Active noise cancellation on affordable TWS earphones isn't new, and brands such as Realme, Oppo, and OnePlus have recently launched some very good options with this feature. Some of more established audio brands have been a bit slow to deliver similar products in this segment, but one in particular wants to change that. JBL recently launched two new affordable true wireless headsets, the Tune 130NC and the Tune 230NC.
Priced at Rs. 5,999 in India, the JBL Tune 230NC features active noise cancellation, app support, and the promise of good battery life, all at a fairly competitive price. Does this headset have enough to take on strong competition in this segment from the likes of the OnePlus Buds Z2 and Oppo Enco Air 2 Pro? Find out in this review.
The JBL Tune 230NC supports the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs
JBL Tune 230NC design and features
One of the key differences between the JBL 130NC and the 230NC is that the latter's earpieces have stems which house their microphones. There are also status indicator lights on the earpieces.
The JBL Tune 230NC has many of the typical design characteristics that we've come to expect from the brand such as large and unmissable logos on the charging case and earpieces, hints of colour on the ear tips, and a solid industrial look and feel. The earpieces don't look particularly premium but they don't look too shabby either, and I found them comfortable to wear for long listening sessions.
The charging case of the JBL Tune 230NC is neither too large nor very small, and is convenient enough to store in a pocket alongside a wallet or a smartphone. There are three indicator lights that show the approximate battery level of the case, and the USB Type-C port for charging is at the back. The sales package includes a USB Type-A to Type-C charging cable and three pairs of silicone ear tips for a customisable fit.
The earpieces have their own indicator lights to show their connectivity status, along with a touch-sensitive zone at the top of each one's stem. The JBL Tune 230NC is IPX4 rated for water resistance, and has two microphones on each earpiece for ANC and voice call functionality. Disappointingly, there is no wear detection feature on the headset to automatically play or pause your music.
JBL Tune 230NC app and specifications
The JBL Tune 230NC true wireless headset uses the JBL Headphones app (available on Android and iOS) for customisation and control of the earphones. You can change the touch controls, choose between various equaliser presets or set a custom one, switch between ANC and ambient sound modes, view the battery levels of the earpieces and charging case, and even power off the earpieces, all from the app.
Control customisation isn't as flexible as I'd have liked. The app lets you choose between various control sets for playback, ANC and transparency mode, volume, and voice assistant control. You can pick one set for each earpiece, but controls are fixed and not customisable within the set. Remembering the tap gestures for each set was a bit tricky for me, and the single-tap gesture was often accidentally triggered even when trying to wear or take one of the earpieces off.
The JBL Tune 230NC has active noise cancellation, and works with the JBL Headphones app on iOS and Android
You can trigger the native voice assistant on your smartphone, or Alexa, which needs additional setup. The Find My Buds feature worked well, producing a loud sound that was useful when trying to find earpieces misplaced around the house.
The JBL Tune 230NC headset has 6mm dynamic drivers with a frequency response range of 20-20,000Hz. It uses Bluetooth 5.2 for connectivity, with support for the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. There is active noise cancellation and Google Fast Pair support on the headset.
JBL Tune 230NC performance and battery life
True wireless earphones, particularly affordable and mid-range options, have seen big improvements in recent months when it comes to sound quality and ANC performance. The JBL Tune 230NC does manage to compete against options from brands such as OnePlus and Oppo, with decent sound and functional active noise cancellation.
Starting with Over Here by Mk.gee, the JBL Tune 230NC's sonic signature was comfortable and fairly balanced, with the lows hitting gently and the mids and highs sounding clean and straightforward. The guitar-like synthesiser elements that form the beat of this track sounded present and strong, but never too aggressive or sharp, and so tracks like this were easy to listen to for hours at a time.
This easy and gentle sound also meant that I could safely turn the volume up even in quiet spaces such as my home or the office, and this let me experience the very good soundstage that the JBL Tune 230NC has to offer. It was easy to sense the directionality and various elements such as the folk instruments at the beginning of the lounge track With Arambol 2 by Astropilot.
Battery life on the JBL Tune230NC is very good, with the earpieces and charging case running for 26 hours in total per charge cycle
The deep, bass-infused beat of this track was refined and mellow, but never felt weak or inadequate. The sound from the Tune 230NC isn't as aggressive as on options such as the OnePlus Buds Z2, and bass lovers may not find it as appealing for its relative lack of punch. However, the sound remains clean, calculated, and well tuned for comfortable listening across genres and track pace.
Active noise cancellation on the JBL Tune 230NC is basic, as is usually the case on affordable true wireless headsets. While there was a noticeable reduction in background noise when using it indoors, it was considerably less effective outdoors, or even with windows open at home.
The light hum of air conditioners, ceiling fans, and urban outdoor sounds such as construction equipment and machinery were still audible. However, ANC did help to make music a bit easier to listen to, even at low or moderate volumes. The hear-through mode sounded strangely artificial and it amplified wind sounds unreasonably. I preferred to just take the earphones off for short conversations with someone.
Connectivity and call quality were acceptable on the JBL Tune 230NC, with the earphones holding a stable connection at distances of up to 4m from the source device. I didn't have any trouble with calls when indoors, and bumping up the volume ensured decent call quality outdoors too.
Battery life on the JBL Tune 230NC is very good, with the earpieces running for around 6 hours and 30 minutes with ANC on and at moderate volume levels. The charging case adds three additional charges for a total runtime of around 26 hours per charge cycle. The earphones are said to take around two hours to charge fully, and you should be able to get two hours of listening time with a 10 minute charge, starting from zero.
JBL isn't typically known for its budget TWS products, but the Tune 230NC with active noise cancellation puts it in direct competition with brands such as OnePlus, Oppo, and Realme, which have significant presences in this popular price segment. Although ANC performance is ordinary, the JBL Tune 230NC makes up for this with its balanced sound, a good app and connectivity, very good battery life, and comfortable fit. Although a bit expensive for what's on offer, this is a worthwhile pair of true wireless earphones to consider if you have a budget of around Rs. 6,000.
Of course, the competition in this segment is significant and there are plenty of other options worth considering, such as the OnePlus Buds Z2, or even the slightly more affordable JBL Tune 130NC. Still, if you do opt for the Tune 230NC, you'll likely be happy with the overall experience.
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