Powerful bass response. Nice charging case. best battery life in category.
Bass-forward sound signature not for purists.
- Bottom Line
The JLab Epic Air headphones deliver strong bass response, a gym-friendly build, and the best battery life we've seen in a truly wireless design.
It's been about a year now since we checked out our first pair of truly wireless Bluetooth earphones, and in that time, the field has expanded exponentially. JLab's Epic Air earphones come with the strangest, but perhaps most interesting, charging case we've seen to date—it has its own built-in charging cable and a rugged exterior. From an audio standpoint, the earphones deliver some powerful bass response matched with enough highs to keep things relatively balanced. From a battery life standpoint, they last nearly twice as long as most other pairs. Throw in a water-resistant design and a competitive $149.99 price, and you get our first Editors' Choice award in the true wireless category.
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Offered in black, the Epic Air's case, cable, and earpieces all have matte rubber finishes. The earpieces feature hooks to help stabilize the fit, and there are eight total pairs of eartips in various shapes and sizes. This adds up to a stable in-ear fit that's ideal for exercise, especially given the Epic Air's IP55 rating, which means they're resistant to dust and water. You can get the earphones wet, and even rinse them off, but don't submerge them.
The lid for the charging case flips up and snaps closed automatically when not being held open. Its charging cable connects to a micro USB port along the case's outer band—there's also a regular USB port there for charging other devices using the case's battery. Rather brilliantly, the cable snaps into place along this outer band and covers the ports, with the two connection points of the cable tucking into a recessed area on either end. There's a battery life display up top—pressing a button gives you a five-LED readout of how much juice is left in the case itself. It's the most useful case we've seen so far for a wire-free pair.
And, as mentioned, the earphones get an estimated seven hours of battery life, which is nearly double what much of the competition can muster. On top of that, JLab estimates the case itself can hold up to 30 hours of additional charge, which again is the best stat in this category thus far. When the earphones are at 10 percent or below, you get a voice prompt to recharge them.
Pairing is also an easy process, which is something that can't be said for much of the competition. To power up, you hold down the power button on both earphones for a few seconds. Then you pair one earpiece with your mobile device, and the other with the now-paired first earpiece, and you're set. The status LEDs blink rapidly or slowly during this process to guide you and let you know when both earpieces are ready.
Pulling the earphones out of the charging dock automatically powers them up, and they will auto-pair if your mobile device is in range. Placing the earphones in the dock immediately shuts them down.
The earpieces have touch-sensitive surfaces, and everything is achieved by tapping or holding a finger over the outside panels. Tapping the left earpiece once controls playback and call management, while double tapping it summons Siri or Google voice commands. The left earpiece will skip forward a track with a single tap, or backward with a double tap. Holding a finger over the right earpiece raises the volume, and over the left lowers it. Apple, Bragi, Samsung, and nearly every other competitor thus far have not managed this level of both simplicity and complete access to playback, track navigation, and volume control.
The built-in mic offers so-so intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we could understand every word we recorded, but there were audio artifacts adding fuzz to the recording. This is typical of Bluetooth in-ears, however—it's rare to find a mic that delivers quality calls.
Here we should mention that the initial review unit we received had a serious flaw: The case would not recharge the earphones, nor would it break the connection with the phone. But a second unit worked as advertised, and JLab claims there were simply some units in the first run that had issues. If you experience charging issues, JLab will hook you up with a new version.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the earphones deliver some serious thunder. At top, unwise listening levels, they don't distort, and they also get pretty loud for true wireless in-ears (which is not always the case—some models limit the volume to save battery life). At moderate to high volumes, the bass response is still quite intense, so if deep bass motivates your workouts, you won't be disappointed.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Epic Air's sound signature. On bass-forward earphones, the drums can often sound too heavy and unnatural on this track. Through the Epic Air, the drums sound almost ideal—they get some added bass depth, but it isn't overwhelming. They have a a roundness to them that gives the track some added heft. Callahan's baritone vocals also get some low-mid presence, enhancing their richness. There's a solid high-mid and high frequency presence here that allows the vocals to retain a crisp edge and lends the guitar strums some brightness. The overall sound signature is definitely bass-forward, leaning notably toward the lows, but the the high-mids are pushed forward in the mix enough to keep a reasonable balance.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop gets slightly less high-mid presence than we might prefer—the attack of the loop is dulled slightly, and the thump of the sustain moves forward in the mix a bit. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat, however, are delivered with plenty of power. While the lows definitely rule the mix here, the vocals still get enough high-mid and high frequency presence to retain their clarity. Occasionally, it can seem like the vocals are doing battle with the deep bass elements of the mix, but it's never to a point that their clarity is obscured.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, receive quite a bit of added bass depth. It's not a sound for purists, but the lows aren't pushed so far forward that they sound comical, and the higher register brass, strings, and vocals still maintain their crisp presence.
From an audio standpoint, the Epic Air earphones deliver a strong sound signature that is typical of workout-focused in-ear pairs: deep bass response, but with enough definition in the high-mids and highs to keep a semblance of balance. If powerful bass helps motivate your workouts, you're looking at a solid option. And of the true wireless designs we've tested, the JLab manages to have the most useful controls and best charging case at a comparatively reasonable price. We also like the Apple AirPods, the Bragi Dash, and the Samsung Gear IconX, each of which brings its own strengths (and flaws) to the table. Since the JLab Epic Air are the most well-rounded pair of the bunch, they receive our Editors' Choice award.
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By Tim Gideon Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear. More »
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