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Sol Republic Jax in-ear headphones review: They look cheap but sound good

The $40 Sol Republic Jax In-Ear Headphones look like a $20 pair, but match the sound quality of some $75 to $100 models.

David Carnoy
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 reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
3 min read

It used to be that to get a really decent-sounding set of earphones, you had to spend $75 or more. But these days, more and more in-ear headphones in the $20-to-$40 range -- and sometimes even lower -- sound surprisingly good.


Sol Republic Jax in-ear headphones

The Good

The <b>Sol Republic Jax</b> in-ear headphones deliver good sound for a relatively modest price. They also fit comfortably and have a tangle-resistant flat cord, and there's an Apple-friendly inline remote with microphone for making cell phone calls.

The Bad

The Jax's simple, plastic design looks cheap.

The Bottom Line

The $40 Sol Republic Jax in-ear headphones have the look of a bargain pair but sound as good as some headphones that cost twice as much.

Sol Republic's $39.99 Jax in-ear headphones fall into this category, offering strong bass along with good clarity in a lightweight pair of earphones that are comfortable to wear and come equipped with an inline remote and microphone.

The only downside to the Jax earphones is that they look -- and feel -- like they should cost $20. Not that they're unattractive, but the very simple plastic design has got a bit of a Fisher-Price kid's toy vibe to it.

Design and features
So there's no getting around it: these earphones look cheap. The tangle-resistant flat cord is good but the driver's housing comes across as very plasticky. Also, the build quality of the inline remote doesn't inspire a tremendous amount of confidence.

The driver housing has a simple, plastic design. Sarah Tew/CNET

The upside is that both the housing and remote are very lightweight, and I found the earphones comfortable to wear. They come with four different-size pairs of silicone eartips and the second-to-largest size -- the default -- offered a tight seal, which is essential to maximizing bass response.

The Jax headphones are Apple-certified, so the inline remote features won't fully work with many other smartphones, but the microphone should. It's worth mentioning that the remote/microphone combo is a little lower on the cord -- and thus, farther away from your mouth -- than usual. I didn't think those few inches made a meaningful difference, but some people may feel it's a little low. Of course, a lot of people end up raising the microphone closer to their mouth regardless of where the microphone is placed.

The flat cord is tangle-resistant. Sarah Tew/CNET

Aside from the inline remote/microphone, you don't get anything else in the way of extras. The earphones do not include a carrying case, and the cord terminates in a straight plug.

Sol Republic says that the Jax earphones have the i2 Sound Engine, whatever that is, and that it delivers "deep bass and high clarity."

Perhaps because I was underwhelmed with their cosmetics, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the earphones do indeed offer good clarity and lots of bass without sounding boomy. In their sound, they reminded me of the Moshi Mythro earphones, which retail for $30 and have a snazzier design, though no tangle-resistant flat cord. The V-Moda Remix Remote earphones also come to mind, though the V-Moda Remixes' design is certainly a step up and they deliver more bass.

The earphones come in a couple of different color options. Shown here, blue. Sarah Tew/CNET

You're not going to get the refinement (read: sparkle) that you get from significantly pricier earphones or the more neutral quality of something like the HiFiMan RE-400 in-ears. But I found that the Jax headphones sounded fairly open, and they were pleasant to listen to during my daily commute on the New York City subway. Aside from classical music, they should work well well with a variety of genres, and there's enough bass here to keep most bass lovers appeased. (Sol Republic's Tracks on-ear headphones really push the bass, but the Jaxes show some restraint.)

Close-up of the inline remote/microphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

As for using the earphones as headset, in quieter environments, callers said I sounded pretty good. However, outside in the streets of New York, with some ambient noise and wind, I did have some callers asking me to repeat myself, which, in turn, prompted me to pull the microphone closer to my face.

I'm encountering more and more modestly priced headphones that sound quite decent. The $40 Jax headphones sound as good as or better than some earphones that cost twice as much. They also fit comfortably for an in-ear model and have an inline remote/microphone for making cell phone calls.

Overall, I liked the Jax set, and it's probably the best headphone value Sol Republic currently offers as far as sound quality goes. I like the company's over-the-ear Master Tracks, but that model lists for $200.

The only downside here is the build quality. The earphones have an inexpensive look and feel to them, and at this juncture, I just can't tell you how well they'll hold up over time (I've used them on and off for a week). If they cost $25, I might pop their score up to 4 stars, but for now, I have them at 3.5 stars.


Sol Republic Jax in-ear headphones

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Sound 7Value 8
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