JLab Epic Air ANC Review: Exceptional True Wireless Value

 digitaltrends.com  09/16/2020 13:00:19   Simon Cohen
JLab Epic Air ANC
“The ANC won't wow you, but these buds are still an insane value at just $99.”
  • Amazing price
  • Customizable controls and EQ
  • Huge battery life
  • Wireless charging
  • Excellent ambient sound mode
  • So-so ANC
  • Poor call quality

JLab has a history of making wireless headphones and true wireless earbuds that deliver a great mix of performance and features for shockingly low prices. Its $29 Go Air and $149 Epic Air Sport are both great examples.

But clearly, both of these were mere warm-ups for what JLab has now released: The $99 Epic Air ANC, a set of noise-canceling true wireless earbuds with a feature set that seemingly goes on forever.

Has JLab finally over-promised and under-delivered, or do the Epic Air ANC set a new benchmark for value? Hint: Theyre amazing.

Lets see what all of the fuss is about.

Whats in the box?

JLab Epic Air ANC
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

JLabs boxes have always been incredibly flimsy, cheap-looking affairs. And while that may not score the company points with shoppers looking at a bunch of competitive products on a retail shelf, I love it.

I love it because its exclusively made of easily recyclable paper and cardboard. The only plastic youll find are two tiny removable stickers over the earbuds charging contacts. The rest is as guilt-free as it gets.

Inside that box youll find the Epic Air ANC earbuds nestled in their charging case, an easy-to-read and very well illustrated quick start guide, and the included five extra ear tips (the earbuds ship with the medium size installed).

Design

JLabs line of true wireless earbuds have three general shapes: The simple, earbud-only design of the Go Air, the sport-oriented ear hook design of the Epic Air Sport, and the AirPod-esque earbud-plus-stem design of the Air Executive.

Workout addicts are covered: With an IP55 rating, theres very little these earbuds cant survive.

The Epic Air ANC use the same design as the Air Executive. Theyre so similar, you might not be able to tell them apart even upon close inspection.

The Epic Air ANC are a bit bulkier than, say, Apples AirPods or AirPods Pro, but theyre still remarkably light and dont look as massive as many of the top earbuds weve reviewed, like Sonys WF-SP800N or Sennheisers CX 400BT True Wireless.

Touch controls on the outside give you full access to all of the most-used functions, while a wear-sensor on the inner surface gives you the ability to automatically pause your tunes when you remove an earbud — if you want.

Workout addicts are covered: With an IP55 rating, theres very little these earbuds cant survive.

The charging case is bulkier and less pocketable than many others on the market, but it makes up for its extra girth by offering a built-in USB charging cord — a brilliant feature for those who tend to forget to bring cables when they travel. Better yet, should that cable ever become damaged, the case is able to charge wirelessly, too.

Synthetic leather does double duty as both the outer surface of the case and the lids hinge. Its unusual and clever, but it means that the lid moves around a little bit even when closed, which reduces the overall feeling of quality.

Nonetheless, the lid magnet and the earbud docking magnets are strong enough to keep everything in place, which is really all that matters.

A three-LED display on the top surface tells you the charge level of the case as well as the charging status of the earbuds.

The Epic Air ANC may not win any beauty contests, but functionally speaking, theyre very well designed.

Comfort, controls, and connections

JLab Epic Air ANC
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

If youve worn in-the-ear earbuds before and found them comfortable, I think youll like the way the Epic Air ANC fit as well.

If you haven’t, JLabs inclusion of five different sizes and styles of silicone ear tips, plus an extra pair of Cloud Foam ear tips, should go a long way to making them just right regardless of your ear shape.

The quality of the seal is always important with in-ear earbuds because it dictates how good theyll sound, but its especially important with ANC earbuds. Having a variety of ear tips to choose from definitely makes getting a good seal easier.

Personally, I recommend the Cloud Foams. Memory foam ear tips dont last as long as silicone, and not everyone likes the squishy sensation they create in your ear, but theyre super comfy and they create a terrific seal without any pressure.

Once you find the best size and kind of ear tip, the Epic Air ANC should fit and feel just right. I found them to be more comfortable than some earbuds that cost more than double, which just goes to show that money cant always buy you a good fit.

I dont love touch controls on earbuds because they have a tendency to be triggered when you dont want them to do anything or, more often, they dont respond correctly (or at all) when you need them to.

JLab Epic Air ANC appThe touch controls on the Epic Air ANC largely avoid this trap, but there were still occasions when I had trouble. Some taps werent recognized and a double-tap sometimes only registered as a single. Id still prefer a really good set of physical buttons like the ones on the Jabra Elite 75t, but as far as touch controls go, the Epic Air ANCs are perfectly serviceable.

And though I might not be a touch control fan, Im seriously impressed that JLabs free Air ANC app for iOS and Android lets you customize what each earbud does for every tap combination. With three tap combinations per earbuds, that can cover just about everything you could ask for. The available commands are: Play/pause (call answer/end), track skip forward/back, volume up/down, voice assistant access, EQ mode, and ANC mode (on, off, Be Aware).

The only thing you need to keep in mind is that if you choose to use just one earbud — a great option for phone calls or when you need to stay more aware of your surroundings — youll need to make sure that earbuds controls have the settings you need. Theres no point in making a single tap on the left earbud turn the volume up if you need the right earbud to turn it back down.

The wear sensors worked like a charm, quickly pausing and resuming music when you removed or inserted the earbuds, and the app lets you shut the feature off if you dont find it helpful.

Bluetooth pairing is easy and quick — simply remove the earbuds from the case and choose them in your Bluetooth system menu. Connection quality was very reliable, but on a few occasions — notably after a long pause with no music playing — the left earbud would become unresponsive. Quickly popping both buds back into the charging case and pulling them out again was a reliable way to get things back to normal.

Simultaneous device pairing (a.k.a. Bluetooth Multipoint) would be nice, but its an unusual feature even among more expensive earbuds.

Battery life

True wireless earbuds have seen a massive improvement in battery life over the past 12 months, and the Epic Air ANC sit near the top of this range.

With as much as 48 hours with ANC off, they put all other true wireless earbuds to shame.

JLab claims 8 hours of operation with ANC on, and a huge 12 hours with it off — just one hour less than the reigning champ, Sonys WF-SP800N.

Even more impressive is the charging case, which carries enough capacity for three full recharges. At a minimum, this means 32 hours of total time, but as much as 48 hours with ANC off. That puts all other true wireless earbuds to shame. Even the Sony WF-SP800N only offer a single charge in their case for a maximum time of 26 hours.

A 15-minute quick charge will get you an extra hour of playtime.

In reality, JLabs numbers are pretty spot-on. I ran them continuously with ANC off and after 12 hours, they were still going.

Sound quality

JLab Epic Air ANC
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

For their price, I think the Epic Air ANC sound very good. You dont get the pristine sound quality of Sonys WF-1000XM3 or Sennheisers CX 400BT, but those earbuds cost more than twice what youll pay for the Epic Air ANC.

When it comes to deep bass and clear highs — the two areas people notice the most — these earbuds dont disappoint.

Im willing to bet that unless you already own a much more expensive set of earbuds, youll be delighted with the sound of the Epic Air ANC.

They offer very good separation of frequencies, and when it comes to deep bass and clear highs — the two areas people notice the most — these earbuds dont disappoint. Bass response is full but doesnt overpower, and the highs, while not crystalline, are still well-defined. The midranges are neither shining nor lackluster, managing to make themselves heard even if theyre not quite the stars of the show.

And while they may not have perfect levels of detail or an ultra-wide soundstage, theyre surprisingly well-balanced for listening to a variety of genres.

As with virtually all the earbuds and headphones Ive tested, to get the most out of these earbuds, you need a decent source. I found a big difference between listening to my personal collection of AAC-format tracks in Apple Music and lossless, CD-quality offerings from Tidal or Qobuz.

More importantly, the JLab Air ANC app gives you the ability to tweak EQ as much as you like. The equalizer has discrete levels for 10 frequency bands and you can save four presets with your favorite mixes.

JLab includes a movie mode which is supposed to reduce audio lag from the usual music mode so that on-screen dialog matches up with what youre hearing. Maybe my iPhone 11s Bluetooth connection is already a very low-latency one, but I found virtually no difference whether movie mode was engaged or not. Both modes offered excellent sync when streaming movies from Netflix and Disney+.

Noise-canceling

Getting a sense for the Epic Air ANCs noise-cancellation effectiveness is tricky.

Whether you use the standard silicone ear tips or the Cloud Foams, the seal they provide is pretty great. This means that very few outside sounds can enter your ear in the first place.

But even with strong passive noise isolation, ANC should still offer a noticeable drop in some external sounds. Unfortunately, this wasnt the case.

Swapping between ANC off and on produced only the slightest reduction of lower frequencies. Even then, I could only tell when there was no music playing.

JLabs Air ANC app lets you adjust the intensity of noise cancellation — a welcome feature — but maxing out the setting didnt do much to improve performance. They certainly aren’t AirPods Pro-killers in terms of noise cancellation.

On the bright side, the Be Aware mode, which lets sounds in, is excellent and the app-based adjustment gives you a good amount of control over how much sound it lets in.

Call quality

Call quality on the Epic Air ANC is not an area of strength. Its not a feature that true wireless earbuds tend to be great at, even in some very expensive models, but its especially weak on these earbuds.

External sounds like cars, lawnmowers, leaf-blowers, and even a mild breeze all created a lot of sonic competition for my voice, sometimes drowning it out completely.

Things are considerably better when indoors, but even then, your voice will suffer from some wobble.

On the other hand, from the wearers perspective, the Be Aware mode makes calling very comfortable, letting you hear your own voice with total clarity.

Our take

No matter how you look at them, the JLab Epic Air ANC are an epic value at just $99. The ANC might not be spectacular, but with superb sound isolation thanks to a variety of ear tips, it simply doesnt matter that much. With very good sound quality, enormous battery life, and tons of handy extra features, whats not to love?

Is there a better alternative?

For $99, you may find true wireless earbuds with ANC and decent sound, but Im not sure there are any earbuds at this price that also offer 12 hours of battery life, IP55 protection, wireless charging, fully customizable controls and EQ, plus a wear sensor.

You can spend less and get fewer features, like the extremely affordable $40 Soundpeats Truengine SE, or you can spend more and get slightly better sound quality with the $150 Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro, but nothing beats the Epic Air ANC for overall value.

How long will they last?

Build quality on the Epic Air ANC seems on par for earbuds in their price range. But with an IP55 rating and a very generous two-year warranty from JLab, they should last a very long time. The nice part about starting out with batteries that last 12 hours, is even when they eventually drop to 50% of their capacity, theyll still outperform many brand-new earbuds.

Should you buy them?

Yes. In the Epic Air ANC, JLab has created a feature-rich and comfortable set of earbuds that offer incredible value for your money.

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