One of the main complaints about listening to music in India is that there is too much ambient sound—coolers, fans, TVs, etc—that either takes away from the listening experience or forces one to blast the music on headphones. Even while using headphones, though, the most common experience is of external sounds interfering with the music, or the blaring music being heard by people around you.
JBL’s J55i headphones seek to address this problem, and do a commendable job. The close-backed design of the headphones go a long way in noise cancellation—either coming in or going out. In fact, I tested the headphones in what is arguably the loudest ambient atmosphere Delhi has to offer—peak-time traffic in an autorickshaw. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, forget the noise of the traffic around me, I could not even hear the sound of my own auto’s engine! An added, though probably unintended, benefit of full-ear covering headphones is that they double up as ear-muffs in winter, which is invaluable in an auto.
As far as the sound is concerned, the J55i justify their quite reasonable price of R5,490. During the autorickshaw tests, I played soft, melodic classical music by Bach, bass heavy rap songs by Jay Z and everything in between, to test the range of the headphones. The experience was great. The treble notes of Bach’s violin pieces were as easily audible as every thump and boom of Jay Z’s songs, as were the swirling melodies of The Beatles and the up-tempo hits by old rock bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival. JBL’s slogan, ‘for pure bass, nothing beats JBL’, while not fully justified (my experience of Bose headphones has been better) is not entirely misplaced. More than any other factor of the music, the bass resonated the most. The clarity of sound was also excellent, depending on the quality of the music file, of course. A high-definition song, for example, was rendered perfectly by the headphones’ 1-5/8-inch premium drivers.
The physical design of the headphones has some good points, but there are ways they could have been designed better. It is undoubtedly convenient that the wire connected to the headphones themselves attaches on only one side and not both, thus reducing the interference of too much wire around your face. However, the 3.5 mm jack that plugs into the headphones is a tad too big for comfort. Connecting at the bottom of the left hand side of the headphones, the jack protrudes quite a distance. In winter especially, when one tends to wear jackets and high-collared clothes, this long jack tends to be a nuisance, banging against the collar every time you turn your head left. This can get quite irritating.
Another issue is that the headphones seem to be straddling the middle ground between fully surrounding your ears and simply covering them. What this means is that my ears (average sized, I assure you!) would get squeezed a bit while trying to fit them in the headphones, which would begin to hurt an hour or so into using them non-stop. But that’s a simple design fix the company can do.
All round, given the reasonable price, the quality of sound, the sleek design and the relative ease of fixing its design flaws, the J55i headphones are an excellent buy for any music lover. Place them on your ears, turn up the volume and just escape into your personal world of melody.
Type: On-ear style
Premium driver: 1-5/8-inch (40 mm)
Frequency response: 10Hz – 24kHz
Cable: 4-feet, 3-3/16-inches (1.3 M), single-side, detachable,flat-elastomer cable
Plug: 1/8 inch (3.5 mm) gold plated
Estimated street price: Rs 5,490