I tend to go to bat for JBL when it comes to consumer wireless headphones more than most. JBL has delivered a solid product on more than one occasion. They know exactly what listeners expect from them, and for that, I’ve come to not be too critical about them unless there’s something really detrimental about them. Most I’ve heard have been from average to surprisingly good. At their best, JBL headphones can have a fun sound with sufficient noise-canceling and functionality. The 660NC is one of their most recent headphones that I’ve been able to get my hands on. It’s another wireless noise-canceling headphone for $169.95. Considering its price range, does this headphone offer enough?
What You Get
- Live 660NC
- Audio cable
- Type-C Charging Cable
- Carrying Pouch
- 1 x Warranty/Warning
- 1 x QSG/Safety Sheet
Look and Feel
Being familiar with most JBL headphones, the 660NC didn’t surprise me with its look. If you’ve seen one JBL headphone, you’ll have a good idea of what it is like. The 660NC stays consistent with JBL’s consumer over-ear headphone design. The headband and earcups all maintain parts you’ve seen on other JBL headphones, with similar fabric and cushion material. One of the biggest differences I noticed immediately though is how stiff the build is. The band isn’t very flexible, causing some considerable clamp when wearing the 660NC. Although I felt the headphones provided enough comfort at first, over time I could feel the cups tighten. This wasn’t as detrimental to the fit overall, but it should be noted for those who plan on wearing headphones for a specific amount of hours.
Design and Functionality
With a 40mm dynamic driver, you should expect that punchy timbre JBL is known for. However, there isn’t a great amount of amplitude offered, as I had to increase the volume on my iPhone pretty high in order to get to an ideal level where the sound is clear. Although not much headroom is offered, once that level was set I didn’t have to touch it for the remainder of my testing. Even in noise-canceling mode, that level of loudness remains consistent. Getting to some of those features, noise-canceling and ambient modes are perfectly functional and can be accessed using the controls on the right earcup, or through the JBL Headphones companion app. Using the app was my preferred method. There are also EQ options with this app that have three presets for bass, vocals, and Jazz. You can customize this with a parametric scheme. As for the quality of the noise cancelation itself, I found it to be very effective in most scenarios. It’s not as effective with lower-end hums, but most other ranges are significantly reduced.
Thanks to Bluetooth 5.0 the 660NC has a good range and connectivity. Pairing for me was instant and I never experienced any dropouts or interference throughout my testing. In addition, the 660NC features a multipoint connection so you can use the headphones with multiple devices.
Not using the ANC will grant you a whopping 50 hours of listening time, and 40 hours with ANC on. With a two-hour charging time, the 660NC offers a respectable amount of playtime. The headphones also come with a 3.5mm detachable cable so you’ll never have to be without your music.
When it comes to soundstage JBL is rarely a brand to rave about, however, there are some qualities the 660NC showcases quite well. To get the negatives out of the way, my most common complaint about their presentation of imaging just doesn’t appear natural. Everything about the positioning is heavily internal, with no sounds ever really breaking through. This makes the soundstage feel way too contained, and the sound appears less significant or grand. However, what the 660NC does succeed in is the size of the sound elements themselves. While there’s not a ton of width here, the 660NC makes sure all the sounds come through with a certain amount of weight. Sound elements appear close together, but still offer a ton of fullness and maintains some semblance of spatial accuracy.
From my experience with JBL, it’s my belief that you can always expect an ample bass response from their headphones. The sense of smoothness to its thump is always a characteristic of their headphones I enjoy, and it’s very present here. You can definitely feel the accentuation in some bass frequencies that add great rumble and texture to the lows. There’s also some tightness to it, reserving more resonant frequencies to avoid boominess or bloat. Compared to other JBL headphones nothing seems out of the ordinary, but you still get most of its best characteristics here.
I was expecting the 660NC to fall off in the midrange, opting for a v-shaped timbre, but that surprisingly doesn’t happen here. These mids happen to be fairly accurate, giving you a nice even response for a sense of clarity. While the soundstage does them no favor, the tone is still able to cut through the cluttered space with a clean response from vocals and instrumentals. For noise-canceling headphones in this price range, there’s an impressive amount of resolution here.
The highs start to smooth out a bit earlier than I would have hoped. There’s some slight detail here and there, but the timbre here ends up falling flat with an overall dull tonality. This leaves some sound elements without a proper tail or finishes to their tone retracting fullness.
If you’re in the market for a pair of noise-canceling headphones, but don’t want to spend more than $200, you can rely on the 660NC as a suitable option. Spending a bit more will open up a ton of other options that might be superior to this model, but JBL still delivers a functional headphone with some great clarity in certain areas. For a bit less I still prefer a headphone like the Strauss and Wagner BT501 for pure sound quality, but when it comes to noise-canceling I think the tech here is a bit better. JBL succeeds in providing a fun and engaging sound signature with a great number of features that also make it a great utility.
Pros and Cons
- Punchy bass
- Clear mids
- Good Noise-Canceling
- App support
- Stable connection
- Strong battery life
- Stiff fit
- Dull highs
- Confined soundstage
The JBL Live 660NC is available at Audio 46.
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