Jlab Epic2 Review: Sweatproof Earbuds – Music Without the Wires!
The JLab Audio Epic2 are wireless sports earbuds that are impervious to water and sweat, making it the perfect companion for runners, athletes and workouts at the gym. The freedom of not have a cable connected to your phone/music player is tremendous – no more cables banging against you during a run, no more danger of your earbuds painfully pulling out of your ears due to accidental tangle or catching against a stranger’s bag, and no more having to worry about damaging the earbuds if you happen to be an exceptionally hot (and sweaty) person or get caught in the rain.
These lightweight, highly flexible buds have an amazing 12 hours of music playback via Bluetooth and the ability to take phonecalls too (with a few caveats).
PHYSICAL BUILD AND QUALITY
It’s not totally without wires as there’s a wire connecting the left and right buds. And it’s a good thing too, because it’d be so easy to lose one of them if they weren’t, due to their compact size. They provide enough slack to go around the ears of most humans including the thickest body builder’s neck, and include cable clips to shorten them for smaller necks like mine. But you need small hands (and nails) to make this work, so if you’ve got sausage fingers, you’ll need some help.
The outside covering is a mix of plastics and rubber, all sweat and waterproof (so long as you keep the USB charge port covered). They’re super flexible and are designed to stay in place by going around the tops of your ears, which is accomplished by forming and adjusting the fit around the shape of your lobes. This is the first time I’ve had to do this, and it took me a VERY long time to find the right bends and angles. It basically forces you to be more aware of the shape of your ears and the direction of your canals for best fit. I now understand why some of the earbuds I’ve used in the past didn’t work so well for me; the angles were all wrong for the shape of my canals. With the Epic2’s, you’re rewarded for even seemingly tiny adjustments.
Jlab provides 7 different types and sizes of earbud tips to give you as snug a fit as possible. What surprised me most was the tip that worked best for me wasn’t the usual size that fit me best on other earbuds. Customization has its benefits to be sure, and while it may take a lot of time to set up initially, you only have to do it once and the results will be well worth it.
The Epic2’s come with a carry case that feel like a miniaturized suitcase. Light but firm, and strong enough to keep its form so your earbuds don’t get crushed, there’s also a mesh pocket inside to hold the included USB cable for when you need to charge up.
As small as they are, JLab has managed to hide super tiny batteries with enough juice to keep them running for 12 hours – so they claim. Actual tests conclude otherwise… I recorded a whopping 13 hours total(!), a full hour more than their estimate! That’s what my pair gave me at any rate, and while it probably won’t be the same for everyone due to real world manufacturing issues, it’s safe to say Jlab’s claim is solid. In real world use then, the Epic2 would last a week before needing a recharge, say if we used it 2 hours a day during our commute to work and back. And if you use it more often, recharge time is only a four hour wait, which is easily done while you sleep.
The technology behind the wireless connection is Bluetooth 4.0 with AptX. To translate that for us normal folk, AptX is a way of letting Bluetooth transmit high quality audio (even CD-like quality) from a player to a speaker or headphones. We can think of it as a magic sauce that let’s a two lane highway fit six lanes worth of cars. But to take advantage of this, both the player and the headphone need to be AptX capable. That’s the quality part – then there’s the connection part.
To keep a strong wireless connection, Jlab uses an upgraded Bluetooth antenna with Beacon Signal Technology. Don’t quite know what “upgraded” means here (an upgrade from the previous Epic model perhaps?) but the Beacon Signal Technology seems to be a Bluetooth antenna that “reduces environmental detuning”. Don’t quite know what this means either, but my guess would be that noise and interference is reduced further (“environmental detuning”) due to the chip being made of ceramics instead of metal. The bottom line is smoother playback of music with less interference or breakup.
Sound quality was ok, but none of the music players/cellphones I had on hand used AptX so I wasn’t able to take advantage of this audio upgrade. Remember that both the player and the headset has to have AptX for you to hear a difference, and none of Apple’s products have AptX (presumably because they don’t want to pay license fees to Qualcomm who happens to own this technology. As far as Apple products are concerned, it’s a chronic problem of them not wanting to pay license fees to anyone else including Samsung, Nokia et al.) But it’s fine for what it is, though in absolute terms, without AptX, it sounds a bit hollow (a little like you’re some distance away from the music) when compared to the best wired headphones. This is probably in line with what Bluetooth is capable of, and to be fair, no wired headphone can offer what this can in terms of convenience and the amount of abuse it can take. Which leads us to…
USAGE / INTERFACE
These are great for running – or even walking. With earbuds, it’s a common annoyance to hear the thudding of the cable hitting against you as you walk, but that’s no longer the case here. On the treadmill, the wires are behind my head and shortened using the provided clips – a world of difference when it comes to convenience, and a relief from the real stress of constantly having to keep the wire in mind so you don’t accidentally swipe them off your ears – then having to stop, reset the buds in your ears and then trying to re-focus on your intended exercise.
Such activities will saturate your earbuds with sweat, but it’s easily wiped down with a damp towel. But this time I decided to be super tired and jumped in the shower – with the earbuds on! The direct spray of water had no negative effects on these IPX5 rated buds, which allow for water splashes and water jetting from nozzles. This means you can continue listening to music from the start of your workout till the time you hit the shower, though it’ll sound really odd when you hear the reverb of the water hitting your skull; an odd sensation.
I would advise, however, taking the Epic2’s off before you use any chemical/cleansing products like shampoo or soap, because even though Jlab offers a 1 year warranty, it doesn’t cover willful abuse. 🙂
Finally the interface. It couldn’t be simpler; with three buttons, you can plug these in your ears and not have to guess at what you’re doing. Press the middle button to play/pause/pick up a call and use the other two for volume control. You can even skip songs by doing a long press. These buttons emit an audible click when you press them and a female voice interface informs you of the earbuds’ various states, such as battery level, bluetooth pairing, and shutdown. There’s also a useful LED indicator light in red and blue letting you know its status of on, charging, and being in need of a charge.
Bluetooth pairing is a cinch, and for finicky players that require a passcode, the Epic2 has it set at 0000. Just remember to pair your device before you step out your front door because you’ll have prevented the nightmare of having to find it among the dozens of other Bluetooth devices vying for your attention.
The Jlab Epic2 earbuds are pretty awesome. They’re light, have long battery life, and are built to withstand real world (ab)use -water, sweat and all- without you thinking too much about it or getting in your way. Definitely worth considering if you listen to music during exercise or when going to/from work. They retail for $99 at the time of writing.