JBL J55/i On-Ear Earphones: It’s Fashionable, But That’s About It

I like to refer to these earphones as “the garbage cans”. Not only do these earphones significantly under-perform in the audio quality department, they are constructed out of cheap materials and manage to be pretty uncomfortable. The cable in replaceable, but is proprietary. This means that only JBL can supply you with replacements. They are currently $15 on Amazon, which is a rip-off. If you are considering these earphones for more than the $32 price they currently have on Amazon, I would highly recommend against it. Buyer beware, these earphones are often listed at a very high MSRP, $90, and then sold at much lower prices to make you think they are a great deal. On Amazon, the sale never ends. Keep that in mind.

Sound Signature

The sound signature of these earphones is a pretty dim prospect. Right off the bat, if you want a good price-to-performance ratio, these are not the headphones you are looking for.

Highs are, in a word, abysmal. It took almost 20db of equalization in the 14,000Hz range, and 7db of extra 3600Hz frequencies to get the upper range into a remotely “good” sounding condition. As a side-effect of adding so much more sound, there was some minor distortion. For those the readers who aren’t too familiar with what I am referring to, please refer to this link. Even after equalization, it sounded like the guitars, drums, and vocals were behind a wet towel.

Mids were present, but not forward. These headphones definitely have a V-shaped signature. While there was a lot of mid-range sound, there was very little clarity, which is much of what makes a pair of headphones good.

Lows are the decent. Present, forward, and sort-of accurate. A surprising amount of detail was present compared to the other frequencies.

Bass is satisfying. A good example of when the J55s are at their best is during the chorus of We Rise, by San Holo. While they lack a true “punch”, the J55s are capable in the bass category. The bass tends to overwhelm the mids.

Sound Isolation is tricky. If you don’t place the headphones just right you will get significant sound infiltration, as well as sound leakage. Even at high volumes, I can hear my mechanical keyboard through my music. A snap is also able to make it through. If you need these earphones for listening in a loud environment, I would not recommend them.

Sound Staging is mediocre. While there some form of three-dimensional sound to the J55s’ sound stage, it is minimal, with everything taking a front-facing position. Bass is omni-directional and ignores the rest of the instruments’ positions. The sound stage is neither wide nor deep, with only a basic sense of distance available.

Sound Type: Wet towel. Ew.

Comfort

When initially putting on the J55s, I was impressed with the comfort they provided. However, this slowly eroded into disappointment and discomfort, and then, pain. The discomfort comes from the high amounts of pressure that the aluminum band places on the ears. After about 30 minutes, I had discomfort, and at one hour, I experienced pain, requiring me to stop using the J55s.

Portability

While not nearly as portable as a pair of in-ear headphones, the J55s’ folding mechanism makes them easy to carry around. They have an adjustable headband which can shrink down when you need to get moving. The cable is detachable, which is a nice touch. The locking mechanism for the cable is proprietary, and cable replacements are rather expensive.

There is also an included carrying pouch for storing the J55s, which has two inner pockets. This is where you would keep your cable. I am not sure what you would put in the other pocket, and wish that JBL had instead gone with one larger pocket, as it is rather annoying to try and fit the cable into the tight ones currently present.

Durability

The J55s seem to be sturdy, but not solid. There is a small amount of heft to them, but not enough to feel premium. The plastic construction doesn’t give me too much faith in the longevity of these headphones, and the headband has already started to separate a little bit from the frame. The headband’s inner frame is made of aluminum, and is the sturdiest part of the design. The cable connection feels tight and secure, so no complaints there. The swivel-joints where the driver-housing meets the band frame is loose, and doesn’t give me confidence. These are not headphones I feel comfortable putting through any sort of abuse.

Mic

The mic is decent. While not as clear as some of the other headphones I’ve had in the past, it is passable. The inline controls work well with Apple devices, and have basic play/pause functionality on the Android devices I have tested it with (Nexus 6P, HTC One M8, HTC One M7, LG G3).

Overall

I would not recommend these headphones. They are uncomfortable, have poor audio performance, and are so uncomfortable that they induce pain. If all you care about is bass and style, these may be the budget headphones for you. If not, you are better off looking elsewhere, even for the low price of $32.

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