Hands On: JBL Club One headphones
11 June 2020 | 0
JBL has long heritage and experience to bring to bear on audio products. So when it brings a new premium headphone set to market, it is worth paying attention.
The Club ONE active noise cancelling over-ear headphone set is pitched in at around the €300 mark, which puts it in direct competition with offerings from the likes of Sony, Bose and others. That is undoubtedly a tough playing field. However, from opening the box, the quality is evident, from the tough shell case to the locking wired leads and the gold plated adapters. That is before one even gets to the headphones themselves.
The metal frames are very nicely finished, feel reassuringly smooth in their operation and attractive in form. JBL has wisely refrained from over-styling them like some kind of aerodynamic device for your head, or a cyberpunk prop — form follows function and the Club ONEs are all the better for it. They look sturdy, well constructed and are reassuringly weighty. At 378.5g, they feel heavy in the hand, but even after hours being worn, never felt heavy in use. The padded frame and cans are superbly comfortable.
The headphones themselves are powered by 40mm dynamic drivers, which mean that in wireless, powered usage or wired passive mode, they can produce a sophisticated dynamic range that this hack could not fault. Everything at our disposal with which to test sounded better. From Elgar to Morricone, from Rory Gallagher to Royal Blood, from Kraftwerk to Chvrches, nuances previously unknown were evident and enjoyable. High definition audio services sang and showed just why they are there.
This is partly due to one of the key features of the Club ONEs, active noise cancellation (NC). Many headphones offer NC, but the Club ONEs are slightly different in that they provide a 50kHz frequency system that actively responds to the environment. Instead of offering stepped levels of NC, as many other offerings do, the Club ONEs samples ambient noise 50,000 per second to actively cancel external sounds. This is most impressive and immersive, with the effect quite distinct. Only the likes of noisy typing on a gaming style keyboard as this is being written, seemed to break through the otherwise perfect bubble of sound created by the Club Ones.
All this is achieved through a USB Type C charged battery that lasts for 23 hours in full Bluetooth 5.0 active NC mode, or more than 40 hours in non-NC wireless mode. Bluetooth 5.0 allows for that lovely hi-def sound transfer, and two device pairings for simultaneous playback, but if that is not your thing, the box contains an aux-in cable with remote and mic, as well as a longer aux-in coiled-cable for wired use. These all come with twist lock features and gold-plated connectors for improved performance. Also in the box is a USB Type-C charging cable, flight adaptor and 6.3mm adapter.
There is a dedicated digital assistant button for use with a mobile app, that further extends capability. The NC can be turned on and off via a button on the rim of the LH can, but big centre button is actually to control digital assistant function, and voice control and calls, there are dual mics to accommodate. This was the only ergonomic grip with the Club ONEs, in that one reached for the centre button several times before remembering the NC is in a different place.
There are all sorts of customisations available via the app, from EQ settings to control and configuration. However, one never felt the need to do this as the defaults were so good that nothing was really lacking enough to warrant fiddling. This is a good thing, for as a reviewer, one has to fiddle. After a few fruitless twiddles of various parameters, well enough was left well and truly alone.
All of which brings us to the price. The JBL Club Ones are available from major online retailers for around €310, which sounds a lot for a set of headphones, but for their capability and versatility, this just about right. They compare well with other manufacturers with similar audio heritage, but that active noise cancellation does give them a distinct edge over the competition. Plus, if digital assistants are your thing, then the level of integration is a must.
With no obvious weaknesses, and quite a few stand out features, the Club Ones are hard to fault and easy to recommend.