Comfortable • Sweatproof • Good battery life
Lag with video • Fiddly controls
If you’re looking for waterproof, wireless, sports earphones for music, JLab Audio’s Epic Air deserves a serious look.
Apple, Jabra, Sony and Bose are just four of the big brand names with major products in the wireless headphone market, so what can a relatively new Californian headphone maker bring to the party? The answer: The Epic Air True Wireless Earbuds, which JLab Audio has thrown into the increasingly crowded and competitive headphone marketplace.
Priced in the middle of the options out there (although you can pick up refurbished ones from around $120) the JLab Audio’s Epic Air earbuds’ big selling points are its charging case, IP55 sweatproof certification, and a design that guarantees a secure fit for active use.
Looks-wise, these earbuds have an aesthetic that will prove familiar to people who have worn sports-style headphones in the past. What you can’t tell from the photos, though, is the pleasant feel — the silicone has a great tactile finish.
The shiny logo on each Earbud might not be to everyone’s taste, but generally the clean, sleek looks present a modern, unisex option. They are a little larger than would be ideal, but you don’t feel self-conscious wearing them, and they are certainly lightweight.
The charging case also boasts slick black looks with curved edges and a matte finish. It’s too large to be pocket-friendly and has a bit of heft to it, but it’s definitely small enough to slip into a bag.
The specially contoured and fitted inside perfectly holds and protects the earbuds while the USB cable feels sturdy and is easy to detach and re-attach. It closes with a really nice snap, so you can be confident it’ll do its job of protecting your ‘buds, even if you just chuck it in a disorganized gym bag or purse.
Included in the Epic Air bundle are no fewer than eight sets of gel-tips, a great selling point for anyone who has struggled with the fit of in-ear products previously. These include three standard ear tips of varying size, a super shallow option, and double- and triple-flange sets. You’d be hard-pressed not to find a set to fit your ears.
The earhooks give a great feeling of security even during active use. You would really have to be moving suddenly to dislodge them, even in your most athletic moments.
Once you have them on, you really don’t notice the soft silicone hooks, and if you play around with the different gel-tips to get the perfect fit, you won’t notice the earbuds at all. They really are supremely comfortable to wear.
The great fit also means others can’t hear your music, so you won’t drive them crazy with sound leakage. In our tests, I had to turn really bassy rock music up to a level that meant it was uncomfortable to listen to via the headphones before it could be heard by anyone else.
How do they sound?
We were genuinely impressed with the quality of music playback. The sound is really immersive, 360-degree, bold, punchy and the Earbuds can do loud very well — with little distortion. This is thanks to the large 8mm drivers and JLab Audio’s “C3” (Crystal Clear Clarity) technology that it claims “delivers a clean, crisp, immersive sound with vibrant highs, mids and pumping bass.”
Anything that’s beat-y or bass-y — so in theory you standard workout fare — sounds warm, rich and quite fabulous. The bassline in Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” for example, sounds insanely rich, while Pretty Lights’ “Rainbows and Waterfalls” is a great track to hear both the bold bass and how the headphones handle higher notes.
The earbuds also handled orchestral and acoustic sounds very well. You can really hear each violin note in Brahms’ “Violin Sonata No 3,” while a simple guitar and harp combo such as Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” sounds fresh and crisp.
All kinds of vocals, from growly blues voices like Lucinda Williams to pop princesses such as T-Swift, sounded great too.
The Earbuds don’t have built-in active noise reduction, but if you can ace that sung fit — which I did with no difficulty — the noise isolation is so good that you’ll struggle to hear anything other than your tunes.
Voice call quality was fine, although did seem better indoors than out, suggesting in windy or noisy conditions (and, again, with no noise cancellation) you might sound a little muffled to the person on the other end of the line.
Pairing and practicalities
Pairing the earbuds to your device is a very simple process, with a slight twist: You select either the right or left earbud as the primary ‘but, then pair the other earbud to the primary. I had no trouble at all with the setup process, and was using the earbuds within a matter of minutes after unboxing.
Once the earbuds are fully set up, you can initiate Auto-Power On, which means the earbuds are always on and ready to go the moment you take them out of the case, making for a really simple user experience.
The earbuds let you know when they’re connected to Bluetooth and joined to each other with simple voice alerts, so you’ll always know when you’re ready to go.
JLab Audio has developed some slick touch controls for the earbuds but they do take some getting used to and might be more of a challenge for the heavy-handed.
You just have to tap the left earbud to play, pause, answer a call, or hang up. This part works really well in practice — the button is responsive and the action is fast. To skip a track, it’s one tap on the right earbud; to track backwards, it’s a double tap.
You can also use the touch controls to activate Siri or Google with a double tap on the left earbud.
The volume control is what I struggled with, especially initially. To turn the volume down, you need to press and hold the left earbud, while increasing the volume is the same with the right earbud. I just kept pausing when I was trying to decrease the volume as the sensor reacted to the touch as if it was a single tap command.
In the end, I gave up and retreated to controlling the volume on the handset rather than the earbuds most of the time… although someone with a lighter touch might have more success than I did.
The earbuds offer a useful IP55 waterproof rating, meaning you can sweat all over them and even use them outside in the rain.
Obviously for a product aimed at the sports market, this could be seen as an essential feature, but it’s worth noting that some similarly priced rival True Wireless products do not boast this kind of functionality.
While the Earbuds can stand a good splash, the charging carry case is not waterproof, so you have to be aware of this and ensure the ‘buds are bone-dry before you put them back in their case.
Rad battery life
The Epic Air earbuds’ case doubles as its charger. This portable power pack can also juice up your handset on the go, too. The included microUSB-to-USB cable works for Android devices, while there’s a port to stick your iPhone charging cable into.
JLab claims a six-hour battery life for the earbuds, with the case boosting this to 30 hours. The case has a neat little row of lights to show you how much power is left at the touch of a button.
Because we docked the earbuds back in their charging case after use, in a week of testing we never ran out of juice. The case also seems to keep its charge really well. From our tests, we’d say these earbuds will cover you easily for a gym session, your commute, and a good few calls in between.
If you do get to the stage when you’re taxing the battery, the earbuds will give you a “Low Battery” voice prompt when you get down to 10%.
The Epic Airs are equipped with Bluetooth 4.1 and aptX technology, which is supposed to mean “ in audio when transmitted over a Bluetooth connection.” However, when watching video we noticed very definite lag.
Latency occurs in all wireless headphones to a certain extent, but with the Epic Air earbuds we struggled to sit through even short videos as the delay was so pronounced.
Obviously these aren’t marketed as the best headphones for movie watching and this is not an issue if you just want to listen to music, but if you were planning on using the Earbuds for a lot of video, it’s definitely a point to consider.
Otherwise the Bluetooth connection was just peachy, dropping out very rarely and when it did it was usually only one earbud that lost the connection.
The final word
If you want to go wire-free in the gym, wireless when running, on a bike ride or even cable-free on your commute and you like listening to your music loud, these Earbuds from JLab Audio are a very strong option to consider.
They are comfortable, competent, and practical in terms of a realistic battery life. The charging case’s ability to offer your Apple or Android phone an on-the-go power boost is also an attractive extra that alternative products don’t offer.
The hooks-round-the-ear look might not be to everyone’s taste, but if knowing your headphones are going to stay put when you’re active is important to you, these really will give you a good sense of security.