JBL Live 650BTNC noise canceling headphones review: an affordable alternative to Sony and Bose

Don’t get them for their noise cancelation, but get them for their amazing audio

3.9
JBL Live 650BTNC noise canceling headphones review
Bottom Line
JBL's Live 650BTNC are an affordable alternative to Bose and Sony that sound amazing, but their noise canceling capabilities fall short.
Pros
Excellent sound
Easy to use controls
Collapsible
Alexa and Google Assistant support
Solid design and comfort
20+ hour battery life
Cons
Weak noise cancellation
Non standard 2.5mm jack
Extended wear creates pressure on head
Limited settings in app

There’s some tough competition on the market for Bluetooth noise canceling headphones, and JBL’s Live 650BTNC are here to compete with a slightly more affordable price tag. Furthermore, these over-ear headphones feature may offer the nicest design amongst the competition, plus 40mm drivers, Alexa/Google Assistant integration, a 20+ hour battery, and premium JBL audio you can count on.

Comfort & design

The 650BTNCs are a beautiful pair of over-ear headphones. Subjectively, they’re nicer and more premium looking than Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II and Sony’s WH-1000XM3. There’s a beautiful mix of finishes on the JBLs that we can’t help but love. The headband is wrapped in a textured fabric that adds a lot of character. The build is mostly plastic, but it’s durable and sports some nice metallic accents.

They’re large headphones by most standards and the ear cups will surround almost any sized ear. The large memory foam ear cushions are comfortable and pillow-y. The ear cups swivel and also fold into the headband for solid portability. There’s an included soft pouch carrying case for added protection.

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While the fit is comfortable, we did find that changes after an hour or two of wear. There’s a pretty tough headband that ultimately adds enough pressure that you’ll want to take them off periodically.

Sound

The sound quality is amazing. It’s incredibly detailed with a very balanced and vibrant sound signature. Noise canceling and EQ tuning add to the experience. The app only has a few EQ presets, but you can configure your own for whatever sound profile you like. The bass gets moderately low and bassy but never to the point where it overshadows. Most people will be really pleased with the default flat EQ setting, which is kind to most any genre. As usual, you gotta play around and see what you like. Overall, the bass is warm, voices pop, and high notes are crisp and detailed. They’re a lot of fun to listen to.

Noise cancellation

Sony’s headphones have ruined my perception of what noise canceling should be. We used to prefer a lighter amount of noise canceling, like from Plantronics BackBeat Pro II. I thought – any more noise canceling and you’d get the unnatural sounding anti-noise hiss. But Sony built a high powered noise canceller that feels and sounds natural — and there are configurable settings. On the other hand, JBL’s noise cancellation is subtle, and there are no configuration options outside of turning it on and off. We found the noise cancellation to be equivalent to over-ear headphones that have good passive noise isolation. With noise cancellation off, the noise isolation is not good. Outside noise is barely even muffled without noise cancellation on. Finally, when walking outside, the wind will be uncomfortably amplified by these headphones.

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Bottom Line

JBL’s Live 650BTNC price in over $100 cheaper than the competition at $199.95. So while it depends on what you’re looking for, we’d say they’re by most definitions a great purchase. However, if superb noise cancellation is what you’re after, then we’d recommend looking at Sony’s WH-1000XM3. With that said, JBL’s 650BTNCs sound phenomenal, especially with the configurable profile. They offer a long lasting battery, both Alexa and Google Assistant integration, a premium build, easy-to-access built-in controls, a foldable and portable design, and they even come in a color that’s not black or white, but blue. The JBL 650BTNC headphones are currently available from Amazon.com.

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