JBL Tour Pro 2
When JBL first announced its Tour Pro 2 earbuds ($250, £220, AU$350) in January, they got a lot of attention for having something we hadn’t seen in a set of earbuds before: a full color touchscreen display embedded in the case that allows you to access the earbuds’ key features and control playback as well as adjust volume levels. Pretty cool, but is that touchscreen useful or just a gimmick?
After testing the Tour Pro 2 buds for several days, I’d say the answer is a little bit of both. But before I dig into that dichotomy, I’m going to start with how the buds sound, perform and fit, which is what most people want to know about when buying earbuds.
The JBL sound signature tends to accentuate the bass. Not to the point where it overpowers everything, but at their default setting, the Tour Pro 2s’ bass is what jumps out at you along with a pretty wide soundstage. They exhibit decent clarity, but these aren’t the most detailed sounding earbuds and can’t quite measure up to some of the best-sounding buds like the Sony WF-1000XM4 deliver in terms of sound quality. You can tweak the sound profile in the JBL Headphones app or toggle through some EQ presets right on the case. (OK, I’m back to that touchscreen.)
For whatever reason, I went with the “Jazz” preset because it felt right for the eclectic music I listen to, whether it’s electronica, rock tracks, hip hop and even some of today’s pop hits. The “bass” setting made everything sound a little muddy and the “vocal” setting is good for podcasts but not music. The “studio” setting, which is supposed to be the most neutral made everything sound a little flat. You can also create your own custom EQ settings or better yet, run Personi-Fi from the app, which creates a custom sound profile based on a hearing test. (My Personi-Fi sound profile dialed the bass back a bit and popped up the treble a tad while leaving the mids untouched.)
Overall, I liked the sound. These aren’t as clean or balanced sounding as the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3, but they have new upgraded 10mm drivers and offer slightly bolder, more dynamic sound compared to JBL’s Live Pro 2 earbuds, which are a good value when they dip to $100 in flash sales.
As always, how good these buds sound will depend on how tight a seal you get from one of the included ear tips. You can argue over just how premium these earbuds look and feel — I suspect some people might expect slightly more from $250 buds. But they fit my ears well (I used the largest tips), and I found the buds fit securely — I could run with them without worrying they would fall out (they’re IPX5 splash-proof). I don’t think these are quite as comfortable as the AirPods Pro 2, but they should fit most ears well. That said, they might not fight everyone’s ears.
As far audio as codecs go, you’re looking at AAC (for iPhones and Android devices), but a future firmware upgrade will add Bluetooth LE Audio, a JBL rep told me. Bluetooth LE Audio supports such features as Auracast (broadcast audio) and the LC3 audio codec, which supports streaming of higher-resolution music if you have a music streaming service that supports high-res streaming.
Good adaptive noise-canceling and voice-calling performance
No, these don’t block out noise as well as the Bose’s QuietComfort 2 earbuds, but if you get a tight seal, they do a good job muffling sound. I wore them in the streets of New York and on the subway and thought they effectively reduced ambient noise in the low and upper mid frequencies (I could still hear voices) and blocked out most of the noise that my somewhat noisy HVAC unit emits in my kitchen.
The buds are multipoint Bluetooth enabled, which means you can pair them with two devices at the same, such as a computer and smartphone. I used them with an iPhone 14 Pro to make calls and callers said my voice sounded fairly clear in my tests calls from the noisy streets of New York (it is a real torture test). Callers said they did hear a bit of wind and background noise, but they were decidedly above average for calls though not quite on par with the AirPods Pro 2 for voice clarity. It’s also worth noting that you can choose how much of your voice you can hear in the buds while making a call by playing around with the VoiceAware settings in the app or on the case’s touchscreen.
Smart features, lots of them
Like most buds that have active noise-canceling, the Tour Pro 2 have a transparency mode that allows you to hear the outside world (it sounds somewhat natural though not as natural as what you get with the AirPods Pro 2’s transparency mode). These buds also have a Personal Sound Amplification mode that allows you to amplify the world around you a bit, turning the buds into pseudo hearing aids.
The reality is these are pretty feature packed with lots of little extras, including wireless charging, ear-detection sensors and a “spatial sound” mode that’s missing head-tracking but has settings for movies, music and gaming (alas, without head tracking, spatial audio isn’t that interesting). The Find My Buds feature is a little different from Apple’s in that you can choose to play a high-pitched sound out of either earbud to help you locate your buds, which is useful if you drop a bad in a place you can’t see it. You can use either bud independently in case you were wondering.
And then, there’s that “smart” case with that touchscreen. (It’s heavier and slightly bulkier than your typical earbuds case but not too much so.) As I said, it’s a bit of gimmick yet somewhat useful, serving as a remote control for your buds.
Sure, you could access all the features you’d find on the case’s touchscreen in the JBL Headphones app on your iPhone or Android smartphone (and the buds do have limited touch controls on the buds themselves), but you have take your phone out of your pocket, go to the app and find what you’re looking for. Instead, I left my phone in my pocket and kept the case in my hand and used it to advance tracks forward and play around with the EQ and ANC settings. You can even add your own screen saver to the case’s unlock screen (you tap the screen to wake it up, then slide your finger across it to unlock it), receive notifications on the screen, answer and end calls (kind of nifty), and turn the LCD into a very small flashlight.
The case’s touchscreen isn’t quite as responsive as that of your iPhone or Android device, but it doesn’t feel sluggish, though you may find yourself swiping the screen twice to get the next setting. I’ve seen other cases that have embedded LCDs that display how much battery life the case and buds have left (this one shows that too) and Poly’s new Voyager Free 60+ UC ($329) earbuds have a mostly monochrome touchscreen that allows you to access some settings and adjust volume levels. But the touchscreen in the Tour Pro 2’s case is the most advanced screen I’ve seen in a charging case. That said, the Poly case, like the $400 Bowers & Wilkins PI7 S2 case, does convert into a Bluetooth transceiver that plugs into the headphone jack of an inflight entertainment system and allows you to send audio to your buds wirelessly. The Tour Pro 2’s case doesn’t have that feature (I wouldn’t expect it to at this price).
JBL Tour Pro 2 final thoughts
By and large, the JBL Tour Pro 2 are very good earbuds with a robust feature set, strong battery life (they rated for up to 8 hours with noise canceling on at moderate volume levels) and that special feature — the eye-catching touchscreen in their “smart” case. While they sound quite good with the right EQ setting, you can find a little better sounding earbuds for the money, which is probably the biggest rub against the Tour Pro 2s.
The touchscreen is cool and fun to use, but it may not be cool enough — or useful enough — to sway a lot of iPhone users away from the AirPods Pro 2, which are often sell for $50 or $200 less than these earbuds. That probably means that in the not-so-distant future we should see these discounted, as JBL is wont to do. When that happens — and when they’re upgraded with LE Audio and the LC3 audio codec — I’ll revisit their rating.
The JBL Tour Pro 2 earbuds key specs, according to JBL
- True adaptive noise canceling with customizable ANC and ambient sound
- 1.45-inch touchscreen embedded in charging case
- High-res audio certified with 10mm dynamic drivers (LC3 audio codec coming soon)
- IPX5 splash-proof (case is IPX2 water-resistant)
- Customizable sound via JBL Headphones app for iOS and Android
- Battery life: 10 hours in the earbuds with 30 hours in the case, or 8 hours plus 24 more in the case with ANC activated
- Get 4 hours of battery life from a 15-minute charge
- 6-microphones (3 mics in each bud) with VoiceAware for voice calls
- Bluetooth 5.3, LE Audio compatible
- Price: $250