Laptop Mag Verdict
The JLab JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) receives a few new features for the same price, but it doesn’t fix many of the original’s problems.
Big on bass
Powerful ambient listening mode
Extensive control scheme
Weak noise cancellation and call quality
Bulky and uncomfortable
Relies too heavily on multiple apps
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Wireless earbud makers are cranking out models faster than ever these days and JLab is leading the charge. Instead of releasing new sporty models, the company chose to update several of their most popular entries: the JBuds Air Sport (3rd Gen), JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen), Epic Air ANC (2nd Gen), and Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen). We got our hands on the latter to determine whether the upgrade was necessary.
Battery life (rated): 7 hours (ANC on); 10 hours (ANC off); 24 hours (charging case with ANC on); 40 hours (charging case with ANC off)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
Water resistance: Yes (IP55 rated)
Size: 1.24 x 0.71 x 0.80 (per bud); 2.96 x 1.64 x 1.45 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.2 ounces (per bud); 1.8 ounces (charging case)
- Our expert picks for the best wireless earbuds, per budget and style
- Check out our Apple AirPods Pro review
- …and our Sony WF-1000XM4 review
Inclusions like built-in Tile support and a customizable EQ sound enticing. The same can be said about the incredibly affordable and unchanged price: $69. Unfortunately, you’re getting much of the same performance as the original, which is fine for exercisers on a budget, but not everyone else.
Read our full JLab JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) review for the full breakdown.
JLab JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) review: Availability and price
You can buy the JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) for $69 directly from JLab. Black is the only color sold. Inside the box are a charging case, three sets of different-sized gel tips, one set of Cloud Foam tips, one set of cush fins, a quick start guide, and a two-year warranty.
These buds share the same MSRP as the original and are some of least expensive noise-cancelling earbuds out there. By comparison, they are listed lower than the well-received Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 ($99) and category leaders such as the AirPods Pro ($249) and Sony WF-1000XM4 ($279).
Be sure to bookmark our headphone deals page for the latest sales.
JLab JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) review: Design and comfort
The earbud design was left untouched, which is both good and bad. You still get solid build quality and IP55-rated protection against dust, excessive sweat, and heavy splashing. The silver debossed logo is there for instant brand recognition. On the opposite end, the buds are large and stick out a like sore thumb. I would have liked to see more color options as well.
A copy-and-paste job was also performed on the charging case. The pill-shaped design returns with signature features intact like the integrated charging cable and three LEDs. At least it’s easily portable and durable enough to withstand the daily abuse you’ll put these buds through on commutes and at the gym.
Speaking of exercise, the JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) provides a quality fit. The tips form a tight seal and the cush fins wrap around the cymba (upper inside part of the ear). I jogged around several blocks and never had to readjust the buds. JLab’s proprietary Cloud Foam tips are also a suitable alternative to memory foam tips, molding to your ears over time for a more personalized fit.
Comfort is another story. The large size occupies most of your ear, plus the hard plastic presses up against the concha and causes soreness after an hour of wear.
JLab JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) review: Controls and digital assistant
A full suite of media controls is available with functions individually assigned to single-/double-/triple-press and long-hold gestures on each bud. These include playback, call management, volume, digital assistance, power on/off, and different listening mode activations. I’m not a fan of the default controls, but JLab lets you change them in the companion app.
Touch accuracy has improved from previous JLab releases, but still requires a lot of work. Single and double taps work well. Everything else doesn’t. I had to perform the triple tap and long-hold input methods several times to execute intended commands. Another annoyance was the lack of tone prompts when initiating commands; this made it difficult to determine whether ANC was on or off.
Wear detection can be unlocked by downloading the latest firmware update. Whether or not you’ll gain access to it is a crapshoot because JLab’s software is one buggy mess. I was not able to download and test the feature.
Siri and Google Assistant are compatible for voice commands. JLab’s four-mic array isn’t the most intelligible, but it picks up most words and understands small requests like “open Gmail” or “play Apple Music.” The feature does struggle with more in-depth requests like “what is my next event.”
JLab JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) review: Audio quality
JLab is known for its aggressive sound and that hasn’t changed with the JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen). The strong bass performance is ideal for fitness buffs that want to get their adrenaline pumping before a workout, but the weak mids and highs will turn off audiophiles.
Four EQs are programmed into the buds: Signature (the default), Balanced, Bass Boost, and Custom. While the Custom EQ allows for manual adjustment of bass, mid-range, and treble, it does a poor job of translating the results. Bass Boost overemphasizes the low end, producing some fuzz in the process, and it diminishes the mid-range. Balanced tries to even out frequency range and doesn’t get the job done, reducing bass and highs in the process. Signature is the only EQ that produces acceptable sound.
Sean Paul’s “Temperature” helped build some momentum before heading out on a run. The pounding drum patterns and claps slapped hard. Vocals were also transparent over the boomy production.
The JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) couldn’t handle the grumbling bassline and synthesized effects on Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” coming on too strong and blanketing the naturally thin-sounding vocals. Instrumental recordings didn’t fare well either, mostly muddying up the double bass and giving highs very little presence; I could barely hear any cymbals and piano notes on jazz tracks.
Oddly, listening with ANC on cleared up the mid-range a little.
SBC and AAC are the supported codecs, and each worked well when streaming on Android and iOS/macOS devices. aptX would have increased performance, but it’s understandable why JLab chose to exclude it when factoring in price.
JLab JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) review: Active noise cancellation
JLab lets you adjust noise cancellation between 19 levels via slider in the app. Having it set to max level will earn you the best results. The technology can handle common noises like humming sounds from an AC unit and rowdy pedestrians. It’ll even minimize the harsh sounds produced by brisk winds. That’s about it.
My ears picked up on several noises during strolls with my baby boy. Some that caught my attention were car horns, dog barking, dump trucks, and the water fountain splashing in front of my apartment complex. High-frequency noises like ambulance sirens and my son’s cries were loudly audible.
Surprisingly, JLab’s ambient listening mode (Be Aware) is one of the better-performing ones at this price point. The mics open wide to let in a lot of noise around you – maybe a little too wide. It was nice to hear my wife from across the room and converse without having to take out the buds. Construction work and oncoming traffic were also perceptible. However, the transparency effect can be overwhelming and harmful to your hearing when caught in loud settings.
JLab JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) review: App and special features
JLab was one of the first to introduce a companion app for their inexpensive line of wireless earbuds. The JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) is compatible with the JLab Sound app, granting access to all aforementioned features, including ANC/Be Aware, Customize Controls, and Equalizer.
Battery level indicators for each bud and firmware updates make up the rest of the app, though, as previously stated, the latter is extremely buggy. Downloading the latest software was impossible; the app crashed whenever reaching 50 percent. The latest update is said to “offer improved microphone performance during calls” and “improves the auto play/pause performance in direct sunlight.” I was unable to experience either.
The older JLab Store app is still available with the Audio Burn-In tool, which lets you play extremely loud static to break the buds in for enhanced sound quality. No expert I know uses it. In addition, the process can take several hours, but it’s available if you want it.
Tile integration is the big feature added to these buds, though it requires downloading the Tile app for use. Essentially, it acts as a Find My Buds function to easily track misplaced or lost buds. You can set up the volume and smart alarms for the product. It’s reliable.
JLab JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) review: Battery life and charging case
Battery life hasn’t changed at all from the original. A full charge is rated at 7 hours with ANC on and 10 hours with ANC off. Our testing saw these playtimes short by about 1 hour. In any case, what you get is sufficient for about 2-4 days of moderate use (2 hours daily). Anything longer than the AirPods Pro 2 (5.5 to 7 hours) is fine in my book.
The charging case is the same as well. It can hold between 24 to 40 hours, depending how you use the buds. A 15-minute quick charge generates up to 1 hour of listening time. Not the fastest, nor the slowest, but we’ve seen plenty of sub-$100 models operate at faster paces (see what the OnePlus Buds Z can achieve).
The bigger issue I have is the outdated charging cable that not many devices support anymore. This forces you to use a wall plug or portable charger with a USB-A port to recharge the buds. Can we please get a USB-C cable, JLab?
Wireless charging was not added this time around.
JLab JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) review: Call quality and connectivity
Call quality is bad. According to several people, I was muffled, and background noises cut off my voice when speaking sentences. Performance was at its worst when taking calls indoors. My wife noticed even more muffle and pointed out some echoing on my end.
These buds operate on Bluetooth 5.2. The technology performs up to par. Range extended up to 50 feet in open spaces. Connectivity was strong during calls and streaming sessions. Pairing with iOS and Android devices was a breeze, specifically on the latter where one-tap Google Fast Pair expedited the process.
Multipoint technology (pair to two devices simultaneously) did not make the cut.
JLab JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) review: Verdict
The JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) doesn’t meet the high expectations of a next-gen product. At the same time, it offers more in performance than most sub-$70 wireless earbuds. Sound is serviceable for those with bass-heavy playlists. Additions like the custom EQ and Tile integration are welcomed. Battery life and construction are also dependable for the price.
JLab’s noise-cancelling technology isn’t going to wow anyone, nor will its call quality or buggy companion app, which makes accessing new features frustrating.
There are other cheap noise-cancelling earbuds worth recommending like the $59 1More PistonBuds Pro, but the JBuds Air ANC (2nd Gen) can be of value for hardcore exercisers that want nothing more than sporty aesthetics and strong bass from an audio workout companion.