Thursday, October 13, 2011

JBuds J4 Rugged Metal In-Ear Earbuds Style Headphones with Travel Case

I have owned numerous "midrange" earbud headphones over the years, ranging from Sonys to Sennheisers. All of these earbuds delivered the same things: great sound quality for the price, and flimsy construction. I estimate that none of these products, no matter how many buzzwords adorned their packaging, lasted more than 1 year with normal use.

Finally, after my latest pair dropped a channel due to an internal cord break, I deliberately searched for something with rugged construction, and came across the JBuds J4 model. The words "kevlar-reinforced cord" sounded great to me, so I ordered up a set, hoping I would not have to get another for at least 2 years.

Like every other earbud in this price range, the JBuds arrived in a plastic blister pack with several different sizes of rubber tip pieces. My ear openings seem to be rather small, so the smallest tips are usually the ones I end up using, and these were no exception. I did not care for the double-style rubber tips, but I find that the noise isolation from the single-style are more than sufficient.

Sound quality is as good as any competing earbud. Having never listened to "high-dollar" ($150+) earbuds, I have no idea what sort of auditory experience I am missing out on, though I hope to try some soon. Regardless, these earbuds are not lacking compared to the others on the market in this price bracket.

The cord is undoubtedly the best feature of these earbuds, and was the main reason I chose them. It is a standard Y-style cord, which I strongly prefer to the asymmetrical type, with no adjustable slider. Cord length is ideal for me (6' 2" tall) to keep my iPod/phone in my pants pocket and still have enough slack to do workouts at the gym without any binding or catching. The cord's flat design is ingenious in that it does indeed prevent tangling as claimed. The two separate channels may get tangled around each other, but they are easily undone, and most of the time the cord just shakes out. That alone is probably the most notable feature of the J4. In addition, I have now been using these in my normal (moderate) fashion for over 7 months, and they have not missed a beat. I will be sure to update the review periodically to reflect how they hold up compared to prior sets, but they seem promising.

Now, the big downside: The headphones are not very comfortable. This is obviously a huge factor in the earbud market, and sadly the J4's suffer a minor and seemingly easily corrected design flaw which causes discomfort and/or frequent adjustment in the ear canal. The body of the earbuds, rather than having a somewhat half-spherical shape like many others, is a long cylinder with an end cap, that tapers on the ear side to the speaker port. The transition between the straight and tapered sections is a sharp, hard edge, and this edge tends to rub against the ear, causing significant discomfort. Over time, I have gotten more used to the earbuds, but unlike others that I never had to touch, I find myself frequently shifting these around to get that sharp edge off of my ear. I compared them side-by-side with my older broken earbuds and noted that those ones were smooth and curved, preventing such issues.

Two other details about the earbuds are worth noting. First, the cord is quite bulky. I don't mind, especially since the bulk is largely due to the kevlar reinforcing fabric, for which I am grateful, but it's not easy to see how thick it is in the pictures. Second, the plug is straight, not 90 degrees. This is no problem either, but a detail that some people wish to know.

Overall, I am happy with the JBuds J4 earbuds, but their unfortunate sharp-edged design really detracts from their overall rating, due to the discomfort it causes in the ear. If JBuds could reshape the J4 to more resemble the J3, or the Sennheiser CX300, this would solve the only problem I have with them, and would earn the J4 earbuds a 5 star rating in my book.

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