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JLAB JBuds EPIC In-Ear Monitors Review

by December 10, 2013
JLAB JBuds Epic In-Ear Monitors

JLAB JBuds Epic In-Ear Monitors

  • Product Name: Epic
  • Manufacturer: JLAB
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarhalf-star
  • Review Date: December 10, 2013 20:00
  • MSRP: $ 69.99
  • Buy Now
  • Massive 13mm C3 (Crystal Clear Clarity) Drivers
  •  4 Sizes Revolutionary Cush Fins and 6 Gel Tips
  • Custom Zippered Travel Case
  • Universal Mic & Easy-to-Use Track Control
  • JLab's World-Class Service & One-Year Warranty

Pros

  • Tons of options means you'll find the perfect fit
  • Light
  • Street Price

Cons

  • Bass heavy
  • Flat cable transmits noise

 

JLab Audio JBuds EPIC Introduction

Iepic_boxt is impossible to be a true audiophile while on a budget. The audiophile gear, even the cheapest, is still out of the price range of those budding audiophiles that are balancing school, work, and a passion for audio. Therefore it is important for us as Audioholics and audiophile ourselves to keep on hand a number of more affordable options for these people. It is easy to say, "Buy this one, it is the best," when 'the best' costs more than most would spend on a car or a quality subwoofer. It is much harder to start with a double digit budget and have a handful of recommendations that, while maybe not the best, certainly help our audiophiles-in-training along their path.

I keep a number of things in mind when I'm evaluating pieces of gear. Price, of course, is a factor. I want to be cognizant of what is out there in a particular bracket. But more than that, I need to think about the limitations of the gear at that price point. Do I expect a $100 subwoofer to sound as good as a $500 one? Of course not. But I will heartily recommend a $100 sub that doesn't try to play so low that it distorts. For the budding audiophile, they may not be experiencing the lowest bass, but they have a piece of gear that is not training their ear to think that distortion is valid. How many people have you met that think their gear (which distorts horribly) sounds good and anything that doesn't sounds bad when it is only because it is what they are used to? Far too many I bet.

Headphones in the 1/2 C-note range will, by definition, suffer performance issues. It's just not possible to make enough profit on a headphone to afford the quality of components that you need for really high quality music reproduction. So what I look for in a headphone at this price point is lack: Lack of distortion, lack of fatigue, and lack of obvious issues. I want to be able to recommend a headphone that will not train the ear of the user improperly. They can always buy better headphones later that have more bass or clearer highs and learn to enjoy them. But if they've spent the last couple of years with headphones that screech and distort anything above 10kHz or below 40Hz...well, they are going to have a hard time believing that's not how it is supposed to sound.

EPIC Unboxing

The JLabs EPIC headphones came nicely packaged inset in two different blocks of foam. The foam was actually inset inside the open halves of the rectangular carrying case. At some point in the construction of the case, the zipper rolled over making it hard to operate. It loosened up a bit over time but it never really completely relaxed. I don't think this is something most people should be worried about.

epic_foamcase

Taking pictures of black gear in black foam should be an Olympic sport

The EPIC headphones have a plastic enclosure that is silver on the outside and black or dark grey on the inside. The post is angled for easy insertion in your ear canal and also makes it very easy to tell which one is left and right. There is a small channel for the "cush fins" and an average sized if slightly long post. The EPICs sport a 13mm driver which is quite large for the company (it is hard to compare to other offerings as most don't list driver size). They don't list anything resembling frequency response data but they do promise that these headphones were created directly in response to customer feedback.

The EPICs sport the newer flat cable that promises to be tangle-free. It promises that just like a politician makes campaign promises. Now, compared to regular cables, the EPIC flat cable is much less prone to tangles but it is nowhere near tangle free. The OM Audio INEARPEACE headphones had a flat cable as well but it was much wider and quite a bit stiffer than the EPIC cable. While flat is part of the tangle-free promise, most of it comes from being stiff. In the end, I'd call the EPIC cable tangle-resistant which, while true, doesn't sound nearly as good. It is still better than regular cables, however.

epic_buds

Not pictured: tangles

epic_partsWhat they don't tell you, however, is that flat cables do (in my experience) transmit a lot more noise to the in-ear monitor than regular cables. This is the case with the JLabs as well though I've experienced worse cable noise. This happens when the cable is tapped or rubbed between the yoke and the earphone. Past the yoke and you can't really hear it. The cables are also two-toned (black on the outside, grey on the inside, a color scheme I've seen before in flat cables.

What drew me to the JLabs EPIC headphones was not so much the price or any performance claims but the ridiculous amount of fins and tips. The EPIC headphones have six different sizes of tips and four different cush fin sizes. By mixing and matching all the different sizes you can create over 1000 different combinations (according to JLab). As someone that has had a very hard time finding in-ear monitors that fit, I was extremely excited to see how well the EPIC headphones would fit my needs.

JLAB JBuds EPIC Control and Fit

In-line controls are fairly standard practice these days and it is almost an anomaly when they aren't included on a headphone. The JLab EPIC headphones have an in-line control and mic unit on the right headphone cable. The mic works with an acceptable level of resolution (meaning no one complained that they couldn't understand me when I was on a call). The controls, on the other hand, were a completely different story. I spend the majority of the review period thinking there were no in-line controls. 

But there are.

epic_button

How could I miss that?

The first time I put on the EPICs, I pressed on the control unit and, feeling no movement and hearing no click, figured there wasn't any in-line controls. Much later I read on their website that they did have a single button control and sure enough, it was true. The small, raised JLabs logo was, in fact, a button that was resistant to pressure. In the end, that really doesn't make much difference as it isn't impossible to use, you just need a little extra pressure. The controls are basic but work with both Android and iOS devices. Single presses connect/disconnect calls or start/stop music. Double press forwards a track and triple clicks skip back a track.

EPIC Fit

Of course, with in-ear monitors fit is where it is at. No matter how good they may or may not sound, if they aren't comfortable then they won't be of much use. While this is true of any headphone, is is doubly so of in-ear monitors. JLabs has provided six different sizes of tips in two styles - single and double flanged. The single flanged come in extra small (really, these are tiny), small, medium, and large. The double flanged come in extra small/small and medium/large sizes. You can mix and match these as you see fit.

epic_tip

Pictured: Medium tips and small fins

The second part of the fit equation is the cush fin. As mentioned, there is a small channel around the outside of the enclosure for the fin to rest. The fins come in four sizes (extra small to large) with the smallest being little more than a rubber ring and the largest looking like a shark fin. There are cutouts (I call them crumple zones) on one side of the two largest so that you can press it into your ear and it will deform and hold tight.

The channel for the cush fins is a brilliant design in that it works just about as perfectly as you might hope. The channel keeps the fins connected to the headphones even when you hook the cable on something and it rips from you ear (ouch!). At the same time, it has enough friction to keep the fin in the proper location without so much that you can't adjust it. JLabs instructions for fit are - attach the fin pointing up (relative to your head), insert the EPIC earphone, and then push the fine toward the back of your head to lock in the headphone.

epic_naked

Channel for the fin works well though is very far from the end of the post

For the most part, this works. I found that I didn't really need to slide the fin back all that much if I chose the right size. I ended up with the single-flanged, medium tips with the small fins in both ears. The double flanged tips were too uncomfortable to use no matter the size. I played with different fins and alternated them a number of times. The key is to get one that is just the right size but not to big. Too small, in this case, is better than too big. Too big and the fin would actually pull the headphone from my ear. With the right combination of tip and fin and there was no way the EPIC headphones were coming out without considerable effort.

In this, the JLabs headphones were extremely successful. Once they were in and were set, they felt as if they were a part of my ear. I had no problems exercising with them as the only fear I had was hooking the cable on something and tearing them loose. Falling out wasn't an issue at any time. For most, this will be selling point enough and they've already left this review to make their order.

epic_fin

Large fin with crumple zone

For those that have stuck around, comfort, for me, was a problem. The EPIC headphones had a fairly long post. Inserted on their own they were fine and the EPICs were light enough that weight was never an issue. The fins, however, pushed the posts so deep in my ears that I found more than an hour of listening was unbearable. I tried reducing the size of the tips but that didn't help and made the sound quality worse. I could wear the EPICs for longer periods without the fins but then they would have the falling out problems that the fins were meant to prevent. I can't fault the EPICs too much for this, however, as it is impossible to please every ear. For buyers, you can rest assured knowing that either the fins will work for you (and if the Amazon reviews are any indication, they work for most people), or they won't and you can still use them as you would any other in-ear monitor.

JLAB JBuds EPIC Sound Quality Tests and Conclusion

epic_box_openIt continues to surprise me how different headphones can sound from each other. In-ear monitors, in particular, consistently amaze in their ability to have completely different tonalities in comparison. It is no wonder that new speakers are coming out every day and they all sound so different - if something as small and compact as an in-ear monitor can sound sound so different, than how much more can larger speakers?

The JLab EPIC headphones have what I would classify as a ton of bass. Not metric, mind you, but imperial. That was the very first thing I noticed about them when I put them on/in and, at first, I found it a bit off-putting. I ran a few bass sweeps and took a listen but the bass wasn't bloated, per se, but just louder. Using some test tracks and sweeps, it was clear that the EPIC earphones have decent low end extension but not the lowest I've heard (not surprising considering the price point). There were no obvious suckouts or bloated areas of the frequency response but there were moments during musical playback where a voice might dip down into a louder region. Sarah McLaughlin, for example, would have moments when parts of her singing would momentarily be louder than the rest of the song. It wasn't too distracting or really all that bad but something I noticed.

epic_end

Standard 3.5mm straight plug

The overall bass extension was fine for the price point though the presentation became muddy at louder volumes. This bled over into the lower midrange at times but the overall midrange and high end presentation was remarkably clear and detailed. Listening to female vocalists in general was a joy with the EPIC earphones and male vocals were mostly rich and detailed (though they often sounded louder than their female counterparts).

Often budget headphones suffer from a fatiguing presentation but the EPIC earphones presented none of that. While the high end had plenty of extension, it didn't distort or clip at higher (but reasonable) volumes and maintained composure even under demanding playback. Listening to Sinners and Saints by Euphoria, it starts with a guitar and Tina Dico's voice. The guitar was beautifully reproduced as was her voice. There are both low and high end sweeps in the song and a lot of different pans from side to side. All of these were presented accurately and with conviction.

Value

I started this review off talking about budding audiophiles on a budget. I did that on purpose because I knew that we would end up here talking about value. At $70, the JLab JBuds EPIC earphones are a decent deal. I would have no problems recommending them for someone that cares about audio. They have absolutely no real problems and present music in an accurate (overall) way without any glaring problems. There is a bit of a bass emphasis but nothing as bad as I've heard from other headphones. For audiophiles on a budget (or audiophiles that want headphones that actually stay in during a vigorous workout), the EPICs are an easy recommendation at $70.

But they don't cost $70.

On Amazon and the JLab site, they've been discounted to $50. So, JLab has put me in a corner. If I give them a great value rating, people will say that they really cost $50 so they must be the best headphones EVER! If I give them a lower value rating saying that at their actual price they are a good deal, the manufacturer will complain that I should rate them on their street price. I tend toward the latter as I feel it is more fair to the competition. Just know, at $50, they are an easy recommendation.

epic_post

I really thought this picture was going to come out awesome. I was wrong

Conclusion

What do you want in a headphone? Do you want a headphone that will absolutely stay in during a vigorous workout or do you want one that sounds great? Well, in the JLab EPIC in-ear monitors, you can have both. While no headphone costing $70 (MSRP, street price $50) will be perfect, there are really no major flaws in the performance of the EPIC in-ear monitors. For audiophiles on a budget that need a multipurpose headphone that won't break the bank, the JLab EPICs are it. Recommended!

JLab JBuds EPIC In-Ear Monitors

MSRP: $79.99

epic_finon2

www.jlabaudio.com

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
MetricRating
Ergonomics & UsabilityStarStarStar
Build QualityStarStarStar
AppearanceStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStar
ImagingStarStarStarStar
SoundstageStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStarStar
ValueStarStarStarhalf-star
About the author:
author portrait

As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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