While the world of wireless over-ear headphones is flush with excellent options at mid-tier prices, it can still be hard to find something that looks and sounds great below $150. But as more major headphone makers perfect their wireless options, there’s a new breed of affordable wireless over-ears hitting the market, making great cordless headphones more attainable than ever — even for those with strict budgets. In our JBL E55BT review, we uncover one of the best-sounding and functioning wireless over-ear headphones at an everyman-attainable price point, a solid pair of headphones that are easy on your ears and your wallet.
Out of the box
The JBL E55BT come in a simple black box that opens to reveal the vibrantly colored headphones inside a molded plastic interior — our review units were a bright Digital Trends blue, but the model also comes in red, green, white, and black. The upper section of the box that contains the headphones is joined by a small box in the lower section containing a 2.5-3.5 mm audio cable for wired listening and a micro USB cable for charging, plus a small user guide.
Features and design
The E55BT feature simple, inoffensive design cues. The headphones have comfortable leather earpads and a cloth upper headband that joins basic round plastic earcups with a ring of golfball-like texture on the outside. The middle of the earcups is a flat plastic with the JBL logo in the center. In terms of flash on the street, it’s nice that the company gives you the five color options; White, red, blue, and green offer varying amounts of eye-draw, and the flat black option for those who just want a simple and classic headphone look.
Controls are minimal and easy to understand. There’s a 2.5 mm balanced analog output on the bottom of the right headphone just above a Bluetooth pairing button, and power, play/pause, and volume buttons above that. The bottom of the left earphone features a micro USB charging port and an LED charging indicator. The E55BT offer a solid 20 hours of wireless playback, meaning you’re very unlikely to run out of power except on the longest of journeys.
Fit and finish is decent overall, though it’s not as nice as on the special edition Quincy Jones version we also spent time with. Functionally, though, everything is more than up to par, with the padded leather earcups and cloth headband each offering a good amount of comfort. That said, the E55BT aren’t the tightest fitting over-ears we’ve ever worn, and overall passive noise isolation isn’t excellent. Though we can hear a bit more of the outside world than we’d prefer, the looser fit is part of what makes them comfortable during longer listening sessions. We were easily able to wear them for hours without discomfort, and the passive noise isolation isn’t so bad that you can’t still enjoy your favorite tunes on public transit or in a busy office, you just have to turn them up a bit.
As with most contemporary Bluetooth over-ears, setup on the JBL E55BT is a breeze. Simply power the headphones on and press the pairing button, at which point a noise will let you know you’re in pairing mode, then select the headphones on your Bluetooth enabled device and pair. From there, it’s off to the races.
The 50mm dynamic driver fitted to the E55BT offers a wide range of frequency response and great overall clarity, helping the headphones punch well above their price point in terms of overall sound quality.
When listening to songs with a wide array of low and high-end frequencies like The Flaming Lips’ The Castle, the crisp electronic snare drums leap out of the left side of the stereo mix, with a the punchy bass drum lines warmly rumbling beneath — each of them occupying just the right amount of sonic space. While the boosted bass response means that the E55BT don’t offer a totally flat, audiophile-style sound signature, the extra umph is was a welcome addition, never going so far as to be boomy.
The headphones punch well above their price point in terms of overall sound quality.
Despite the kick in the low range, mid-range heavy music like John Prine’s live recording of I Had A Dream didn’t feel thin or boring as it can on some lower-end headphones we have tested. Distorted guitar solos were as exciting and forward in the mix as the punchy bass line, and we enjoyed the overall warmth of the sound signature. Despite the warm tones in the middle and low end of the sound, high frequency information remained clear and balanced in the mix, providing clarity where you desire it, but never becoming jarring. Even when listening to tracks with often-sharp harmonica like Ryan Adams’ Come Pick Me Up, we never felt like the edges of the sound were too jagged.
The overall soundstage was as wide and dynamic as over-ear headphones we have tested at significantly higher price points, with stereo mixed instruments peaking out from distant edges of the sound. This, plus the solid audio reproduction makes the E55BT a great everyday listening headphone, though the color in the low end may take them off of hardcore audiophiles’ lists. Those less hardcore about a perfectly flat sound signature will probably feel the way we did: We really couldn’t find a genre that we didn’t like listening the on these affordable JBLs.
JBL offers a one year limited warranty on all of its E55BT headphones, which qualifies defective headphones for an exchange at an authorized online or local retailer with a valid receipt.Our Take
The JBL E55BT are a great affordable option for those who want warm, balanced sound, long-term comfort, and simple looks.
Is there a better alternative?
There aren’t many headphones at this low price point that offer the same blend of sound, looks, and functionality, especially with over-ear design. That said, sub-$200 wireless headphones we think are worth considering include the U-Jays Wireless, the Marshall MID Bluetooth, and the Plantronics BackBeat Sense.
How long will it last?
JBL has a history of building solid headphones and speakers, and we have no reason to believe the E55BT are any different. They should last several years of solid use, as long as you don’t treat them poorly.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The JBL E55BT are a good set of wireless over-ears at a great price, and are absolutely worth considering as a pair of headphones for enjoyable everyday listening.