JBL Tour Pro 2: two-minute review
JBL is famed for its rock-solid audio products, the kind of shiny but affordable gems which reveal themselves as diamonds in the rough more often than not and almost always, always sound excellent for the money. So what happens when the company veers off its successfully navigated low-cost path to go all-in on a flagship set of all-guns-blazing, active noise-cancelling, uniquely screen-toting earbuds? Is our best noise-cancelling earbuds guide about to welcome a new arrival? Well, it’s a game of two halves.
The JBL Tour Pro 2 sit above (way above) the brand’s other earbuds – including the splendid JBL Live Pro 2 – which feature possibly the best active noise cancellation at the level I’ve ever experienced. But the huge upgrades are easy to see from the off; there’s a whacking great color touch-screen on the front of the case for starters. And this, dear reader, is a thing of beauty. It is delightful. It’s fun, it lets you accept calls with ease (how many times have we tried our best to touch the correct earpiece in the right way, succeeding only in hanging up on our friendly caller?) and it provides simple, scrollable access to ANC profiles, alarms, spatial audio and other perks. During daily use, we find ourselves playing with EQ profiles and useful extras which might have seemed unworthy of the hassle had they been squirrelled away in an app, requiring our phone.
Because of said screen, we worried that the battery-life might be a little on the anaemic side. Not so – the total claim of up to 50 hours of playtime (or 30 hours with ANC activated) and a very good 10 in just the buds themselves before they need charging stood up to scrutiny. Fast charge means 10 minutes plugged in will get you five hours of playtime too, which is a smart trick.
So off they go to our best true wireless earbuds guide then? It’s not so simple. We wish it were. We love the design; we love all of the sound tests and special customizations – including Personi-fi, which is one of the most thorough audio tests within a set of earbuds we’ve taken to date.
But whatever we do to the JBL Tour Pro 2 and however hard we try, there’s a tinniness, sweetness and brashness to the sonic profile which we cannot alter. Augment the bass and we find it encroaches and muddies the midrange. The treble often comes off harsh; dynamically we struggle to make them sound anything other than lean. Select a different EQ profile, take a new test or play with the ANC options (there are several) and it alters the recipe – but rarely in a good way. We find ourselves always wanting less of something and more of another.
Initially, the ANC bothers us too, owing to an audible hiss, but deploy both ‘Leakage compensation’ and ‘Ear canal compensation’ and it disappears to relative neutrality. And the active noise-cancellation does work reasonably well, although it’s a shame that the slider provided for Ambient Aware (allowing you to choose between seven increments of noise filtration) disappears when you select ANC, which instead gets an ‘Adaptive ANC’ toggle in lieu of any slider.
In 2023, the success of a set of premium earbuds must lie in its sonic capabilities. Let’s face it, the market is awash with cheaper options that’ll do a basic job for not much money. Sadly it is here, in their most fundamental job, that the JBL Tour Pro 2 falter as a viable proposition. This is the only thing that sullies them – the screen is a stroke of genius, the app is great, the design is exciting – but we refer back to the sentence at the start of this paragraph: a shortfall in terms of sound quality is no small issue.
JBL Tour Pro 2: price and release date
- Available from January 2023
- Cost £220 / AU$350 (around $267, but unavailable in the USA)
The JBL Tour Pro 2 launch in January 2023 and cost £220 / AU$350 in either champagne or black finishes. At the time of writing, JBL says it has no plans to launch them in the USA.
This price puts them slap bang into competition with the likes of Apple’s AirPods Pro 2 ($249 / £249 / AU$399) and the Bose QuietComfort 2 ($299 / £279 / AU$429), some of the best true wireless earbuds you can buy today, a category in which the Sony WF-1000XM4 Wireless Earbuds also feature among the best, at $279.99 / £250 / AU$449.95 – although this particular set of earbuds is now available for quite a bit less than the original MSRP.
In case it needs to be mentioned, this pricing puts the JBL Tour Pro 2 out of contention for our best budget earbuds buying guide, where the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus, Beats Studio Buds and Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0 rule the roost (although they aren’t as fully featured of course).
For this money – and toting the smart screen no other audio outfit has offered to date – the JBL Tour Pro 2 are on to a winner, provided the sound is up to snuff.
JBL Tour Pro 2: design
- Smart case is game changing
- Battery life is surprizingly good
- Some will struggle to achieve a seal
As with Apple’s AirPods range, the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro, Huawei Freebuds Pro 2 and Nothing Ear (1) to name just a few, the JBL Tour Pro 2 sport little stems. Despite thinking that the driver housings look a little on the bulky side at first glance, some of the team with smaller ears downsize once and find the earpieces fit well very little fiddling. That said, those with larger ears may struggle – only three ear tips are provided, and one of the team couldn’t achieve a seal good enough to pass any of the fit tests (more on these in a moment) even with the largest set, despite several minutes of adjusting them. At this level, a few more ear tip size options – and in different materials – is desirable.
JBL has added its own more angular, look-at-me take on the AirPods’ ice-white, no-sharp-edges design though. Here, there are lips and notches in various materials and finishes, including the rubberised driver housings, matte top plate and mirror-finish accents on the stems. There’s even a little ‘TOUR’ embellishment written on the circumference of each bud, as well as JBL’s branding on the tails. These are every inch JBL’s top-tier offering and the design choices reflect that.
Let’s bypass the touchscreen for a second. The underside of the case hasn’t been forgotten. This has a rubberized portion which adds traction and means you won’t inadvertently swipe it off your desk – a small detail, but the gestural among us will love it.
The 10mm dynamic drivers represent a significant leap up from the 6.8mm drivers found in the JBL Tour Pro+, and they’re listed as Bluetooth 5.3 LE audio-compatible, too. So, it seems a shame that no higher-resolutions codecs are supported – no LDAC, no aptX (standard, HD, Low Latency or otherwise).
With up to 50 hours of playtime (or 30 hours with ANC activated) and a very good 10 in just the buds themselves before they need charging, they also trounce most of the competition at the level for stamina. For comparison, the Sony XM4s have 8 hours in each bud, but only 16 in the case, and the latest Apple AirPods Pro 2 offer 6 hours in the buds and a further 30 hours in the case. Fast charge means 10 minutes plugged in will get you five hours of playtime too, but the case can also charge wirelessly.
What we can’t seem to find is an IP rating for water and dust ingress. Many earbuds at the level offer at least an IPX4 certification (which means they’ll survive a sweaty gym session) but certain options go much further. The Jabra Elite 7 Active carry an IP57 rating, which means they’re dustproof and can be submerged in water at up to one meter in depth, for up to 30 minutes, and survive.
There’s a feature in the JBL Headphones app called ‘Check My Best Fit’, which plays a short clip of music to ensure you’ve got a good seal in each ear. It’s no slouch either, telling us to alter the bud in our troublesomely-shaped right ear until we’re good to go. We pass this test, but some of the team fail time and time again. To speak plainly, this is why we removed a star from the design score – if they don’t fit, it’s impossible to get the best sound from them. And that’s not the end of the story when it comes to aural tests! We’ll get to grips with further features below.
- Design score: 4/5
JBL Tour Pro 2: features
- Excellent app adds scope to tailor the case
- Sound and fit tests add value
- ANC efficacy is easily beaten by AirPods Pro
You can customize the sound by telling the buds which sonic profile sounds best to you, in the Personi-fi 2.0 software. It starts out with an environment noise check (you need to be in a relatively quiet spot), then a wearing status check (you need to have a good seal betwixt ear canal and earbud). It then plays you nine chirpy sounds per ear, and you remove your finger when the sound is imperceptible. We take this test twice, and receive a different pictorial result each time. That said, the second time, the sound augmentation did feel more to our our liking.
And still, we are not done. The Ear Canal Test (which must be done in a noisy environment) plays another music clip. After it, you can relax as the hybrid True Adaptive ANC does the rest. We note a slight hiss after completion, but toggling ‘Leakage Compensation’ and ‘Ear Canal Compensation’ within the ‘Customize ANC’ tab largely nixes it. We sit under an office heater at work and find it is quashed by the Tour Pro 2 ANC, but certain low-level sounds (cars passing outside, heeled footsteps on concrete) do creep in. Switch to the Apple AirPods Pro 2 and it’s a different story – the bottom drops out of the room. With the Tour Pro 2, low-level sounds are diminished, but still, we can hear some extraneous background noise.
The six-mic setup does promote crystal-clear audio during our tests – and the advanced built-in voice recognition can react to your voice, pause music and enable Ambient Aware, then resume the tunes once your conversation is over. This is really good, (it can be set to low, mid or high, depending on how loudly you and your colleagues speak) and we also find call-handling a breeze. But those are just two of a slew of perks, including an EQ tab with five different presets (or create your own), Spatial Sound profiles for music, movies or games, ‘smart’ audio and video modes, SilentNow (which aims to create a no-music silent bubble by turning on ANC but disconnecting Bluetooth – ideal for naps, because it can be set on a timer with an alarm at the end), Personal Sound Amplification (which can amplify situational sound from your surroundings – and between each ear) adding a volume limit and a Find My Buds feature, if one goes missing. All of this, and we’ve yet to talk about the features afforded by the case… All in good time.
Before that, the buds: they feature a capacitive touch panel at the very top of the stem. You can switch noise cancelling on and off with a tap on the left stem, double tap for TalkThru and tap and hold to trigger Siri. All of these are customizable – at least to a point. You can’t decide which gestures do what, but you can select which gets priority on each bud. If you want on-ear volume control (which most of us do) you have to sacrifice either ambient sound control or playback options, which is a shame – but a relatively small gripe.
We need to stress that the case helps in a big way. The screen built into it never fails to acquiesce to our taps first time, quickly becoming a joy and a pleasure we wonder how we ever lived without. For example, we find ourselves scrolling straight to the volume tile (you swipe across) to alter volume rather than even attempt to use the buds. It’s a brilliant addition – and within the JBL Headphones app, you can alter the screen brightness, choose one of five screensavers, toggle on message notifications and select which of seven further feature shortcuts you’d like to have access to on-screen. We toggle off SilentNow, since it’s a feature we’ll rarely use (we don’t get to sleep on the job!) but for some that may be a priority.
Despite our love of this screen, we were promised even more from it: call history, social media notifications and messages, to be precise. Despite a small envelope appearing in the top corner of the UI (you’ve got mail!) we never actually manage to read a message or gain access to social media via the case, and JBL confirms that the only notifications you can receive via the screen for now are call notifications. Honestly, if it’s coming in the future it’ll be a joy. For now, just seeing a call coming up on said screen and being able to accept it with a tap, alongside the scrollable sound profiles, makes all the work JBL has put into this case worthwhile.
- Features score: 4.5/5
JBL Tour Pro 2: sound quality
- Somewhat congested, bass-heavy sound
- Harshness through the treble
- Not for those who prioritize detail and dynamic breadth
Sadly, this is where our review takes a downturn. We test the JBL Tour Pro 2 for several days listening to music files across Qobuz, Apple Music and Tidal, both downloaded and streamed. As mentioned, we experiment with EQ profiles and settle on leaving these off in favor of Harman’s revered curve (the company’s own heavily researched target sound signature, said to produce the best sound quality that most listeners prefer). We also listened with our Personi-fi 2.0 profile – which will differ according to each user’s responses – both on and off, searching for the best audio.
Neil Young’s Out on the Weekend (a Qobuz file) sees Young overly close to mic on occasion, a conscious choice to amplify his sentiment, and it’s a detail better picked out and relayed via the AirPods Pro 2. In fact, spatially and just in general, the performance is more accurate, three-dimensional and emotive through the Apple product.
Eva Cassidy’s Songbird lacks nuance owing to a continued harshness through the treble. The overall performance is impeded to the point that sonic articles stick out and cloud or impinge on others; the shaker is overly forward to the point of being irritating, strummed guitars are all but lost, the Cassidy’s stunning vocal is forced to take an unhappy back seat.
It’s not all bad. When listening to Hootie & the Blowfish’s Look Away (on Apple Music) the rhythm guitar swoops in from our right ear to a more central placement during the intro, as if Jim Sonefeld is arriving to join the after-party just a little late, as he does only through more gifted headphones. But the treble throughout the song is hard and lean, and the overall presentation feels congested and lacking in the dynamic agility – the leading edges of Darius Rucker’s rich and heartfelt vocal – which we know this particular recording celebrates.
Rod Stewart’s Broken Arrow sees the bass drop nicely and although it’s a tad warm, we like the central placement of his vocal. But these are flashes of potential talent rather than the whole picture; over the course of our extensive listening, the sound does bloat, sweeten, harden and compress all too easily for this premium level.
- Sound quality score: 2.5/5
JBL Tour Pro 2: value
- The screen is currently unique – and thus, hard to quantify
- Myriad extra fit and hearing tests
- Audio and ANC can be beaten at the level
The simple answer here is: if you want that case, you can’t currently buy anything like it from anyone else. It’s almost akin to adding a smartwatch to the front of an earbuds case. And if you’re wondering whether it’s fun to use, it is. We really enjoy the unique feature.
Sonically and for active noise cancellation however, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, Sony WF-1000XM4 and AirPods Pro 2 outshine the JBL Tour Pro with relative ease – and although those first two options are priced close-to and a little more than the JBL proposition, the Sonys are now quite a bit cheaper…
- Value score: 3/5
JBL Tour Pro 2: should you buy them?
Buy them if…
Don’t buy them if…
If our JBL Tour Pro 2 review has you considering other, non screen-toting true wireless earbuds, then take a look at these three alternatives.
- First reviewed: December 2022
- How we test: explore TechRadar’s review guarantee