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Hands-on with the JLab JBuds Frames
Hands-on with the JLab JBuds Frames IBTimes, Jeff Li

Ever since CES 2021, the JLab JBuds Frames have caught our attention. It's JLab team's response to Bose Frames as well as Amazon's Echo Frames, and you can almost hear them say: "You forgot the golden rule of design: KISS - Keep It Simple, Silly". The JBuds Frames also match its simple design with a price that's significantly more affordable than its competition at $49 - as opposed to a $200+ premium price tag.

The concept was intriguing enough that we rewarded the JBuds Frames with a Best of CES 2021 badge, but how do they play out in real life? JLabs sent us pre-production units so that we can have a taste test for ourselves, and here's what we found:


Signature JLab Solid Build

The build of the JBuds Frames is consistent with JLab's other products like its flagship TWS earbuds Epic Air ANC True Wireless Earbuds: a utilitarian and well-built all plastic construction. The JBuds Frames's 'chamfered wedge' profile is made up of simple lines, and a combination of glossy and matte finishes.

Each of the speakers is roughly the size of my index finger, but weighs only 12 grams, which though heavier than a typical earbud, they are light enough to cause minimal strain on the glasses even during long sessions.


Magnetic Charging System

Even though the JLab team could have simply used USB-C ports to recharge the JBuds Frames - as there is plenty of space on the device for them, they decided to go for proprietary charging prongs that attach magnetically. Similar to Apple's MagSafe power connector, this adds significant convenience and ease of use to the recharging process and is done with a single USB cable.


Simple Hook and Sleeve System

What makes the JLab JBuds Frames unique of course is the fact that they attach to any glasses, but the genius is in how simple the attachment method is. On the back of each of the speakers are two solid plastic hooks, which wraps over the glasses temples. Depending on the thickness of the glasses temples, you can then choose whether to use the included silicone sleeves to add friction and a more secure hold on the speakers.


My pre-production unit contains only one-set of silicone sleeves, but I'm told by reps at JLabs that the retail model will have larger hooks to accommodate thicker temples, as well as a few sets of sleeves to get the perfect fit. Think of it like getting the best fit with various sized ear tips you get with normal earbuds.


Unique Open Headphone Listening Experience

Construction aside, the most itching question I guess most people have is: how do they actually sound? After all this is a completely different form factor from conventional headphones or earphones, and can't even be categorized as over-ear or on-ear or in-ear. Once putting on the JBuds Frames and getting them up and running, my first impression is that just as its form-factor, the listening experience is also hard to categorize.

First of all, wearing the JBuds Frames leaves my ear canals completely open with no obstruction whatsoever. To hear music playing in such a state was a strange sensation, where the brain interprets the sound source to be placed in the middle of my head.

Once I got used to the sensation, the best description of the JBuds Frames sound that I can give is 'a very, very open open-back headphone'. There is complete transparency, and a very wide soundstage that melts into reality.

Unfortunately just as open-back headphones' downside is that those around you will be able to hear your music, it is the same with the JBuds Frames. JLabs claims that at 3 feet, you'll be able to hear 30% of the sound, which reduces to 15% at 6 feet.


Adjustable Speaker Placement means Results can Vary

Since the exact position of where you clip the JBuds Frames is not fixed, this introduces an interesting variable to how they will sound to the user.

The JBuds Frames speakers are equipped with a 16 mm dynamic driver, which is an interesting size that would be considered huge for earbuds, but small for a headphone. Either way, the drivers on these speakers are very capable in producing highs, mids and lows. The tricky thing however is the distance between the speakers and the user's ears.


Since each of the speakers can be positioned anywhere along the glasses temples, the sound from the speakers changes with the distance. The closer the speakers are to the ears, the better the sound quality and volume is, visa versa. The ideal placement of the speakers I found was to put them right up to where the temple tips start, and letting the speakers near or barely touching your ears.

Because of the open nature of the JBuds Frames, what is inevitable is sound loss - especially in the bass department. Just by cupping my hands around my ears I'm able to hear a whole lot more music coming out of the 16 mm drivers. I even tried putting the speakers right over my ears - and they actually sound like a decent pair of headphones.


Who is the JLab JBuds Frames for?

Since much of the sound produced is inevitably lost, you would be mistaken to use the JBuds Frames as your next headphones for savouring your favorite music collection. Rather than using them for the sole purpose of listening to music, the JBuds Frames are more for adding a background soundtrack to your life. Just as many would put on the radio or play music at a low volume on their speaker system to add ambience, the JBuds Frames are like that - except only the user will be able to hear it.

This makes these headphones a unique product offering and suits office workers who want to add some color to their workplace - but can't afford to be completely isolated from their teammates; or for joggers who want to listen to a podcast without losing awareness of their surroundings; or housewives who want to enjoy their music, but don't want to miss a knock at the door, or their baby's cry.


Final Verdict


The JLab JBuds Frames is a unique product. Though they function like the Bose Frames or Amazon's Echo Frames, due to its ability to be attached to virtually any glasses, its versatility makes them a new category of product in of themselves.

The JLabs JBuds Frames offer a unique sound with a unique form factor, as well as a unique listening experience that can add an ambient soundtrack to your day without interfering with it. For it's simplistic innovation and unique offerings, we're awarding the JLab JBuds Frames with our Editor's Pick badge.

Sam is a production engineer turned tech writer who specializes in seeking out gadgets that enhances productivity while still looking sharp. This is a contribution to an ongoing IBTimes review series on gadgets for Business Travelers.