With the Everest Elite 700 Bluetooth Headphones ($300), JBL shoots for the stars. Everest Elite 700’s clean design exudes quality — round corners, soft-touch plastic, and rubber joined by sturdy metal connections. Though we would have appreciated more padding on the rubber headband (which is alarmingly similar to that of the Beats Solo HD), the Elite 700 is light enough to wear without discomfort. Hardware controls are available for power/pairing, play/pause/Siri, volume up/down, and a “Smart Button” for the Elite 700’s advanced features. We were surprised by the lack of track controls, which we feel should be standard on headphones like this. The Elite 700 collapses for storage, with ear cups nesting within each other for a satisfying headphone sandwich. That said, the Elite 700’s ear pads do seem to crush when folded, so it may not be advisable to leave them folded for long periods of time. While the Elite 700 looks impressive out of the box, JBL may have tried to do too much this time around.
The Everest Elite 700 is as feature-packed as they come. Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity and 15-hour battery life made this headphone easy to travel with. Pairing was quick and easy, the headphone’s battery level was indicated on our iPhone’s screen, and volume controls were thankfully linked to those on our phone. A headphone cable is included for passive listening; although the Elite 700 is “made for iPhone”, our cable’s microphone pod had only one button, which is usually an Android configuration. Beyond these basic features, the real selling points of these headphones are Active Noise Cancellation, Ambient Awareness, and JBL’s TruNote Calibration.
The Elite 700’s Active Noise Cancellation (“ANC”), in a word, works. Like other ANC headphones we have tested, JBL’s software listens to ambient noise through external microphones and cancels out low end frequencies of the unwanted sound. This has an undesirable but unavoidable effect on your music — volume is substantially lowered, and everything sounds substantially thinner. While we generally recommend that you avoid ANC for general listening, it can be a godsend on planes and trains where you’d otherwise have to crank your music up to potentially harmful volume. In this context, our only problem with the Elite 700’s ANC is that switching modes was often accompanied by random loud blips and volume changes. These glitches made for a jarring and irritating experience that simply doesn’t mix with “noise cancellation.”
In addition to ANC, the Elite 700 offers Ambient Aware, a feature that activates external microphones to allow some sound through these otherwise isolating closed-back cans. Pressing a button on the headphone cycles between Ambient Aware High, Low, and Off. Since ANC must also be activated for this feature to work, ambient sound has an artificial feel, as if everything was coming through a cheap microphone (it is). Nonetheless, we found this feature to be useful for having conversations with others or catching subway announcements without taking our headphones off. JBL takes this feature a step further in the Elite 700’s companion app, which allows you to tune your Ambient Aware experience to choose how much external sound comes through each ear separately.
The Elite 700’s companion app, simply called “JBL Headphones,” is a free download from the App Store. With the Elite 700 connected via Bluetooth, the app allows you to monitor battery level, toggle ANC, set Ambient Aware to high, low, or off independently for each ear, chance equalizer settings, activate TruNote calibration, and change the function of “Smart Button” on the right ear cup. We were surprised to learn that it is impossible to control both ANC and Ambient Aware without the app — the Smart Button can only control one feature at a time and unfortunately, the JBL Headphones app is the only way to access all of the Elite 700’s features at one time. The app runs well and the interface is intuitive, but we wish we didn’t need it.
The Elite 700’s final tech feature is “TruNote,” which JBL claims automatically calibrates the headphones’ frequency response to the shape of your ears. When activated, the music stops playing, and a “blip” is played into your ears. As we understand it, the Elite 700 listens via microphones inside the ear cup, and adjusts the headphone’s frequency response based on what it detects about your individual anatomy. Calibration is activated in the companion app or via long-press on the Elite 700’s Smart Button. We tested this by first calibrating the headphones against inanimate objects like pillows and rubber balls shaped very differently from the human ear. We then listened to the Elite 700, re-calibrated against our own ears, and listened some more. After calibration, we noticed a warmer, bassier sound. Though TruNote did make some adjustment to the sound, we find it hard to believe that a pair of headphones could determine the anatomically ‘correct’ sound signature for us in just a few moments. In our testing, we were not convinced of the necessity of TruNote.
With or without TruNote calibration, we were not blown away by the Elite 700’s sound. Compared to several other headphones — many of which are cheaper than this set — the Elite 700 occasionally sounded inaccurate, and never excelled in detail. Their soundstage is a bit cramped for our taste, with vocals a bit weak compared to the rest of the presentation. That said, the Elite 700 does have a pleasing and present low-end that was enjoyable during electronic and rap tracks. We found sound quality to be a bit better in wired/passive mode, but our testing focused mostly on wireless, since that is clearly the Elite 700’s intended use. Overall, the Elite 700 are not reference headphones, but they do present an acceptable sound without wires and make music listenable in noisy environments.
That brings us to the most troubling part of our experience with the Elite 700: they froze. Midway through one of our listening sessions, they simply stopped playing music and became unresponsive. We tried holding buttons in various combinations, charging, plugging in the analog cable, unpairing Bluetooth, and re-pairing. Nothing worked. Ultimately, the only way we could get the Elite 700 back in working order was to wait for the battery to die, then recharge. This is a profoundly disappointing experience for one to have with a pair of headphones, and should be completely unacceptable in a product that is fundamentally passive and analog. Headphone features should not have glitches. Headphones should not “crash.”
The Elite 700’s software problems factored heavily into our review score. We cannot say whether all of these headphones are affected, but such a failure is possible, and should be considered by potential buyers. Even if software glitches cannot be avoided, headphones like the Elite 700 should at least function in analog mode. Never should it be that a headphone designed for travel ends up being nothing more than a $300 pair of earmuffs for any amount of time.
The JBL Elite 700 feels more like a tech demo than a top-of-the-line consumer audio product. We find it very strange to complain that a headphone’s software needs refinement, and we hope that the Elite 700 isn’t a harbinger of things to come. Even when all the tech features are operating as advertised, they seem to come at the expense of basic controls and the most important feature of all — sound quality. Products like the Elite 700 are often defined more by their compromises than their features, and it feels like Harman/JBL may have skimped on the important stuff — sound quality and stability — in exchange for more bullet points on the box.
Company and Price
Model: Everest Elite 700
Compatible: Bluetooth-enabled iPads, iPhones + iPods