JLab helped pave the way for affordable true wireless earbuds, and the JLab JBuds Air Icon improve upon many of the complaints surrounding the original JBuds Air. Not only has JLab shrunk the housings, making the earbuds more comfortable, but it’s also remedied connection issues. Time to find out if these are a worthwhile upgrade, or if you should save money and get the discounted JLab JBuds Air instead.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on January 24, 2020, to account for market changes.
Who are the JLab JBuds Air Icon for?
- Frugal athletes should consider the JLab JBuds Air Icon for their IP55 rating and bass-heavy sound signature. Although battery life is middle-of-the-road for true wireless earbuds, it’s enough to keep you motivated through a couple weeks of workouts before needing to charge the case.
- Budget buyers will enjoy all that’s afforded from JLab’s $59 true wireless workout earbuds. Aside from a high IP rating, you get an integrated USB charging cable, an array of wing and ear tips, and touch controls.
- iPhone users who don’t want to spend a fortune on the Apple AirPods Pro or Beats Powerbeats Pro will benefit from AAC lag-free streaming and high-quality audio.
What’s it like to use the JLab JBuds Air Icon?
Similar to how the Creative Outlier Gold’s exterior takes on a shinier exterior, the JLab JBuds Icon Air feature new gold accents on both the charging case and earbud touch panels. I preferred the all-black design of the previous iteration, but the reflective gold effectively contrasts the black plastic, which many will appreciate. The smaller size is a welcome change as the first-generation earbuds were a bit chunky.
JLab sized down the charging case and earbuds from the original JBuds Air, making the JBuds Air Icon even more portable and comfortable to wear.
JLab traded in the physical buttons of yesteryear for snazzy touch-capacitive panels, one per earbud. Controls take a few days to memorize, but functionality is comprehensive: you can adjust the volume, access Siri or Google Assistant, and more all while keeping your phone pocketed. The touch panels remedy the pain caused by pressing buttons toward the ear, but taps aren’t always registered, leading the ‘buds to decrease volume levels when I wanted to access Google Assistant.
The plastic charging case houses an inlet for three LED indicators, which alight to display remaining battery life. Opening and closing the case is easy and, unlike more premium charging cases, the JLab charging case lacks a magnetic clasp. Unique to JLab, however, an integrated USB charging cable rests flush with the bottom of the case.
Are the earbuds good for working out?
Absolutely. Cycling and rock climbing are my main forms of exercise, both of which the earbuds are great for: the IP55 rating made me feel confident that my chalked hands wouldn’t damage any of the earbuds’ internals. I prefer touch controls when exercising because they require less effort and, consequently, are less distracting when training.
If you intend to run or do more jolted movements while listening to your music, take the time to find the appropriate wing tips. The default pair worked well for me, but those with smaller or larger-than-average ears may feel differently. By finding the correct wing tips, you’ll prevent slippage due to sweaty ears.
How do you connect to your smartphone?
To pair the Bluetooth 5.0 JLab JBuds Air Icon to your phone, open the case and remove both earbuds. Each LED indicator should flash white to indicate pairing mode. Once the flashing is constant, open the Bluetooth menu in your smartphone and select “JLab JBuds Air Icon.” If the earbuds’ LEDs fail to flash white upon removal, hold both touch panels for three seconds to manually initiate pairing. Autoconnect is really hit or miss and, and the earbuds fail to automatically disconnect or shutoff when placed back in the charging case. A few times, I was surprised to find the earbuds completely drained of battery, but at least they support quick chargin.
Each JLab JBuds Air Icon creates a separate connection to your smartphone, allowing for stable wireless streaming.
One of the biggest upgrades from the original JLab JBuds Air is the use of dual-connection technology. Rather than designating one earbud as the primary receiver and the other as the secondary, each Air Icon earbud forms an independent connection to your smartphone, yielding a more stable streaming experience. While this connection model proves an improvement, JLab still only supports one high-quality Bluetooth codec: AAC. This is great for iPhone users but doesn’t benefit us Android fans as AAC’s performance is unreliable.
The earbuds last 5 hours, 7 minutes on a single charge and require 1.5 hours to complete a full charge cycle. If you’re short on time, you can rely on rapid charging to provide one hour of playtime, so long as you leave the ‘buds in the case for 15 minutes. The case supplies an additional three charges and takes two hours to fully charge. Although the five-hour battery life isn’t impressive compared to the likes of Master & Dynamic or Beats, the fact remains that most of us keep the earbuds charging when inactive. Realistically, you shouldn’t run into to many unexpected depletions.
How does the JLab JBuds Air Icon sound?
To no one’s surprise, the Lab JBuds Air Icon favor bass frequencies over all else. This is par for the course when it comes to general consumer earbuds and is often preferred by people when exercising. Bass exaggeration won’t ruin auditory detail, but be aware that kick drums and the like will sound 50% louder than vocals and nearly two-times louder than string harmonics. As with all JLab audio products, you can alternate between three EQ modes: JLab signature, balanced, and bass boost. For the sake of our review, sound quality will be addressed with the first EQ mode.
Related: What is frequency response?
Isolation has improved over the original JLab JBuds Air, a benefit of the shrunken housings. In order to experience optimal isolation, be sure to find the proper ear tips for you. If you don’t plan to exercise with the earbuds, the memory foam pair will serve you well as they’re comfortable while effectively blocking out noise.
Lows, mids, and highs
Taylor Swift’s song New Year’s Day opens with a basic chord progression of C-Am-F to set a bittersweet tone. Right off the bat, it’s clear just how unclear the bass reproduction is in favor of loudness. The opening C chord sounds veiled, a product of auditory masking whereby the C chord’s harmonic resonances are masked by the comparative loudness of the lower fundamental frequency. What’s more, the subsequent acoustic guitar plucking (1:02), is hard to hear above the louder, lower piano chords. To the earbuds’ redemption, Swift’s voice remains easy to identify throughout the ballad’s entirety.
Microphone quality isn’t great
Microphone quality isn’t great as low-end frequencies are heavily attenuated, leaving lower voices to suffer from a slight echo or “distant” sound. However, I’m impressed by how well the microphones focus on relaying just the immediate sound of one’s voice; during the demo recording below, a heater was running right next to me and is nearly imperceptible.
JLab JBuds Air Icon microphone demo:
To avoid echoes during your phone calls, make sure the proprietary Cush Fins aren’t covering the microphone hole resting below the LED indicator. The Cush Fins have a slight divot in them to avoid this, but it’s still possible to accidentally cover the mics. Granted, microphone quality still isn’t anything to champion but it’s better than the first-gen JLab JBuds Air. What’s more, call audio is now relayed through both earbuds as opposed to just one.
How do JLab JBuds Air Icon compare to other true wireless earbuds?
The JLab JBuds Air Icon makes small but important improvements over the original JBuds Air. Downsized housings are more comfortable, but the touch controls aren’t as reliable as the physical buttons found on the first-generation earbuds. The earbuds aren’t any more durable than before as both are IP55 rated. However, the new connection system and dual audio phone calls may make the upgrade worth it.
While there’s no denying that the JLab JBuds Air Icon earbuds are an excellent deal, there exist equally appealing alternatives such as the Creative Outlier Air, which is competitively priced at $69. The Outlier Air ‘buds lack dust-resistance but are IPX5-rated, you also benefit from longer standalone battery life and better sound clarity: aptX and AAC are supported.
Lest we forget that JLab has a slew of affordable true wireless earbuds for nearly any occasion. If you want an AirPods lookalike for half the price, JLab JBuds Air Executive may be more up your alley. These earbuds support touch controls and include a handsome synthetic leather carrying case. JLab’s JBuds Air Sport earbuds are great and designed specifically for athletes as they’re outfitted with slim ear hooks for a stable fit.
Android users willing to stretch their wallets a bit more should get the Samsung Galaxy Buds. These originally retailed for $129 and have since been reduced to less than $100. They’re IPX2 sweat-resistant and are even more compact than the Air Icon earbuds. The drivers are tuned by AKG, so you benefit from even clearer audio than from Creative or JLab. They work extremely well with Android devices, especially Samsung smartphones thanks to the proprietary Samsung scalable codec.
Should you buy the JLab JBuds Air Icon?
If you’re shopping around for the best bargain true wireless earbuds, yes, the JLab JBuds Air Icon are some of the best, most durable options available. Audio reproduction may not be the clearest but connection strength is much improved over the company’s debut earbuds and the smaller housings make them more comfortable than before. If you want a great pair of do-it-all earbuds for less than $60, you’ll find it next to impossible to find something better than the JBuds Air Icon.