Relatively affordable. Powerful, deep bass. Secure fit. Charging case carries more battery life than most of the competition.
Audio performances can sound murky, unbalanced, and overly sculpted. Limited on-ear controls.
- Bottom Line
The completely wire-free Jam Ultra earphones offer booming bass for an affordable price, but there are far better-sounding options in the true wireless realm.
The Jam Ultra join the ever-growing field of true wireless Bluetooth earphones. At $99.99, the cable-free earphones are priced lower than much of the competition, and come with a charging case that can carry an impressive 10 full charges. While they deliver incredibly strong bass response, clarity in the highs is not ideal. At times, things sound overly sibilant, while at others, the mix can sound too bass-heavy and murky. An extra $50 will get you a big leap in audio performance.
The Ultra's earpieces are black, with large rounded sections that press against the ear for added stability. Once the eartips have sealed off the canal, the fit is exceptionally lightweight and secure. The design is resistant to sweat, so you can take the earphones to the gym.
Connecting the earpieces to an iPhone 6s was a piece of cake. Once you take them out of the case, they automatically turn on and enter pairing mode. Selecting them from the Bluetooth menu on the testing phone was all it took to pair—that may seem like a given, but plenty of true wireless models feature convoluted ways to pair both earpieces simultaneously. You can also connect a single earbud and use it in mono mode.
On each ear, there's a multifunction button and a status button that flashes blue when the earpieces are connected. The buttons on each ear serve identical functions—press once to play or pause audio, or to answer or end a call. Holding the button down for about five seconds will power the earphones down, and double tapping summons your connected phone's voice control. What's missing, obviously, is the ability to skip tracks or adjust volume, which you'll find on most competing models.
The Ultra's charging case measures roughly 1.3 by 3.2 by 1.9-inches (HWD). It's perhaps a bit bulky for some pant pockets, but should easily fit in a coat pocket or bag. The earphones themselves can carry a paltry three hours of use per chage. Jam claims the charging case carries an additional 10 charges, for up to 30 hours of use. Of course, how long the earphones last is based on your volume levels as well. We noticed that the case gets quite warm while charging, which is something to watch out for.
Most of the charging cases we see have tops that flip open, but the Ultra's case has a tray that slides out—this is where the earpieces are docked, with charging contacts that match up magnetically. The right side of the case houses a rubber-covered connection panel—there's a micro USB port for the included charging cable, and a USB port, which allows you to charge mobile devices using the case's battery life.
Other than the charging case, the earphones ship with three pairs of eartips in small, medium, and large sizes, and a short micro charging cable.
The mic offers poor intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we could make out every word we recorded, but it was a fuzzy, distant-sounding recording, and only played back in one ear (a common issue with many true wireless models).
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the earphones deliver thunderous bass response. At top, unwise listening levels, there is no distortion, and at more moderate levels, the bass is still quite powerful. Listeners who love deep bass will be pleased with the Ultra's ability to pump out lows. The highs on this track, however, seemed almost strangely sculpted—bright and brittle at times.
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Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Ultra's overall sound signature. The drums on this track sound far more deep and heavy than they typically do. But you also get exceptionally boosted highs, pushing even the tape hiss on the track forward in the mix. The mids feel scooped out of the equation here—the guitar's strums are the brightest and most prominent thing in the mix, while Callahan's rich baritone doesn't quite get the high-mid attention it needs, and things can sound bass-heavy and bright, but not terribly clear.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop lacks its typical high-mid presence and so its attack is dulled. But the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with serious gusto—like there's a subwoofer in your skull. There are times when the vocals sound like they are distorting—as if you are listening to a very low bit rate file. This has the effect of making the vocals sound overly sibilant—not ideal at all, but especially not when they are also being somewhat overpowered by the bass response.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get far more bass response than anyone seeking an accurate sound signature will want—the lower register instrumentation bursts forward from its supporting role in the recording and almost overshadows the higher register brass, strings, and vocals. It's not an ideal sound signature for classical music—the highs sound muffled and the mix somewhat murky overall.
The Jam Ultra doesn't sound like a $100 pair of earphones, wire-free or not. Add the lack of track navigation and volume controls, and it's hard to get too excited, even for the price. Although they all cost more, the Apple AirPods, JayBird Run, and JLab Epic Air feature better audio performance and designs. The Bose SoundSport Free is our favorite pair, but at $250, is substantially pricier. One thing we can say about the nascent true wireless earphone category so far: At this stage, the good ones are not cheap.
About the Author
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.
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