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Creative Sound Blaster Jam review: An ultrabudget Bluetooth headphone that sounds surprisingly good

Can a $50 Bluetooth headphone actually sound good? We tried out the Creative Sound Blaster Jam to find out.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

Executive Editor / Reviews

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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Until recently, it was hard to find Bluetooth headphones that sounded decent for less than $100. But that's changing as higher grade chips and components get cheaper.

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7.7

Creative Sound Blaster Jam

The Good

The Creative Sound Blaster is an inexpensive, lightweight, on-ear Bluetooth headphone that fits comfortably and sounds good for its price. It also offers decent battery life (12 hours).

The Bad

Doesn't work so well as a headset for making calls; design may be a little too basic for some people.

The Bottom Line

While not without some weaknesses, the Creative Sound Blaster Jam is a strong budget Bluetooth headphone that delivers good sound for its modest price point.

Case in point: The Creative Sound Blaster Jam, a $50 (£40, AU$70) Bluetooth headphone that's lightweight, relatively comfortable to wear and sounds good, particularly for its modest price.

The Sound Blaster Jam's design is basic but endearingly retro. Sarah Tew/CNET

True to its budget roots, the Sound Blaster Jam has a pretty no-frills design; in fact, it looks a little like the headphones that came with the Walkman back in the 80s. But there is something endearing about its throwback design.

On the downside, not everybody likes an on-ear design, and the dearth of padding on the top of the headband may bother some. They also don't fold up in any way. And while they seem to sturdy enough, I can't predict how well they'll hold up over time.

That said, they're lightweight and should fit most people pretty well.

As far as features go, there's a pause/play button that doubles as an answer/end button for cell phone calls. The requisite volume controls are on board, and when you hold those buttons down they turn into transport controls, allowing you to advance tracks forward and back. You also get a bass boost button that does just that: boosts the bass a little while sacrificing a little clarity.

Last but not least, there's NFC tap-to-pair technology for devices like the Samsung Galaxy phones that support it. Otherwise, it'll pair with any Bluetooth-enabled phone or audio source (including the iPhone) when you hold down the pairing button.

What you get in the box. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

First, the bad. I did encounter a few Bluetooth hiccups, and I also didn't think this headphone worked so well as a headset for calls, particularly in noisier environments. Callers said they heard a lot of background noise when I talked, and my voice sounded a little recessed.

It's also worth mentioning that, because this is an on-ear design with simple phone pads, it does leak sound and will let some ambient noise in.

Now for the good. The headphones' battery life is solid at 12 hours and the headphone sounds quite good, with relatively clean, dynamic sound for Bluetooth. Bass was also strong, even without engaging the bass boost button, which I didn't think added anything.

I compared it to a few other Bluetooth models, including the Kinivo BTH240, which carries a list price of $50 but can be had for $25 online. Like a lot of other budget Bluetooth headphones, the Kinivo sounds dull and lacks clarity. It also distorts with more demanding music, particularly complicated tracks (rock) and tracks with heavy bass.

The headphone offers NFC tap-to-pair technology for devices that support it and an integrated remote/microphone for cell phone calls. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Sound Blaster Jam also had a little trouble with that sort of material, but sounded significantly better overall. For instance, Calvin Harris' "C.U.B.A." sounds pretty rough on a lot cheaper Bluetooth headphones and while it didn't sound great on the Creative, it didn't sound terrible, which is an achievement.

I haven't reviewed JBL's E40BT headphone yet, but I have it in the office and the Creative sounds just as good for half the price. The truth is, sound-wise, the Sound Blaster Jam sounds as good or better than a lot of Bluetooth headphones in the $100 range. You really have to step up to $150 or more to get richer sound and obviously a more durable, slickly designed headphone.

Conclusion

While it's not without weaknesses, the Creative Sound Blaster Jam is a strong budget Bluetooth headphone, and the first one at this ultralow price we can actually recommend.

creative-sound-blaster-jam05.jpg
7.7

Creative Sound Blaster Jam

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Sound 8Value 8