Does it make sense to say that some Bluetooth earbuds are meant "for gaming"? Harman aims to prove so.
When JBL finally introduced their first earbuds within the Quantum line-up in person (they previously were a novelty at CES 22), some of the present journalists looked at each other while raising our eyebrows. What does it actually mean for these tiny earbuds to be "for gaming"? The most enthusiastic and purist gamers want full headsets, don't they? Will they give them a louder design including some RGB lights and then charge 50 extra bucks? We were so wrong.
I've been testing the JBL Quantum TWS for a month in many different situations and activities, including gaming on various platforms, of course, but I also carried the case for travelling by train and plane, going for a daily walk, making calls or going to the gym. In this sense, they were precisely substituting another model from the manufacturer that I always carried with me, the JBL Life Pro+ TWS. And, you know what? They have totally replaced them, which I wasn't expecting at all.
The main difference between JBL Quantum TWS and both Live Pro+ or the newer Live Pro 2, is that, the first ones include a tiny USB-C dongle, this is a sort of pen drive which is inserted into different devices to establish low latency 2.4 GHz connections, thus minimizing the possible lag or sound delay that you otherwise get via Bluetooth. That is, the same technique used with other wireless gaming headsets such as the JBL Quantum 610, but anyway now to connect these little earbuds.
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Before taking a look at what this implies at a gaming level, we can't ignore the elephant in the room. The dongle forces the carrying case to be a tad bigger and heavier, while the added technology makes the Quantum TWS' stick to be a bit longer. This created a prejudice in me: as a Live Pro+ user, I didn't believe its additional features could compensate for the extra weight and space. Nonetheless, with the passage of time, they completely won my heart.
First of all, because they produce a slightly better sound, and that is saying something already. This may be thanks to the improved ANC (Adaptive Noise Cancelling), the additional microphones, or, maybe, the fact that the units come in a slightly chunkier body, but not up to the size of the JBL Reflect Flow Pro (made for sports) which I'd still regard more highly. The thing is that the Quantum give me a better feeling for the everyday use, especially on the bass notes and when calling. Secondly, the Live Pro+ were giving me some trouble: the right earbud muted itself or occasionally paused the music, maybe due to dirt blocking one of the microphones no matter how much I cleaned it. But I think even the grip feels better in my ear.
All this goodness could probably be found in the renewed JBL Live Pro 2, which also come with a tinier and lighter case but, as we've come to play games, here, the Quantum wins by a landslide.
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The best earphones for the Nintendo Switch?
Not every device we can find at home can emit Bluetooth 5.0 or above, and if we want to for example play on the Nintendo Switch (which is Bluetooth 4.1, even the recent OLED model) the difference is huge. Life or death. To score a goal or to concede it. I didn't expect the USB-C dongle to work on the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode, but it really does: the console immediately recognises it as "USB Audio". In my tests, going from Bluetooth audio to the USB accessory was incredibly noticeable, already while browsing the dashboard and menus. And it is not only the lag, but also that the volume is noticeably louder via USB thus bettering the sound quality.
During those flights, I played games of different kinds. Naturally in Al: Somnium Files: nirvanA Initiative there's no need to respond swiftly with the reflexes of a lynx, but there is in Mario Strikers: Battle League Football. The thing is that, once you've tried these earbuds via wireless USB on Switch with a response under 50 ms, you'll no longer want to connect them via Bluetooth, which is also very tedious.
As the JBL Quantum TWS's sound quality and noise cancelling is exceptional, they're also fit for console and PC gaming. For instance, I used them when simracing when it got too warm with the JBL Quantum ONE (or with any other gaming headset). With the powerful bass they produce, and the clarity of the remaining sound space, these tiny earbuds can stand next to more dedicated devices, and they can also be managed by using the JBL QuantumSURROUND software.
They can also be connected via USB-C to Android phones (Apple, you should be giving in already and joining the universal standard) and, even though doing so seems more tedious for a sleek mobile device with the hanging piece, this is always a better quality option when, for instance, travelling by train. In any case, for a chunkier device such as the Nintendo Switch, this becomes a natural and immediate better option.
Of course, the audio source can be switched from Bluetooth to dongle with a touch, both using the app or assigning a tapping shortcut, and this double input also implies a dual-source audio mode: you can go from playing or working on the PC to receiving a call on the phone.
Finally, it turns out that the gaming design, relieving my fears, is not jarring at all. Rather, I would say it gives them a touch of personality, both the earbuds and to the case itself, with the shiny stripes on top of the matte plastic in an Adidas sportive style, and with the metallic details on capsules and sticks. They stand out a bit longer than other stick earbuds - just a little bit - and they look fine.
My objections, as you can see, are very few. Naturally the case is a bit bigger and it is harder to take the earbuds out and to put them back without looking since they are stored horizontally to save space and not vertically (yes, I confess that once I accidentally tried to plug the USB dongle in my ear...). There are also some troubles with iPhone 12 in JBL Headphones app when it comes to finding them (something I barely needed after the initial configuration, honestly).
But, apart from that, the JBL Quantum TWS make the difference coming from other gaming products, and also regarding my previous daily TWS. They're good-looking, smart, and different, they sport 16 hours of battery life, their sound is really, really good, and they offer cutting-edge noise cancellation. If you use to play a lot on handheld/mobile/laptop, or if you want to liberate yourself from a headset's heat every now and then, this product is an essential 2-in-1: great for playing with no lag and quality sound, great for carrying them with you and listening to music wherever you go.