Secure fit Bulky case
Exceptional battery life Overly sensitive touch controls
There must be something about the letter “J” when it comes to audio equipment. JLab Audio represents the third one on our tour of true wireless sports earbuds. The nearly 15-year-old company offers a range of Bluetooth headphones and speakers. They’ve made a reputation for affordable wireless options for everyday use, and athletics where they’re the official audio partner of Major League Soccer. The Epic Air Sport is their high-end model for hitting the gym, the trail or even the tennis court.
The buds are constructed in an over-the-ear hook model, designed to give maximum security during activity and workouts. The silicone hooks bend easily, allowing them to cradle the earlobe while keeping the bud snugly in place. The IP66 rating makes the unit sweat, dust and splash resistant, but not intended for significant water submersion. The earbuds only come in an all-black colorway, keeping it as subdued as an earhook model can be.
Yet when unboxing the Epic Sport the most glaring feature is its home. Everything about the charging case is substantial—it’s big and weighty. Think of a very thick bar of soap. As such, it’s not the type of case that sits easy in a pants pocket; maybe the breast pocket of a baggy coat. Transportation is better-suited in a gym, tennis or work bag. The buds do have individual power buttons, so you can turn them on and off without lugging the case.
But the bulk has a silver lining. As the (non-existent) saying goes: big case, big battery. A full charge can yield about ten hours of playback with another 60 hours in the case. That’s crazy good. A full recharge does take a little longer than average: more than two hours for the buds and four hours for the case. Still, a worthwhile tradeoff, as it can be a couple of weeks before incurring a power outage.
Another perk is the case doubles as a charger for other electronics. The unit comes with its own micro-USB cable that wraps around and attaches to itself like a belt. It charges the case, while a standalone USB port can be used to power other electronics. It’s a unique and convenient way to store the chord whereas most other models have a loose, small cable that can wander. However, it is a thick cable that doesn’t bend easily and can make hooking up to a charging outlet a little awkward.
The case has charge an indicator button and five LED lights revealing the amount of battery life. Two of the lights will illuminate when the buds are in place and charging. While it doesn’t have that noticeable magnetic pull of other buds, there is a strong enough connection; hold an opened case upside-down and the buds won’t fall out.
There are seven sets of silicone ear tips to find a proper fit. There are two flanged options that reach farther inside the air if you’re after greater noise cancelation. There’s a pair of Cloud Foam tips as well which are intended do a better job of blocking out sound. However, they don’t handle sweat as well and probably aren’t the best for rigorous workouts. Regardless of the intent, there’s enough variety in thickness, shape and depth to satisfy most ears.
Being an over-the-ear hook model, it’s slightly heavier (10g) than a pure earbud variety. However, because the lobe bares much of the load, weight is not an issue. The hook is pliable and comfortable, while the curve is somewhat firm. The overall shape and density worked well for my ears, although I’m not sure I’d use them for all-day wear. There was a level of snugness that applied just enough pressure to be absolutely secure during movement—whether enduring a HIIT session or scrambling for a short ball—yet fell short of being restrictive. Like the difference between a warm embrace and a tight, awkward hug.
In lieu of buttons, the earbuds have intuitive touch sensor controls. Each bud handles several assignments, making your phone a bystander. The left bud is in charge of volume lowering, play/pause and track back; tapping the right bud moves volume up, answers/rejects calls, summons a virtual assistant and skips to the next track. Either one can activate or turn off the Be Aware mode, which lets in more ambient noise.
It can take several—sometimes frustrating—trials to get accustomed to the multiple responsibilities of each. But much more irritating is the sensitivity level of the sensors. If I needed to adjust the fit in my ear, just touching the bud frequently caused volume changes or song skips. The functionality was impressive, and I suppose during a run or bike when you don’t want to spend much time toggling controls a quick touch is preferable. However, they were much finickier than push buttons.
Connectivity was mostly reliable. The buds sync and are ready to go by the time they reach your ears. There was some static towards the end of my 40-yard lunge test, but otherwise I had zero issues using them in wide open spaces at the gym. I encountered a minor, almost unnoticeable audio/visual lag watching videos on YouTube, and my Netflix streaming was perfectly synced. Phone call quality was more than passable—stereo sound and because of the tight seal, outside noise wasn’t a problem.
As mentioned earlier, the Be Aware mode allows ambient noise to filter in which can be preferable for outdoor exercise. It works relatively well, although with perhaps a bit more static than other brands. Part of the drawback to its use was the need for three taps on a bud to activate, and there were plenty of times when Siri showed up instead.
On the sound front, there are three EQ settings you can toggle through by holding the touch buttons on both buds for three seconds. JLab Signature pumps up the vocals and bass; Balanced keeps all the levels even (naturally); Bass Boost really accentuates that aspect of the sound. Even though JLab Signature is the default setting, I inadvertently started my trial on Balanced—which is intended for instrumentals and classical—and there was an anemic quality to it. The sound seemed tinny and hollow, even for a Bluetooth experience.
Fortunately, I switched to the JLab Signature setting which made a marked improvement in my listening experience. There’s a reason this is the mode they suggest using; it provides a fullness to the sound—generally, heavy guitar and drum-laden rock—that I prefer in a workout setting. I’m not sure it will satisfy the most discriminating audiophiles, but it’s got the requisite power and heft to uplift during training. For those who do like complete control over their music levels, there’s no option to manipulate sound settings to your own specifications. There is an accompanying JLab Audio app, but it’s essentially a portal to purchase products with no connection to the buds. It needs additional features to be considered more of an asset.
There’s a lot to like about the Epic Air Sport. The earhook design provides great security, music quality is generally up to the task and battery life is best in class. The touch controls could use some sensitivity training, but it’s hard to argue with their functionality. And compared to other models in the category, it does all of this at a rather palatable price. Add it all up, and regardless of its first letter, these JLab’s stand up to the competition.