JBL Tune 600BTNC Headphone review
£90 for wireless and noise cancelling? Yes, it can be done
What is the JBL Tune 600BTNC?The JBL Tune 600BTNC is a Bluetooth equipped headphone with noise cancelling facility. This category of headphone has been a very significant growth category over the last few years and it is easy to see why. As a one stop, ‘block the world out’ option, they make a huge amount of sense and as they are active, their performance is less dependent on the equipment that they are connected to. As a further impetus to their takeup, you can also use them with smartphones that don’t have a headphone socket.
As such, companies have been keen to get in on the act and this has had the standard ‘Capitalism 101’ effect on the market with prices dropping accordingly (and of course other companies seeking to adopt a premium product or other niche approach to the market). Few companies have been as active at getting the price down as JBL though. When I tested the Everest Elite 700 in 2016, at £250 it was significantly cheaper than the competition as it then existed. Fast forward two years and you can have almost three pairs of the Tune 600BTNC for the same money. This is potentially a huge amount of headphone for the money but only of course if it turns out to be any good.
Specification and DesignThe basics of the JBL are conventional enough. Smaller than a full size over ear headphone, it is best described as an ‘on ear’ type device. Internally, it makes use of a pair of 32mm dynamic drivers of an unspecified material. This is slightly smaller than the default 40mm size that seems to feature in a huge swathe of headphones at the moment but anyone fearing that there will be a lack of bass extension probably ought not to be concerned. For starters, JBL haven’t to my knowledge made a bass light product in their history (having rather too much bass on the other hand is something that has afflicted quite a few of their offerings).
As such, the JBL makes use of a technology that they imaginatively enough call Pure Bass Sound. The actual engineering that goes into this is not something that the company expands upon hugely (and given the very different technology that goes into the variety of products that are described as having it, it is reasonable to assume that it might be more than a single piece of engineering anyway) but the intention is to generate the ‘live’ bass effect that we have come to expect from many venues - not least because they often use hulking great JBL speakers.
The Tune 600BTNC can be used as a conventional wired headphone via 2.5mm to 3.5mm jack cable that JBL supplies with it (along with a lurid orange USB charging cable). Doing so will allow the JBL to behave like a normal headphone (and the noise cancelling configuration can be used in this configuration too). The wireless ability is a big pull though and JBL has equipped it with v4.1 Bluetooth to facilitate this. This relatively up to date version does without the Apt-X codec support that is the mark of the premium models and has to make do with SBC instead.
How much this matters is open to debate. It does mean that there no technical means by which the JBL can receive a lossless audio signal but equally, I’m not totally sure how many owners will ever send them one and thinking about it as a device for travel and holidays, someone like myself who notionally cares about such a thing wouldn’t be falling over myself to use lossless in such a situation. Throw in the added dynamic that any iOS device (which will form a large swathe of the target market) still can’t form the other half of an Apt-X partnership anyway and JBL’s decision is fairly understandable.
Rather better news is that for a relatively slight headphone, the 12 hour battery life on wireless with a two hour recharge is very commendable. What is no less welcome is that the Bluetooth is really well implemented. Pairing and re-pairing is completely straightforward and once you have connected, it is completely stable and the range on offer is sufficient to allow you to wander away from your Bluetooth source- up to a few meters- without any interference or drop in quality. There are rather more expensive Bluetooth devices that don’t offer the stability that the Tune 600BTNC does.
This is partnered with a fairly straightforward noise cancelling system. While more sophisticated (and expensive, don’t forget expensive) designs in this category have been in an arms race to give more settings, more features and more all round cleverness to their on board processing, the JBL has two settings - on and off. This might not be the most technically invigorating thing going but it does at least make it easy to work out what setting you happen to be in at any given time. There is no form of partnering control app for this either but again, if you need an app to determine between on and off, I don’t really know what to suggest.
Aesthetically, the JBL is a fairly sober looking thing, especially when some of JBL’s other offerings are considered. The good news for extroverts is that for a princely £3.75 extra, blue, white and pink finishes are available. Even here though, things aren't quite what you expect. Rather than the lurid ‘sunburned tourist’ pink that might be expected of such a thing, you instead get a rather delicate salmon effect. I’m sure they’ve done their research though and that these colours are what people are after.
The good news is that for £90, these are a well made and well thought out pair of headphones. The padding is firm but fairly deep which as a combination, for me at least, generally yields the best results. This is coupled with decent coaxial movement from the enclosures themselves which is crucial when the headphone sits on rather than around the ear as for the most part, our ears don’t present a parallel surface for headphones to rest on and it means that the JBL can be worn for extended periods without discomfort.
The control interface takes the form of conventional buttons; volume up and down, track command, noise cancelling on and off and power. JBL has taken the welcome step of spacing these out in such a way that it is genuinely difficult to press the wrong one, even when in a hurry. The only slight downside to this is that the USB charging connection has been moved to the top of the housing where it now rests under the hinge. On the plus side, this does keep it free of dust and debris but it also means it isn’t possible to charge and wear the Tune 600BTNC at the same time. With a 12 hour life, this isn’t too pressing but it means that a long fight will leave you dependent on a wired connection when you get off the plane. There is also no form of storage bag which for a headphone that will spend much of its time on the move is a shame but some things have to give to hit this extremely competitive price.
The good news is that for £90, these are a well made and well thought out pair of headphones.
How was the Tune 600BT tested?The JBL’s were left running wired for 24 hours before any serious testing was undertaken as they arrived absolutely brand new. Testing itself was largely undertaken with a Sony Xperia XA1 Android smartphone via both wired and wireless connection although an iPad Air was also used for iOS testing. Some absolute performance testing was undertaken with a Chord Electronics Hugo2. Material used included some lossless FLAC but the bulk of testing was performed with Tidal, Deezer and Netflix.
Sound QualityInitially, leaving the wireless and noise cancelling off and using the JBL solely as a wired headphone yields some positive results. The first and most important of these is that despite the potentially implied threat of there being vast, uncontrollable slabs of bass, the reality is more benign. The JBL has a healthy amount of bass. Very possibly it is a little more bass than is strictly accurate, you get a tuneful and fundamentally entertaining performance as a result. Heaven/Hell by Chvrches sounds big, entertaining and does the neat trick of working on an emotional level as much as a cerebral one. This is helped by the bass being fast enough on its feet to ensure that faster music keeps its pace and energy.
Switch to Bluetooth and the ‘concerns’ about the lack of Apt-X aren’t really present. To be absolutely clear, you can eke out a little more performance from the Tune 600BTNC if you wire it to a high quality source but the drop off in performance from switching to wireless is slight and the result is so much more convenient that it really becomes the default method of listening to them. The background noise levels are low and pretty much totally unnoticeable the moment that music with any sense of level and dynamics is playing.
The fundamental character of the JBL doesn’t change with the move to wireless. This is still a headphone that wants to present music with a fundamentally positive spin. This works best when you play livelier sounding music with a bit of force to it. When you play more delicate material with real instruments some of the slight failings of the JBL are easier to determine. The tonality is pretty good but there is a congestion and compression to the midrange that robs them of some of the realism that they are capable of elsewhere.
Slightly counter intuitively, the noise cancelling on the other hand, is impressively delicate. To be absolutely clear, compared to the Bowers & Wilkins PX or Sennheiser PXC550, the JBL’s processing lacks both outright level reduction and there is nothing to compare to the voice recognition technology that the PX possesses but there is a counter to this. There is no real alteration to the tonality or presentation when the noise cancelling is engaged and that same punchy and fundamentally entertaining presentation is retained. The levels of noise cancellation are enough to take the sting out of public places. For sitting on a plane for a dozen hours, I don’t know if the JBL would be my first choice but for a commute, they offer a genuinely well balanced level of cut.
- Lively and entertaining sound
- Well judged noise cancelling
- Comfy and well made
- Some Midrange congestion
- No Apt-X
- No carry bag
JBL Tune 600BTNC Headphone reviewHoliday season is upon us and the idea of a self contained pair of headphones that offer a little bit of scope for blocking the world out start to look like a tempting proposition. Shedding the connection cable at the very least is something that is pleasingly liberating and in conditions like poolside at a hotel, you are unlikely to care unduly about any notional drop in quality.
To be completely clear, if you want truly hifi wireless audio, you will need to spend a little more money than £90. The JBL is fundamentally there to entertain rather than tell you what the performers had for breakfast that morning and the wireless connectivity is focussed on convenience rather than outright quality. Equally, if you need to make that jet engine drone go away, you might need something with a bit more ‘cut’ to it. This ignores the fact that at £90, the JBL is priced at the point where you’d be tempted to take a punt on it. If you do take a punt on it you’ll find yourself in possession of a flexible and genuinely entertaining pair of headphones. As a bit of a bargain, the JBL earns our enthusiastic recommendation.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £89.99
Ease of Use9
Design and usability8
Value For Money9
Our Review Ethos
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