Hands-on review: JBL Club 950NC
When it comes to noise-cancelling headphones, it’s becoming a more crowded market every year, meaning there are more features to look for and brands are jostling for product differentiation to clinch that ‘top-of-the-line’ title.
And if there’s one thing to say about the JBL Club 950NC headphones, it’s that they don’t want for features.
There’s adaptive noise cancelling, of course, but there’s also a Smart Ambient mode, a bass boost button, virtual assistant integration, extensive custom EQ capability, and more. Features abound, but do they stack up?
Feel and comfort
After opening up that box and unzipping the sleek black case, my first impression of the Club 950NC headphones was ‘bulky’.
Upon closer inspection, this initial instinct turned out to be mostly true – the headphones were quite heavy, and when I put them on, there was an unmistakable heftiness to them.
Unlike my own personal headphones, which I can sometimes forget that I’m wearing, the Club 950NC felt heavier and more cumbersome, despite adjusting and extending the arms (disclaimer, I have a reasonably large head). The middle of the headband also made its presence felt more than what’s ideal.
And despite my decidedly average-sized ears, the cups also felt slightly claustrophobic, enveloping rather than surrounding my ears.
Ordinarily, I wear headphones for a decent portion of my day, so long-term comfort is a necessity, and despite being relatively minor, the above flaws did add up when using them for multiple consecutive hours.
Build and features
At first glance, the number of buttons on the device can seem slightly intimidating, and I definitely didn’t feel confident enough to give them a go without first studying the quick manual.
There’s a power button, Bluetooth pairing button, virtual assistant button, a Smart Ambient button, volume/phone call control buttons, and a bass booster button. I don’t think I properly mastered them all by the end of my review.
Powering on and Bluetooth pairing were easy enough, and the JBL Headphones app provided a good visual indicator of devices connected and how the Smart Ambient mode worked.
By holding the Smart Ambient button, adaptive noise control is toggled, while a short press toggles between Ambient Aware and Talk Thru modes.
Both latter modes are handy when the need arises to give a portion of your attention to the outside world without sacrificing all noise-cancelling qualities – Talk Thru is designed to let you talk with people around you, while Ambient Aware is for when you want to be at least somewhat aware of your greater surroundings.
They combine to form a reasonably good quality adaptive noise cancelling product, but I found when I was walking beside busy streets, I heard more noisy cars zooming past than other premium headphones. The noise-cancelling was solid, but not the best.
The battery was good – I have no reason to use the 2.5mm to 3.5mm headphone jack, so I kept my headphones on full noise cancelling, Bluetooth paired mode and got a solid 20-22 hours out of it. Quick charging was also handy, giving me two hours of playtime from a 15-minute charge.
One of the best features, though, was the highly customisable custom EQ capability on the JBL Headphones app, which provides presets sorted by genre and allows for customised favourites which can be easily switched on or off.
Another feature I enjoyed was the bass booster. I found it handy to toggle when I was watching a good action blockbuster, or wanted that extra kick on Spotify.
While it was fun playing with the different preset EQs on the JBL Headphones app, sound-wise I preferred to keep it on normal – the standard sound mode felt well rounded out and suitable to most of my needs.
The sound quality, in general, was really good – my first impression was ‘clean’. I tried different genres, switching from old school hip-hop to upbeat contemporary pop, film score instrumentals to bass-heavy EDM. All held up on the standard sound mode.
When turning up the volume, the sound didn’t compromise, and many headphones I’ve tried turn tinny when pushed to their volume limits. The JBL Club 950NC held its own, not holding back on quality as waves of sound washed over.
My one criticism of the headphones was that there was slight sound leakage – when sitting next to someone just over a metre away, they informed me they could hear my music (at about three-quarter volume) reasonably clearly. Maybe not the best for the timid and paranoid public transport-goer.
In all, the JBL Club 950NC headphones are a solid bet if you’re looking for mid-range headphones. They offer a good deal of popular features for its price tag of NZ$430, with the app capabilities, Smart Ambient mode and customisable EQ all performing well.
Sound quality held up for its price point, however its weight and build made it seem cumbersome and clunky, and its noise-cancelling capability left a fair bit to be desired.