Noise-cancelling headphones have proven useful in blocking out distractions and unwanted hubbub, especially when a situation calls for a certain degree of privacy, total concentration, or entertainment immersion. The JBL Club series of headphones, inspired by touring musicians, embraces this sense of brand of isolation, offering two models with active noise cancellation (ANC) technology to encourage focus and productivity.
A third entry, however, provides an alternative for those who are looking to stick with the traditional listening experience. Unlike its siblings, the JBL Club 700BT doesn’t deliver ANC on a platter, and instead, compensates for the absence in the form of punchy bass, decent audio detail, and the greatest draw of all: a powerful, lasting battery life. The end product? A combination that works well, for the most part.
At S$239, the wireless headphones enter the line-up as an entry-level member, even if its build may suggest otherwise. Cutting a strong, all-black figure, the set of cans is held sturdily together by a metal frame and a hard plastic shell, with the headband and ear cups decked out in leatherette padding.
Despite the overall hardiness, there’s a welcome touch of flexibility present. The cable covering and malleable side band allow users to adjust the positioning of the ear cups, or to fold them inwards for easier carry on the go – a handy feature, considering its 283g heft. The 700BT isn’t the heaviest on the market, but it’s far from being a lightweight companion, which makes the compact factor a great plus.
For added protection, a matte finish carry pouch has been included in the box, so users can lug the headphones around without the fear of scratching them. It should be noted, though, that while they certainly hold up well against the twist and shear, the click produced when extending or retracting the earcups is rather grating and unpleasant-sounding. A quieter, smoother adjustment process would have been more welcome.
The earcups themselves, meanwhile, are balanced neatly with rubber-coated controls on each side. Where the left comes equipped with the power button, the Bluetooth control, a USB-C port, and a third button that toggles between the TalkThru or Ambient Aware feature, the right sports the volume rocker, the call answer button, and the bass boost.
All of these onboard controls are well-positioned, and require little time to get accustomed to. This convenience of on-the-fly adjustment is particularly handy for sessions that call for one’s utmost attention, such as watching the lead-up to a climactic plot reveal, or playing through an intense boss battle. In general, they are responsive and nice to the touch, although the bass boost button could do with an indicator when activated. As it is, the lack of one makes it difficult to discern through sheer listening if the function is active.
Integrated within the cans is a set of microphones that facilitates communication through calls, voice assistants, and the TalkThru or Ambient Aware modes. When hooked up to the phone, the audio quality comes across as clear and bright, without the fuzzy, muffled tones of the default loudspeaker. Slight echo may be detected on the receiving end, but the 700BT is enough to get the job done at a fundamental level – more than enough, actually.
With Google Assistant, giving commands proved to be a fuss-free affair. Pressing the large button on the left earcup activates the function, which proficiently and intuitively picks up the user’s voice. There was hardly any need, as such, to increase the speaking volume or repeat the instructions over the course of the review period.
The 700BT may lack ANC features, but it does have some traces of their influence. The Ambient Aware mode, for instance, allows a fair bit of environmental sound to filter into the audio, so traffic sounds and other cues from the surroundings can be heard. TalkThru mode, meanwhile, is best put to use during interaction, as it lowers the music in favour of hearing the other speaker without having to remove the headphones.
Because of their extra heft, this pair of cans isn’t the most comfortable fit on the head for long hours of use. While the padding on the ear cups is plush and sits nicely on the curve of the ear, it doesn’t offer enough cushioning to prevent the spectacle frames from pressing against the skulls of bespectacled individuals. The effect is compounded by the firm, tight clasp exerted on both sides of the head that leaves behind slight soreness in the jaw after a few hours.
A common issue encountered with on-ear models is their heat-trapping effect, and the 700BT falls victim to the same situation here. Over longer listening sessions, one’s ears will indeed start warming up, and users may find themselves having to air them by taking the headphones off every now and then.
In warm, humid climates like Singapore, that’d be more of a concern, as leatherette isn’t the best material to soak up perspiration, and can give off an unpleasant odour as time goes by. That’s not to say that the 700BT is a terrible choice for comfort, however – it performs just fine on its own, as long as the period of use doesn’t stretch on for too many hours.
When put through its paces with song tracks, it puts up a respectable show of prowess. The headphones’ treatment of bottom-heavy music is perhaps their most prominent feature, with the rich, sonorous basslines of “edamame” by bbno$ (featuring Rich Brian) and YOASOBI’s “Monster” coming strongly through the audio drivers.
Eminem’s “Venom”, likewise, enjoyed the same punchy delivery, sporting dynamic, tight lows that sometimes overpower the vocals. This imbalance can occasionally lead to a disharmonious mix where the instruments seem to be singled out in the background, but the experience is certainly not as unpleasant and overbearing that might be present in other similar models.
The bass-leaning inclination is further highlighted through the bass boost button, which stumbles in its execution. In fact, there isn’t much need for it – while it does amplify the lows, the effect is rather overdone, resulting in muddy, sloppy tones that fail to impress. It’s certainly a relief that this feature is included as an optional pick, and not integrated into the entire set-up.
Besides bass, the 700BT excels in capturing the instrumental detail, conveying guitar strums, drum beats, and keyboard notes in a crisp manner, especially in the case of electronic music. Mids are generally decent across the board, with game soundtracks making for a particularly good listen. The top-end can be a little harsh at times, though, and the sense of togetherness from full, well-rounded harmonics is still lacking for the most part.
Here’s where the app comes into play. JBL has packed in several EQ adjustments and an interesting pool of DJ-curated preset profiles for users to change the settings, while the more experienced ones can opt to create a quick custom profile.
The smartphone isn’t the only platform for connection. Courtesy of Bluetooth multipoint support, the headphones can be connected to up to two devices simultaneously – and for a long time at that. An impressive 50-hour battery life means that the 700BT won’t have to be charged often, which makes it convenient for long hours of music-listening and entertainment.
Indeed, it only had to be charged once over the course of three weeks, with daily use averaging around two to three hours. Recharging proved to be an equally efficient process as well, taking less than two hours to reach full capacity from an empty tank. An intuitive auto-off feature is an important contributing factor to this show of stamina, as it powers down the headphones after detecting a few minutes of inactivity.
The only gripe here is the lack of a battery indicator. Although the pinprick of light on the left earcup will turn red when battery life drops below 10 percent, it’d be nice to have an audible notification at certain intervals, since the colour can’t be seen until the headphones are removed.
A solid, reliable pair of cans, the JBL Club 700BT is well-suited for those seeking a balance of affordability and quality, aren’t too picky about the lack of ANC, and value the convenience of a long battery life. It performs best in the electronic music genre, but has proven itself to be a versatile tool that consistently delivers up-to-scratch audio quality – in compensation for its issues with long-wear comfort.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A competent pair of bass-heavy headphones that bring hard-hitting music goodness best enjoyed in short bursts, instead of long-hour sessions.
Aesthetics - 8/10
Build Quality - 8.5/10
Performance - 8/10
Value - 8/10
Geek Satisfaction - 8/10