Review: JBL Synchros E40BT On-Ear Headphones
JBL has just introduced a brand new family of headphones called the Synchros E Series, pitched as setting new standards with high-quality materials and sound. Synchros E includes four different products, all of which sell for $150 or less. Synchros E50BT ($150) is the top-end model, an over-ear wireless headphone with 50mm audio drivers inside. Following that is Synchros E40BT ($100), offering the same Bluetooth functionality in a smaller, on-ear package with 40mm drivers. Then there's Synchros E30 ($80), a cabled version of the on-ears with 30mm drivers, as well as Synchros E10, inexpensive in-ear headphones that fall below our review threshold in terms of price. All four of the products come in the same five color options, and share an industrial design with plastic and metal components.
The largest pair of the bunch is E50BT, the only over-ear headphones currently in the Synchros E line. On the outside, they’re substantially plastic that’s designed to resemble metal, although there is some real metal, too. Each cup has a ring of diamond-textured plastic surrounding a metal disc, bearing either the JBL logo on the right cup, or control buttons every 90 degrees on the left. The hinges that connect the cups to the headband have metal caps, but the material around them is all plastic. Both the power button and charging port are located at the bottom of the left cup; JBL promises 18 hours of play time on a charge. The same port can also be used for a wired audio connection if you prefer, using an included cable.
As for the headband and the cups themselves, they’re padded with leatherette—faux leather—cushions. Not only can the metal band be adjusted to fit different size heads, but the cups can also rotate in and out to help achieve that perfect fit. We found the headphones to be comfortable, fully covering our ears and doing a good job of passively sealing them against outside sound, without needing active noise cancellation hardware.
E40BT and E30 look quite similar to one another, differing in size and wires. The former packs in 40mm drivers and like E50BT works in Bluetooth or wired modes, while the latter has 30mm drivers and operates solely with a cable that includes a remote/microphone module. Both borrow E50BT’s design, shrunken down to fit on top of your ear rather around it. That means the same materials, the same patterns and textures — almost the same everything. The only design differences are modest, apart from the replacement of the metal core in the E50BT’s band with plastic. They’re comfortable headphones, despite the challenges that on-ear designs often have; the band and cushions thankfully don’t exert unnecessary pressure on your head or ears.
To test E50BT, we used Scosche’s RH1060 over-ear headphones as a reference point against E50BT; notably, RH1060 costs $50 more. Despite the 10mm-larger drivers in JBL’s headphones, we found the audio quality between the two to be almost indistinguishable from one another. Both have relatively bass-heavy sound that’s not unpleasant or overwhelming. If we had to note a difference between the two, it would be a slight edge in high-end performance from E50BT, but it’s really quite minimal. RH1060 gets a bit louder, but the quality of the audio gets a bit shaky at the highs, so it’s pretty much a wash. We were able to use E50BT’s wireless streaming reliably at a distance of well over the Bluetooth standard’s promised 33 feet.
Although the comparison isn’t ideal, we compared the $100, Bluetooth-capable E40BT to Beats Electronics’ prior-gen Solo HD headphones — ones that sold for around twice JBL’s price despite lacking Bluetooth hardware. While the E40BT didn’t have the pronounced bass of Solo HD, it delivered better low-end than many inexpensive on-ear headphones, and Apple’s EarPods for that matter, while performing admirably in the midrange and beating Beats whenever more treble was needed. Despite being significantly less expensive, we sometimes preferred JBL’s headphones on certain songs; the E40BT tended to sound more dynamic. Unless you really love heavy bass, the E40BT is otherwise entirely comparable, and a lot less expensive. Like the E50BT, Bluetooth distance was well over 33 unobstructed feet in our testing.
We compared E30 to Scosche’s fully-wired Realm RH656m, still one of our favorite pairs more than two years after its release, which notably now sell for a $100 MSRP. In our original review of that unit, we described its sound profile as having “crisp highs, respectable midrange, and deep, powerful lows.” E30 actually keeps up in two of those three categories: its mids and highs sound almost identical to those of RH656m, but Scosche definitely has an edge when it comes to the lows. The bass, while present in JBL’s headphones, is certainly not as powerful as the booming, full bass RH656m offers. E30 also falls a bit behind in volume; RH656m gets uncomfortable to listen to at around 80 percent on an iPhone’s volume slider, E30 is a bit softer, achieving the same output at roughly the 90 percent mark. Overall though, E30 is still very good, especially for the price, and we found them more comfortable, too.
With strong industrial design and equally impressive audio, JBL has a winner of a product lineup here. E50BT, E40BT, and E30 all earn our strong general recommendation, as they’re well-priced and attractively designed headphones with very good audio quality. The E50BT matches Scosche’s RH1060 sonically while hitting a $50 lower price point, whereas E40BT delivers Beats on-ear-rivaling sound for a lot less. E30’s sound profile is very similar to RH656m’s, but JBL’s bass is a step below. If you like the way these headphones look, you’ll be satisfied—possibly even thrilled—by their performance.
Additional reporting and photography by Phil Dzikiy.