JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) review: $99 sports buds with energetic sound
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen): Specifications
Battery life (rated): 11 hours (ANC on); 15 hours (ANC off); 70 hours (charging case with ANC on); 70 hours (charging case with ANC off)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0 (codec support: SBC and AAC)
Water resistance: Yes (IP66 rated)
Size: 1.46 x 1.22 x 2.11 inches (per bud); 3.33 x 2.38 x 1.3 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.37 ounces (per bud); 2.4 ounces (charging case)
JLab makes some of the best workout headphones for under $100. We’ve tested several models over the past two years, from the unbeatable $20 Go Air Pop to the Tom’s Guide award-winning $79 Epic Air Sport ANC. Speaking of which, the latter was just updated for the company’s big Holiday 2022 rollout, and we got our hands on it.
The Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) retains most of what made its predecessor a consumer favorite, including active noise cancellation (ANC), class-leading battery life, and a fitness-friendly design highlighted by ear hooks. JLab also added new features like built-in Tile functionality and wireless charging.
While some areas were touched up (e.g., sound quality, transparency mode), others weren’t given much attention. ANC performance has declined from the original, and the use of USB-A charging remains a brand flaw).
Troubles aside, the Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) replaces its older sibling as one of the best sport headphones available.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) review: Price and availability
- Competitively priced
- Available in black only
The Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) can be purchased for $99 in black exclusively on JLab’s website (opens in new tab), although it doesn’t appear to be sold outside the U.S. right now.
In the box are a charging case, 3 sets of different-sized gel tips (S, M, L), 2 sets of extra-long tips, 1 set of Cloud Foam tips, and a quick start guide.
These are some of the more affordable noise-cancelling earbuds and running headphones out there. By comparison, the price is below top performers such as the $199 Beats Fit Pro and $149 Jaybird Vista 2, but are listed higher than bargain entries such as the $79 Anker Soundscore Sport X10, which lacks ANC.
Bookmark our headphone deals page to stay up on the latest sales.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) review: Design and comfort
- Durable, sporty design
- Secure fit, but uncomfortable
The design of the 2nd gen model looks no different from the previous version. An all-black plastic chassis with IP66-rating for dirt, sweat, and water resistance protects the exterior. The material can withstand whatever abuse you put buds through at the gym or on commutes. Small details like the LED and logo on the front remain intact.
The ear hooks give these buds the same reliable fit as the Beats Powerbeats Pro. Not once did they need readjusting or slip out during lateral-heavy workouts. JLab’s gel tips were fine, but I preferred the Cloud Foam tips since they formed to my ear shape over time for optimal fit.
Comfort wasn’t as pleasing. The sound port dug into my concha the longer I wore the buds. In addition, the hooks applied some pressure around the top part of my ears. These weren’t discomforts I felt during exercises, but more so during recovering time.
Completing the design is the bulky charging case. It isn’t as huge as the PowerBeats Pro case, but it’s also not the most pocket-friendly. At least it’s lightweight and sturdy. You won’t have to worry about the buds slipping out of the case either, since the strong magnets keep the lid shut tightly.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) review: Controls and digital assistant
- Improved and useful touch control scheme
- Basic digital assistance support performed well
You’re given a full suite of media controls that are individually assigned to single-/double-/triple-press and long-hold gestures on each bud. These include playback, call management, volume, digital assistance, listening mode activation, and EQ selection. The default controls are awkwardly assigned, but you can customize the setup on each bud in the companion app.
JLab improved the touch sensors, delivering more accurate input and quicker responses to intended commands. Enabling multi-tap functions wasn’t so frustrating on this version.
Wear detection has been added and can be enabled in the app. The function operates better than expected, initiating auto-pause when removing the buds and resuming playback when placed back on.
Google Assistant and Siri are both compatible and perform decently. Basic commands like “open Gmail” and “play Apple Music” were initiated easily. There was some lag when using Apple’s AI bot on macOS devices. JLab’s mic array also struggled to pick up some words, often making it difficult to execute lengthy inquiries on all platforms.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) review: Sound quality
- Energetic, well-balanced sound with ‘Balanced’ EQ enabled
- No aptX codec support
JLab is known for their warm and boomy sound profile. It’s a bit more refined on the Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen), though bass remains at the forefront, which is ideal for exercising. There are three preprogrammed EQs: Signature (default), Balanced, and Bass Boost. Users can also create their own sound profile by adjusting the bass, midrange, and treble on the 10-band EQ.
Sound quality using Signature bloated up the low end on Tidal master tracks, as well as Spotify tracks, and Bass Boost made the effect even worse playing content from either streaming service. Balanced lived up to its name and offered the best listening experience with an optimum sound balance across all frequencies.
For my warmup, I blasted Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” and was met with impactful bass that got my adrenaline pumping before a 5K run. The monstrous drums were well balanced and had some great reverberation, while the midrange remained prominent and distinctive instruments like cymbals were given some shine over the boomy production.
Jumping into hard rock selections, I was leveled by the infectious percussion on Sleeping With Sirens’ “Ctrl + Alt + Del.” The introductory drum patterns sounded deep and tight, which induced a second wind when I was about to call it quits before finishing a 5K run. As much as I appreciated the thumpy resonance, the midrange wasn’t as transparent as I would have liked; the distorted wailing vocals were unclear.
Listening in ANC mode boosted fidelity, giving lows and mids cleaner presentations.
AAC and SBC wireless Bluetooth connectivity are supported, and each operated well on compatible devices. It would have been nice if JLab introduced aptX support for higher quality Bluetooth streams, though.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) review: Active noise cancellation
- Poor overall ANC performance (no neutralization of high-pitched sounds)
- Be Aware is great for increasing awareness of nearby sounds
The Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) offers up to 19 levels of adjustable noise cancellation. This sounds powerful, but in reality, the technology pales in comparison to other heavyweight models in the category, even when set at max level. At best, these buds can put a muzzle on common distractions like chatty co-workers, dogs barking, loud TVs, and the humming noises from a centralized AC unit. All other noises will creep their way onto the soundscape.
During runs, I could hear everything from landscaping tools to traffic noises from 50 feet away. These buds are not equipped to handle high-frequency sounds either. Ambulance sirens, iPhone ringers, and the noises coming from my son’s toy boombox were unavoidable.
Be Aware was the much better performer and a great companion feature for runners who want to keep their awareness at an all-time high. Hearing cars and dump trucks come up the block left me with a great sense of security. Railroad crossing signals and train horns were audible from several blocks away. It was also a pleasure to communicate clearly with my wife from across the living room during work hours without having to take off the buds.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) review: Special features and app
- Tile integration for find my buds mode
- Must download three apps for full extended functionality
Most functionality runs through the JLab Sound app. Here is where you’ll access all aforementioned features, including ANC/Be Aware, Equalizer, control customization, and wear detection. Battery level indicators for each bud and firmware updates round out this app.
The JLab Store is still available for download, though it only offers one extra feature: Audio Burn-In, which plays static sound at a high volume to give the buds some run-in time with the aim of settling the speaker divers to optimize performance. As mentioned in past JLab reviews, some experts believe in this process, while others scoff at it. Just know it’s there if you want to give it a go.
Lastly, there is built-in Tile functionality, which serves as the product’s find my buds mode. The Tile app is required to use the feature — that makes three apps you need to download for the full JLab experience. The function is useful for locating lost or misplaced buds, sending a tone to the specified bud, while also providing a location history and smart alerts ($29 annual cost).
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) review: Battery life and charging case
- Category-leading playtimes
- Wireless charging
- No USB-C charging
Battery life hasn’t changed, which is excellent news. A full charge is rated at 11 hours with ANC on and 15 hours with ANC off. My testing saw these playtimes short by about 2 hours. With that, then, these buds still grant the highest playtimes in the category. I used them over the course of a week for 2 hours daily and recharged them on the sixth day. It usually takes me 2 days before tossing the AirPods Pro 2 (5.5 to 7 hours) and Beats Fit Pro (6 to 7) into their cases.
The integrated charging cable was innovative when first introduced, but it’s a become nuisance due to USB-A charging no longer being the standard charging solution. Why JLab continues to use this knowing USB-C charging is the more popular and widely used option is mindboggling. When you can find a wall or portable charger that accepts the input, a 15-minute charge can generate 1 hour of listening time, which falls short of other competitors (all Beats models can do 1 hour in 5 minutes).
At least JLab provides another way to recharge the buds: wireless charging via the Qi-enabled charging case. You can get up to 70 hours of additional playtime when the case is fully powered.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) review: Call quality and connectivity
- Terrible for voice and video calls
- Finicky connectivity
Don’t expect much from the Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) as a calling headset. Many people complained about background interference on my end, along with lots of muffle, no matter the environment. Some heard cars drive by, and others were furious by how loud wind sounded. My wife also mentioned that the volume was low during calls. Call quality was much better in silent settings, but there was some echoing on my end.
Bluetooth performance is middling. You get considerate features like one-tap Google Fast Pair for instantaneous connectivity with Android devices, but the Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) don’t make pairing to iOS/macOS devices easy; it took over 20 minutes and multiple tries on my MacBook Pro.
Range extends up to 50 feet in open spaces. Multipoint technology is not available.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) review: Verdict
The Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) are suitable for brand enthusiasts seeking an upgrade, and budget-conscious exercisers that need reliable buds to get through intense workouts. Noteworthy hallmarks such as durable materials, lengthy playtimes, lively sound, and a strong transparency are preserved. Inclusions like Tile integration and wireless charging are greatly appreciated as well.
JLab could have put more effort into enhancing their ANC technology, as well as the call quality and comfort. At the same time, one can only ask for so much when considering the $99 price point.
Give the Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) a shot if elite workout headphones like the Beats Fit Pro and Jabra Elite Active 75t are out of your price budget.
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