JLab Go Air Pop: one-minute review
Let’s cut to the chase of what’s thrilling about the JLab Go Air Pop: since February of this year it has been possible to buy a pair of known-brand true wireless earbuds for $20 / $20, a fee that even three years ago was unimaginable. And, they’re not from someone down a dark back alley, and they’re not knock-off AirPods.
The known brand is JLab, and its raison d’etre is providing durable listening gear at rock-bottom prices; staples on our list of the best budget wireless earbuds with the outgoing JLab Go Air as a prime example.
And while the company hasn’t made it into our best true wireless earbuds buying guide yet, that’s not really a fair fight given the suggested retail prices they’re up against – and it’s probably only a matter of time.
Regular readers will know that TechRadar penned initial thoughts about the remarkably affordable new JLab Go Air Pop soon after their release, but – even though this is a very wallet-friendly product – we want you to know about them in a fully-fledged review. Isn’t your curiosity piqued? Can earbuds this budget-conscious actually do a job?
We’ve all been burned by buying cheap – buy cheap, buy twice, right? Not here. If you’re thinking that one bud would cease to pair after a week, or the case lid would snap off within a day, or a glancing blow from a wet jacket sleeve would kill them, or a speck of dust would put paid to the case registering anything inside it worth charging… well, you’re wrong.
What you need to know is that JLab Go Air Pop (try to see past the name, in the same way we’re able to see past Sony’s collection of capital letters, dashes and numbers to find a class-leading product) are actually pretty good generally – and emphatically unbeatable for this money, although it’s important to note that there’s little out there to challenge them at the level. If this is where your budget maxes out for non-essentials such as true wireless earbuds, you will find a reliable product here.
These earbuds belie their lowly price-point. They are not junk. They sound far better than is reasonable. And wouldn’t life be better if more of us could afford portable wireless music, rather than no music at all?
JLab Go Air Pop: price and release date
- $20 / £20 / AU$49.95
- Released: February 2022
At $20, £20 or five cents under $50 in Australia, saying JLab’s latest true wireless earbuds are aggressively priced is quite the understatement. Remember, JLab is a known audio brand, founded in 2005 and respected among the audio press.
Competition and profit margins at JLab’s ultra-affordable end of the market are brutal. The race to shrink reliable connectivity, decent stamina and on-device controls into ever-more amenable price-points, while still somehow turning a profit, never ends.
The truth is that JLab has fashioned a unique pair of new earbuds that do this for $20 (£20) and I’m still not sure how. Did someone on JLab’s payroll sell their soul to the devil in a Faustian, Robert Johnson-style pact? Hope not. But one can’t be sure…
JLab Go Air Pop: features
- Bluetooth 5.1 and wearer-detection
- Three effective EQ profiles
- On-ear volume control
First off, these Bluetooth 5.1 earbuds connected to my phone at the first time of asking, and as basic a statement as it may seem, the fact that a product powers up simply, shows up in the Bluetooth menu of my phone and pairs – without the 15 minutes of head scratching, a third read of the Quick Start Guide and a full factory reset – already puts them streets ahead of certain buds we’ve tested at up to 10 times the price.
The earbuds are also sweat-resistant but even more importantly, you’re getting eight hours from the earbuds and a whopping 32 hours from the entire proposition when you include the case – and having spent a week with them, I can confirm that the claim is genuine.
Upon placing the buds back into your ears following charging, they pair instantly to their last-known device too, calmly announcing “Bluetooth connected, battery full”. These are small and incremental checks in favor of the JLabs, but they do add up. Functioning without issue might seem the bare minimum, but JLab is beating competition much higher up the food chain just by passing these rudimentary tests.
Oh, and on-device volume control? Big check. I have knocked several premium pairs of earbuds for not offering what is such a natural thing to want from your headphones (AirPods Pro, I’m looking at you), but here, a simple tap of either earpiece sends the volume up (right) or down (left) a notch. It’s almost too easy. Double tap the left one for Siri or Google, double tap the right to play or pause your music. Hold your finger on either earpiece for over a second and it’ll skip forward or back a track. Cake.
There’s a mic in each earbud for call-handling, and don’t for a second think that no app means no EQ profiles – triple tap either earpiece and you’ll hear the soothing voice say “balanced’, “bass boost” or “JLab signature”. Across the course of my time with these little units, they never misunderstand my index finger’s morse code once, either.
JLab Go Air Pop review: sound quality
- Good bass weight and textured vocals
- Treble crackles at higher volumes
These earbuds are very capable of playing music and really, it is churlish to expect too much more. If you were hoping JLab just nailed sonic brilliance for the princely sum of $20, you will have to think again – you’re getting SBC vanilla Bluetooth delivered at rock-bottom prices, not aptX HD, LDAC or hifalutin higher-res codecs.
The name hardly screams audio excellence anyway – ‘air’ and ‘pop’ are not words we’d recommend using in the same sentence as 6mm drivers and Bluetooth connectivity – but remember, Sony once released a limited-edition ‘silent white’ colourway for the WH-1000XM4 and silence doesn’t suggest great-sounding cans either. Which firm had the bigger budget to perhaps run that name by a focus group? Correct.
Any meaningful sound comparison between these $20 in-ears and class-leading products from the likes of Sony, Apple or Sennheiser is more than a little unfair – and there are no current class-leaders at $20 because there simply isn’t much serious competition at that price.
What you should know is that JLab’s solution beats anything in its price range for sound, hands down. It can even stand toe to toe with the more expensive Sony WF-C500 – which it actually beats for battery life and design, if not audio quality.
Okay, the treble needs refinement and dynamically they’re a little flat (stream Tinie Tempah’s Frisky and the foreboding intro is ever-present, rather than building and brooding), but I maintain that JLab’s Go Air Pop are a pleasant listen overall, especially for this money. Vocals are relatively well handled through the mids, and the bass weight is sensibly handled, although I admit that the timing here lacks a modicum of cohesion.
Stream Hootie & the Blowfish’s Let Her Cry and the different guitars present themselves to each ear in a relatively expansive, open soundstage too. Listen to Prince’s Kiss and while you’ll get all of the bass funk in the intro, the artist’s inimitable vocal comes off a little harsh. Sonically, it is difficult to rave about the sound quality, chiefly because of this treble, which does distort even in relatively easy passages, but that’s not really the point here.
The point is budget-conscious, solid sound. And you get that here – for up to 32 hours.
- Sound quality score: 3.5/5
JLab Go Air Pop review: Design
- Available in five glorious colorways
- Just 3.7g per earbud
- Odd tadpole-like charging cable
Refreshingly, JLab Go Air Pop arrive in a plastic-free, 100% recycled paper box roughly the size of a deck of cards. It’s hard to imagine a set of headphones, their charging case, a quick-start guide and extra gel cushion tips can actually fit inside it, honestly, but they’re certainly there – and they’re worth shouting about.
Let’s start with the teardrop-shaped ergonomic earbuds. The marketing spiel is that they’re 15 per cent smaller than JLabs’ previous offerings. The point is, they weigh just 3.7g per earpiece (which is over a gram lighter than the bijou Sony LinkBuds S, which come in at 4.8g per bud) and will suit practically all human ears. When it comes to true wireless earbuds, small is beautiful and JLab’s Go Air Pop truly are beautifully small.
You get three sets of eartips in the same color as everything else for a sleek aesthetic (our sample is turquoise) and the case is easily as small and light as a box of dental floss, despite the fact that its USB charging plug and short cable snaps out from a recess in the base.
This diddy case is able to stand on its base (why can’t more brands do this?) so that you can flip open the magnetised lid with one hand to access the headphones. I spent a week slinging this case into my bag, near my keys. There are no metallic embellishments to be scratched off on the design and no discernible weak points in the hinge. This thing wants to survive a commute unscathed.
Okay, the strange little charging cable is physically attached to the JLab Go Air Pop’s case (can it still be called a wireless charger if there’s always a wire?) and when charging it does look embryonic or juvenile compared to more premium cases, as tadpole is to fully-grown frog perhaps. That said, it does charge the earbuds and means you’ll never have to search in the semi-darkness for your USB-C charger – or get caught short because you forgot to pack one.
JLab Go Air Pop review: value
- Reliable battery, connectivity and supreme comfort for $20
- Easily betters anything else at this price for sound and features
- No app
Did we mention that these earbuds are just $20? All things considered, the JLab Go Air Pop represent exceptionally good value, and, despite the lack of a companion app, you get an impressive set of features all handled by the reliable on-ear controls.
In terms of build, battery life and feature set, JLab is irrefutably top of the class for value – but remember, it is a very small class.
These earbuds are not the flaky-breaky kit one might expect for $20, and if it’s a question of no music on the commute or JLab’s Go Air Pop earbuds, I’ll bite your hand off for these every day of the week.
JLab Go Air Pop review: should I buy it?
|Features||No product with as robust a battery life and feature set exists at this level.||5/5|
|Sound quality||Although it surpasses anything at the price, there are issues with the treble.||3.5/5|
|Design||Excellent, incredibly light earbuds, just overlook the tadpole-tail charger.||4.5/5|
|Value||An excellent buy for the money, as long as the lack of app support isn’t a deal-breaker.||5/5|
Buy it if…
Don’t buy it if…
Think the Go Air Pop might not be the true wireless earbuds for you? That’s cool, here are three alternatives that could offer just the design, feature-set and sound quality you’re looking for.