JBL 56BT Bluetooth wireless headphones review
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Audiophiles might stay away from wireless sound systems, but the market at large certainly seems to be receptive to Bluetooth audio devices. The JBL 56BT Bluetooth wireless on-ear stereo headphones with rechargeable battery is one of the latest Bluetooth headsets on the market. Available now for Rs. 9,990, let’s see is the earpieces are worth your money.
Look and feel
The JBL 56BT is a good looking piece of kit, though the plastic band and casing for the cups feels a little tacky. This is offset with a slightly recessed chrome strip in the middle of the band with the JBL logo embossed on it. The back of the ear-cups has a metallic veneer which looks good, while the cups themselves are soft and fit nicely.
Wearing the headset felt very comfortable – it’s an on-ear set so it does press tightly against your head, but the light-weight design means that it didn’t feel uncomfortable when used to watch an entire movie.
The controls are built into the left ear-cup. There’s a round button in the center which can be pressed to answer calls, or double-tapped to reject. You can also press above and below the button to adjust the volume, or double-tap to skip to the next track or rewind when playing music on your mobile. The up/ down buttons aren’t marked on the headset though, so most people will only realise this functionality if they read the user manual, or accidentally stumble upon it.
The base of the same ear-cup has a slot for a wired connection, and also the power button for Bluetooth and battery indicator. The battery indicator is not very intuitive, and reading the manual is really mandatory with this headset.
Most Bluetooth headsets we’ve tried don’t measure up to the wired ones in terms of pure audio quality and the JBL 56BT is no exception. They sound loud, but slightly muffled, and at maximum volume you will notice distortion in the lower registers.
Bass performance was one of the weaker points for the headset – the sound profile was definitely higher than is ideal. This was particularly apparent when watching Star Wars with the headset connected to the iPad on Bluetooth. Darth Vader lacked his ominous rumble, and sounded like an ordinary guy instead!
Most pop music sounded good, but listening to Blood on the Leaves by Kanye West also seemed to lack impact compared to what you get from some of the other similarly priced (but wired) headphones on the market.
If you’re looking for a wireless headset to use in noisy environments such as the gym or the office, then you might want the JBL 56BT anyway. That’s because the fit of the ear-cups is really snug, and so the audio isolation is really good. In noisy environments, this gives the JBL 56BT an edge over headsets with otherwise superior audio playback.
The JBL 56BT is meant as a wireless headset and can connect to your mobile, tablet or other devices over Bluetooth. The process is reasonably simple – just keep the power button pressed and it becomes discoverable, and then you just select it on the other device. This is simple enough, but on our laptop at least the headset took a really long time to be discovered. Pairing with an iPad and also an iPod Touch was a lot faster.
These days, NFC is gaining prominence in simplifying these kinds of operations, but it’s still not widespread enough that one can fault JBL for not including the option.
In case your battery is running low, or you just don’t want to use Bluetooth, then there’s also an audio cable included with a proprietary connector that goes into the headset, and the cable has a standard 3.5mm jack on the other end.
While the sound on this headset isn’t perfect, they are light and easy to carry. They also look nice and have a very reasonable battery life giving 10 hours of continuous music playback. The JBL 56BT also offers strong audio isolation making it a good choice in noisy environments, without using any battery draining noise canceling technology.
At just under Rs. 10,000 though, this headset is a little too expensive for an impulse buy, and if you’re willing to go with a wired solution, then brands like Grado, Sennheiser and even Sony have much better options at the same price. Unless wireless connectivity is something you think is essential, give this one a miss.