JBL’s Live500BT review: Don’t miss a message, don’t miss a note

Mala Bhargava | Updated on June 27, 2019 Published on June 26, 2019

JBL’s Live500BT headphones don’t just sound great, they work with Alexa and with Google Assistant to read and send texts for you

At the higher end of a series of five headphones just launched by JBL Harman is the Live500BT, a full-fledged feature-filled set of over-the-ears headphones. The whole series is known as the Live and what’s common among all the products in this range is that they put the personal assistants — Google and Alexa — right up front rather than an after-thought. They don’t forget good sound quality either, making them a great set of options at different price points, the cheapest starting at ₹2,499 and the most expensive of the lot at ₹12,599. The Live500BT costs ₹9,999 though we’ve spotted it online for less.

The Live500BT are available in a range of colours. We got the usual black but there’s a dark red, an interesting blue, an off-white and a teal. These are not exactly premium-looking, if that matters to you, but they look decent enough. The material on the ear-cups is a matte, hard plastic and a textured synthetic material on the headband. On each ear-cup is a large JBL logo, which however doesn’t look loud because it’s in a glossy plastic of the same colour as the headphones. There are a few other glossy accents handled neatly on this set. The headphones don’t come with a carry case but the ear-cups fold in and you can pretty much put them anywhere as they aren’t flimsy.

Now, these headphones are not exactly light, but their weight is not a consideration either. They happen to fit rather firm or tight though and this might just bother some people. While they fit tight on the sides, I also found they slip off a little if I look downwards and I had to grab them more than once before they landed around my face or on the floor. I suspect the fit will be different for everyone. I found they were okay to wear for a few hours, even in the heat of the Indian summer. The ear-cups are not the softest or plushest I’ve seen but more importantly they’re a little shallow around the ears and some may like them deeper. I didn’t personally find the depth of the cups a problem.

Chat without your phone

To start using the Live500BT, you need to manually pair via Bluetooth with your smartphone in much the usual way. Once this is done, download the JBL headphones app. Open it and let it recognise your headphones. The app is the easiest way to set the mode you want them to be in, which assistant they should talk to. On an Android phone, that will Alexa or Google. For an iPhone, you can call up Siri. Connect to the assistant of choice and change easily when you want to switch — it just takes a few taps. Using Alexa will need you to also go into the Alexa app and enable it or it won’t be able to talk to your Amazon account or know your details. For the Google Assistant, tap for a few required permissions and of course after that it knows all about you. Using the Google Assistant is best on the go and the headphones then do a great job of reading your notifications, especially messages, to you. When you receive a message, including on Whatsapp, the music will recede and the Google Assistant will tell you who you have a message from and ask you if you want to hear it. Tap to hear and tap and hold to respond via the headphones. The Assistant will confirm what you said and ask if she should send — tap to say yes. It’s simpler than it sounds, especially when you get used to it and your message seems to magically appear in the Whatsapp window. This is really useful for times when you’re not looking at your phone or don’t have it nearby — but within Bluetooth range, of course. It can even mean less screen time, which many will consider a great plus.

The left ear-cup of the Live500BT has a touch surface to work with the voice assistant. On the right side are buttons for other basic controls. From the app as well as using buttons you can turn on two other sound modes — Ambient Aware, in which outside sounds can be heard and TalkThru, in which you can tap to listen to someone who’s speaking to you. These are quite distinctly different. Otherwise, the music is quite well isolated inside those headphones. The buttons will all take some getting used to.

Packs some oomph

India’s bassheads are not going to be disappointed with the sound from these headphones and their 50 mm drivers. Listening to many tracks that included current hits, rap, rock, blues and more, I found the bass quite present though not overboosted to the point of unpleasantness. Generally the sound was lively with kids and highs doing well to make for a nice and clean profile. But the best is you can reach into the app and either choose a sound profile (there aren’t many to choose from) or create your own. Even when maxed out, the bass still sounds realistic and not thumping, which is nice. The sound seems close to your ears rather than out there and around, but overall it has a nice personal feel to the listening experience. The really nice quality of the sound is great to see when you often have products that give you one set of features (in this case tight integration with assistants) and take away from the basic function. They can get pretty loud.

You can also take calls on these headphones, of course, and that too sounds good. You can choose to use an aux cable with its own mic and remote, provided in the box. Depending on how loud you listen, the battery lasts up to 30 hours. It can also be quick-charged for a much needed spell.

Price: ₹9,999

Pros: Good sound quality, solid bass and EQ controls via app, tight integration with voice assistants with touch control access, well priced, good battery life

Cons: No case provided, could be a little tight or firm for big heads, still on micro USB, buttons and controls take a little getting used to

Published on June 26, 2019
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