You've never seen wireless earbuds like these – meet JBL's transforming buds

You’ve never seen wireless earbuds like these – meet JBL’s transforming buds

The newest innovation in wireless earbuds is something called a “open” design, where the driver housing rests just above your aural opening (read: earhole) rather than requiring a neck that needs to go into your ear canal to create a seal. Examples include Sony’s Linkbuds and the more active Cleer Audio Arc.

As you may have imagined, the advantage of such a design is that it enables you to listen to your playlists while remaining more aware of your surroundings. Additionally, there is no band across the back of your head, unlike bone conduction headphones.

But up until today, there has never been a set of earphones that gave you the option of either letting ambient sound in or keeping it out with a real, changeable physical barrier.

Announcing the JBL Tune Flex. They come with an open design out of the box, but when you attach the ear-sealing tips (using a feature JBL is calling Sound Fit technology), they transform into a pair of noise-isolating earphones, effectively giving you two sets of earbuds in one.

Trying to improve on your 10-kilometer time? If you’re in the UK and experiencing the present heatwave, it might not be a good idea, but for everyone else, wearing them openly will allow you to hear cars, buses, dogs, and other road noises.

To concentrate: Put the ear-sealing tips in (there are three sizes to assist you get the best seal), and you should be able to filter out unwanted sounds.

Additionally, you can further customize the sound with the JBL Headphones app, which gives you access to six levels of active noise cancellation, in addition to the passive isolation (ANC). It appears that you may even utilize these profiles while wearing the JBL Tune Flex in open mode, however it is unknown how that would sound or function in practice.

Although that’s with ANC off, the claimed battery life is eight hours (regardless of whether you’re going open or closed) plus a further 24 hours from the case.

Additionally, you get three finishes, three ‘Ghost’ limited edition color options, an IPX4 splash-resistant rating (making them suitable for the gym), Google Assistant compatibility for hands-free controls, and three finishes.

Opinion: open earbuds are the most exciting development in wireless headphones yet

In the realm of over-ear headphones, the concept of open-back and closed-back headphones is nothing new. For examples, have a look at the Grado GW100 or the Philips Fidelio X3. An open-back design has tons of added clarity, depth, and insight in the world of over-ear headphones.

Why is that? Open-back headphones eliminate the issue of low-frequency build-up brought on by other cans’ closed design by allowing air to flow through the ear cups from the rear (read: back) of the speaker driver. This is just a long way of stating that “they typically sound better.”

And the downsides of an open-back headphone? Sound leakage – everyone on the train carriage is going to judge you on your taste in music – plus the fact that these over-ears are often harder to drive, and they’re otherwise known as high impedance headphones.

But here’s the thing: none of that applies to ‘open’ true wireless earbuds because the headshell (the actual unit that houses the driver) either goes into your ear, or it doesn’t. And JBL claims to have taken care of the rest. 

While I’d certainly expect to hear a marked difference in audio quality when listening in open or closed mode, depending on how these earbuds have been tuned, JBL is a hugely talented audio specialist so I’d dearly love to be proven wrong… and at this price, I think I won’t be alone in wanting to give them a whirl. 

The JBL Tune Flex will be available from September for just £90 / €100 (around $110, AU$160) and while I’ve yet to have the pleasure of trying them out – so we can’t say whether they’ll make it into our best wireless earbuds buying guide – they’re certainly unique.

Remember, not even the best AirPods can offer this feature – in fact, many wearers claim that by design, Apple’s non Pro-suffixed ‘toothbrush head’ in-ears can’t provide the necessary passive sound isolation to facilitate great-sounding music.

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