Review: JBL Quantum range a serious new contender in the gaming headset market

This year, American speaker company JBL announced its entry into the lucrative gaming headset market.

Those products are now on sale in New Zealand where they're very likely to earn a legion of fans - they are excellent, with a sound quality that really pushes them past a lot of the competition.

JBL decided they'd kick things off not with not just one or two models, but a whopping seven different headsets.

Recently I've been trying out the range's two top options - the JBL Quantum One and JBL Quantum 800 - on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and iPhone. For this review, I've been comparing them with three other headsets: Turtle Beach Elite 800, Razer Thresher Wireless and Bose QuietComfort.

Here's how they stack up.

JBL Quantum One review.
JBL Quantum One. Photo credit: JBL

The good

The sound quality of the JBL Quantums is just spectacular. That's the number one thing I'm interested in with a gaming headset - or headphones of any sort - and both the 800 and One deliver crisp, clean, gorgeous sound.

The surround sound in them is great and there's wonderful balance throughout the soundscapes.

For gaming, this level of sound quality adds to the experience a great deal and I can't wait to hear them put to use with the incoming audio improvements of next-gen consoles.

The tech specs: 

  • Driver size: 50mm dynamic drivers
  • Frequency response: 20Hz - 40kHz  (20Hz - 20kHz on the 800 with noise cancelling on)
  • Sensitivity: 95dB SPL @1kHz/1mW
  • Impedency: 32 ohm
  • Full tech spec sheets for the One and 800

These are the sort of headphones where you listen to your favourite music on them and discover loads of little things you never noticed before. From both my iPhone and PC, music sounds better through the Quantums than it does even through my Bose headset, although some bass frequencies sounded better with the Bose.

In terms of comfort, the Quantum One model weighs 369g while the Quantum 800 weighs 410g. Both feature a beautifully soft leather exterior casing memory foam cushions with a lovely padded overhead band.

They both feel great to wear even for hours on end, but the Quantum One is slightly more comfortable than the Quantum 800 as it has larger cups for the ears and extra foam padding on the headband.

The mic is great. Using the Quantum 800 with the wireless dongle on a PS4 highly impressed my Call of Duty: Warzone teammates as a big step up from the Turtle Beach Elite 800 mic, they reckon.

However, the mic on the Quantum One is apparently a step up again and delivers crystal clear voice.

The Quantum One also features head-tracking technology that can be amazing. It uses JBL's own 3D-audio positioning algorithm to create a sort of virtual reality effect with the audio that makes it feel like you're in the game.

This was fun in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds - every time I turned my head in real life, the audio would shift accordingly as if I'd also turned my head in the game, surprisingly precisely. It's a nice increase in the intensity of the quieter moments in battle royale, when listening is super important.

JBL Quantum 800 review.
JBL Quantum 800. Photo credit: JBL

The bad

Both the One and 800 model are optimised for PC rather than console. This is obviously not an issue if you're a PC gamer, but means they're not quite as quick and easy to set up as headsets optimised for the console you're using them on.

The only way to connect to the Xbox One is via 3.5mm jack on the controller. Connecting to the PS4 can be done with the 800's wireless dongle or the One's USB cord, which is better.

The active noise-cancelling on the Quantums is good, but not as good as that on the Bose QuietComfort. Sure, the Quantums are cheaper and are intended to be used for gaming rather than in noisy public spaces, but it's important to note.

There is one aspect of the Turtle Beach Elite 800 unit I like more than the JBLs: the controls. Turtle Beach brilliantly put large buttons on the sides of the cans, which may take a little memorising of what each does but are then super easy to find, instantly, forever more.

JBL has a few little dials and buttons, like most gaming headsets do, which are harder to develop muscle memory for super quick access. Perhaps if I had smaller fingers it'd be better, but having all the important controls on the back of the left headphone cup did make it a little awkward.

As comfortable as the Quantum 800 is, I find the Razer set gives less strain on my ears over sessions that are several hours long. To be fair, the Razers aren't noise-cancelling - even my non-gaming noise-cancelling Bose cans give strain toward the end of a long-haul flight.

But then the Quantum One also has active noise-cancelling and is the most comfortable headset out of any mentioned in this review. 

While they're not the most expensive headsets on the market, the Quantum One and 800 models are in the higher price bracket for gaming headphones and this may be a downside for some customers. JBL's range does offer lower-price models with less features, but I haven't given them a go.

The look

Design-wise, the Quantum headsets are just a nice straight black with a tasteful chrome logo and some orange trim on their black cords.

They're not too eye-popping anywhere in a room when they're resting and not in use, but they are still a little too gamer headset looking to wear out and about.

Inside each can is a big L and R which I like - even in dimly lit room, it's really easy to see which way to put them on, which can be a bit of a challenge with other models.

There's programmable flashing coloured lights on the side of them for if you lack personality on your YouTube and Twitch streams or whatever. Thankfully, this can be turned off via the PC app so the battery is used on how the headset sounds to you, not wasted on how it looks to other people.

Of course, if that flashing neon look is your bag, more power to you. But if not and you're worried by the bright lights on all of the stock photos of these headphones online, just know it's easy to turn it off.

Review: JBL Quantum One and JBL Quantum 800.
The JBL Quantum One and the JBL Quantum 800. Photo credit: JBL

The software

Aside from the basic adjustments you can make on the headsets themselves, JBL offers a configuration PC app called QuantumEngine.

It's easy to use and allows plenty of customisation, including the ability to save different audio profiles for different genres or mediums you want to use the headphones with, as well programming the lights - or turning them off.

The app is really important if you get the Quantum One headset as you'll need it to calibrate the head-tracking and spatial audio settings. Without the app, you can't use those functions.

It's also only via the app that you can control the equaliser of either headset. If you're PC gaming, you'll want to get it all sorted before jumping into a match, otherwise you have to pull up the app mid-game to swap preset or profile.

If you're using the headset while gaming on a console, using the PC app on a second screen is actually really handy - like if you have a Microsoft Surface within arm's reach of the couch, for example.

Quantum One or Quantum 800?

If you want wireless and don't care for head-tracking, go for the 800 - if you don't mind wired cans and want the head-tracking technology, then the One is the right choice.

The Quantum 800 is fully wireless, unless you're using it on an Xbox One. It having Bluetooth as well lossless 2.4GHz connectivity is great and means you can take calls or hear audio from your phone while gaming.

The Quantum One is slightly more comfortable than the 800, as well as boasting a few extra features.

JBL Quantum 800 review.
JBL Quantum 800. Photo credit: JBL

Conclusion

The JBL Quantum One and JBL Quantum 800 both deliver absolutely mint sound quality, are wonderfully comfortable and have microphones that deliver nice, clear chat.

I'm really thankful I trialled both while playing through The Last of Us Part II as it really added to that game's brilliant, immersive sound design. They've also made playing Call of Duty: Warzone more enjoyable for both myself and my squadmates.

JBL is jumping hard into this market with the intention of dominating it. What they're offering are generally better than the Razer and Turtle Beach competitors I compared them to and even hold their own with Bose for listening to music with.  

In short, the Quantum headset range is a game-changer.