JBL Live 660NC headphone review: yes for sound, no for active noise reduction

Offered below € 200, the JBL Live 660NC headphones have two arguments: the sound and the quality of the finish. On the other hand, don’t buy it for its active noise reduction.

JBL, owned by the Harman group (a subsidiary of Samsung), is a recognized brand in the audio products market. In its catalog, there are multiple references. Recently, our attention has been focused on the Live 660NC headphones, whose particularity is to offer active noise reduction – a flagship feature in 2021 – below the € 200 mark.

In short, the JBL Live 660NC can become an interesting alternative for those who do not want to spend more to acquire the references of the segment which exceed 300 € – namely the Bose Headphones 700 and the Sony WH-1000XM4 (without forgetting the Apple’s AirPods Max, even less affordable). With this product, we therefore seek more value for money.

The JBL Live 660NC headphones folded up // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

Nice finishes

The JBL Live 660NC comes in the form of circum-aural headphones, despite the ear cups that appear to be very narrow. We will begin by emphasizing the quality of finish, exemplary at this price. The designers, for example, had the good idea to dress the plastic hoop in a woven fabric with the most beautiful effect (it almost looks like an acoustic texture). Not only is it pleasing to the eye but, as a bonus, it is very solid. In appearance, the JBL Live 660NC is very durable – although one still asks to see as far as the faux leather upholstery goes, in the longer term.

The helmet is also very sober. JBL did not want to add any frills to their product. We will nevertheless note the presence of several acronyms (‘Live’, ‘ANC’, ‘JBL’) and you will notice that some plastic elements are tinted so as to make it appear that they are made of metal. Enough to ensure a slight premium approval.

The JBL Live 660NC, which is able to fold up on itself and rotate its ear cups, comes with a soft pouch. In the box, there are also two cables: one audio (jack) and one for charging (USB to USB-C). Please note, the mains adapter is not supplied.

The arch of the JBL Live 660NC headphones // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

Simple like JBL

JBL is not a novice builder. Therefore, its products are far from difficult to use. As proof, all you have to do is turn on the Live 660 NC to automatically activate Bluetooth and find it in the settings of your device. It’s fast and efficient. As a bonus, the Live 660NC is compatible with Multipoint technology, meaning it can connect to two sources at the same time. This can be useful in certain situations: for example, if you receive a call on your phone while watching a movie on your computer, the movie will cut off and you can answer through the headset.

The application of the JBL Live 660NC headphones // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

To go further, it is strongly recommended to install the JBL Headphones application (available on Android and iOS), which allows you to download updates, access certain settings (audio / video, play and auto-pause modes). ,…) And modify the sound signature using an equalizer.

The right headset is equipped with a few physical buttons:

  • An ignition button;
  • A ‘+’ button to increase the volume (one click) or go to the next song (long press);
  • A ‘-‘ button to lower the volume (one click) or go to the previous song (long press);
  • One button to manage playback / calls;
  • One button for active noise reduction (ON / OFF / ambient mode) and Talkthru mode (2 clicks).
The buttons of the JBL Live 660NC headphones // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

A little tight helmet

The Live 660NC headphones are very stiff, probably a bit too much. As soon as you put it on top of your head, you immediately feel a strong pressure. This feeling can be likened to an embarrassment in the long run, even if, paradoxically, one ends up putting up with it. It should be remembered that the product is not the most comfortable on the market and that it will be preferable to try it before you fall for it. Especially since the narrowness of the atria can be prohibitive for some people.

A very rewarding sound rendering

In terms of noise reduction, we have to admit that JBL has opted, again, for simplicity. Either it is active or it is not, which means that there are not several levels offered. We find this philosophy on Apple AirPods Pro and this is a point that we tend to appreciate. On the other hand, the adaptive attenuation work of the Live 660NC is far from reaching the level of the tenors of the segment. In use, it is even disappointing: effective with deaf noises, it is much less effective with external voices. And we still hear the sounds produced by our keyboard when we frantically tap on it. To make matters worse, it imposes a light breath in the ears, indicating a lack of control. In a crowded office, the Live 660NC won’t give you complete peace of mind.

A beautiful coloring

Fortunately, the headphones make up for it with their sound quality. JBL favors an approach based on generosity, starting with very sustained bass but never uncomfortable. They offer a good base for a very rewarding restitution of details. We even surprised ourselves to rediscover certain songs, proof that the Live 660NC proposal is relevant despite some imbalances more reminiscent of a bias (these highs sometimes a little too sharp, for example). There are in any case enough arguments to never find the rendering flat. There is a beautiful coloring, which, at this price, is to be highlighted.

Remember that you can always readjust the performance at will, thanks to an equalizer. Three presets are available (Jazz, Vocal, Bass), but you can create several profiles, possibly adapted to several different genres.

JBL Live 660NC headphones’ earpieces // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

Up to 50 hours of listening time on a single charge

The autonomy of the Live 660NC depends on one key factor: active noise reduction. If you don’t use it, you can enjoy it for 50 hours on a single charge. We drop to about 40 hours with the feature enabled. It’s very, very comfortable, knowing that the manufacturer’s promises are close to reality.

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