JBL has debuted a whole lineup of new, premium headphones for 2020, and the Club One noise canceling headphones occupy the top of the totem pole, as it were. The Club One deliver high-quality sound, an expansive feature set (including an app that allows for customizable EQ like the Sony XM3 headphones), and very durable design—but you're paying for all that. With a list price of about $350 (though they're occasionally available for less), the Club One are far from budget cans.
Not everyone needs a durable, premium set of noise-canceling over-ear headphones, but if you do, the JBL Club One stand out as a formidable competitor within the space. They're not without a few flaws, and are certainly priced out of range for many buyers, but if Sony's best don't quite strike your fancy, these finely engineered cans from JBL are worth investigating.
About the JBL Club One
JBL's Club One headphones are modern over-ear headphones that feature an app for calibration, wireless connection, and active noise cancellation (ANC). Here are their basic specs:
- Price: $349.95 MSRP
- Style: Over-ear
- Noise-Canceling: Adaptive Noise Canceling
- Battery Life: Up to 45 hours (claimed)
- Passive Operation: Yes (3.5mm inputs on both cups)
- Voice Assistant: Compatible with Amazon Alexa or your phone's internal assistant
- Weight: 378.5 grams
- Bluetooth version: V5.0
- Colors: Black
JBL has stuffed the Club One with most of the latest tech and premium features you can expect to find on the top noise-canceling headphones on the market. You're getting a very robust build, solid sound quality, a fairly well-appointed app, and good noise canceling (more on all that below). All in all, you can expect a polished experience here.
Alongside the Club One headphones themselves, you're also getting a solid selection of accessories:
- Hardshell carrying case
- USB-C charging cable
- Two optional 3.5mm cables—one with an in-line microphone, one curly 1/4" adapter ready
- 3.5mm-1/4" adapter
- Airplane adapter
That's a lot of useful extras for any pair of headphones, and I especially appreciate the multiple 3.5mm cable options.
What We Like
A supremely durable design
One of my primary concerns when I spend more than $200 on a pair of headphones (and I've done it a few times) is whether they'll hold up to long-term wear and tear. It's a natural instinct to want to take your shiny new headphones everywhere—especially the noise-canceling variety, which are indispensable while traveling or trying to work in a potentially distracting environment.
Fortunately, the JBL Club One aren't just "durable enough." Following in the footsteps of some of V-Moda's most beloved cans from a half-decade back, the band arms and cup holders are cast in a handsome black metal, and padded decently where they need to be. The downside of this extra protection is the weight: The JBL Club One over-ears are considerably heavier than a couple of their competitors in this price range. However, once you've gotten used to them, you'll be pleased with how indestructible they feel.
Comfortable enough for long listening sessions
Despite their hearty metal frame, the Club One are pretty comfy both in the short- and long-term. They're not the most comfortable consumer headphones I've ever used—that honor still goes to the inimitably plush and lightweight Sony WH-1000XM3—but they're good for a solid day's worth of listening.
Like many metal-framed headphones, their clamping force (the amount of pressure they exert around your head/temples) is high enough that you get a good seal around your ears, but not so tight that they're unpleasant to wear, even over long periods.
The other really cool thing about these headphones is how flexible and foldable they are. The cups pivot and twist as well as any pair I've used, and while they unfortunately don't lay flat against your clavicles when worn around your neck, they do fold up in a "ball" shape. This makes them (and the included hardshall case) notably portable.
Great sound, as we expected
JBL—now a subsidiary of Samsung—is no stranger to crafting great speakers and speaker drivers. The company's popular Bluetooth speakers have topped our list for the last couple years, and while I don't have as much experience with JBL's headphone options, the Club One don't disappoint.
As usual, I listened to a lot of music (mostly streaming from Spotify) on a few different sources—my smartphone, work laptop, and personal laptop—and enjoyed a consistently high-quality wireless music experience. I listened to stuff like classical music and dream pop; heavy metal, yacht rock, and synthwave: none of it was found wanting. I also listened to videos on YouTube, just to get a feel for the Club One's handling of dialogue.
I don't have my current favorite reference headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM3, on hand to compare directly, but I did listen to the One alongside some recent favorites: the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X, the ATH-ANC900BT, and the ATH-AD700X (I know what I like), and JBL's model definitely held their own. Bass and midrange are easily distinguishable, and the whole sound signature is warm and powerful.
The Club One lean less toward the treble side of things in their "natural" sound setting, but there are plenty of ways to customize the EQ, which I'll detail below. Overall, however, even if you don't download the app to adjust settings (though we definitely recommend it), we think most folks will enjoy the performance.
Rock solid noise canceling
The Club One really go a long way toward delivering a "complete" package, from build quality to sound, but these wouldn't fly if they didn't also give you rock solid noise canceling. Fortunately, while the Club One don't necessarily outdo lauded cancelers like the WH-1000XM3 or the Bose QC 35 IIs, they are still very solid in their own right.
The Clubbies don't dampen quite as much of the noise spectrum as we observed with the Sony WH-1000XM3, but they're on par with most of the competition. My window air conditioning unit, for example, is still audible—but just barely. Outdoors, much of the ambient noise of the city and traffic is eliminated.
The noise cancellation can also self adjust to your enviroment. The headphones don't make their "active" noise cancellation adjustment phases as obvious as Sony's XM3, which announce the mode adjustment as it happens, but there were moments while walking around that I could tell it was working.
A good companion app, with one quirky feature
These days, any headphones that hope to compete with the big dogs need a "companion" app that gives you a wider degree of flexibility in terms of control and customization than what you can do with the on-set controls.
JBL's Headphone app connects to the Club One via Bluetooth LTE, and can be used to interface with many JBL models. It's not as loaded as Sony's headphones app, but there's enough here to satisfy most users. From the app, you can pair the headphones; monitor battery life; select what the activate button on the left ear cup does; turn ANC on, off, or adjust its level of extremity; or access JBL's "Stage+" EQ menu.
The one thing I found a bit odd was the "DJ Signature" submenu under Stage+. It may just be that I'm not in the target audience, but I felt absolutely clueless about both who these DJs were and what their signature sound was supposed to be. I tried a couple of them—for what it's worth, I enjoyed the custom sounds from "Tigerlily"—but found the adjustable EQ and presets on the other Stage+ panel to be much more to my liking.
What We Don't Like
Bluetooth connection is occasionally wonky
My initial experience pairing to the Club One was abysmal. I started with an outdoor errand, and at first, everything was peachy. However, I noticed that (as with some less fancy Bluetooth headphones I've used in the past), the connection was a little unstable. When I took my phone out of my pocket, for example, the connection would skip and break up.
However, the problem was human error. Two versions of the Club One show up for pairing when they're in pairing mode, at least for mobile devices—the normal connection, and the connection that the JBL Headphones app uses. I simply used the wrong one. While this isn't essentially an issue, it did forecast occasional more egregious Bluetooth problems.
While you shouldn't have any issues with wireless connectivity under normal circumstances, I did find that the Bluetooth didn't hold up in terms of range compared to some of the competition. Usually, headphones in this price range let you get around 25-30 feet from your source device before the connection starts to drop. For the Club One headphones, it feels like closer to 15-20. Again, not a huge issue, but it does ring as an area where JBL could show some improvement.
Pretty expensive for the current market
The JBL Club One over-ears do a lot of things right, but they also ask a lot for it. While they're occasionally on sale, you'll usually find them for the MSRP of $350, which puts them toe-to-toe (at least in price) with our current top-rated set of headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM3, though the latter are usually on sale thanks to their long tenure. Unfortunately, as much as the Club One do right, they don't really outdo the competition in any single area.
They sound good, offer solid noise canceling, are plenty comfortable, and have lots of great features and extra accessories. They even outdo the WH-1000XM3 with a few extra accessories. But they don't sound as good, nor cancel noise quite as well. The differences aren't massive in that regard, but they are fairly obvious. It's a flattering comparison for the Club One, but it leaves me wondering why most buyers wouldn't go for the XM3 when they're available at the same price (and often much cheaper).
Battery life is great, but the advertising isn't
The Club One are on-par with the best battery life for this class of headphone—you can expect to get 25-30ish hours per full charge with noise canceling. That means you won't need to worry about charging them for many days in a row (unless you use them for every waking hour).
The "negative" in this column is that JBL advertises "up to 45 hours" of battery life, which is technically possible if you turn off noise canceling, don't adjust the EQ, and listen to everything at moderate volume—but that's not a realistic assessment of use, either.
The short story is, the battery life is good enough in an "expected use" scenario for sure, and spec sheets seem to be slightly inflating that number.
Should You Buy It?
Maybe—if you want tons of durability, or just really like DJs
JBL has created an excellent set of noise-canceling over-ear headphones in the Club One. They're stylish, offer lots of useful features and accessories, and finished in a very durable metal frame. We really like them—which is why it's even harder to say they're difficult to outright recommend.
As good as these headphones are, they don't match the lauded Sony WH-1000XM3 in two very key areas: sound quality and noise cancellation. While the Club One sound plenty good, there's something about the sound quality on the XM3 that just outpaces a wide margin of consumer headphones in the last couple of years. Likewise, Sony has noise canceling well in hand, as demonstrated even on more affordable models released this year, like the Sony WH-CH710N.
All that said, some buyers might prefer the Club One, and you shouldn't discount them immediately. For the common flagship price, you're getting solid sound quality and noise canceling, a more durable form factor than many competitors, the convenience of dual-3.5mm jacks (not to mention JBL actually includes 3.5mm cables, something we griped about the XM3 for), and—for better or worse—custom DJ sound modes. These might call to you, and we encourage you to answer. But, as per usual, we'd still steer most people toward Sony's WH-1000XM3.
Meet the tester
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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