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JBL Live Pro+ review: A true wireless jack of all trades

Andy White
29 Nov 2022
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
100
inc VAT

The JBL Live Pro+ are very capable and competitively priced but don’t bring anything groundbreaking to the table

Pros 
Rich bass reproduction
Good noise cancellation
Solid battery life
Cons 
Restrictive touch control customisation
Enabling ANC affects how they sound
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Despite sounding like a caffeine supplement for increasing alertness, the JBL Live Pro+ are actually part of an ever-growing group of true wireless earbuds offering active noise cancellation (ANC) at an affordable price.

Once a prohibitively expensive technology reserved for the crème de la crème of premium headphones, ANC is now being incorporated into earbuds costing as little as £50. Cheap wireless earbuds rarely attenuate external sound effectively and deliver high-quality audio, however; it’s around the JBL Live Pro+’s price that the more capable contenders emerge.

The Beats Studio Buds and OnePlus Buds Pro are our favourites at under £150, but the list of competitors is extensive, with the likes of the Lypertek PurePlay Z5, LG Tone Free FP8 and Panasonic RZ-S500W all viable alternatives, depending on your needs.

JBL’s Live Pro+ don’t break the design mould, nor do they possess a unique selling point to set them apart, but they perform well in most areas. And they’re particularly well suited to fans of bassier musical genres.

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JBL Live Pro+ review: What do you get for the money?

The JBL Live Pro+’s list price is £120 but they’re widely available for around £100. Like many JBL audio products, they come in a few colourways, with white, black and beige complemented by a slightly less drab pink. Sadly, the jazzier, limited edition blue, rose gold and chrome variants are practically impossible to get your hands on.

The buds themselves are from the Apple AirPods Pro school of design, with short stems that protrude from your ears and an IPX4 rating for water resistance. The stems are a little blockier than their Apple counterparts, but the Live Pro+ are comfortable to wear and come with five sets of silicone tips to help you achieve a secure fit.

Bluetooth connectivity comes courtesy of version 5.0 and there’s support for the SBC and AAC codecs. With some rivals offering support for higher-quality codecs such as LHDC and aptX adaptive, this is one of the few areas in which the Live Pro+ lag behind.

Codec support aside, they’re on a par with the majority of earbuds in their price bracket in terms of specifications and features. The earbuds’ battery life clocks in at up to seven hours per charge, with the compact pill box charging case providing three full charges for an impressive total of up to 28 hours of audio playback. Qi wireless charging is supported, as is “speed charge”, which provides an hour or so of audio from just ten minutes of wireless charging.

As for active noise cancellation, there are three modes on offer: Travel, Everyday and Active. There are also two ambient sound control modes: Ambient Aware and TalkThru for engaging with the outside world more easily. You can cycle between normal, noise cancelling and ambient sound control using the headphones’ touch controls, but to select a specific mode you’ll need to download the JBL Headphones app.

Using the app, you can select which ambient and noise-cancelling profiles you want as your defaults, look at which mode is currently active and switch modes freely. You can toggle wear detection here, select your chosen voice assistant, customise touch controls, check whether you’re using the right silicone eartips and ping your buds with a high-pitched beep if you’ve misplaced them. You’ll also find a handful of EQ presets and the option to create your own via a ten-band graphic equaliser covering a frequency range between 32Hz and 16kHz.

The final noteworthy feature allows you to optimise your Bluetooth connection based on your surroundings. The default “Normal” setting prioritises stability in busy areas, “Audio” seeks to improve sound quality and fidelity while listening to music, while the “Video” mode reduces latency to better synchronise video and audio.

JBL Live Pro+ review: What do they do well?

The Live Pro+ are an in-ear jack of all trades and scored well across the board without ever truly wowing me in one particular area.

I found them perfectly comfortable during longer listening sessions and they remained secure in my ears regardless of how much I moved my head, which is crucial while exercising. The touch-sensitive area on each earbud is easy to locate and responsive, and audio cues helpfully alert you every time you tap a fingertip against the stem.

Audio performance proved impressive. The Live Pro+ house 11mm dynamic drivers and these create an energetic, punchy default sound profile that’s particularly adept at delivering bass frequencies.

Part of my testing was conducted while listening to a Scandinavia-inspired Spotify playlist and this neatly showcased the Live Pro+’s various sonic strengths.

“So Long” by Seba and Lo Tek – an atmospheric drum and bass track –illustrated the buds’ deep, controlled bass reproduction, while “Welcome to the Great Indoors” by Norwegian punk bank The Good, The Bad and The Zugly reflected impressive dynamic and rhythmic handling as the electric guitars accelerated to angsty crescendos.

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Lykke Li’s “Gunshot” communicated more nuanced, melodic vocals cleanly, while Ace of Base’s “Life is a Flower” and the A*Teens’ “Upside Down” – two unashamedly cheesy pop songs – demonstrated a sonic balance that lends itself well to mainstream music.

I didn’t feel the need to play with the default “JBL Signature Sound” EQ but the presence of a graphic equaliser and custom presets in the JBL Headphones app adds a welcome level of customisation. We’ve reached a stage where most manufacturers provide EQ adjustment options but we’re not quite at a point where such inclusions can be taken for granted.

The active noise cancellation on offer is decent for the money, too. You’ll need a keen ear to distinguish between the three modes as the differences between them are very subtle, but all three attenuate low-end frequencies well.

The Everyday mode worked marginally better than the other two options when combatting mid-range frequencies, but you’ll still hear loud conversations in the near vicinity.

To have a conversation yourself while keeping the Live Pro+ in your ears, the TalkThru ambient sound control mode works very well. Unlike the Ambient Aware mode, which seeks to enhance external audio cues, this drops the volume of whatever you’re listening to a level at which you can conduct a normal conversation.

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JBL Live Pro+ review: What could be improved?

The Live Pro+ fall foul of a common complaint I have about earbuds: restrictive touch control customisation.

Controls are handled in such a way that you can assign a specific group of functions to each earbud. These groups cover playback control, ambient sound control, volume control and voice assistant, but you can only have two selected at any one time.

Choosing ambient sound control for the left bud and playback control for the right leaves you with no way to change the volume. Swapping volume control for ambient sound control means you won’t be able to switch between the normal, noise cancellation and ambient sound modes.

These aren’t huge sacrifices in the grand scheme of things, but I’d prefer a more comprehensive suite of controls at my fingertips.

My other issue with the JBL Live Pro+ is that engaging noise cancellation changes how the earbuds sound somewhat. Mid-range and treble are more prominent with ANC off, detracting from an otherwise very satisfying low-end. You’re likely to be using some form of noise cancellation more often than not, but the inconsistency is a little frustrating.

JBL Live Pro+ review: Should you buy them?

The JBL Live Pro+ make a convincing case if you’re in the market for a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds and have somewhere in the region of £100 to spend.

They’re a sonic step up from cheaper options such as the Anker Soundcore Life P3 and Edifier TWS NB2 Pro and have the ANC tech that the best-sounding earbuds under £100, the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus, sorely lack. They’re also significantly more comfortable than Cambridge’s flagship buds.

The Beats Studio Buds are a smarter choice if you’re constantly summoning Siri or dislike earbuds with stems, while those with a smartphone capable of supporting the high-resolution LHDC codec will want to take a look at the OnePlus Buds Pro.

But the JBL Live Pro+ give both a run for their money, ticking all of the important boxes while suffering from minor annoyances rather than fatal flaws. It’s just a shame that the more eye-catching colourways are no longer available.

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