JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones review: Not quite AirPods Pro killers, but still good
Quick verdict: JBL’s claim for the JBL Live Pro+ TWS headphones is that they’re better than Apple’s very popular AirPods Pro at a lower price point. There are a few rough edges, but they’re mostly a very capable set of headphones with customisable sound.
- Range of noise cancellation presets
- Custom EQ profiles
- Decent battery life
- Comfortable fit
- No multi-device pairing
- Bass heavy by default
JBL's Live Pro+ TWS Headphones certainly don't look much different from any other set of true wireless buds you might buy. The company's claims around them are certainly aggressive. JBL sees them as absolute competitors to the likes of Apple's highly regarded AirPods Pro, which also puts them in the conversation with high-end sets like the Sony WF-1000XM4s.
However, they're cheaper than either Apple or Sony's high-end offerings. Can JBL actually pull this off?
The short answer is no, they're not quite as nice in a couple of respects compared to Apple or Sony's best.
However, considering their price point, they're very good headphones in most other ways, and certainly worth consideration if you're also keeping an eye on your headphone budget.
Design: Simple stick microphones on a standard bud
There's nothing particularly exceptional about the JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones' design. The pair supplied for review come in a basic black with black stems, making them look very much like the Darth Vader version of the AirPods Pro.
It's a design decision we've seen from any number of competing true wireless buds and there are good reasons why that stick microphone look works well.
It allows some space to separate out the microphones from the buds while also providing a little more capacity to nestle into your ear.
The JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones case is likewise an ordinary offering. It has a flat body and predictable magnetic attachment for each bud as you drop it into the case.
It's nice and light which should be great for carrying purposes, although I do worry about the very thin plastic of the lid. Over time, and especially if you bump it around in a bag or purse, it could break. Mine didn't break during the review period, but it's not the most solidly built headphone case I've ever tested.
Performance: Nicely configurable sound, if a tad bass-heavy
The JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones use JBL's My JBL Headphones app for Android or iOS for configuration. If you're installing it on an Android phone, as I initially did, you'll be encouraged to install it. For many headphones this often boils down to just firmware updates, but one nice feature is the level of audio customisation that the app opens up.
As an example, you can switch between 3 different noise cancellation profiles – Everyday, Travel or Active – or switch between EQ profiles that are pre-set, or build your own depending on your audio preferences.
JBL also provides a Smart Audio & Video setting that allows you to prioritise for music audio or video synchronisation. The one catch there is that when you switch, the app automatically pauses any playback for a few seconds.
By default, the JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones deliver a rather bass-centric sound, which is great if you prefer your music thumping and don't care quite so much about the high end. JBL also provides presets for Jazz and Vocals, as well as the option to set your own equalisation curves.
On the default Bass setting, House of Pain's Jump Around had plenty of low end thump, although some of the nuance (such as it is) in the higher pitched screams did lose a little.
Likewise, switching up to Queen's classic Bohemian Rhapsody showed a fair degree of detail in Freddie Mercury's vocals with a tendency again towards the low end.
Switching to the Vocal preset did bring Mercury to the fore, but to the cost of the heavier end of the instrumental sections.
Being able to set your own equalisation curves does help here, with the app saving each EQ preset so you can flip to it at will.
That kind of flexibility is a key asset to the JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones, and it follows through with its noise cancelling features as well.
The limitations of Sydney's current lockdown meant that I couldn't extensively test its Travel settings. The Active and Everyday settings do a solid job of blocking out life's more annoying frequencies without leaving you 100% isolated.
Are they best of breed when it comes to active noise cancellation? No. Putting them head to head with the AirPods Pro and the Sony XM4s, I'd still give the definitive edge to the Sony headphones. Naturally, you'll still get better isolation and cancellation again with a full set of over-ear headphones.
The JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones are also less accommodating around pairing to new devices or multi-device pairing. They use the same system you'll find on Sony's headphones, requiring a long press on the buds to enter pairing mode.
Often switching between Android and iOS platforms I'd find the app complaining about the buds being paired to multiple devices.
I also hit one issue with very soft sound on an M1 iPad Pro that was only rectified by a full reinstall and re-pairing session through the My JBL Headphones app.
Battery life: Decent for light headphones
JBL's claim for the JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones is that they'll last for 7 hours of playback time. Like any set of wireless buds, your precise volume usage and even distance from your device can affect this to varying degrees.
Also like any set of wireless buds, I tended to find the JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones falling just a tad short of their claims.
I was able to get around 6 hours of mixed music listening, Zoom meeting participation and YouTube watching out of them before they lost power.
The case is good for an extra 3 top-up charges, which puts the JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones very much in line with most other sets of true wireless buds.
The case has a set of small power lights at the front to let you know how much power it has. When you do need to top it up, it'll do so via USB-C from your existing charger, or via Qi wireless charging if that's your style.
Should you buy the JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones?
- Buy it if you want a good quality set of true wireless buds with configuration options.
- Don't buy it if you want best of breed audio.
The JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones don't quite live up to JBL's heady hype, and that would be a bigger issue if they were priced at the same high tier as the very best true wireless buds.
But they're not, so while they do have some relative shortcomings, they're still recommended for general audio use, and especially if you're happy to put in the time getting the equalisation just right.
Pricing and availability
PriceThe JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones retail in Australia for $249.95, although online searches can find them cheaper than that.
Where to buy
How we tested
The JBL Live Pro+ TWS Headphones were tested over a fortnight's listening, taking into consideration audio quality, app features and battery life. There were limits to the extent that I could test active noise cancellation due to Sydney's current pandemic lockdown.
Images: Alex Kidman