Update, November 10, 2020: This review was updated to expand the list of buying options and to address the 1MORE PistonBuds as a viable alternative.
If you’re always out and about, the last thing you need is to fiddle around with unreliable Bluetooth earbuds, hence why the JLab Go Air true wireless earbuds are so popular among utilitarian consumers. For just $30, JLab’s headset is one of the best on the market.
Who should get the JLab Go Air?
- Budget listeners need to pick up the Go Air buds, because they’re durable and include a novel feature: an integrated USB charging cable inlaid on the underside of the case. Sound quality is fine and connection strength is consistent, since each bud forms an independent connection to your smartphone.
- Athletes should get these earbuds for exercise as they’re IP44-certified, denoting both dust and water-resistance which is great for rock climbers and runners alike. In the unlikely event that the earbuds malfunction beyond the two-year warranty, buying a replacement won’t be too hard on the wallet.
Using the JLab Go Air true wireless earbuds
Just like other JLab JBuds series headsets, the JLab Go Air sports an all-plastic build. This isn’t the most luxuriant material choice, but it keeps costs and weight down relative to alternatives like metal. An angled nozzle protrudes from each earbud, which improves ergonomics, but only so much: the nozzles are very wide and may prove uncomfortable if you have small ear canals.
Each earbud casing has a touch-capacitive panel, which made it easy to operate playback, make volume adjustments, and access Google Assistant — all without reaching for my smartphone. The controls aren’t remappable, and each bud is designated to perform different functions. It took me a few uses to get the hang of the onboard tap sequences, but the convenience was gratifying. Unfortunately, the touch panels didn’t register my commands with 100% accuracy, and misfires were almost commonplace.
The Go Air are cheap, reliable earbuds built to last.
A headset’s ingress protection (IP) rating denotes durability, but doesn’t guarantee scratch-resistance. See, the magnets inside the case are weak, and the earbuds often flew out of the case when dropped. Scuffs immediately appeared after the case’s inaugural drop, and the earbuds’ edges showed scratch marks too. Despite this, the open-faced design is unique, and it was cool to see JLab experiment with the design of its budget headset.
The company’s proprietary USB charging cable inlaid on the bottom of the case was a major convenience. I loved the option to charge the headset from anywhere, be it my laptop, battery pack, or even my car’s USB input. When I was first introduced to this technology, durability concerned me, but JLab promises it’s been tested to withstand at least 10,000 bends before fraying.
How good is battery life?
During SoundGuys’ JLab Go Air review period, the headset lasted 4 hours, 5 minutes on a single charge, which is average for true wireless earbuds in 2020. Quick charging is supported; 15 minutes in the case supplies 1 hour of playtime. We’ve seen better quick charging rates from Anker SoundCore and OnePlus, but it’s better than omitting the feature altogether. It takes 2 hours to charge the case from 0-100%, and the earbuds take 1.5 hours for a full charge cycle.
Connection strength is consistent
JLab’s Dual Connect technology creates two independent connections, one from each earbud to the source device. This ensures stable connectivity and reduced latency, though there’s still some audio-visual lag when streaming YouTube, Netflix, and any other streaming service. The earbuds use Bluetooth 5.0 firmware, which is great, but Bluetooth multipoint isn’t supported. Given the economical nature of the headset, it would be noteworthy if listeners could connect to two devices simultaneously.
Bluetooth codec support is limited: your only options are AAC and SBC, the latter of which is the Bluetooth standard and lowest-common-denominator of wireless codecs. AAC only performs reliably on iOS, MacOS, and iPadOS devices; Android still struggles with AAC across devices. This isn’t a huge deal, as sound quality isn’t just dependent on codec support: it also depends on finding a proper fit to isolate the listener from her environment, and on the audio engineering that went into the headset’s driver system. Suffice to say, AAC support doesn’t mean too much here.
Sound quality isn’t great, but it isn’t supposed to be
When you’re considering $30 earbuds, it’s important to temper your expectations. While $30 is certainly nothing to shrug off, it also isn’t exorbitant for true wireless technology. One of the Go Air’s shortcomings is sound quality, but listeners coming from standard cheap earbuds will be accustomed to the exaggerated bass response.
If you want to get into the nerdy details of the frequency response and how it appears to mimic the equal-loudness contour (ISO226:2003), I implore you to read SoundGuys’ full review. For those who don’t have the time or care, just know that bass notes are reproduced very loudly. It may seem as if vocal clarity or instrumental resonances are missing from your music, but it’s actually that the bass notes are making it harder to perceive those relatively quiet frequencies.
Isolation performance is very important for optimal audio quality, and it happens to be quite good with the JLab Go Air true wireless earbuds. It’s also dependent on your ability to find a proper seal with the provided ear tips. My ear canals are on the small side of average, which doesn’t bode well with the Go Air’s large-diameter nozzles. When I was able to maintain a cogent seal, background noise (e.g., A/C units) were rendered almost one-half as loud as they’d sound without ear or headphones. However, I move my ears a lot which frequently loosened the earbuds, so I was rarely able to get an optimal fit for longer than 15-30 minutes at a time.
Microphone quality is passable
Each earbud has an embedded microphone, which means you can accept calls when listening in mono mode regardless of what earbud is inserted. Microphone quality isn’t that good, though. Speech intelligibility is a non-issue, but the heavy-handed low-frequency attenuation means speakers with particularly low voices will sound “hollow” or “distant” to those on the other end of the call.
JLab Go Air true wireless earbuds microphone demo:
Something that proved to be more problematic than accurate vocal production was background attenuation. The microphones do a poor job of rejecting background noise, and speaking outside with these buds was horrific. If you only plan to take calls from the confines of your home or office it’s fine, but for all other environments use your smartphone’s mic.
JLab Go Air vs JLab JBuds Air Icon
Both the JLab JBuds Air Icon and JLab Go Air feature a case with an integrated USB charging cable and are dust and water-resistant. The JBuds Air Icon are slightly more durable than the Go Air (IP55 compared to IP44), but neither headset may be fully submerged. Perhaps the Go Air’s case concerns you; in that case, an alternative pair of buds like the JLab JBuds Air Icon will ease your concerns as its case completely protects the earbuds.
Neither headset reproduces accurate or clear audio, but the premium Air Icon has one trick up its sleeve to improve sound quality and isolation: memory foam ear tips. These don’t create an uncomfortable suction-sensation, making them a better option for people who listen in hours-long chunks. Microphone quality is virtually identical from one headset to the other, so that shouldn’t be a deciding factor when picking between the JLab JBuds Air and JLab JBuds Air Icon true wireless earbuds.
Should you buy the JLab Go Air true wireless earbuds?
The JLab Go Air headset is great for listeners who are looking to listen on the cheap. While they won’t be winning awards any time soon, the earbuds tick off all the necessities for a budget headset, and the integrated charging cable is such a treat to use.
If you want slightly better sound and microphone quality with a more water-resistant build, check out the Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo. These cost just $10 more than JLab’s cheapest totally wireless earbuds. Otherwise, anyone who wants a more technologically sophisticated set of earbuds will have to reassess her budget.
Stay compact with the sleek 1MORE PistonBuds
The 1MORE PistonBuds are extremely lightweight true wireless earbuds that cost less than $50 USD. Just like the JLab Go Air, these earbuds feature touch controls and a bass-heavy sound profile. If the simplicity of the JLab Go Air appeal to you, but you want something with a more attractive, compact design, spend a bit more for the 1MORE PistonBuds.