Earlier this year, JBL came out with some of the most unique pairs of true wireless earbuds on the market. The new JBL Tour Pro 2 don’t set themselves apart with industry-leading battery life or unmatched ANC but, instead, arrive with the headlining feature of an onboard touchscreen display.
Hands-on with the new JBL Tour Pro 2 earbuds
While the whole story for the JBL Tour Pro 2 may not be entirely summarized by the unique charging case, it is where the tale starts. It’s the one feature that really does make these stand out from virtually 99% of all other earbuds that have come before them and ultimately what makes these worth considering at all. Even Apple has been toying around with the idea of imbuing its AirPods with an onboard touchscreen, JBL just happened to launch a pair first.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The new JBL Tour Pro 2 arrive in a typically sized charging case. It fits in the palm of your hand and ultimately isn’t that much larger than the likes of some other third-party earbuds out there. Nothing too out of the ordinary. But open up the charging case, and the pint-sized touchscreen display on the front will light up and lure you in with the suggestion to swipe to the right. That’s when you’re greeted with a mini operating system for the earbuds, fully opening the bizarre can of worms that is these earbuds.
The onboard screen, in its simplest use case, can effectively be seen as a more modern take on the inline microphone remote and its controls. There’s the ability to adjust volume and even switch songs, like you’d expect, just with a little extra flare thrown into the mix. But JBL keeps going, adding even more into the interface, like being able to switch between ANC or the other two transparency modes.
The novelty even goes as far as to include an onboard find my earbuds feature, as well as a flashlight that cranks the brightness up to full blast. You can set a listening timer, change the screen’s brightness, and even choose from an assortment of lock screen wallpapers too. Really fascinating stuff.
But circling back to something actually useful, EQ settings are just a few taps away too. I never really found myself switching any of the equalizer preferences once I get things set up with a new pair of buds, but having the option so readily available did have me actually changing settings based on what I was listening to.
Underneath the charging case next to the USB-C charging port is even a little button you can click to manually lock the touchscreen.
Alongside the novel charging case, JBL surprisingly does deliver a robust pair of true wireless earbuds. I really was expecting to pick up the new JBL Tour Pro 2 and largely have all praise begin and end at the fact that there’s a screen on the charging case. But the company goes the extra mile to ensure that there’s more than just the bells and whistles – delivering the core features you’d expect from a pair of $250 earbuds.
Active noise cancelation is another headlining feature that really delivers. I’ve run these through the usual gauntlet of busy city streets and crowded subway trains here in New York City, and the JBL Tour Pro 2 have managed to deliver a very reliable performance. To much the same tune, battery life is also very solid. Not only is monitoring how much juice you have left super easy from the charging case’s screen, but the up to 40 hours of usage really does seem to be in line with my experience so far.
When you do need to recharge, there’s, of course, the wired option of USB-C we mentioned above. But JBL also includes Qi support, so you can drop these into a wireless pad too.
One feature that I thought wouldn’t make use of was wear detection. But once again, JBL has surprised me with the Tour Pro 2. The feature doesn’t work as perfectly as you’ll find on AirPods Pro, but being able to take the earbuds out and have your music automatically stop is a nice inclusion.
Straying from what I love about the earbuds a bit, sound quality is easily the area that suffers the most with the comprises made here. Prior to checking out the JBL Tour Pro 2, I had been spending the past few weeks rocking out with Sony’s new XM5 earbuds – so my hearing is a bit more tuned to the finer side of the market. It isn’t to say that these earbuds sound bad because they certainly don’t! But for the price range, you are looking at some serious competition from other models that do deliver far more balanced sound signatures.
The high end isn’t super crisp, and the lower end of tracks is a bit muddy. Instruments aren’t as distinct as you’ll find on some higher-end listening experiences, either. But I really do have to at least give these credit because the earbuds do ultimately sound a lot better than some other models out there. It’s just that anything in the $250 price point is going to sound noticeably better.
But the worst part about these earbuds for me has to be the silicone that JBL used for the ear tips. Normally, my ears are pretty adaptable when it comes to finding various earbuds comfortable, but these JBL Tour Pro 2 did take a little more getting used to than I’ve found with other models out there. I wouldn’t really say that this changes my overall opinion about the earbuds, but it’s at least worth noting that there is an area JBL phoned it in a bit.
And speaking of low points, the transparency and ambient sound modes also aren’t very good. There’s not a lot to say on that front, other than that these are a long way away from winning away awards for the audio passthrough – even with six onboard microphones.
I’ve been using the JBL Tour Pro 2 for the past few weeks now and really have come to one conclusion. It’s nothing shocking by any means, but you really are buying these earbuds for the unique charging case. There is so much to like about the buds in all other facets, but what is really going to justify that steep $250 price tag is the onboard touchscreen.
And to be quite honest, I don’t think you’d be crazy to do that. Maybe my use case has been a little niche, but I have been loving my time with the Tour Pro 2. I wear a lot of skirts and dresses that either have no pockets or some tiny ones, and being able to keep the charging case in hand while commuting has been great for just putting my phone away a bit. Some will say that the last thing that they want is another screen in their life, but I have found that it actually just gives me a chance not to be glued to my iPhone while still having playback controls around.
These really just have me dreaming of what the next step down the JBL Tour Pro 2 path leads us to. It feels like we’re right on the cusp of getting a pair of earbuds that have built-in MP3 player capabilities. Maybe this is as close to that vision. And if that is the case, at least JBL was able to deliver a compelling pair of earbuds that manage to beat the gimmick allegations.