JBL is perhaps best known in India for its wireless speakers and car audio systems, but the company's headphones and earphones are popular as well. With a large range of products starting from below Rs. 1,000 and going up to Rs. 25,000, covering various functions and form factors, JBL has something on offer for buyers with just about any budget and requirement. Today, I'm reviewing the flagship product in JBL's personal audio lineup, the Tour One over-ear wireless headphones with active noise cancellation.
Priced at Rs. 24,999, the JBL Tour One offers a lot, including good design, useful features such as active noise cancellation, touch controls, and app support. It promises good sound quality as well as battery life. Is the JBL Tour One an able challenger to the current champion in this space, the Sony WH-1000XM4? Find out in this review.
At its price, the JBL Tour One goes up against competition from brands such as Sony and Bose
Physical buttons and touch controls on the JBL Tour One
Premium over-ear headphones are typically quite large, in order to completely cover the wearer's ears and create a snug fit with proper noise isolation. However, it helps for headphones to not be unnecessarily bulky, so that wearing them is still comfortable and convenient over long stretches. The JBL Tour One does manage that balance, with a considerably sleeker form factor than the company's previous flagship Club One headphones.
Available only in black, the JBL Tour One looks and feels very sophisticated. The ear cups and headband are mostly matte black, with reflective black strips accenting the edges of the ear cups and the area just under the headband. JBL and ‘Tour One' logos can be seen in distinct places on the headphones, and the underside of the leatherette headband is padded for comfort. The headset is light and was very comfortable to wear over long listening sessions, but I did need to adjust my glasses to ensure the noise isolating seal was maintained.
The power and pairing functions are controlled with a sliding switch on the right earcup of the JBL Tour One; flicking this to the middle turns the headphones on, and holding it in place for a couple of seconds in the lowest position puts it in pairing mode. There are also dedicated buttons for volume adjustment on the right earcup, and a customisable button on the left. There is a 2.5mm socket to connect the included stereo cable for wired listening, and a USB Type-C port for charging.
The JBL Tour One uses a four-microphone system for voice pickup and active noise cancellation, with two facing forward, the third facing to one side, and the fourth inside one ear cup. The outside of the right earcup is touch-sensitive. You can tap it to control playback and answer or disconnect calls.
I found the touch controls to be a bit fiddly. They were easy to trigger accidentally, and occasionally did not register double or triple taps. There is also wear detection which automatically pauses or resumes your music when the Tour One headphones are taken off or put on, and this worked well for me.
The JBL Tour One works with the JBL Headphones app, available for iOS and Android. This app displays the estimated battery level of the headphones and lets you customise and adjust various functions and settings such as active noise cancellation, ambient sound mode, and talk-through mode. There's also a 'smart audio mode' for audio quality, stability and latency improvements, equaliser settings, touch controls, customisable button controls, and voice assistant settings, among other things.
The programmable button on the JBL Tour One can be used to control ANC and transparency modes, or invoke the voice assistant on your smartphone
The programmable button on the JBL Tour One can be set to either cycle between ANC and ambient sound modes, or invoke the voice assistant on your smartphone through a long press. In addition to Siri on iOS and Google Assistant on Android, Amazon Alexa is also supported. A long press on the touch-sensitive zone can also be set to control ANC and transparency modes, or activate the talk-through function which quickly lowers the audio volume and allows you to have conversations.
This is a very functional app, allowing you to set the JBL Tour One up exactly as you want, and also update its firmware as and when needed. One thing worth noting is the ability to set the active noise cancellation and transparency modes as quickly according to the environment, and I often found myself also tweaking the equaliser to find the right settings for the particular genre of music that I was listening to.
The JBL Tour One has 40mm dynamic drivers, and uses Bluetooth 5 for connectivity with support for the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. The lack of support for advanced Bluetooth codecs is a bit disappointing at this price. The frequency response range is 10-40,000Hz (when used in passive mode with the stereo cable) and 10-22,000Hz when used with Bluetooth. The sales package includes a hard carry case, a stereo cable for wired connectivity, an airplane adapter, and a charging cable.
Battery life on the JBL Tour One was excellent. It ran for around 30 hours on a single charge with active noise cancellation on and the volume at moderate levels, but this will vary a bit depending on your usage. Charging was also reasonably quick, with the headset getting to a full charge in around two hours when using the included cable and a 10W power adapter.
Clean, balanced sound on the JBL Tour One
High-end headphones come with the expectation of good sound quality, and the JBL Tour One largely delivers on this, with a refreshingly neutral and adaptable sound. That said, the lack of support for advanced Bluetooth codecs did hold these headphones back a bit when it came to detail and definition in the sound, depending on the source device.
I used the JBL Tour One for music, calls, and video content with an iPhone 13 as my primary source, but I also paired these headphones with an Android smartphone and a MacBook Air on occasion for reference. It's possible to optimise the sound for specific functions such as listening to music or watching videos, using the app, and this did seem to help make each use case a bit better.
My earliest impressions of the sound quality of the JBL Tour One were fairly neutral, but over time, and by listening to music across a wide range of genres, I grew to quite like its balanced sound. Listening to Wherever You Go by The Avalanches, I enjoyed the headphones' ability to adapt to its varying pace. The slow vocal-based buildup of this track sounded gentle and refined, and the headphones still adapted almost seamlessly to its faster, rhythmic sections.
The clean and balanced sound is refreshing and enjoyable, but the lack of advanced Bluetooth codecs holds the JBL Tour One back a bit
Lows sounded relaxed, yet had just enough attack and drive to not get lost in the much more capable mid-range and highs. This adaptable and flexible approach to sound was evident even in faster tracks such as Yeke Yeke by Stylo and Space Motion, giving the fast beat just enough strength to be heard alongside the catchy traditional African vocals of Guinean singer Mory Kante.
It definitely helped to keep active noise cancellation on, and the volume on the higher side – around the 80 percent mark – to get the best nuance and character out of these headphones.
The level of detail on offer, and a lack of all-out drive and attack hold the JBL Tour One back a bit, when compared to similarly priced competition such as the Sony WH-1000XM4. The Tour One tries hard to bring some fun to the table, and listeners looking for balance and a lack of ‘adulteration' in the sound will appreciate the JBL Tour One's sonic signature, but there's just a bit missing at the top.
Active noise cancellation on the JBL Tour One was good, as you should expect from a high-end headset. It's more geared to the typical noise of the outdoors, and didn't quite perform as impressively indoors. That said, there was still a noticeable reduction in typical household noises such as the hum of a ceiling fan, but the Tour One didn't silence these sounds as effectively as some competing products can. Voices and the sounds of activity were a hint softer.
Outdoors, particularly when walking on the street, the JBL Tour One did a good job of reducing noise, ensuring that I could listen to music and audiobooks clearly. I was also able to conduct proper conversations on phone calls. The ambient sound and talk-through modes allow you to hear your surroundings without having to take off the headphones, but the sound felt a bit artificial and unnecessarily amplified in noisy environments. Bluetooth connectivity on the headset was stable at distances of up to 4m for me.
The premium wireless headphones segment is largely dominated by a handful of brands such as Sony, Apple, and Bose. As an established name in the headphones industry, this price segment was sorely missing a capable option from JBL, until now. The JBL Tour One is, in my opinion, a capable pair of wireless active noise canceling headphones for Rs. 25,000. It offers a clean, balanced sonic signature, good active noise cancellation outdoors, excellent battery life, and very good features, including an excellent and detailed companion app that lets you tweak the headphones to your liking.
It's also a very good-looking and comfortable pair of headphones, but is held back in a few notable ways, including the lack of support for advanced Bluetooth codecs, slightly fiddly controls, and a certain lack of detail and attack in the sound. Active noise cancellation, while decent, isn't quite class-leading on these headphones. It officially costs around Rs. 5,000 less than the Sony WH-1000XM4, and with that difference in prices, it might still be worth considering the JBL Tour One.
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