JBL Live 650BTNC review: An excellent noise-canceling headphone for less

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The Good The JBL Live 650BTNC has impressive sound and a comfortable fit while costing less than its premium rivals. The design seems sturdy and it folds up to fit in an included canvas pouch. It supports Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa with a button press.

The Bad The noise cancelation isn't as good as Sony's or Bose's.

The Bottom Line While its noise-canceling feature and comfort level aren't quite on par with competing models from Bose and Sony, its sound measures up well and it's worth considering if you don't want to spend $300 or more on a noise-canceling headphone.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Sound 9
  • Value 8

JBL has made some pretty decent noise-canceling headphones over the years, including its line-topping Everest Elite 750NC, which I reviewed back in 2017. The only problem with that model was it cost around the same price ($300) as competing models from Bose and Sony that were simply better.

For 2019, JBL is trying something different. Its new flagship noise-canceling Live series headphone, the Live 650BTNC, carries a list price of $200. And it's not only every bit as good as the Everest Elite 750NC, but it's even better from a sound standpoint.

What you get in the box.

Sarah Tew/CNET

This model is very much the spiritual successor to the E65BTNC, which also started out at $200 but can now be had for $130 online. It may look a little plasticy, but it feels solid (read: not cheap). Weighing in at 9.28 ounces or 263 grams according to our scale, it has metal hinges that seem like they'll hold up well over time. Available in a few color options, including black, dark blue and white, the 650BTNC folds flat to fit in an included canvas carrying pouch.

Read more: The best noise-canceling headphones you can buy now

While not quite as comfortable to wear as Bose's QuietComfort 35 II or the Sony WH-1000XM3, it is a comfortable headphone, with thick memory foam ear pads and a well-padded headband. Although this is an over-ear model and should fit around most ears without a problem, the openings on the ear pads aren't huge so the pads might rest on top of extra-large ears instead of fitting over them.

The headphone uses Bluetooth 4.2, supports connections to multiple devices -- referred to as "multi-point" connectivity. This connection can be tweaked using the My JBL Headphone app for iOS or Android. It works with your phone's voice assistant (Siri, Google Now, Bixby) but in the app you can elect whether to enable Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. There's a little set up involved for both, but they ended up working just fine in my tests.

Once enabled, you tap and hold on the center of the left earcup -- it's touch sensitive -- and issue a voice command. Once you release your finger, Google Assistant or Alexa responds to your command through your smartphone.

In the app, there's an equalizer to adjust bass and treble settings with preset EQs "Jazz," "Vocal" and "Bass." If you don't like any of those, you can create your own custom setting. I mostly just left the EQ at the default setting: "Off".

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