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JLab Epic Air Elite Review & Rating

When JLab’s Epic Air earphones arrived last year, they felt like a big step forward for true wireless earbuds—they looked different than the competition and had better battery specs. At $149, the new Epic Air Elite earbuds cost the same, but boast even more battery life for their charging case than the original. The water-resistant in-ears also now have EQ modes you can switch between, as well as an ambient mode that allows you to hear your surroundings. While the original Epic Air earned our Editors’ Choice, this time around there are even more true wireless options to compete with, so the sequel falls a little shy of those honors. And while the Epic Air Elite earbuds deliver quality audio, there’s room for improvement in next year’s model.

Design

One key differentiator in the black-and-silver Epic Air Elite’s design is the ear hook. Sure, we’re used to seeing these on Bluetooth and wired fitness earphones, but true wireless in-ears rarely deviate from the standard, earplug look. The Epic Air Elite’s hooks provide extra stability, but they also require a bigger case. So the downside here is that the case, which measures about 1.5 by 4.4 by 2.8 inches (HWD), is among the largest you’ll find in the true wireless category. The upside is that larger cases can hold bigger batteries, and the Epic Air Elite’s holds a best-in-class 32 hours of charge. The earphones themselves hold six hours of charge at a time, but your results will vary with your volume levels.

The case has a built-in recessed area for the charging cable to snap into. The cable wraps around the exterior of the case, and it vaguely resembles a rubber watch band. It has a USB connection on one end, and a micro USB connection on the other. The case also houses a micro USB port (for charging the case itself) and a USB port (for charging mobile devices using the case’s battery—another unique design decision). Blue status LEDs inside the case (that also shine through a small window through the lid) tell you how much battery life the case has, as well as when the earphones are securely docked.

If the ear hooks weren’t enough to ensure a stable fit, JLab also includes more types of eartips than we typically see. There are three standard silicone pairs (S, M, L), one triple-flange pair, one double-flange pair, one shallow pair, and a foam pair. Among these choices, it should be no problem finding the ideal fit.

The earpieces have touch-sensitive controls on the outer panels, and JLab divides the controls in a left/right manner, all with various taps or holds. The left side, for instance, handles volume down, and the right side controls volume up. The left side also handles playback, track backward, and the Be Aware ambient monitoring mode. The right earpiece handles track forward, call management, Siri or Google Assistant, and also can switch in and out of ambient mode. To switch between the three EQ modes, you press and hold each earpiece’s buttons for three seconds. Loading each ear up with a variety of finger tap commands that need to be memorized can make using the Epic Air Elite a little annoying until you’ve figured everything out.

JLab Epic Air Elite inline

It’s difficult to adjust the volume using on-ear sensors, and when we adjusted the volume locally on our paired iPhone 6s, there was sometimes a multi-second delay between moving the volume slider and hearing the result. Also, multiple times, I summoned Siri by accident when only meaning to adjust the in-ear fit—merely touching the earpieces can achieve various unintentional results.

The three EQ modes are Signature, Balanced, and Bass Boost—more on those in the next section. Be Aware mode is a solid extra—it allows you to hear what’s going on around you without taking the earphones out, or you can also choose this mode when exercising to make sure you’re aware of your surroundings.

The Epic Air Elite’s IP55 rating means the earphones are resistant to dust and water, but they aren’t complete dustproof or waterproof. The case isn’t water resistant at all, so make sure the earphones are completely dry before docking them.

As for the mic, we could understand every word we recorded using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, but overall audio quality was poor, despite there being mics in both ears. This is not unique, however—mic quality is low across the board in the true wireless realm.

Performance

We found the overall audio performance to be ideal in both Signature and Balanced modes, with plenty of bass depth and crisp high-frequency presence. Bass Boost mode tended to be overkill—and unnecessary, since all three modes pack substantial low end. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the earphones dole out plenty of deep low-frequency response that will appeal to bass lovers. Thankfully, the highs are also quite manipulated, so while the sound signature won’t appeal to purists even in Balanced mode, it’s balanced enough that clarity is never sacrificed in the name of boosted bass.

Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Epic Air Elite’s general sound signature. The drums on this track sound almost thunderous, even in Balanced mode, but there’s enough sculpting and boosting in the highs to keep things clear across the board. Callahan’s vocals get plenty of low-mid richness that is balanced out by crisp treble edge. The high-mids and highs are quite sculpted in both Balanced and Signature modes, bringing out the attack of the acoustic guitar strums and the higher register percussive hits.

On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives plenty of high-mid presence allowing its attack to retain it punchiness, but we also hear the vinyl crackle and hiss typically relegated to background status pushed forward notably, meaning the high-mids and highs are all quite boosted and sculpted here. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with solid depth as well, and the end result is a sculpted, but balanced, dynamic-sounding mix.

On orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, the lower register instrumentation gets a boost, for certain, but the spotlight still belongs to the higher register brass, strings, and vocals. Purists won’t love this sculpted sound, but the drivers do a solid job of keeping things from sounding unnatural despite the boosting throughout the frequency range.

Conclusions

JLab’s Epic Air Elite earbuds are a worthy successor to last year’s model, and one of the best true wireless pairs we’ve tested. They sound good and feature some of the best battery life in the category—we’d just like to see more graceful controls in the next iteration. In the sub-$200 true wireless realm, we’re also fans of the Bose SoundSport Free, the Jabra Elite Active 65t, and the Altec Lansing True Evo. And if you’re looking for a bargain, the $50 JLab JBuds Air may not blow your mind, but you can’t argue with the price.


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