Review: JBL's Live 660NC headphones sound amazing, even if comfort lacks a little

They're cheaper than Sony or Bose, so what are they missing?
They're cheaper than Sony or Bose, so what are they missing? Photo credit: Newshub

I've tried plenty of different brands of earbuds lately and some have impressed, while others haven't quite lived up to their promise.

But there's something about a set of over-ear headphones that still really appeals.

I think it's because it takes me back to the early days of my musical odyssey, listening to vinyl and CDs on my dad's stereo but without exposing everyone else to my tastes.

Also, my current Bluetooth headphones are on their way out after years of punishment, being used every night as I drift off to sleep, so I'm eager to find the best replacement pair possible.

JBL's Live Pro+ TWS earbuds did a pretty good job, so how does the company's new Adaptive Noise Cancelling (ANC) over-the-ear headphones measure up?

I've been using the JBL Live 660NC headphones for a couple of weeks and here are my thoughts.

The good

Gone are the days when all you needed to do was plug in a set of headphones and you were good to go, but thankfully the extra steps getting the JBL set paired with my phone were dead easy.

An added bonus, of course, was using exactly the same software I'd already installed and become familiar with when I tested their earbuds - even to the extent that the equaliser settings I'd created were retained and could be implemented on with this new pair.

One of the first things that drew my attention was the large R and L inside the earcups. I had a little chuckle to myself at just how stupid JBL must think I am that I needed such obvious signs of how to wear them.

It was only when I put on my other earphones I realised that I have to check EVERY time if I'm putting them on that they're going on the correct ears.

In the big scheme of things, it's really not that important - but I did take a little joy in recognising how something so simple was actually a time saver, even if it's only a few seconds each time.

JBL Live 600NC headphones
Photo credit: Newshub

Now, how does the Live 660NC stack up on the two factors more important than anything else - audio quality and the ANC?

To try and provide a fair comparison I borrowed a set of Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones, widely regarded as some of the best consumer wireless ANC headphones on the market.

For a cheaper product I was surprised at just how good the JBLs stood up to their more expensive opponents.

The bass felt slightly deeper on the JBLs than the Sonys, but otherwise switching from one to the other sounded - to my ears - pretty seamless. I tried them both out with a variety of genres and artists and really struggled to pick up anything which would justify the cost disparity.

The only point where I felt there was a noticeable difference was in my last test - near full volume metal, of course. Metallica's 'Nothing Else Matters', as well as being an absolute banging tune, is one of my go-to tracks for such comparisons. 

When James Hetfield screams the line "Never cared for what they do" I detected a small amount of distortion in the vocals through the JBLs, whereas there was none with the Sonys.

The ANC also stood up to scrutiny - both against Sony's noise cancelling and also the constant rumble of work's air conditioning. There were times when I put the headphones on without music just to have the joy of a few minutes of dead silence.

I tried out the Ambient Sound Control settings when around heavy traffic on my walks and the expected drop in audio to ensure I was safe and not going to be hit from behind worked as intended. Otherwise the ANC stayed on and I was grateful for it.

Lastly, battery life was excellent too. JBL advertises around 40 hours of battery life without ANC on - I got up to around 30 before I needed to recharge, I think, but that's more than acceptable to me given I'm never more than a few hours away from being able to charge them.

And I wouldn't have even needed to do that if I had taken advantage of the auto-off functionality of the phones. I left it off, but should have switched it on when I used them in bed. That would have saved a few hours worth of battery life.

JBL Live 600NC headphones
Photo credit: Newshub

The bad

There's really not an awful lot to dislike about the JBL Live 660NCs, but they could be improved upon.

If I wanted to use them a lot for phone and video calls in noisy environments then I'd worry a little - these do the job but don't seem to have as good voice isolation as others, particularly my default earbuds.

The biggest problem is the feeling of discomfort when you put these on. They're quite tight and hard.

Whereas putting on the Sony WH-1000XM4 or the Steelseries Arctis Prime headphones are like attaching pillows to my ears, then this was more like attaching a headboard to them.

But weirdly, the expected earache never eventuated. I wore these for up to two and a half hours at a time while walking around Auckland and, aside from a wee bit of sweat, never had any cause for discomfort - unlike the JBL earbuds.

The only other thing I needed to do was switch the 'Play & Pause automation' off in the app settings. Otherwise, when adjusting the JBL on my ears, the audio would switch off when I didn't necessarily want to. Again, it's just a minor inconvenience given I have ultimate control. 

JBL Live 600NC headphones
Photo credit: Newshub

The verdict

The JBL Live 660NC headphones are impressive and for around $279 a pair in Aotearoa, they offer exceptional value for money.

It was only at very high volumes that I noticed any audio quality differences between them and the more expensive Sony WH-1000XM4 earphones.

If that final bit of quality is worth the extra $110 you'll have to fork out for the Sonys then so be it - but for most people the JBLs will do everything you want and I can heartily recommend them.

The overall quality is great, the functionality is top notch and I won't hesitate to make these the permanent replacements to my current, failing Bluetooth phones.

The fact they drown out my partner's snoring thanks to the Adaptive Noise Cancellation? That's just a bonus.

Newshub was supplied a set of JBL Live 660NC for this review.