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JBL Tour Pro 2 review: It’s all about that case

Andy White
24 Jan 2023
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
220
inc VAT

The JBL Tour Pro 2 stand out from the crowd thanks to an innovative LED touchscreen charging case but disappoint in other departments

Pros 
Charging case has a touchscreen
Loads of features
Cons 
Average sound quality
Noise cancellation could be better
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JBL has historically focused its efforts on entry-level and mid-range headphones but is taking on the premium true wireless earbuds market with the JBL Tour Pro 2.

And, in an attempt to differentiate its new earbuds from the prestigious competition, JBL is bringing something unique to the table: a charging case with an LED touchscreen that provides access to the Tour Pro 2’s extensive feature set.

It’s a well-executed idea with some useful applications but, ultimately, doesn’t feel essential to the true wireless experience. The Tour Pro 2 also fall short in areas where you’d expect high-end earbuds to excel, namely sound quality and noise cancellation, so unless you deem the fancy case a must-have, you’ll find better options elsewhere.

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JBL Tour Pro 2 review: What you need to know

First revealed ahead of IFA 2022, the Tour Pro 2 are JBL’s new flagship earbuds and its first venture into premium true wireless territory. They’re also the first earbuds to come with an LED touchscreen on their charging case, a novel idea that I can see other manufacturers copying. Complementing that is a well-specified pair of earbuds with a suite of features befitting their flagship status.

Bluetooth 5.3 connectivity enables support for the new LC3 and LC3+ audio codecs in addition to SBC and AAC; noise cancelling, “Ambient Aware” and “TalkThru” modes provide multiple ways in which you can control the level of ambient sound; while EQ presets, a graphic equaliser, three spatial audio modes and Harman’s Personi-Fi technology mean you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to audio customisation. Various other convenience features and customisation options can be found in the JBL Headphones app, which remains one of the most fully featured we’ve seen.

With the most power hungry of the Tour Pro 2’s features (noise cancellation) on, you can expect up to 30 hours of total battery life, while switching off ANC bumps that impressive figure up to 50 hours. On paper, at least, the JBL Tour Pro 2 are more than a match for most of the wireless earbuds in their price bracket.

JBL Tour Pro 2 review: Price and competition

The JBL Tour Pro 2 cost £220 and their biggest competition comes from the AirPods Pro 2, which are slightly more expensive at £249. Apple’s ubiquitous white buds got a second-generation update last September and, while not the last word in sound quality, have a huge share of the true wireless market owing to how nicely they play with the brand’s iPhones, iPads and MacBooks. They also happen to cancel external sound extremely effectively.

Other standout options include the Sony WF-1000XM4, Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, all of which can be picked up for between £200 and £280. Sony’s buds lead the way when it comes to smart features thanks to their use of Adaptive Sound Control, which automatically adjusts settings based on where you are and what you’re doing.

Sennheiser’s Sound Zone feature offers similar location-based features but sound quality is their biggest strength, with the Momentum True Wireless 3 demonstrating beautiful balance across the frequency spectrum. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are strong performers in the audio department too, while also delivering the best noise cancellation of any earbuds we’ve tested. They’re the most expensive of the trio, with a list price of £280, although they were available for £249 at the time of writing.

READ NEXT: The best true wireless earbuds

JBL Tour Pro 2 review: Design and features

As the charging case merits its own section, here I’ll just be discussing the design of the buds, which look rather smart. There are two finishes available: the black reviewed here and champagne, both of which are embellished with metallic details to help bolster their aesthetic appeal.

Their stems are long enough to accommodate an easy-to-access touch surface without protruding too far out of your ears, while the main housings are angled towards your eardrums for an ergonomic fit. JBL supplies three pairs of eartips to create that all-important in-ear seal but, while I found the buds matched the contours of my outer ears very nicely, the seal in my right ear could have been better.

The Tour Pro 2’s touch controls are executed via a raised strip on the stems and these picked up my commands accurately throughout testing. The sensors are a little over sensitive, though, to the point where actions were triggered when I was chewing gum while wearing a beanie. If this happens to you, it is possible to turn the controls off in the JBL Headphones app.

You can also choose to assign various groups of actions to each bud, although you can’t customise the commands individually. The way things are set up means you’ll always have to live without either ambient sound controls, playback controls or volume controls, which is a little frustrating. Regardless of which you ditch, you can hail your voice assistant by touching and holding either bud’s outer surface.

The buds pause and play automatically when removed from or inserted into your ears and there are few more unusual features present, too. “SilentNow” lets you use the Tour Pro 2’s noise-cancelling capabilities without a Bluetooth connection, meaning you can enjoy some peace and quiet without fear of interruption and save a bit of battery capacity while you’re at it. This could potentially be used while sleeping – you’re able to set a timer and have an alarm ring at the end – although the design of the buds doesn’t lend itself especially well to kipping.

There’s also a “Max Volume Limiter” that sets the volume below 85dB and “VoiceAware”, which lets you choose how loudly you can hear your own voice while on calls. Finally, a “Find My Buds” feature plays a high-pitched sound to help you locate the earbuds if you’ve misplaced them nearby.

While none of those inclusions are gamechangers, they’re all welcome and contribute to a suite of features that’s more comprehensive than many of the Tour Pro 2’s rivals.

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JBL Tour Pro 2 review: Charging case

The main event here is the smart charging case, complete with its LED touchscreen. It’s larger than your average case, but not gigantic at 58 x 26 x 55mm (WDH) and the 1.4in screen is big enough to display information clearly.

It has three levels of brightness and I found that “Low” worked fine for viewing in most situations. All of the Tour Pro 2’s key functionality can be accessed via the screen, with left and right swipes navigating you through different pages of settings.

Some of these pages are “hardwired” and always present. These include play/pause and track skipping, volume controls, an alarm, screen brightness, the lock screen wallpaper, notifications, Find My Buds, and the flashlight.

The remaining options – ambient sound control, spatial sound, equaliser, VoiceAware, auto play and pause and SilentNow – can be added or removed using the smart case settings in the companion app. The process seems buggy at present, however, as I found features were added back onto the case shortly after I’d deselected them in the app.

This problem aside, though, I found the case intuitive to use. JBL was wise to keep things simple by only including horizontal swipes and taps and I found the screen pleasingly responsive.

But how useful is having all of these features available via the case? The answer here is not straightforward. The case certainly saves time if you’re looking to do something not covered by the touch controls, such as change the spatial sound mode. It took me around eight seconds to get the case out of my pocket and do this, compared with the 16 seconds it took executing the same change on my phone. We’re only talking eight seconds difference but those small savings do add up.

Being able to check earbud and case battery life and have messages previewed on screen is handy too but, unless you’re at your desk with it in front of you, you’ll still need to fish the case out of your pocket as you would your phone. Aside from saving yourself a bit of time, there are a couple of other benefits. Taking calls using the case is a very efficient process, and the case does allow you to watch YouTube or read an article on your phone uninterrupted while being able to change your earbuds’ settings.

There’s potential for expanded features further down the line, too. JBL has said you’ll be able to personalise the lock screen wallpaper from March and who knows what other tricks it might be able to incorporate in the future.

It’s undeniably clever but, ultimately, I didn’t find myself using it much anywhere other than at my desk. More often than not, I was able to do what I wanted using the Tour Pro 2’s touch controls and, when I couldn’t, my phone was typically in my hand anyway, so I instinctively used that. And, while notifications are useful, you can’t respond to messages or access your social media using the case, so you’ll find yourself digging out your phone soon enough anyway.

These limitations would be easier to overlook if the Tour Pro 2 delivered stellar sound quality and super-effective noise cancellation but that’s not the case, either.

JBL Tour Pro 2 review: Sound quality

If you’re spending £220 on a pair of earbuds, the expectation is that they’re going to sound superb. But despite offering various modes and lots of options, I found the Tour Pro 2 unable to match most of their similarly priced competitors.

They don’t sound terrible but the default sound signature proved a little too bright for my tastes and lacked body. The guitars and vocals on The Pigeon Detectives’ “I Found Out” sounded harsh, particularly when I pushed the volume up, and this presentation became fatiguing during longer listening sessions.

The ten-band graphic equaliser in the companion app helped rectify the issues I had to a certain extent by bumping up a couple of the bass bands and dropping the 1KHz, 4KHz and 8KHz bands down a few notches. But I was never able to settle on an EQ that felt perfectly balanced across a wide range of genres. I wouldn’t recommend the majority of the EQ presets either: “Vocal” is tinny, “Bass” is muddy and “Studio” is a little distant, though that may be the intended effect.

The other key audio customisation option comes in the form of “Personi-Fi”, a hearing test technology created by JBL’s owner, Harman, to optimise audio based on how well you hear specific frequencies. It’s a similar principle to that used by Nura headphones but here it’s a more manual process.

You hold your finger down on a button in the app and a frequency is played at decreasing volume levels. When you can’t hear it, you remove your finger from the button. This is repeated for a number of frequencies across both your left and right ear before you receive a test report stating the results. I ran the test a number of times and received the same result on each occasion: “bass sounds are largely boosted”, “a considerable amount of compensation for mid is added” and “treble is greatly enhanced”. Applying the profile made no difference to the sound whatsoever.

Spatial audio is becoming a more commonplace inclusion for premium wireless earbuds and, here, there are three different modes: Movie, Music and Game. JBL says these deliver a more immersive experience when listening to stereo content but I found the Music setting off-puttingly artificial when listening to songs. The Movie mode actually worked better for music, adding breadth and a greater sense of space, and was definitely worth switching on when watching cinematic video content. The Game mode was a bit of a mixed bag: it was effective for open-world games with lots of environmental effects but was not very well-suited to titles with more musical soundtracks.

READ NEXT: The best headphones money can buy

JBL Tour Pro 2 review: Noise cancellation

Cheaper JBL buds such as the Live Pro+ and Live Pro 2 deliver impressive noise cancellation for the money, so I was expecting the Tour Pro 2 to perform strongly in this department. But, perhaps because I was testing them directly after the class-leading Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, I was left a little disappointed by how they attenuated external sound.

In terms of settings and options, they’re hard to fault. You can choose between adaptive noise cancellation or your own level of ANC from a seven-point scale, and there’s real-time adjustment based on the shape of your ear canals and sound leakage from your ears. Additionally, there’s an Ambient Aware transparency mode and TalkThru mode that decreases the volume of audio while amplifying speech around you.

With both ear canal and leakage compensation on, the adaptive noise cancellation did a decent job of dampening low-end frequencies. It cut a significant chunk out of the bassline of dance tracks pumping out from a portable speaker I was testing in my home office and the rumble of the Elizabeth line was reduced pretty effectively, too. But they were no match for the Bose QC Earbuds II across all my tests and the disparity between the two pairs of earbuds was most apparent in the office, where chatter and keyboard clatter was more noticeable.

Similarly, the AmbientAware mode didn’t filter in noise as clearly or naturally, although the seven levels of adjustment do provide a welcome degree of control. The final ambient sound control mode –TalkThru – reduces the volume of what you’re listening to so dramatically that you’ll struggle to hear it at all but does at least facilitate clear conversations without having to take the buds out. You may prefer, however, to pause your music by taking a bud out to avoid missing anything.

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JBL Tour Pro 2 review: Verdict

The Tour Pro 2’s touchscreen case looks flashy and works as intended minus some minor bugs. However, I see it as solving a non-issue at the expense of audio quality and noise cancellation.

Given how glued to our phones we are these days, I’m not convinced people are desperate to add yet another digital interface to the mix for the sake of saving a few seconds and that’s coming from someone who spends more time than most rootling around in audio companion apps.

With the odd exception, I’ve never found having to load such apps on my phone a particularly laborious task or felt the burning desire for a quicker method of accessing certain modes or features. I’m not against such expediency but I’d rather not see it prioritised over audio balance and effective ANC.

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