It takes a lot to surprise an audio freak in 2022. However, I was really excited to find out about the JBL Tune Flex; an affordable, waterproof pair of ANC earbuds that also has two different wearing styles – open or closed.
After getting the kit to try out, I also highlight the translucent casing showcasing the battery, connections, and other great pieces. I had a black and gray pair to try but there’s a gorgeous retro purple color too.
As I said when the transforming JBL product was released, you’ve never seen earbuds like this, and I applaud the ingenuity. Plus, small details like these can be of great value.
Proposition explanation: Unlike the admirable Oladance fully open design which does not come close to the ear cavities or folds, the JBL solution includes attached tips so that the earplugs do not simply rest against a good looking part of the outer ear or auricle (in a way that as Apple EarPods or AirPods (2019) do), to the longer tips that go into the ear canal to form a seal – often necessary for the best wireless earbuds.
Back to JBL Tune Flex (short for “Flexibility” thanks to these two user options) and a new sound setting that can be toggled in the app depending on whether you wear “Open Ear Tips” or “Sealing Ear Tips” – yes, JBL he considered the implications and shaped the sound impressions accordingly. Delicious!
You get eight hours of donut play and 24 hours of play with ANC off, or six with donuts, 18 with casing if it’s on. The case has a sensible lip to prevent it from snapping shut, and you actually get a suitable plastic case for the various tips – more on these later.
Everything looks great so far …
And where the unreleased Nothing clear (stick) earbuds stay shrouded in, um, weird bags, the JBL Tune Flex is now available, with a fully comprehensive spec – surely drop by our best guide to noise-canceling earbuds, no? Okay…
Analysis: The open ear is insecure, the closed ear is a bit muffled
JBL Tune Flex open earpieces come pre-installed and should be removed before changing to closed, sealing the ear canal, even though the tiny open earpieces are almost perfectly aligned with the transducer housing (see above left) – and note that there is good and bad ways to orientate them.
Unfortunately I cannot get any protection with the ear tip open option. I should have noted that Apple’s original AirPods are pretty awful (so much so that I looked into the special ear tips to compensate and even out the sound) but found it a bit worse nonetheless. The buds just wanted to pop out of my ears as soon as I pushed them into the cup-shaped recess in front of the actual ear.
Fitting here is no different to the earbuds without the earbuds that came with the new Nokia 5710 XpressAudio, but again I found the JBL Tune Flex to be a bit more difficult to fit.
So any legitimate discussion about sound is unfair. I just can’t keep the open wearing style in my ears long enough to relax and enjoy the music. I think the problem might be with their weight – they just feel that they are actively trying to get out of my ears.
Switching to a closed-ear style provides a decent fit and seal, using the smallest of the three options available in my case. Switching is simple as well, and again this plastic case with little hooks to keep all tips safe is a classic touch – wish more companies would think about it.
Unfortunately, I find the ANC (operated by two microphones) not great, even with good protection and a snug fit – and even at the highest level (you can choose from 1 to 6) I can hear semi-solid planes flying over my London apartment. While not a complete, starred review, Ambient Aware and TalkThru also prove somewhat ineffective during my initial tests.
I’m turning off all ambient sounds, Lady Gaga A love game it lacks a bit of rough detail when it comes to the raw leading edges of the undercoat. Gaga’s insatiable vocals are also a bit, well, muffled. With the upgrade to Cambridge Audio’s Melomania 1 Plus, which can also be purchased for about the same price as JBL, the vocal sounds more three-dimensional and with more detail as the star shifts in its amazing and emotional range.
Halsey Without me sounds a bit crowded and muddy from the bass synthesizers and drums on the JBLs, to the point where I’m losing backing elements (vocals, tall hat), I should be able to recognize it more clearly. Switch to Cambridge Audio’s Melomania 1 Plus and the sound field expands to reveal the space around the various instruments.
I felt a little disappointed while listening – and it hurts to write this song.
On the one hand, JBL offers a product that looks great and is finished to a very high standard. Battery life, flexibility of use, and feature set are also excellent (and in some cases unheard of) in level. On paper, I love things. It’s just that for me the proof of pudding is the food and as a sound suggestion these earbuds are a bit too short, however I have tried wearing them.
What have I learned? Just as it is not possible to have a cake and eat it, to have a perfect open ear kit and Closed earbuds in one box is a bit of a lot of hope. It may seem difficult, but I tested the JBL with a competitor for the same price – and found them poor in terms of sound quality, no matter how hard I tried.
The overall design of the best noise canceling earbuds is critical to their performance. It looks like you really need to specialize.