(Pocket-lint) - JBL is a company well-renowned for building great-sounding and affordable speakers and audio equipment. Granted, it doesn't fit into the 'budget' bracket, but its sensibly priced equipment is always worthy of attention.
One of the company's 2018 pairs offers features and specs offered by some more expensive in-ears, including active noise-cancelling, ambient awareness and alledged fantastic battery life. Does the Everest Elite 150NC deliver on those promises, or is it a vanilla experience?
- Neckband design
- Collar features 6 buttons
- Flexible build
Like most of the best in-ears these days, the JBL Everest Elite 150NC has a neckband design, meaning all the electronics and battery that powers the earphones is built into the housing sitting around your collar, rather than being built into the earbuds themselves. This has a few advantages over completely wire-free models.
Firstly, it means you can continue wearing the earphones around your neck even when you're not listening to them, and they won't fall off. Secondly, it means the Bluetooth receiver is closer to your phone, meaning a more reliable connection. Thirdly you usually get more play time from the battery thanks to its larger size.
In JBL's case, the design has been crafted to be more practical than attractive. For instance, the two plastic ends of the neckband are quite chunky, probably more so than most other neckbands we've tested. This does, however, mean that JBL has managed to cluster together three decent-size control buttons on each end.
On the left is the volume up/down and play/pause buttons. On the right there's the power button, Bluetooth pairing button, and an 'S' special function button you can program to either switch on/off the noise-cancelling or the ambient noise pass-through features. Once we remembered which side the controls were on, it was pretty easy to find them to quickly pause/play or adjust the volume on tracks.
Because these controls are built into the neckband, it means there's no inline remote dangling from an ear, ensuring that the fit is comfortable and well balanced. We never felt our ears were being tugged on, ensuring a really comfortable wearing experience, further aided by the design of the earbuds themselves.
JBL has equipped the Everest Elite with in-ear fins that are flexible and easily mould to the inside of the ear. They have just the right amount of flexibility to fit, but with just the right grip to ensure that the earphones never feel like they might slip out. It's a really secure fit, without ever feeling too snug. Similarly, the tips are comfortable to wear for relatively long periods – wearing them for three hours we didn't get uncomfortable at all.
While the housings on each end of the neckband are made from a sturdy plastic, the neckband itself is built from a thick yet durable and flexible silicone material. From a comfort point of view, this is the best material to use and means the earphones will more easily fit to individual necks, as the slightly grippy texture means the earphones don't tend to slide around.
One last handy feature to note: the earbuds have magnets equipped, so you can snap them together and hang them from your neck when you're not listening to them. Sadly, the music doesn't automatically pause when you do so – unlike the much cheaper OnePlus Bullets Wireless – so you still need to ensure you manually stop the playback to ensure the Everest Elite doesn't drain its battery.
Sound and noise cancelling
- Adjustable preset sound profiles
- 10-band EQ in-app
- ANC + adjustable ambient awareness
- 12mm drivers
One of the great things about these JBL earphones is the ability to fine-tune a good number of its audio properties. Using the downloadable app on Android or iPhone, you can adjust the equalised (EQ) to get the sound you want. You have the choice of either using one of three preset profiles (jazz, vocal and bass), editing any of those with individual band adjustment, or creating your own.
When choosing to customise your own, you get a pretty expansive 10-band EQ, giving you a fine-tuned experience. Groups of frequencies are split into treble, mid and bass sections to help out those who may be less familiar or easily confused by frequency properties – but play around with them and you'll soon learn how to acquire more 'snap' to snares, 'fizz' on hi-hats and grunt from bass.
In both jazz and bass presets the sound profile is warm and immersive, while the vocal setting is quite flat by comparison, seemingly stripping away a lot of the mids/bass and leaving you with a fairly character-less profile. But, if that's your thing and you only want to really hear lyrics, you might love that.
Once tuned to your liking, you should have a sound that's both full and pleasing. They may not quite sound as detailed and crisp as some more expensive in-ears, but there's still a lot here to sink into. It's probably no surprise, considering the size of those hefty 12mm drivers inside. Details are generally very good for the price, and there's plenty of bass support at the low-end, ensuring that lower frequencies come through quite clearly.
As for the noise-cancelling, JBL's system is surprisingly effective. It does a great job of cutting out low droning and hissing sounds from trains and planes, while the music playing at a good level does the rest of the work, cutting out background chattering. On a really busy, noisy, tube train in a busy city it does struggle to completely cut out the surrounding noise, but there's a massive difference between wearing them and not.
What's more, if you need to be more aware of your surroundings, there's the option to adjust how much ambient noise the built-in microphones let through to your ears. You can make ambient noise so clear that you can clearly hear coversations if you want to. Similarly, and probably more importantly, it allows you to hear traffic, or approaching vehicles if you're walking on or next to a road.
Battery performance and connectivity
- 14 hour battery life (claimed)
- Actual battery life closer to half that
- Rock solid Bluetooth performance
Onto battery performance: it's safe to say these aren't the longest-lasting neckband earphones we've ever tried. They're not terrible, they just don't reach the standards of something like the RHA MA750. But given that these have built-in active noise-cancelling, that's hardly a surprise.
Playing music from Spotify from an iPhone on a three hour train journey was enough to take the battery from full to 50 per cent. With a couple of hours on the way back, we finished the day on around 20 per cent left over. In reality, that means you can reasonably expect around six or seven hours from the JBL Everest Elite.
That may sound perfectly fine. After all, it'll get you through your daily commutes for almost an entire week if you travel 40 minutes each way. However, JBL claims it can last up to 14 hours on a single charge, with ANC switched on. Our experience was clearly nowhere near that, which makes the claim seem more bothersome.
As for Bluetooth connectivity, as you'd expect from neckband in-ear, it's really solid. We didn't experience any drop-outs or glitches, even when listening in busy areas, or when were a couple of rooms away from the music source. That means you don't need to worry about losing connection, providing you're within range.
If what you're looking for in a pair of earphones is a no-nonsense, versatile and comfortable pair of in-ears, the JBL Everest Elite 150NC fit the bill. They not only deliver loud, lively sound, but also have a comfortable all-day fit and some advanced active noise-cancelling features to boot.
The one thing that's disappointing is the battery life. We don't expect to half-drain a battery in just three hours, especially not on a pair of neckband earphones. Given that even wire-frees can almost match that performance now, there's no real excuse for it – especially when the official claim is for 14 hours.
If you can live with the shorter battery life, however, then this JBL experience is is otherwise very good.
Alternatives to consider
They're more expensive than the JBL pair, but the QC35 is among the top performing noise-cancelling in-ears out there. The collar design isn't quite as practical, but you'll forgive that for the sound and the fit of the tips.
Recently dropped to a similar price point as the JBL, Sony's noise-cancelling earphones are probably the nearest competition. They also offer customisable audio, ambient awareness and great sound. Battery life (in real life) is slightly better too, with us averaging close to nine hours of playtime.