I've been on something of a hunt for a good set of Bluetooth earbuds lately. While my small collection of wired headphones has served me well at the gym, the airport, and on public transport, Bluetooth headphones offer a key advantage in their lack of a big, tangle-prone cable getting in the way of things. They also increasingly are more practical, as more and more smartphones seem to be phasing out the 3.5mm headphone jack (a move which I will continue to argue is dumb and bad).
The JLab Epic2 earbuds may not come from a brand you're familiar with, but these earbuds have received their fair share of critical praise in a space that is becoming increasingly crowded and competitive. I recently spent a week with the Epic2s as my primary workout and desk headphone, and these are my thoughts.
|Battery||JLab quotes 12 hours of battery life for Epic2s, and at moderate volumes, I think that's going to be easily achievable. Blast them, and the figure goes down, of course.|
|Balance||While I didn't find the eartips on the Epic2s to work for me, the actual balance of the headphones around my neck / ears was great. I barely noticed them from a weight or rubbing standpoint. They stayed put, too.|
|Audio||I would say the Epic2s sound good - for Bluetooth earbuds. But not great. They have aptX support, and are definitely going to be better than a lot of the cheap-y options in this segment. I was fine using them for regular-old music listening, too, not just working out.|
|microUSB||The Epic2s charge via microUSB, no proprietary dongles or cradles here. Though there is a fairly annoying port cover flap.|
|Fit||No matter which set of eartips I tried, I could just not get a consistent seal with the Epic2s, let alone a comfortable fit. The best I could manage was a one-ear seal that still became incredibly uncomfortable after more than an hour of wear. A set of Comply tips could fix this, though.|
|Audio||I've been using the Jaybird X3s as well, and I don't know how anyone could prefer the sound on the Epic2s. It's just mediocre. Like I said, good for Bluetooth headphones, but definitely not good for $100 earbuds.|
|Fit, again||The over-ear loop design is fine with me, but JLab's deformable cables are too stiff. I had to unbend and re-bend them every time I put the headphones on.|
Fit and design
Unfortunately, the biggest letdown with the Epic2s for me personally (I acknowledge many people have no issues here) was the fit. Plain and simple, I could not find a comfortable combination of eartips. JLab includes nearly a dozen eartip sets in the box with the Epic2s, including a few double and triple-seal styles, but none of them came close to providing a consistent seal. The traditional "bubble" tips could get a seal with some work, but it was impossible to maintain, and I'd have to use a size so large that my ears would be supremely sore after an hour of continuous wear. I could make it work, but at the end of my workout, I was just ready to take them off.
I tried every tip included with the Epic2s. None provided a good fit.
I think JLab could do well by the customers in including some Comply-style foam tips with their headphones. I find foam tips provide a much better "grip" in the ear canal, and they're just a lot more comfortable generally. They stay sealed, too. In fact, Comply even sells tips that are fully compatible with the Epic2s, and I have a feeling I'd like these earbuds considerably more if I picked up a set. At $14.99 for two sets of tips, though, I wasn't about to pony up just for the sake of experimentation. That said, I think this simple modification could make the Epic2s perfectly livable for me, given I've had a great experience with foam tips on the Jaybird X3s.
The over-ear loop style fit has never been a problem for me, though I do think JLab's reinforced cables are a bit stiff, and I feel like I have to adjust the shape of the loops every time I put them on. This isn't a huge deal - and the Epic2s do feel very "balanced" on my ears as a result - but it can get kind of annoying when you just want to put the damn things in and go.
Otherwise, the Epic2s seem pretty well-designed. They don't weigh heavily on your ears, the control pod doesn't dangle awkwardly when you're active, and the earbuds themselves stay put. For a workout headphone, these are great. If you're not as concerned with your headphones staying in position, though (i.e., you'll be using them primarily in a stationary capacity), the Epic2s may not be for you - the loop-over design definitely is not well-loved by some people, and JLab's take won't do anything to convert the naysayers.
Battery, charging, and durability
JLab quotes up to 12 hours of playback with the Epic2s, which is damn impressive for something with this kind of packaging. I generally found that estimate to be on point with moderate volumes, and longevity didn't decrease drastically when I cranked things up. I'd say I got around 9 or 10 hours of playback during my workouts, but that was generally near maximum output (I know, I know - not good for my ears).
MicroUSB charging is convenient, but the port flap is a bit of a pain to deal with - some might just sacrifice waterproofing and cut if off.
Charging is accomplished via microUSB, and while I can appreciate the convenience this offers, the charge port design feels a bit dinky. It's a rubber flap on the control module that you lift up to access the port, and when uncovered, the Epic2s are no longer fully water-resistant. If liquids get in that port, you'll want to power down the headphones and let them dry completely, or otherwise risk damaging them. JLab says as long as this port is closed, you shouldn't have any issues with liquids (they aren't rated for submersion, to be clear), though customer reviews alleging failures due to sweat ingress in the earpiece housings are not unheard of.
The Epic2s sound good - for Bluetooth headphones. I'll be honest: I was a bit let down by the audio quality in some respects. The bass is kind of muddy, and I found mids and highs just weren't especially clear. This is about what I expected from a $100 set of Bluetooth earbuds, though, and many satisfied customers seem to take no issue with the Epic2s in this regard.
Granted, if you're shopping for a workout headphone, sound quality may not be so much a range of considerations and attributes as "do they get loud enough to drown out everything else around me." In terms of loudness, I found the Epic2s to be adequate, but given I could never manage a consistent seal with them, my experience may not match yours (you may find them to be more than loud enough).
In terms of overall audio quality, the aforementioned bass muddying was something I noticed consistently, even when I'd force the headphones to seal in my ears explicitly for the purpose of evaluating the sound. The Epic2s do support aptX Bluetooth audio, meaning they theoretically have a leg up on some competitors in the space, but I don't think the quality and tuning of the drivers mean you're really going to see that feature pay dividends. The Epic2s sound fine, but I would hesitate to go beyond that.
It's easy to see how the Epic2s could be a love or hate sort of product depending on your expectations or particular experience with them. If I'd had no issues with the fit, I'd have come away with a considerably more positive impression of these headphones, and I'm willing to acknowledge that's something that could probably be remedied by throwing some money at a nice set of foam eartips. That does drive up the cost of the Epic2s to $115 if you go my prescribed route, though, and that puts them closer in price to the Jaybird X3s I'm also testing at the moment.
I'm well aware that many people find the fit of the Epic2s to be their strongest point, so I'm going to leave that down to personal taste. I also think the longer-than-usual battery life is far from a small consideration, and many will likely appreciate the microUSB charging that it seems more and more products in the wireless earbud segment are foregoing in favor of proprietary cradles or dongles.
While the sound quality certainly didn't blow me away, it wasn't what I'd call anything near poor, and I'm generally pretty picky about these things. Cheaper Bluetooth earbuds tend to have mediocre audio characteristics at best, and are generally suited for blasting podcasts or so-loud-it-doesn't-matter workout tunes. The Epic2s are good enough in this regard that I was OK using them as my airport walk-around and desk headphones on occasion. I can't generally say that of cheap earbuds these days - I'm a bit spoiled by my over-ears.
If you're in the market for something approaching a "premium" set of Bluetooth earbuds, I do think the Epic2s are worth looking at for their battery life, standardized charging interface, and reasonably good audio. I'll have some more thoughts on how they stack up against some competitors in the coming weeks. Buy here.