2020 has seen the true wireless earbuds market explode, with every passing day seemingly bringing a new player hoping to make its mark.
Founded in 2005, JLab is no stranger to the audio market, and its Epic Air ANC and Epic Air Sport buds are the latest means by which it intends to convert buyers to its cheap alternatives to the Apple AirPods Pro.
The Epic Air ANC buds come stuffed with features. In addition to the active noise cancellation hinted at in their (slightly obtuse) name, they also include wireless charging, a pass-through audio mode, a dedicated app and adjustable EQ modes.
The $99 / £99 / AU$149 price is a knife-edge for true wireless earbuds. Well beyond an impulse purchase, earbuds sold at this price need to be premium, feature-rich and have a killer selling point to succeed in this market.
The Epic Air ANC buds mostly do well here, offering a solid package overall. With excellent battery life, a strong feature set, decent ANC and a pleasing sound profile they’ll make a good purchase for their intended audience of commuters.
This doesn’t mean they’re for the majority, however, nor the best for all commuters. Finicky touch controls severely hold back their general usability, and while the included app is good for the price, it fails to compensate quite enough to make an overall difference.
JLab is onto something with the Epic Air ANC; however, the formula requires further refinement before we can wholeheartedly recommend them.
JLab Epic Air ANC price and release date
- Released August 16, 2020
- $99 / £99 / AU$149
The JLab Epic Air ANC were released on August 16, and they’ll set you back $99 / £99 / AU$149 – though you may find retailers selling them at a discount.
That price makes them a cheaper alternative to the Apple AirPods Pro and the Sony WF-1000XM3, with most noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds costing upwards of $150 / £150 / AU$200.
There are some fantastic non-ANC wireless earbuds at this price however, including the Lypertek Tevi and the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1, which focus on audio performance rather than premium extras.
- AirPods-style design
- Cheap feeling
Unlike smartphones, there is no universally accepted ‘correct’ shape when it comes to earbuds. And which models appeal is likely to depend on the many variations of ear size and shape, as well as differences in personal taste. If the Epic Air ANC buds were to be assigned a label, however, it would be ‘AirPod-esque’.
This is to say that, design-wise, they’re similar to Apple’s first-generation of buds released in 2016. This is no bad thing – in addition to the shape being familiar, it has the room for a larger battery and greater circuitry than can be packed into smaller units.
The case makes for an odd first impression. Coated in pleather, it bulges slightly on one side, which means it won’t sit quite flat in a pocket. The JLab logo is front and centre, leaving the whole package looking cheaper than the price would suggest.
We appreciate the built-in charging cable, however, which folds neatly down the side. As long as you have access to a USB port, a quick top-up won’t be a problem. The wireless charging point on the rear is also a pleasant inclusion for those who have invested in the tech. The case will prove a little too bulky for most, though; it’s made for coat pockets rather than skinny jeans.
Away from the case, the buds themselves have an interesting look. Made of plastic, they’re lightweight, although a little large. However, they’re at least comfortable in the ear, especially with the included memory foam tips – although less so after extended periods of use.
The Epic Air ANC buds are described as ‘weather-resistant’, which means they’ll happily survive a splash of rain or a sweaty workout, but won’t make it through a shower.
Controls and battery life
- Good battery life
- Ineffective controls
- Call quality could be better
One of the biggest gripes about budget true wireless buds in general is their badly implemented touch controls. Unfortunately, in this regard the JLab Epic Air ANC buds are part of the problem, rather than the solution.
Each bud is home to a single touch sensor, with the left and right responsible for respective duties. Right raises the volume, left lowers it. Beyond this, we enter a world of multiple taps, long taps and more – still specific to an individual bud – and with touch sensors that only irregularly register a press.
Try to raise the volume – and boom, Siri is in your ear. Want to pause the music? Why do that when you could accidentally skip ahead four tracks?
As true wireless buds become more feature-rich, the limitations of a restrictive touch interface are becoming more apparent, and the Epic Air ANC’s implementation is far from refined. The included app at least allows some controls to be remapped, while others can be removed entirely.
It also allows the adjustment of various features, altering the EQ settings, changing the strength of the ANC and more. The buds can even receive updates through the app, which is great for future-proofing.
However, in use we found it a little finicky, and it crashed several times. For the price it’s a welcome inclusion nonetheless. Direct controls in the app would go some way to solving the touch issues; unfortunately, no such feature is forthcoming.
Microphone quality also proved disappointing. Despite some bold claims, callers found our voice sounded robotic and distorted. Using the buds for video calls with a Windows PC, there were issues with audio latency, too, making them unusable for this purpose. The same problems, although less pronounced, were experienced over FaceTime on an iPhone 11.
The battery life was a surprise. The Epic Air ANC buds easily lasted the course of several weeks of general use, with seven hours contained within the buds themselves, and a further 30 hours provided by the charging case.
Audio performance and noise cancellation
- Decent noise cancellation
- Good audio quality
- Prominent bass
The quality of active noise cancellation is at the level you might expect for the price and size of these earbuds. It can eliminate the hum of traffic, but it won’t provide the pillowy isolation of the best in the field. The pass-through mode is useful for quick interactions – for example, at the counter in a grocery store. However, the touch controls limit its convenience.
Thankfully, sound quality proved to be a pleasant surprise, especially with the supplied memory foam tips fitted. The Epic Air ANC buds have a pleasing, consumer-orientated profile which will happily fit the needs of most.
Rock, pop and other high-energy genres are best represented by the default EQ, which offers energy, punch and detail in equal measure. In particular, bass is a highlight, showing some decent flex without being overbearing – often a downfall of cheaper earbuds. There isn’t enough attack for the best representation of punk and metal, however.
There is something of a wide soundstage, which is best articulated in complex classical tracks such as Puccini’s Preludio Sinfonico, where you can pick out multiple layers. Stereo imaging is nothing to write home about, though, even if it does leave a decent impression.
In short, if you primarily use your buds on the commute, or while working out, the musical capabilities of the Epic Air ANC buds will likely be a happy surprise. However, audiophiles looking for a compact replacement for their premium wired cans should look elsewhere.
Should I buy the JLab Epic Air ANC?
Buy them if...
You need mid-range buds for your commute
The JLab Epic Air ANC offer decent sound and noise cancellation, and are suited to casual listening in environments where you want to block out your surroundings.
You want noise cancellation on a budget
Most noise-cancelling earbuds are more expensive than the JLab Epic Air ANC, so they’re a good bet if you’re on a strict budget.
Don't buy them if...
You want audiophile sound
These buds may sound good, but they won’t do the trick if you’re used to premium over-ear headphones. If you’re on the hunt for best-in-class sound from wireless earbuds, check out the Sony WF-1000XM3 instead.
You hate touch controls
Touch controls can be annoying at the best of times, and the JLab Epic Air ANC are a particularly egregious example of this.
- Looking for more? Check out the best wireless earbuds you can buy today