Spring has finally sprung in New York, and today I’m checking out the new JBL Live 400BT – an on-ear headphone retailing for $99. Voice-assist ready for Alexa and Google Assistant, and offering Ambient Aware and Talkthru modes, the Live 400BT talks a big talk. But does it walk the walk? And is it worth the money?
JBL Live 400BT Review
The JBL Live 400BT comes with a micro-USB charging cable and a 4 ft (1.3 m) 3.5 mm aux cable for wired listening. A mic and remote feature on the cable. So, even if the headphone runs out of battery, you can still talk and adjust playback on the go.
Battery life comes in at 24 hours, but a fast 15-minute charge delivers 2 hours of continuous playback. Running on Bluetooth 4.2, the Live 400BT pairs quickly. I didn’t have any issue with drop outs or interference during my listening sessions (though I wasn’t running around Midtown, either).
Holding the 400BT in my hands, it feels pretty solid, with aluminum extenders and a fabric-covered headband. The buttons on the right earcup also feel pretty decent, and not as cheap as some other models in this price range (like the Audio Technica ATH-SR30).
With its on-ear design, the Live 400BT feels a little tight on my giant moon-crater ears. While just a little pinchy, the fit isn’t fatiguing. Unless you’ve got massive cartilaginous-flaps-for-ears like Yours Truly, you should be fine. The PU leather padding helps with this, and constitutes a nice touch from the folks who designed the headphones.
The Ambient Aware or TalkThru modes allow you to get a better awareness of your surroundings or chat to people without pausing your tunes.
Of particular note when using the JBL Live 400BT, you can use the My JBL Headphones app to set up the voice assistant or play with the noise-attenuation modes. But you can also use this app to modify the sound of the Live 400BT. Pre-loaded with presets for Jazz, Vocal, or Bass profiles, the app also gives you the option of manually changing the sound to fit your listening tastes.
Frequency Range: 20-20,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 32 ohms
Sensitivity: 106 dB
As we can see from the specs, the JBL Live 400BT offers a fairly standard frequency range. The low impedance of 32 ohms jives with a Bluetooth headphone – or any wired model intended for mobile use. And, with a sensitivity of 106 dB, you should be fine where volume is concerned.
In the low end, the Live 400BT offers a decent sound. With okay detail and a good bass impact, it’s detailed enough to not seem lacking. But the bass response helps keep the sound more fun and engaging, being just deep enough to add a bit of emphasis to any track. Obviously, you can boost the impression of bass in the low end by changing the EQ settings with the app. However, right out of the box, it’s already pretty solid (for a wireless headphone retailed for under $100).
I always get weird looks from people when I defend JBL. “But how can you recommend that,” they’ll ask. But like most of the JBL products I’ve tested over the years, the Live 400BT delivers a fairly robust midrange that sports a good sense of fidelity. Sure, these mids aren’t the same kind you’d find with a professional monitoring headphone. But when you stack them up against other wireless headphones at the same price, these mids sound pretty dang clean and clear. There’s enough nuance and meat to the sound to really bring out the vocals and instrumentation on most tracks. However, classical junkies and jazz heads may still find the sound a little lacking.
In the highs, the JBL Live 400BT sounds just a little bit bright and peaky. While instrumentation doesn’t seem to suffer too badly, vocals can feel somewhat harsh. Of course, tweaking the EQ on the JBL app can smooth out those low- and mid-highs just a bit, but right out of the box, the highs still seem kind of out-of-whack for female vocals. On the flip side, instrumentation sounds much better, sounding detailed and contrasting in comparison.
Soundstage on the JBL Live 400BT is only so-so, but that’s pretty much what I would expect from a wireless on-ear headphone. There’s some depth, putting distance between different instruments and your ear, but a lacking impression of space. This causes most instruments to sound convoluted, like they’re all occupying the same space in a given recording. For rock, pop, hip hop, and some electronica, this isn’t a total disaster, but it still manages to derail some classical or jazz numbers.
Despite the wonky highs and the lacking soundstage, the JBL Live 400BT can still sound great with almost any genre, thanks in no small part to the My JBL Headphones App. With its three presets for Jazz, Bass, and Vocals, the Live 400BT can overcome some of it’s failings with relative ease. But the fact that you can manually adjust the EQ setting to suit your personal listening tastes allows you to mold this sound to suit your own ears.
The longer I listen to the Live 400BT, the more I understand why I always defend this brand to casual listeners who have had a bad experience with the brand. Underneath the nice creature-comforts like voice-assist and Ambient Aware is a solid sound that just seems FUN. Once I got used to the on-ear fit, the slightly narrow soundstage, and the JBL app, I didn’t want to put this headphone down.
If you need the best wireless on-ear headphone, shell out $399 for the Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless.
Around the $100 price point, it’s a tight race. If you want the most battery life, the Audio Technica ATH-SR30 ($99) will give you a whopping 70 hours but no aux cable for wired listening.
Bass heads could opt for the Sony Extra Bass wireless, which retails for around $129.
Then again, if you want Noise Cancelling AND Bluetooth at the same $99 price tag as the JBL, you could consider the Audio Technica ANC500BT. However, this headphone does feel considerably lighter (or cheaper, depending on your vocabulary) than most other headphones at the same price.
The JBL Live 400BT does pretty much all of this on it’s own, minus the noise-cancellation. But it still isolates pretty well, until you need to hear your surroundings or chat with someone. Without a doubt, this is a solid bet when it comes to buying a headphone that does it all.
If you need a solid wireless on-ear headphone under $100, the JBL Live 400BT is the horse to bet on. It sounds pretty solid right out of the box, while the optional app offers further customization of the sound. But the final layer of icing on this headphone cake? The inclusion of casual functions like voice assistant, the ambient modes, and a cable with a mic and remote for wired listening if (or when!) the battery should run dry.
This last feature has been sorely lacking in ANY on-ear bluetooth headphone released in the past two years or so, and illustrates the lengths JBL has gone through to deliver a product that simply offers what others do not. While you can get an on-ear headphone that sounds good, or a bluetooth on-ear headphone with a long battery life, it’s hard to get everything in one package. Yet, that’s precisely what JBL has done with the Live 400BT.
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