JBL offers AirPods with a dated design for less than 100 euros. If it weren’t for the connection problems they have, we could have recommended them.
When you think of truly wireless headphones with a philosophy close to that of AirPods, you inevitably think of very expensive products. And while 2019 was more about adding features (e.g. active noise reduction) rather than the race for affordability, JBL offers, with its Tune 220TWS, homemade AirPods for less than 100 euros.
What should headphones costing less than 100 euros do? The bare minimum, of course. That is to say: simple operation, acceptable comfort and audible rendering. In short, the product has to work and not scatter in features that it would be hard to assume.
The pictures speak for themselves: the Tune 220TWS look like AirPods, for better or worse. Or, at least, they’re trying to get as close as possible to Apple’s wireless headphones, whose design is starting to be outdated (the Pro version, launched in 2019, is much more modern by the way). This results in earpieces with a long, thick and coarse stem. Quite frankly, the Tune 220TWS look like a toy, so much so that the finishes are not very neat (on our white model, the demarcations of the plastic are very pronounced).
We still appreciate the matt finish, which avoids fingerprints, and the few available colors (black, blue, white and pink). For a touch of elegance, JBL adds a tinted silver ring, no matter which version you choose. That breaks up the monotony a bit.
The Tune 220TWS comes with a relatively compact charging case, though a bit thick when slipped into a pocket. Here again, JBL has taken up the Apple philosophy and it’s by inserting the headphones that we understand the importance of the long stem: it makes it easier to relocate them, without even looking at what you’re doing. It’s not pretty to wear, but at least it’s practical.
On arrival, one will perhaps more willingly advise these Tune 220TWS to a public not very careful, so much they seem more robust than the AirPods. On the other hand, there is no water protection rating (beware of rain).
A JBL Tune 220TWS earphone // Source : Maxime Claudel for Numerama
To connect the Tune 220TWS to your smartphone, you don’t even need an app. We open the case, take out the earphones and go to the Bluetooth settings to pair. While it’s less direct than AirPods within the iOS ecosystem, the process takes just a few minutes. It’s after that things get complicated… During our few days of use, we had to deal with a very capricious connection several times, forcing us to go through the Bluetooth settings again to make it work. This is however the great strength of AirPods: to limit as much as possible the gestures to enjoy the product without thinking about it. We foolishly thought that the JBL Connect application could make things right – to no avail.
As they are sold below 100 euros, JBL headphones are limited in functionality:
- No connection to multiple devices ;
- No automatic power off/resume playback when you remove/replace a headset ;
- No wireless charge.
Both earpieces each have a button that can be used to switch on/off, but also to access some shortcuts. As is often the case in this product category, it is the number of clicks that governs the order. On the left one, one click moves to the next song while two in a row takes you backwards. On the one on the right, one click manages playback (pause/resume) and calls where two activate a voice assistant. A long press of 3 seconds can mute the microphone.
JBL Tune 220TWS Wireless Headset // Source: JBL
The description on the box says “universal ergonomics“. When it comes to headphones, we can undoubtedly say that universality is a myth, if not a fantasy, since there are far too many different ear morphologies to please everyone. Never mind, it is possible to get close to it and, in this little game, we have to admit that the Tune 220TWS are doing well. Not only do they fit very well in the ears (even when running), but you never really feel them – either during use or afterwards. On this point, we can thank very little intrusive design – a la AirPods.
On the other hand, the ergonomics of the physical keys are given a red card. In addition to their riquiqui size, there are serious doubts about their placement in the ear canal, at the very top of the stem. This choice causes discomfort when you press on it because you push the earphones a little more into the ear.
JBL Tune 220TWS versus AirPods Pro // Source : Maxime Claudel for Numerama
Between the erratic connection and the almost irreproachable comfort, we can say that the Tune 220TWS blow hot and cold. Therefore, the only thing left to act as a justice of the peace is the sound bite. On this criterion, of choice when it comes to accessories designed for music, the solution proposed by JBL does not lack arguments. Without being the most balanced headphones on the market, far from it, the Tune 220TWS ensure a good overall coherence and claim an astonishing quality regarding the price (less than 100 euros, let’s remind it).
To be convincing, the headphones have found their hobbyhorse: the bass, which provides a good overall dynamic (without overdoing it either) while the midrange, by comparison, is a little less thorough. In short, JBL knows how to bluff the audience when the demand is not invited to express itself. We know why we pay so little but, at the same time, there is nothing to shout about.
Be careful though, sound insulation is a laughing stock, so everyone around you will be able to enjoy your favourite playlists without having to listen. For those of you who wouldn’t assume to listen to Evanescence on the subway, that’s something to consider.
JBL Tune 220TWS case versus AirPods Pro case // Source : Maxime Claudel for Numerama
JBL promises a 3 hours autonomy for its Tune 220TWS, which is the strict minimum in the segment (even the first generation AirPods went a little further). The case adds 16 for a total autonomy of just under 20 hours, which is enough to last a week with moderate use (2-3 hours a day).
It takes two hours to fully charge the battery in the case… through a micro-USB port. In the year 2020. We figured JBL must have had some old cable to recycle.
Indicative note: 2/5
In itself, the idea of offering wireless headphones at the AirPods below the 100 euro mark is excellent. She avoids having to go through Chinese copies sold on Wish for a pittance. But the execution must still be correct on the essential points, especially on the general ergonomics and the connection. Unfortunately, the Tune 220TWS relies on a calamitous user experience due to the many connection problems we experienced during our trial. It’s a pity because JBL had more or less taken care of the rest, comfort and sound quality in mind.
- Amazing Rendering
- Cheap wireless
- Many failures with the Bluetooth connection
- Necessarily limited
- Cheap design