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Selling active noise cancellation headphones (ANC) over the past 18 months must have been a challenge. Normally the main reason to invest in a good pair of noise cancellation headphones is to drown out the screaming baby in row 14C as you fly from Montreal to Vancouver. Maybe you love your ANC cans when you are sitting in Starbucks working on that presentation and you want to drown out the gossipy squawking going on at the next table, while still being among the action. These are really great examples of when ANC headphones are the best investment money can buy but alas, nobody is sitting in a coffee shop these days and flying is just starting to find its groove again.
Knowing that we are getting closer every day to travelling and other normal activities, now may be the perfect time to start thinking about a good pair of noise cancellation headphones. I have been itching to get my hands on the brand new JBL Tour One noise cancellation, over-the-ear headphones that were first announced in January during virtual CES, but were not released until later in the year. JBL as we all know, has a legacy in sound that goes back 75 years, and the company has played a monumental role in some of history’s most iconic moments in music; think Woodstock and the Grateful Dead’s “Wall of Sound”. JBL was also the company responsible for providing the theatre sound for the first talking movie “The Jazz Singer” in 1928 and today, JBL provides sound in over 10,000 venues and 6,000 professional studios around the world. That’s an incredible legacy and I was eagerly wanting to hear how JBL would tune what they are calling their flagship noise cancellation product.
JBL is a great reliable brand, but as a man in his fifties, I have often found JBL products to be targeted more to say, a youth market, than to me. This has nothing to do with sound or build quality but more to do with product styling. JBL loves to scream their logo loud and proud on most of their products. I’m just too damn old to wear JBL headphones with a massive JBL logo screaming across the headband!
That’s the first thing you will notice on the JBL Tour One over-ear headphones; the logo is so subtle as to almost be non-existent and very off-brand for JBL in general. JBL calls the Tour One a product for business professionals and the monochrome inlay logo found on each earcup is classy and in line with what you would expect from a premium product with a premium $399 price to match.
Unboxing the JBL Tour One, the headphones are seated in an attractive hard shell carrying case that includes a usb-c charging adapter pinstriped in JBL’s signature orange colour (nice touch!) along with a 2.5 mm to 3.5mm cable for wired listening, plus every airplane adapter imaginable. Listening to the Tour One wired, or just with Bluetooth will give you an impressive 50 hours of battery life. Listening via Bluetooth with ANC activated, still provides 25 hours of battery, enough to get you from Toronto to Rome, Italy and back on a single charge. For those with battery anxiety, a quick ten-minute charge before boarding will serve up three hours of battery life. Who else is noticing that the marketing material for headphones is sounding like the charging capabilities of EV’s like Tesla?
The Tour One have terrific comfort with a generously dense foam headband for a confident fit that will have you wearing these for hours. The dampening materials inside the faux-leather ear cups that house 40mm drivers are premium, as the headphones block out considerable environmental noise even when they are not on. That sounds like a little thing, but anyone who regularly finds themself on a plane will attest to the joy of wearing ANC headphones while listening to nothing, just to assist in falling asleep.
The inside of the earcups have big “R” and “L” stamps that in my opinion, is one of the simplest yet greatest advancements in headphone technology to come out in a generation. If you are over 50 and wear glasses, you know what I am talking about! The right cup has an analog style on and off button that is spring loaded to pair with Bluetooth. Hard buttons on the right cup also control volume up and down. The left cup houses the usb charging port and there is a small button to deactivate noise cancellation, so when the airline steward comes to your seat asking if you’d like a third Gin & Tonic, there will be no confusion that the answer is yes.
The right earcup is also touch sensitive and allows the user to start / stop, move a track forward or back, as well as cycle through multiple degrees of noise cancellation including active-aware that allows the user to stay connected to their surroundings. The Tour One pair with both Google and Alexa virtual voice assistants and microphones allow for excellent clarity for phone calling.
With no planes, trains, or cafes to assist me in assessing the noise cancellation chops of the Tour One, I used alternative test environments including sitting next to a clothes dryer (hey that hum kinda sounds like a jet engine) as well as walking along Lakeshore Road with the dog. The steady hum of the dryer was not audible and the silence of blocking out passing cars made walks with the mutt that much more tolerable.
Normally testing headphones would require hours of listening to music from all different genres so I could then report back to the nuances of the highs and lows and range of clarity from one guitar solo to the next. To analyze the JBL Tour One’s, I decided to do what is becoming more and more typical of the pastime of travellers on a plane – I listened to a podcast, and I watched a show.
For the podcast I chose a brilliant who dunnit caper that explores the history of the stolen 1965 Aston Martin db5 that first appeared in the James Bond film Gold Finger and is arguably one of the most famous cars in the world. The car was stolen in 1997 from a Florida airport hangar and has never been seen since. Elizabeth Hurley is the narrator of the podcast, and her deep voice and colourful descriptors turn this into one of the best podcasts I have ever enjoyed. Being JBL, the sound stage of the Tour One perfectly align with Liz Hurley’s deep voice and anytime there was a roar of an Aston Martin engine I was left with goosebumps. The poor dog had to endure a two hour walk just so I could continue to the next episode. Voice clarity from Hurley’s narration was simply excellent from the Tour One.
For my show, I picked White Lotus, a show about nothing, but the video came in handy to demonstrate the accompanying app that allows you to switch to a low latency mode that ensures that audio and video will be in perfect synch over Bluetooth playback. The ambient sound mode in the app will optimize your Bluetooth performance based on what you happen to be doing, from “normal listening” to “music mode” for music and “low latency mode” for video. Other standard features like pre-set EQ and customizable EQ are also in the app, in addition to setting the headphones to user detection mode that will stop playback when the user removes the headphones.
The Tour One are esthetically pleasing and I hope that the subtle logo placement will continue through more of the JBL product category. The pivoting hinged earcup allows the headphones to fold to a miniscule profile guaranteeing that the big case, while great for storage, will never see the inside of a plane. JBL has a history of favouring the low notes over the high’s and mid’s but not in an artificial exaggerated way, and the balance of the Tour One’s, like the logo, is more refined and high-end compared to say, the JBL gear for the kids. At $399, these ANC headphones will be going head-to-head with established ANC models from Bose, Sennheiser and Sony. Buts that’s OK, as the JBL Tour One are a formidable contender and should be on anyone’s demo list if you are in the market for a high-end, stylish, well-built active noise cancellation headphone. A Wifi Hifi recommended product for sure!