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 ($80) and Jabra’s Rox Wireless, 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.
J46BT is effectively a slightly repackaged version of MuseMini’s UberBuds, which we reviewed last November — the latest in a string of products that are all but identical to JayBird Gear’s BlueBuds X, except in pricing. Offered in three colors, the bullet-shaped plastic and metallic earpieces are around 1.25” long, connecting to one another with flat rubber cabling, and have a three-button remote and mic unit dangling from the right side. Apart from the chrome JBL branding on each earpiece and very small tweaks to the earpiece/cable connection points, J46BT is just like UberBuds, with slanted tubes to connect to your ears and the same included proprietary USB charging cable, which connects to charging points on the right earpiece.
Given that the $80 J46BT sells for less than UberBuds — the latter was originally priced at $130 and now goes for $100 — you might reasonably ask what you lose with the lower-priced model. You still get three total sets of silicone rubber ear tips, and sport-ready ear stabilizers, now two sets rather than just one. There are only two key differences: JBL’s carrying case is nice, but a little lighter-weight, and J46BT’s battery life is lower. UberBuds promises an 8-hour run time, but JBL promises only 2.5 to 5 hours of playback time between charges, which is unimpressive. The wireless signal was also far from the strongest we’ve tested, experiencing brief drop-outs at just under 30-foot distances.
J46BT is a solid performer sonically relative to the other earphones it’s based upon, but by comparison with Rox Wireless, it doesn’t sound great. Microphone performance was deemed “distant” and “overly soft” during phone calls, and there’s a perceptible hum in the audio during silences. The dynamic range is more compressed than Rox Wireless’s, with a stronger midrange/low-end bias that will be appreciated by fans of bassy music. Sonically, we’d call J46BT par for the course overall, and Rox Wireless a step beyond most other wireless earphones we’ve tested in overall fidelity.
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
Company: JBL/Harman Multimedia
Compatible: All Bluetooth-compatible iPods, iPhones, and iPads