Just how cheap can earphones be without sounding like utter garbage? There was a time not long ago when anything under $40 sounded pretty awful, but now we have a plethora of affordable options with solid audio performance to choose from. The JLab JBuds2, however, takes things to the next level of affordability. At $6.49 (that’s not a typo), it’s hard to imagine how earphones can even get manufactured and still provide a profit to the company. But that’s not our concern; what matters is how they sound. Do the JBuds2 deliver solid enough audio to eliminate the need to spend, say, $20 more? Not quite, but they do exceed expectations for earphones that cost next-to-nothing.
Available in black, blue, pink, purple, red, or teal, the JBuds 2 offer little to discuss in the design department beyond color. The in-canal earpieces fit securely—three sets of silicone eartips are provided in small, medium, and large. The cable is thin and seemingly more vulnerable to damage and tangle issues compared with pricier modern options, which now commonly feature braided or clothbound casing.
The JBuds 2 basically resemble the earbuds that shipped with MP3 players a decade ago in terms of design, with one major improvement—despite being referred to as “earbuds,” these earphones actually feature a nozzle, rather than a flat surface, that enters your ear canal and creates a seal. There’s no downplaying what that seal does for audio—this is how you get an accurate ear-to-ear stereo image and stronger bass response. And as recently as two years ago, this is not a design that you would typically see in this price range.
With the advantage of the nozzle in place, all you need are some decent drivers that can reproduce bass depth and high frequency detail with some semblance of clarity. So, do the drivers pass the test?
On tracks with powerful sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the JBuds2 deliver a solid deep bass response and, most notably, do so without distorting, even at top, unwise listening levels. It’s hard to impart just how impressive this is—we’ve tested earphones above $100 in recent years that have failed the distortion test on this song. This says very little about the tuning and sound signature of the JBuds2, but it speaks volumes about the drivers’ ability to handle powerful bass response.
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Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with less in the way of deep bass content, gives us a clearer idea of the overall sound signature. Almost immediately, it’s apparent there is some serious sculpting going on in the highs—Callahan’s baritone vocals sound rich in the lows, but also exceptionally crisp. Perhaps too crisp, as the sibilance can sometimes be too intense. The drums on this track pack just the right amount of bass in their thump, however. To call this a balanced sound would be a bit misleading—it’s a super-sculpted sound, with some roundness in the low-end and major boosting in the high-mids and highs.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” this high frequency sculpting elevates the vinyl crackle from background status to front-and-center, and privides the kick drum loop’s attack with some serious high-mid grit and edge that allows it to punch its way through the mix’s dense layers. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat get plenty of solid representation here, but when the vocals come in, they again sound quite sibilant. You could say that the JBuds2 exceed expectations in the bass department, but more or less meet them in terms of treble clarity and accuracy.
You can spend more money on lunch at McDonald’s than you would on the JBuds2. They are almost certainly an upgrade from free bundled earbuds, and come recommended if you are shopping on an extreme budget. That said, if you are someone who loves audio and music, we highly suggest you spring for something in the, say, $20-40 range. In that realm, we are fans of the surprisingly strong JLab Fit 2.0, the Skullcandy Method, the Urbanears Kransen, and the on-ear Scosche Lobedope SHP451M headphones.