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Bill Bennett

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JBL Live 660NC — noise-cancelling headphones for less

JBL Live 660NC active noise-cancelling headphonesJBL Live 660NC noise cancelling headphones sound good and cost less than rivals. The compromise is they are uncomfortable.

At a glance

For: Long battery life, noise cancelling, decent sound quality, low price
Against: Uncomfortable. Optional, but more advanced, features are unreliable.
Maybe: Bass-heavy sound which may not suit some music styles. Lots to fiddle with which can be a blessing or a curse.
Verdict: Solid, but not outstanding sound and noise cancelling performance at a good price.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Price: NZ$270
Web: JBL

JBL’s Live 660NC are noise-cancelling traditional wireless headphones with padded over the ear speakers. They have active noise cancelling or ANC.

At $270, they are about two-thirds the price of popular ANC headphones from brands like Sony. That means they’ll get a lot of interest from people wanting ANC. How do they compare?

You’ll notice immediately the build quality is good, but not as good as more expensive ANC headphones.

The Live 660NC headphones are plastic, the review pair is matt black. The ear cups are covered with fake leather padding. There’s mesh fabric covering the headband.

JBL doesn’t say of the headphones are dust or waterproof which means they are not. That said, while they can survive a downpour, you may run into problems in a dust storm.

In practice, they’ll stay in place on your head for now. Experience says that over time, the headband loses springiness and the fit becomes looser.

Not comfortable

The downside is they are uncomfortable. This is a subjective observation, you may not have a problem. I found it unpleasant to wear them for long sessions. This is in stark contrast to my ageing Sony ANC wireless headphones which are comfortable enough to take you from Auckland to Singapore on a long-haul flight.

And that’s the other minor negative about the Live 660NC. There wasn’t an opportunity to fly long-haul during the review period, but a visit from a lawn-mowing contractor was a chance to compare the ANC with alternatives.

They worked up to a point, yet headphones could not block out the mower sound as well as the now ageing Sony MDR-1000X. Nor were they as effective as the Apple AirPods Pro or the Sony WF-1000XM4 ear buds.

To check this, I put all four through their paces on an Auckland Transport double decker bus. Same result.

That’s not a scientific sample, but enough to tell you JBL’s ANC is less effective.

Noise annoys

It’s telling that, with ANC switched off, the tight ear cups are doing a lot of passive external noise reduction. The ANC effect is noticeable, but not as strong as with other headphones.

Back to our theoretical long-haul flight for a moment. The battery on the JBL Live 660NC outlasts all the other headphones tested in this review.

JBL says 40 hours, that’s a pushing things. In practice you’ll get more than 24 hours with ANC switched on, longer without ANC, but under 30 hours. That’s good by any standard and it’s way longer than the headphones remain comfortable.

Sound quality is good, again not up to Sony’s standards, but more than adequate. You won’t be disappointed. I referenced the headphones against the others mentioned above and a pair of flat response monitor headphones used for mixing music.

When you first get the JBL headphones there’s extra punch in the low to mid-bass. That works fine for popular or rock music, it’s not great if, say, you listen to classical guitar. I could hear a hint of distortion in high-end vocals and high hat sounds. Yet for $270 headphones the sound is better than you might expect.

It’s possible to change the equalisation settings with the companion phone app. And that brings up to something you will either love or hate: JBL gives you a lot of controls with the Live 660NC.

If you like to tinker

If you like tinkering, you’ll love this. There’s the app, but there are also buttons and touch controls which you can fiddle with for hours.

There’s a voice assistant, which requires far more user intervention than many of us have time for. In two weeks I never got it working reliably.

If you are that way inclined, you could use Google Assistant, Alexa or Siri with the headphones. Again, this requires work on your part. Not my thing, but many readers love all this.

One last test. The Live 660NC work well with Zoom or Teams calls if you work from home in a noisy house. You don’t really need ANC for video calls, but if you are thinking of buying working from home headphones, having a pair that also offers ANC is a smart move.

JBL Live 660NC verdict

JBL offers a good price, decent, but not outstanding performance and more features than you will ever need. That makes the Live 660NC a great value choice for people who want noise cancelling without spending a lot.

If you spend more you could find headphones with a more comfortable fit and better noise cancelling. That said, the Live 660NC headphones are a good compromise.

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