JLab Audio Epic2 Wireless Headphones Review
These $99 wireless headphones seem perfect for runners—but there's a catch
If you're looking for the perfect pair of Bluetooth earbuds under $100, the JLab Epic2 Wireless Sport Earbuds (available at Amazon) are a promising contender. They sound good, they don't cost too much, and they stay put while you're working out. So what's the problem? They have a troubling number of poor user reviews online, indicating some issues with long-term durability.
Of course, that's true of just about every pair of Bluetooth earbuds around. It seems like no matter what you buy, you're rolling the dice. It's why we tend to recommend wired headphones, which are simpler to build, tend to be cheaper, and usually last longer.
If you're set on Bluetooth earbuds though, the JLab Epic2's are not a bad choice. In our tests (both in our labs and in the real world) they sounded good, with clear highs, good mids, and a respectable level of bass—if you get a tight seal in your ears. Though the design won't please everyone, they stayed in my ears easily through multiple runs, and the flexible earhooks mean they should fit just about anyone.
The asking price is still a bit higher than we'd like given the durability issues, but if you get one of the good ones you're sure to be happy with the result.
About the JLab Epic2 Bluetooth Headphones
The JLab Epic 2 earbuds are standard in-ear wireless headphones, connecting to audio sources via Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX compatibility. The headphones feature an in-line control cluster, with a multi-purpose button and up/down controls for both volume and track skipping.
Here are the specs as provided by JLab:
Waterproof (IP55 IPX rating)
12-hour battery life
Includes 8 tip sizes, 2 ear hooks, cable clips, travel case
Bluetooth 4.0 w/ aptX
1-year limited warranty
What We Like
They sound great, with just enough volume to keep you going
I wasn't blown away by the sound quality of the JLab Epic2's, but they definitely sounded better than cheap $50 and under earbuds that I've tried. There was a noticeable—if not terribly significant—bass presence, and the highs were clear and distortion-free.
I did find myself wishing the Epic 2's got a bit louder—especially when something like AC/DC's Thunderstruck came on mid-run—but that's typical for wireless earbuds that run off an internal battery. One thing to note is that the mids are quite a bit louder than we typically see, so certain mixes may sound different on these than you're used to, bringing some elements to the foreground and crowding out others.
The battery life was excellent
Wireless earbuds have to run entirely off of their own internal batteries, and—I don't know if you've noticed—there's not a lot of room in those tiny 'buds for batteries to live. Getting more than 7-8 hours is usually great, and the JLab Epic 2's provided just over 10 hours of playback in our tests.
Of course, that's nothing compared to the 16+ hours we got from the Beats Powerbeats 3, but it's good enough that you should only need to top up the Epic 2's about once a week. You do so with a USB port on one of the 'buds, so all you have to do is remember to plug them in before you go to bed one night and you should be all set.
The earhook design is still the best for active listening
Workout headphones come in all shapes and sizes, and everyone has a favorite. Some people are fine with regular earbuds, some need something with a little more support, and some go all-out with large over- or on-ear headphones. Personally, regular earbuds stay in my ear just fine—most of the time.
Even though I only have trouble from time to time, I like the peace of mind that comes with having a pair of headphones that won't get ripped out of my ears if I catch the cord the wrong way. The JLab Epic2 earbuds are designed so that the cable snakes over the top of your ear and around the back of your head.
In my experience this can be a bit uncomfortable at first, but it's the best way to ensure the earbuds stay put. Just remember that the part that hooks over your ear is moldable, so you can adjust it slightly to get it to fit the shape of your ears.
What We Don't Like
The fit may not work for everyone
The JLab Epic2 earbuds come with a wide variety of tip sizes, but even that level of flexibility may not be enough for everyone; as we said, some people just don't like having a wire run over the top of their ear.
If this style just doesn't work for you, you could try wireless earbuds like the Jaybird X3. Those use ear fins that hug the inner structure of your ear. They take a lot of getting used to, but some people swear by them.
Durability may be a concern
Pretty much every pair of wireless headphones on the market has a significant number of 1-star reviews, with users complaining of headphones that just stop working, or stop charging, or stop connecting to their phones. The original JLap Epics had a 1-star rate of around 33%, but that's fallen to around 20% with the Epic2. That's not great, but it's an improvement.
Overall, the Epic2 still has an average user rating of around 3-3.9 stars depending on the retailer you look at. While that's lower than we'd like to see, it's on par with the competition. Wireless headphones have to cram a lot of technology into a very small space, and that is a recipe for failure.
For this reason we typically recommend wired headphones; they're just more reliable in the long-term.
The controls aren't ideal while running
At this point, I don't think I could live without in-line controls on my headphones while running (I'm a compulsive track-skipper). Though back in the day I could fumble with controls on an iPod Nano without looking, that just isn't the case with my phone. Wireless earbuds are in a bit of a bind there because there isn't much of a "line" to fit in-line controls on.
On the Epic 2, the control cluster is located on the wire near the right ear, and it's easy enough to reach there. The three controls (back, forward, and a middle button) are easy to distinguish by touch alone, and the earhook design means you aren't going to tug the earbud out of your ear every time you want to change a track.
The main issue I have is that skipping tracks—something I do constantly while running—is done by holding the "next" button for a full two seconds. It's not bad, but most headphones just require you to double-tap the middle button quickly to skip tracks. Having to hold the button down for that long is just annoying, especially if you wind up skipping 3-4 tracks in a row.
Should You Buy Them?
Maybe—but only if you are okay with the risks
On first glance, the JLab Epic2 wireless earbuds have a lot to offer. They have an earhook design that stays snug through workouts and long runs, they're waterproof enough for when you get caught in the rain, and they sound good enough that they should satisfy most listeners.
The control scheme isn't our favorite, the 'buds may be uncomfortable for some, and there are certainly cheaper competitors out there, but the Epic2's are good enough we'd recommend them as a more affordable alternative to the Beats Powerbeats3. Everything we've seen while using them indicates that they're well worth the $99 asking price.
The only red flag? A slew of troubling user reviews online that indicate they may have some long-term durability issues. If you can live with that, and you are on the hunt for a pair of workout-friendly wireless earbuds, the Epic2's are one of the better $100 (or less) options we've tested. Durability is a concern with literally every other pair of wireless earbuds out there, so the Epic2's aren't any worse than others in this regard, but it's something to be aware of.
That said, if you're willing to pay a little more, we highly recommend the Beats Powerbeats3. They cost a bit more—$130-150 on sale—but offer about 50% longer battery life, better overall audio quality, and the best wireless connectivity we've tested. The user reviews aren't any better there—both have an average user rating of 3-3.5 stars online—but the Beats are still our favorite wireless headphones for working out.
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