REVIEW: JBL Club One - Headphones that eat deep bass for Breakfast FeaturedWritten by Karl Erik Sylthe
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JBL has just released three new Club Series headphones. I've had the top model Club One on a solid test round.
When James Bullough Lansing was born almost 120 years ago, he had little idea what traces he should leave behind. Strictly speaking, he had little idea of anything at all at the time, but all the same, the companies Altec Lansing and JBL are named after James, both companies high-profile Hi-Fi manufacturers with a focus on speakers. Altec Lansing originated in 1927, and when James Bullough Lansing left this company in 1946, he started James B. Lansing Sound Inc - eventually JBL among friends. Unfortunately, Lansing himself died at a relatively young age at the turn of the 40s, but JBL continued to flourish, developing legendary models, often in the rather violent segment.
In the last two years a few classics with modern food have emerged. We have mentioned the L100 Classic a couple of times after encountering these exciting models both at Menn & Ting in Larvik 2019 , and at Harman's wonderful press event at Harman Luxury Experience Store Munich during HighEnd in Munich that year. And now in 2020, they launched a more compact speaker with the same classic design. The JBL L82 Classic also has specially developed stands, and a look just as retro as the L100 Classic
JBL Club series
But now, of course, there are headphones to talk about. Over time, JBL has also become very big on headphones, often launching new series. In recent years the Everest Elite series arrived in 2016, the Tune series in 2018 and the Live series in 2019.
And now it's the Club series it's all about. This new range of JBL headphones has three models, and all three have strong design features. The launch price ranges from NOK 1,800, - for the smallest Club 700BT without ANC, via Club 950 NC with a price of NOK 3,000, - to the flagship model we have on test, a model that has a of NOK 4.200, -.
JBL Club One's hunting grounds
It is obvious from the start of the review that Club One is a Premium model that competes with other wireless ANC headphones in the Premium range. In this segment, Bose's brand new 700 is a self-written candidate, a model colleague Arve tested earlier this year after it came in and took over after the old trotter QC35 II, a model that previously had the status of undefeated champion in noise cancellation. And interestingly, the Bose 700 had exactly the same price as the JBL Club One at the time of launch
But also Sony's WH-1000XM3 has emerged as a fierce competitor in this exercise, a model that is about to get an heir to the rumor that it will be launched in June. And also Beoplay's various generations of H9 must be taken into account, although it is not necessarily the ANC stage that is the distance where they eat the competitors for breakfast.
During the listening test, we will listen to how JBL's flagship performs against these models, and also some other nearby competitors, such as the Denon AH-GC30 which had an introductory price of NOK 3,498, -, but in the meantime has been lowered the price by a thousand NOK, which makes it extra competitive.
In the box
The first thing that strikes you when you get into the situation of unpacking a JBL Club One from its elaborate box is a well-made case with a shape that encloses the folded headphones quite tight. You can also fit both one of the two detachable cables and a Dragonfly pocket DAC, but they must reside in the same room as the headphones. JBL has prioritized this case with a matte finish that underpins the Premium feel to be compact and space-saving, rather than having lots of extra space for optional equipment.
You get two cables with 3.5mm mini jack on one end and a 2.5mm micro jack on the other end. The latter has a locking patent which ensures a safe conection to the headset. One has a volume control, while the other is a spiral cable much in the style of old days guitar cable, although this one also has 3.5mm mini Jack and 2.5mm micro Jack. You also get a 3.5 to 6.3mm adapter, and an airline adapter.
A nice detail is that you can plug the cable into any of the two earbuds. Convenient if you have a mobile phone with Dragonfly or a headphone amplifier next to you.
Materials and design
It is interesting to note a professional build of the image for the Club Series headphones. They build an elegance, but an elegance that plays on very different strings than one of the rivals Beoplay H9/H9i, which uses completely different strings that are more proficient in a Scandinavian design language.
We start with the headband which is dominated by a lavish leather-covered padding, where the leather cover has a visible continuous seam along the entire edge. This gives a slightly rough elegance.
In the lower part of the shackles the padding ends, and solid shackles in black lacquered aluminum take over towards the hinge point. The hinges are two-way - that is, in addition to folding the headphones the same to allow for space in the case during transport, they allow for some lateral movement. In some situations, I miss that this lateral twist is not bigger. If you are going to have the headphones in a resting position with the headband around your neck it may be ok that the headphones can be turned 90 degrees so that the clocks take up less space in this position.
An interesting feature is that JBL has focused on exposed cables on the stretch from the padding and down to the head clocks. Most manufacturers choose to have a closed solution on most models, but don't think for a moment that having visible cables is something JBL has done to save money. This grip is an important design element that underpins the slightly rough Pro Premium feel with the headphones. It becomes part of Club One's identity. I have a pair of H4 from Beoplay that I have used as squash partners, and they have exactly the same design element with visible cables on the final distance up to the ear clocks. I wouldn`t miss it for the world…
Even the head clocks have some common features with many other clocks in this segment. Perhaps most of all with the Bose 700, although Club One has both far more lavish padding of the earbuds and a completely different - and more subtle - appearance on the braces. There is a concave side profile on the bells that dominates, along with a slightly small sculptural metal profile that forms the transition to the "lid" on the head bells.
The raisin in the sausage there is a risk that you will not immediately notice. But the driver inside the watch has an aluminum grille, and also has a transparent fabric that allows the orange drivers in graphene to be exposed.
Comfort is one of the most important toics for headphones. It makes little sense if they have excellent sound if you can't use them for more than a short period of time.
For the same reason, you may be a bit worried in advance when you read that Club One has a weight of 378.5 grams. This places Club One significantly above the competitors I mentioned initially, where the Bose 700 weighs 252 grams while its predecessor QC35 II weighed 309 grams. Sony WH-1000XM3 weighs 255 grams, Beoplay H9i 285 grams and Denon AH-GC30 weighs 287 grams. In other words, Club One clearly outweighs all of these competitors and is in the same weight class as Denon's stationary HighEnd models AH-D5200/D7200/D9200.
But here we also have the optimistic turn. Because I have tested all three of these models, and despite a weight of between 375 and 385 grams they were very comfortable.
And so is Club One. There are three factors that contribute to this. Firstly, it is a very good padding of the headband. Here they stand in sharp contrast to the Beoplay H9i, which has too thin padding on the underside of the hoop, which is also improved on the latest generation of H9.
The other factor that contributes to good user comfort is that JBL has been careful about tuning the tightening to the ear. Here they are not as relaxed and thus comfortable as my previous Beyer Dynamics DT880, but it would not have worked for headphones that are, after all, designed to be moving. Comfort is also about the feeling that something is in place.
And the third and important factor for comfort is size and shape. Club One has 40mm drivers and it is in combination with earbuds that have an oval shape. It gives a fit that suits your ears better than eg. Beoplay's round bells. In Coronation times with home office, there have often been long periods of H9i in Team meetings, with the associated need for headphone breaks at regular intervals.
I also tend to have a little special test on headphones: Do they work if you lie down on the side during the noon-nap? Slightly rattling ear bells do not, in principle, provide a basis for excessive optimism. But here's the once again very generous padding that makes the JBL Club One actually breathe the Denon AH-GC30 into the neck in this exercise.
Battery and charging
JBL Club One is charged via the supplied USB-C cable, and uses less than two hours to fully charge from an empty tank. This is good, and should you not have time for a full charge, it will give you two hours of play time with a quarter of an emergency charge before the walk. Or the Teams Meeting.
Once you have received a full tank, it is nice to know that you can play music for up to 45 hours without using ANC. Or 23 hours via Bluetooth and ANC. And if you choose wired listening via the 2.5mm inputs you can still use ANC and have a playing time of 25 hours.
The battery itself is a 730 mAh / 3.7V Lithium-ION battery.
JBL Club One has Bluetooth 5.0, and supports both AAC & SBC. Android users might miss aptX, but for me who has the Iphone this is not an issue.
Multi Point Connection means that you can be connected to two sources at the same time, such as a mobile and a laptop. And while fortunately only one of them can play at a time, it offers a good level of user comfort that saves you a lot of trouble.
JBL has made a choice for the physical operation that I really appreciate. Many buttons with good distance and clear tactile layout provide very clear and easy use that is easy to learn, even if this is one of many headphones one must get used to. With three buttons on each side, there is little need for cryptic multifunctions.
The top button on the left is the power button. It sits above the Bluetooth button in the middle and on the bottom left side we have the button that enables / disables TalkThru or Ambient Aware with a short press. Press and hold for 3 sec. Enable or disable Adaptive Noise Canceling. Here I could have preferred that Club One does not start with ANC on by default every time you turn on the headphones in active mode. It would have been an advantage if they remembered the previous setting. This is usually in place for the next major software update, preferably with your own choice in the menu where you choose between these three variants at startup. On / off / same as last time.
If you want to use Active Noise Canceling without playing anything in your headphones it is also possible. With the headphones turned off, you can hold down the bottom button for 5 minutes and the noise cancellation works alone.
Let`s talk about the buttons on the right side too. At the top you have volume up with short presses. Or next track if you hold it for more than 3 seconds. The middle button is start / pause. Or received a phone call and hang up. The bottom button is the counterpart of the top one. That is, the volume down with short presses, or the previous track if you press and hold the button for more than 3 seconds.
And then we have the big lid on the left. Enable Google Assist or Alexa by holding it down. You can't bomb it. And look, it's amazing to be free to say "Hey Google" as you blush lightly and flick your eyes nervously to see if anyone has noticed you.
JBL has put a lot of energy into the active noise cancellation. With Adaptive Noise Canceling , ambient noise is checked 50,000 times per second, and JBL claims it compensates for leaks caused by glasses and hair.
And the noise cancellation works really well. Nevertheless, JBL here must bypass the very best in active noise cancellation - Bose and Sony. The Bose 700 my colleague Arve has reviewed, and I have had my wife's set of Sony WH-1000XM3 at hand. These two are a bit in a special class when it comes to active noise cancellation, but JBL Club One is not far behind these two. No need to despair for that reason - we have far more important exercises ahead of us.
Ambient Aware is a mode where you let in some of the surroundings, which can be reassuring if you are traveling in traffic. TalkThru gives the music lowers so much that you can have a conversation without opening the music or removing the headphones. And also Silent Now we have been in the past. This is a mode where you can have noise cancellation even without music or other sound in the headphones. The obvious use of Silent Now is if you have to work concentrated in noisy environments. Or simply have a PowerNap.
It is also useful that you get noise cancellation during phone calls using two-microphone technology. And the speech sound is good, should I believe my interlocutors.
The My JBL Headphones app is probably one of the best I've ever had with this type of app, and also outperforms Beoplay's app.
We start with the graphics, which are both clear and elegant. The latter element is reinforced by the fact that the graphics have slippery transitions to an extent that balances with a safe margin within the point where these kinds of instruments become distressingly fancy.
You can configure a number of different models with JBL Bluetooth, mainly from the recent Series Club, last year's Newcomers Live or the four-year-old series Everest Elite. And everyone is presented with great and good graphics
You can turn the ANC on and off inside the app, but you will probably prefer to do this via the bottom button on the left earpiece. This button inside the app has more utility as a visual confirmation that the ANC is on / off.
However, what you can't do without going inside the app is choosing whether to briefly press the same button to engage Ambient Aware, or whether to engage TalkThru. This is probably the only functional missing I have in the operation of Club One, in addition to the previously mentioned desire for the ANC to have the last used status as default value when the headphones are switched on. In practice, it is tempting to think that most people would then prefer TalkThru to be linked to this button because that feature covers a need that arises suddenly.
In the App, you also choose whether Google Assist or Alexa should be your chosen chat-mate, and have the option to configure the respective assistants. You also have the option to turn Auto-off on / off after 10 minutes without signal. You are not offered to adjust the time interval, but I can't quite see that it is a miss, especially since you have access to Silent Now while the headphones are turned off.
Then we have come to the perhaps most interesting department within the App, a department which in JBL's terminology is called Stage +.
Inside Stage + we first encounter the celebrity department, with 5 high-profile DJs, four of whom are based in Amsterdam. We`re talking about Armin van Buuren , Nicky Romero , as well as the couple horses Sunnery James and Ryan Marciano. In addition, we find the Australian JBL ambassador Tigerlilyin Stage +. All of these five DJs have created their own EQ curve, which may be selected along with a number of different user-defined curves including some predefined, editable curves from JBL.
Personally, I did not find that the predefined curves matched my personal preferences. However, it is very useful to be able to go in and set curves according to your own preferences. And here there is quite an impressive flexibility, with graphically defined curves with almost an unlimited amount of attack frequencies. And you can store as many curves as you need.
And a dedicated on/off feature for EQ provides an extremely clear visual feedback that underpins what I said initially about the app.
The 40mm big drivers in orange graphene have very low weight, high conductivity and stiffness and, according to JBL, have been selected for their ability to reduce distortion and increase precision . This is an exclusive material that, without comparison, is also used in a sandwich design in the drivers of Magico's completely fresh flagship models, which have a price tag of 9.8 million for the pair.
Let¨s play some music
There were immediately two conditions that became clear within a very short time of listening to music. First, there is no doubt that sound confirms the other physical impressions - these are Premium headphones even when it comes to audio reproduction.
And the other fact that was at least as quickly clarified is that JBL Club One is not a pair of characterless headphones, where neutral rendering is the most important parameter.
We can start with the top frequencies. There is a little caution here and there, a caution I recognize from Denon. And this applies to both the Denon AH-GC30 wireless models that I tested a year ago, but also the three HighEnd wired models AH-D5200 , AH-D7200 and AH-D9200 that I tested earlier. Denon's HighEnd models are almost magically able to combine this light caution with top transparency, which wasn't as obvious on the AH-GC30. This is where Club One is located in the middle. There is significantly more air and transparency than the AH-GC30, but still not at par with Denon's stationary HighEnd models. The latter is also partly at a much higher price level.
I had a round at the EQ to add a slight boost to the treble. It worked well, but eventually I eventually concluded that I actually prefered the sound character JBL Club One provides without modifying it. But for others, this can be a useful tool if you want a more neutral sound character.
The midrange is great and gives a beautifull vocal presence. Kari Bremnes thrives on Club One's company, and so does Mari Boine in the superb See The Woman album . Leonard Cohen's much deeper voice in the magical album Thanks for the Dance is equally beautifully reproduced, although we have partially crossed the border into the bass area here.
Which brings us to what is Club One's real home ground. For the bass of these headphones, what really sets them apart is the amount, even in the Premium Headphones segment. And then it is not primarily the amount of bass I am aiming at, even though they undeniably have a side to the bass in the sound balance. But what sets Club One apart from the rest of the field is that the bass is reproduced with an effortless authority that gives associations to what you or get from 10 or 12 inches on floor standing speakers. You get the same feelings as if you are in the sixth gear cruise with around 1,000 rpm with a very powerful diesel engoned car in the steep ascent from Borlaug up Mørkedalen towards Hemsedalsfjellet, tread on the accelerator pedal, and despite the speed feel that the upper body is pressed against the seat. As if the engine, or in this case the headphones answer "So What..."?"
That's exactly this So What feeling you get if you listen to Bjørn Kjellemyr's basement deep bass on the song About Ka Ho Anna Drømte Om, and experience something almost unnatural on JBL Club One when Kjellemyr's bass goes deeper than you might think bass could go . Or on Arild Andersen's magical album Hyperborean , from about the same period just before the turn of the millennium.
For JBL's Club One, the headphones that make it look for recordings with heavy bass. And as I suggested at the beginning of the section on the sound of Club One, these are not necessarily the headphones you want to pick out if you want the most neutral and analytical sound reproduction possible. This is about having the most fun. And for the same reason, I have chosen not to neutralize Club One's tendencies via the flexible equalizer. I stopped by that variant, which consists of a slight damping of the bass and a slight lift in the treble. And of course it is stored so that it can be retrieved quickly.
But at the same time, a bit of the point of JBL Club One disappears if you neutralize the features. It's almost like buying a Ferrari, getting retrofit automatic gear, and driving around towing a caravan. The fun is gone - you could just as well buy a Toyota. Or Sony, and JBL Club One is all about fun!
Club One with passive operation
With this adapter you can charge while listening to music via Dragonfly. For a purely portable use, a simple adapter is more convenient.
So far I have described JBL Club One with active operation via Bluetooth and the built-in amplifiers. And in a situation where an increasing share of today's smartphones drop 3.5mm minijack audio output, it is also by far the most common way to listen to headphones. Clearly most comfortable, or at least the most handy.
But if you connect to a pocket DAC, there's even more to get out of Club One, and most other headphones on the market. I've taken a round in combination with all three variants of AudioQuest's handy DACs - Dragonfly Black, Red and Cobalt. And the advantage of all these is that you get MQA included in the purchase, and that for a reasonable price. An ever-increasing - and gradually quite large - part of TIDAL's record collection is also available as "Master", that is, with MQA encoding. Then you need an adapter between your phone and Dragonfly, and then it goes wired to the headphones.
The sound was clearly improved with Dragonfly connected to the mobile, and of course this applies especially to the top model Cobalt. Another side of this is that the specified frequency range for Club One is extended from 20Hz - 20,000 Hz with active operation, to 10Hz - 40,000 Hz with passive operation. No tolerances or frequency deviations are specified for this frequency range. But subjectively, it can be confirmed that the bass is experienced as even deeper with passive operation, in combination with Dragonfly Cobalt. With a theoretical definition of hearing around 20 Hz, it might not matter. But if, on another hand, we put in a typical roll-off that starts out significantly higher, it will start to matter afger all.
JBL Club One against the rest of the field
Okay, initially I have defined what are JBL Club One's main competitors. And I have already suggested that you do not quite reach the Bose 700 and Sony WH-1000XM3 in the noise cancellation exercise. For me this is not primary - I am a bit of the opinion that it is usually ok to have some contact with the surroundings, although of course there are situations where maximum noise cancellation is nice to have. When it comes to music reproduction, however, Club One is clearly better than the Sony WH-1000XM3. I really feel the Sony models as a bit overrated. Slightly flat and unpowered rendition with a wooly and imprecise bass.
Compared to the Beoplay H9i , the situation is different. Basically, these are headphones with a price slightly in excess of Club One, although now expired and 3rd generation H9 has taken over. They have a distinctly neutral sound balance, and if you want a more analytical listening session this might be a better choice. But at the same time you miss out on a lot of fun if you don`t choose Club One. In terms of design, Beoplay and JBL are also located on their own extremes, where Beoplay plays on Scandinavian design strings, while JBL has a Pro Premum design. I appreciate both.
Compared to Denon's top models of wireless ANC models AH-GC30 , we have a somewhat interesting situation. The sound balance has clear similarities, but at the same time there is an obvious quality difference in the sound quality in JBL's favor. It's almost like JBL Club One is stretching a little towards Denon's desktop wired models AH-D5200, but it's obviously an optimistic ambition. In design terms, the AH-GC30 has clearly more feminine features than the almost macho JBL Club One, not least in the white incarnation of the AH-GC30 that my test samples had.
With Club One, JBL has made a pair of very good Premium models of ANC headphones. They are priced in the upper segment of this class, but have convinced me that they are defending the price with no hesitation. They combine exclusive finishes with good and characteristic sound reproduction.
Club One is the obvious choice if you are looking for headphones that combine high sound quality with at least as high a fun factor, and outperform the top models from arch rival Sony by a good margin when it comes to sound quality, even though Sony is better at noise canceling.
The only wireless ANC headset I've listened to that I perceive to be a real competitor is the Beoplay H9i (and H9). Here you have a headphone that plays on completely different strings, both in sound and design. But which one that has the highest fun factor is no doubt.
JBL Club One is an excellent choice if you are looking for a pair of Premium ANC headphones and combines good sound quality, Pro design and high fun factor with a bass rendering that your competitors do not reach!
Read more about Club One at JBL
Karl Erik Sylthe
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