Three years ago, the problem with compact Bluetooth wireless earphones — ones that could fit in a pocket, like Apple’s earbuds — was that there weren’t enough of them. Now there are plenty of options, but most of them look the same and are made by the same manufacturer, which minimally tweaks a common design for various brands. Today, we’re looking at JBL’s J46BT and Jabra’s Rox Wireless ($130), two conceptually similar but functionally very different Bluetooth 4 earphone options. Neither is a clear winner, though it’s easier to recommend Rox Wireless based on its superior sonic performance.
Unlike J46BT, Jabra’s Rox Wireless design isn’t just a clone of JayBird’s BlueBuds X earphones. The fundamentals are the same — two earbuds connected by a wire with a three-button remote unit — but pretty much everything in the implementation is different. Rather than using tube-like shapes, Jabra’s earbuds are metallic and plastic nuggets that are shorter but thicker, roughly 0.7” long and 0.6” tall but around 1” deep. While the shapes look odd, they serve two purposes: they’re designed to nestle into the outer ear canal, and can magnetically attach to one another, turning on and off automatically when the magnetic connection is severed or made. This is a handy feature, and one we’d love to see in other earphones as well.
Also interesting is Jabra’s protection for the micro-USB charging port: it’s hidden under the left earbud’s metal cap. We really prefer to see the charging connector pins covered, as they are here, rather than left completely exposed as was done with the J46BT design. Sweat is best kept away from metal contacts, and Jabra’s design is more thoughtful in this regard.
If Rox Wireless has any problem because of its design, it’s that the nugget-like shape won’t necessarily fit into every outer ear perfectly. We found they stayed in place pretty well without assistance, but ears really vary from user to user, so some people will need to rely on the included optional rubber stabilizers to keep them in place during workouts. Jabra’s stabilizers aren’t fantastic — just functional. Four sets of rubber tips and three sets of stabilizers are included in the package, along with a simple drawstring carrying case, a basic cord manager, and a small micro-USB charging cable, but none of the parts feels premium. For the $130 asking price, they should.
That said, Rox Wireless does deliver in two key ways. First, it’s sonically very impressive, offering a noticeably greater dynamic range than most of the Bluetooth wireless earphones in its class, and second, it has a basically imperceptible noise/static floor. Music is strong, clear, and balanced across the high, mids, and bass, though the latter is quite dependent on the ear seal you get from the included silicone tips. Rox Wireless doesn’t try to flood your ears with bass, which we really liked. Microphone performance for phone calls was just a little below the standard of Apple’s wired headsets, but pretty close. Jabra’s six hours of battery life isn’t fantastic, but it’s better than what J46BT (and some other low-cost Bluetooth earphones) can deliver.
Pricing and comfort are the only factors that make these ratings closer than they might otherwise be. There’s no getting around the fact that J46BT is $50 less expensive than Rox Wireless — a pretty good value at that price point — and a bit less likely to fall out of users’ ears without using the stabilizers. It’s worthy of a flat B rating, mostly due to its aggressive price. Rox Wireless is more expensive and the shape will cause issues for some users, but if it fits your ears, you’ll find that it delivers markedly better sound and an superior user experience due to its magnetic on-off system and microphone performance. It merits a B+ rating and strong general recommendation.
Company and Price
Models: Rox Wireless
Compatible: All Bluetooth-Capable iPods, All iPhones, iPads