- available in black, white, blue and pink
- BT codecs: SBC, AAC
- BT version: 5.1
- BT profiles: A2DP V1.3, AVRCP V1.6, HFP V1.7