Advertisement

JLab Epic Lab Edition review: some solid features, but not enough to impress

 The JLab Epic Lab Edition bud next to the case.
The JLab Epic Lab Edition bud next to the case.

JLab Epic Lab Edition: Three-minute review

The JLab Epic Lab Edition isn't the cheapest of earbuds and when you pay a premium price for some headphones, you expect a base level of music quality – but it manages to buck that expectation. JLab charges you a princely sum for these top-end headphones, but I’ve heard better audio quality on cheap buds that cost a quarter of the price.

JLab’s earbud range almost entirely falls within the ‘best budget wireless earbuds’ bracket, with our ranking of the best earbuds flagging some of its offerings as worthy low-cost alternatives to premium options. Of its current selection, the Epic Lab Edition costs twice as much as its nearest siblings, the JLab Epic Air. If you didn’t tell me the price, though, I’d believe that the Epic Lab Edition was just another member of this busy market bracket, and it’s startling that JLab would sell these for more than the Apple AirPods.

The main problem with the Epic Lab Edition is the sound quality – something you’d hope expensive earbuds would crack. Sound has more peaks than a platter of meringues, with vocals, drums, guitars, all getting lost in a tinny buzzy haze that’ll have you wondering if you’re listening to a B-side or just a swarm of angry bees.

By default, the bass totally overpowers the mid and treble too. You’ll have to jump into the JLab app’s equalizer to try and regain some semblance of balance, though many of its presents are somehow even more off-kilter. Thankfully, a custom option exists.

The JLab Epic Lab Edition case, open, with the buds inside.
The JLab Epic Lab Edition case, open, with the buds inside.

The buds fumble with their noise control modes, which fall under ‘Noise Cancelling’ or ‘Be Aware’ (or 'off'), with the latter intended as an ambient noise awareness mode. You won’t need it, though, because the noise cancellation is so light-touch that you’ll be all-too-aware of surrounding sounds anyway. With this in mind, you might be querying our three-star verdict. That's because JLab really picks up the ball in its design and features department.

The buds are nice and lightweight, despite packing a meaty battery life, and they feel comfortable when worn as a result. The case isn't too big either, despite the fact it holds an extra USB-C dongle for quick and temporary connectivity to new devices. This is a really handy tool in theory, though in practice I found that it didn't work all the time.

The JLab app is one of the more useful I've tried as it lets you get a lot more out of your buds, like letting you switch between modes for streaming music or videos, custom EQ or volume limiters to protect your hearing.

These useful features mean that this JLab Epic Lab Edition review can't be wholly negative, but they're still only appropriate for people who don't mind spending  $199.99 / £199.99 / AU$249.99  on buds solely for the feature set.

JLab Epic Lab Edition review: Price and release date

The JLab Epic Lab Edition earbuds.
The JLab Epic Lab Edition earbuds.
  • Went on sale November 2023

  • Premium price of $199.99 / £199.99 / AU$249.99

You can pick up the JLab Epic Lab Edition for $199.99 / £199.99 / AU$249.99, so these are distinctively premium earbuds from a brand that usually stays away from this market segment. The JLab Epic Air, some of its other ‘premium’ buds, are only half that cost.

At that price, these cost even more than Apple AirPods, which go for $179 / £169 / AU$279. However most of the best earbuds overall do outprice the JLabs with the Sony WF-1000XM4, Apple AirPods Pro and Technics EAH-AZ80 all launching for more than $200 / £200 / AU$250.

The buds were announced in November 2023 and went on sale straight away.

JLab Epic Lab Edition review: Specs

JLab Epic Lab Edition review: Features

The JLab Epic Lab Edition's USB-C dongle.
The JLab Epic Lab Edition's USB-C dongle.
  • Total battery life of up to 56 hours, though lower with ANC

  • App offers lots of extra features

  • USB-C connectivity dongle is great in theory, iffy in practice

The JLab Epic Lab Edition has, to its credit, a feature set that’s pretty decent for its price.

The battery life of the buds clocks in at 13 hours (or 9 hours with ANC turned on), and when you factor in the charging case, that total life span rockets up to a whopping 56 hours (or 36 with ANC on). That’s a fantastic amount of power, which means you’ll barely need to power up the device.

When you do power it up, the JLab benefits from dual charging: you can power it up using a USB-C cable or wirelessly on a charging pad (though you can’t use both at the same time). It takes two hours to charge the case from full to empty, and that’s also how long it takes to power up the buds when they’re in the case. JLab estimates that 10 minutes of charging will give you an hour and 45 minutes of listening time.

The buds can use Bluetooth Multipoint, which basically lets them connect to multiple oft-used devices and automatically pair with whichever you’re using. This worked well in testing, with the Epic Lab jumping between the various phones I’d paired it with as soon as I unlocked them.

You can pair the JLabs to your phone without needing to use any kind of app, but if you want you can download the JLab app to get some extra tools. This includes the ability to tweak the noise cancellation (off, standard and Be Aware), an optional volume limit to protect your hearing, an equalizer with some presets and also a custom control mode, and a few other small tools.

The app is a handy way to get the most out of the earbuds and also to keep tabs on their battery power. When you’re listening to music, the app displays the remaining power of each bud and the case, though on my phone this was bugged and cut off half-way through, over the actual battery percentages.

The JLab Epic Lab Edition has one extra neat feature that’d easily score it an extra star in this review… if it worked properly. Included in the case is a little USB-C dongle and, if you plug this into another device, it’ll override the buds’ Bluetooth connection to instead pair to this new device, thereby saving you having to go through the entire pairing process for a device you’ll only use temporarily.

This sounds really handy, but in practice, it didn’t always work. When I plugged the dongle into my custom-build PC it just didn’t register them, and when I plugged the dongle into my iPad Pro, I could listen to music, but it’d repeatedly drop individual earbuds before re-pairing them several seconds later – not a great listening experience.

  • Features score: 4 / 5

JLab Epic Lab Edition review: Design

The JLab Epic Lab Edition's in-box extra bud tips.
The JLab Epic Lab Edition's in-box extra bud tips.
  • Lightweight and comfortable buds

  • Touch controls work well

  • IP55 rating and six pairs of in-box tips

The JLab Epic Lab Edition don’t exactly re-invent the wheel when it comes to wireless earbud design: they consist of two small earbuds and a charging case (and the aforementioned dongle which is housed in the buds).

The case weighs in at 63.5g (when the dongle and buds are removed), with dimensions of 6.9 x 2.7 x 4.1 cm – it’s pretty much average size for an earbud charging case, with the dongle not adding that much heft.

On the front are three LED lights, a simple but effective indicator of how much charge is left in the case. The rear has a USB-C port for charging, as described already. One small but handy design feature is that the underside of the case has a rubbery layer, unlike the metal of the rest of the body, and this small amount of added traction means the case stays still on tables and uneven surfaces instead of wobbling about.

The buds themselves measure 2.3 x 2.7 x 1.9 cm and measure 5.35g each – very lightweight as far as buds go. The main discerning feature of the buds is a large JLab logo on each, which doubles as the button for touch controls – these were responsive to the touch and easy to use. So is the wear detection, which was incredibly quick to recognize when I’d removed the buds or replaced them in my ear.

In the box you get six total sets of earbud tips, three of foam and three silicone, which I found handy as the default tips caused the buds to keep falling out. You also get a USB-C to USB-C charging cable.

The buds have an IP55 rating which means they’re protected form dust and also against jets of water (like rain) but they won’t survive submersion in water. Some earbud tips struggle to stick in your ear in rainy conditions though, so keep them dry.

  • Design score: 3.5 / 5

JLab Epic Lab Edition review: Sound quality

The JLab Epic Lab Edition earbuds in an ear.
The JLab Epic Lab Edition earbuds in an ear.
  • Oft-distorted audio

  • Very limited sound stage

  • Noise cancellation doesn't do much

I was disappointed by the JLab Epic Lab Edition’s sound quality, which should be no surprise if you read the first 500 words of this review. JLab touts features like hi-res audio, "hybrid dual drivers", spatial audio and an LDAC, but at the end of the day, they still don’t sound great.

The main issue is that music sounds tinny, owing to how distorted sounds could be on a regular basis. In certain songs, drum tracks sounded like they were drilling into my head, and rhythm guitars and vocal lines could have the same effect too.

Music also suffered from a lack of sound stage, with mid, treble and bass all blended into one mush of noise. Bass also overwhelmed other sounds, even in non-bassy songs; while treble could occasionally hold its own, mid parts were often completely lost in the mix. Rock music became 60% bass guitar, 30% vocals and 10% ‘everything else’.

I tested the EQ function of the JLab app but the other presets somehow emphasized the bass even more, making the custom mode the only way I could try to balance the music. It’s hard to recommend earbuds if you need to turn sound engineer to make them sound good.

Another problem is the ANC, or ambient noise cancellation. When switched on, it doesn’t ‘cancel’ sound, as much as put it through a filter to make it sound as tinny as the music. You can still hear background audio, it just sounds even more annoying than usual.

  • Sound quality: 2 / 5

Should I buy the JLab Epic Lab Edition?

The JLab Epic Lab Edition's case from the rear.
The JLab Epic Lab Edition's case from the rear.

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

JLab Epic Lab Edition review: Also consider

How I tested the JLab Epic Lab Edition

A JLab Epic Lab Edition earbud
A JLab Epic Lab Edition earbud
  • Tested for 10 days

  • Tested at home, in the office and on walks

I tested the JLab Epic Lab Edition for a week and a half to write this review, which doesn't include testing done during the writing process of the review.

The majority of the testing was done with the earbuds connected to my Xiaomi Mi Note 10 smartphone, as well as an Vivo X100 Pro which I was testing concurrently. To trial the connectivity dongle I plugged it into my PC, an iPad Pro and a Windows laptop, but the majority of the bud testing was not done with the dongle.

I've been testing tech gadgets for TechRadar for over five years now, for various sections of the site. This is currently done on a freelance basis however I spent several years as part of the full team.

  • First reviewed in March 2024