James Bullough Lansing founded JBL in 1946, after the death of his partner, Ken Decker, with whom he had spent twenty years developing successful speaker drivers and movie theater sound systems under the Lansing Manufacturing Company brand name. Decker had been responsible for the business end of Lansing and his demise sent the company into a financial tailspin until it was acquired and renamed as Altec Lansing in 1941. The JBL Tour One Wireless Headphones would have freaked Lansing out.
Both companies went their separate ways and Lansing introduced several innovative Alnico drivers that became signature JBL products over the decades. Lansing died in 1949, but the company pushed forward under the guidance of JBL’s vice-president, Bill Thomas. JBL was eventually acquired by Sidney Harman who turned the brand into the world leader in pro audio, movie theater loudspeakers, and high-end systems that exists today.
Considering their history and track record designing and producing transducers, horns, and other components, it is somewhat surprising that JBL didn’t get heavily into the headphone market until the Bluetooth days and today does not offer a single wired headphone model.
JBL jumped into the Bluetooth loudspeaker market and their first headphones were clearly aimed at younger buyers; the styles and color schemes were not aimed at audiophiles or adults over 25.
Papa Can You Hear Me
JBL has clearly awakened to the reality that its headphones needed to appeal to a very different audience. AKG is also part of the Harman family (which is now owned by Samsung) so there was definitely a business decision to not encroach on the category by JBL; AKG is very popular and well-respected in the pro audio and head-fi communities.
The JBL Tour One jumps into a very competitive arena dominated by the Sony WH-1000XM4, Bose QuietComfort Series and Sennheiser Momentum 3 headphones. The Apple AirPods Max are also part of this category but are overpriced considering the performance gap with the aforementioned headphones.
From the moment you open the box, the intended use is clear. The first thing you see is a cloth covered oval shaped hard case with an outer mesh pocket and a carry sling. Everything else is in the case and with the cups turned 90°; the case only stands roughly 2 inches tall and is roughly 7 inches in diameter.
The case has a divider that serves to keep the cups from getting scratched up and also has a pocket for charging and a 3.5mm to 2.5mm cable for use if the battery dies.
JBL advertises 50 hours of battery life for the Tour One headphones and we’ll see how that turned out.
The outer portion of the headphones are largely made from high-impact black plastic which helps keep the weight down; the frame, hinges and adjustments are manufactured out of steel which is reassuring.
The hinges turn 90° to the rear so the cups can lay flat and 15° to the front for adjustment and comfort. On the vertical axis, the cups have about 2-30° of travel again allowing the Tour One to conform well to different sized heads.
The cups and headband are covered in faux leather and well padded but can get warm on the ears during longer listening sessions.
Aside from the heat issue during long listening sessions, I found no comfort issues with long wear and the Tour One’s extended battery life means it should last for pretty much any flight you have planned with plenty of playing time to spare.
Controls are fairly straight forward with the right cup having the power/pairing switch, volume controls and the 2.5mm jack for wired use (a 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable is provided) and the left ear cup having the charging port and ANC /ambient switch.
The button on the left cup can also be customized for Alexa or Google Assistant via the app. The control app is fairly simple with ANC, Ambient mode, EQ and Smart Audio & Video. Smart Audio & Video allows the user to select low latency for games or video or a higher bandwidth connection for audio listening.
By default, the wearer detection is on so the headphones will begin playing automatically but this can be disabled in settings as well if desired.
In my testing even with ANC enabled at higher than average volume levels, the Tour One lasted nearly 22 hours before needing to be plugged in. With ANC disabled, my best run was nearly 45 hours.
Charging is via the USB Type-C port on the bottom of the left ear cup and takes roughly 3 hours from completely drained to a 100% charge.
There is no IP rating for the JBL Tour One so don’t take these out into the rain and I’m not sure they’re great for workouts due to sweat.
Internally, the Tour One uses a 40mm dynamic driver with a nominal impedance of 32 ohms and a sensitivity of 95 dB/mW at 1kHz which puts this among the easier full sized models to power.
It is always interesting to try a headphone both wired and wirelessly and compare to see how much the sonic signature changes; the 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable provided with the Tour One makes it easier to conduct that comparison.
The Tour One has a definite bass boost regardless of how it is connected with a mild lift in the upper midrange and lower treble giving it an overall ‘V’ shaped sonic signature.
While the bass has good extension and impact and some texture to it, it can get a little compressed and thick with really busy passages. Those listening to pop, and rock will likely enjoy the bass emphasis but those who listen to a lot of bass heavy genres may find it a little muddy particularly in the mid bass and extreme low end.
The midrange lacks a certain degree of nuance; especially in comparison to the Sony and Sennheiser models and takes a backseat to both headphones in the bass and upper midrange. It lacks a certain degree of presence that might bother some.
The upper midrange and lower treble features a slight tilt that brings vocals forward in the mix and gives them the right amount of energy but it also slightly accentuates higher pitched voices. The treble with certain material can sound slightly grainy. If you’re looking for a lively sounding headphone on top, you might like the tonal balance of these headphones but I found it slightly fatiguing during long listening sessions with less than pristine recordings.
Enabling ANC does a good job of reducing droning noises, but also somewhat veils the top end; resulting in a dulling of the sound. The Sony WH-1000MX4 and Bose 45 are better options sonically if the price is comparable in your area.
While JBL have done a really nice job on the construction, battery life, and functionality of the Tour One Wireless Headphones, I found that their initial offering in the category isn’t competitive enough at its asking price to compete with the Sony, Bose, or Sennheiser models that are far more established. The sound quality is above average but is that really good enough when the Sony and Bose are that much better and their ANC technology is clearly a generation ahead?
Where to buy: Was
$299.95. Now $149.95 at Amazon
Related reading: Best Headphones