The Tour One over-ears appear and feel far too simple and colourless for JBL at a first impression. Where are the vibrant colours? Where is the white branding that would highlight the JBL exclamation mark? According to JBL, the Tour One over-ears (and its in-ear sibling, the Tour Pro+) were “made for business people,” and we can understand why. For starters, these wireless noise-cancelling headphones can play up to 50 hours of music on a single charge and can access Amazon and Google virtual voice assistants — all very business-like.

Despite the fact that JBL’s two-strong Tour headphone series was initially introduced in January 2021, the US audio company only released them to the wider public in May. So, is it worth the wait? And, more importantly, can they compete with class leaders Sony, Bose, and Sennheiser in this dog-eat-dog category?

JBL Tour One review – Build and Comfort

When you first open the Tour One, you’ll see a superior moulded black carrying case with a helpful snap-fastener on the zip. The earcups are rotated 90 degrees inside to lie flat, with the left one folded up towards the headband for added portability. The fragrance of elegant faux leather emanating from the padded cups and top half of the headband reminds us of much more expensive studio over-ears – and we can’t help but notice parallels between these cans and the Sony WH-1000XM4, which seem practically identical in their travel bag.

The rest of the Tour One is completed in black plastic (the only colour available), although it is protected by a sturdy metal frame. The engraved lines on the metal extension strap within the headband allow you to extend it evenly on each side. They aren’t the most cosmetically unique headphones on the market, and there isn’t an IP rating for water or dust ingress, but the high degree of finish we’d expect from a well-known and trusted brand like JBL has been met.

When we put them on, the clamping force is nearly perfect, and they are also properly weighted, so they stay in place throughout our listening sessions. The Tour One has 40mm drivers behind the oval, slightly inclined earcups, as well as a four-mic array for accepting calls, which we found to be surprisingly clear throughout our testing.

The power/pairing switch and physical volume controls on the right earpiece are located on the backside of the earcup, closest to your neck. With a long push, the entire top surface of this earcup is touch-sensitive and responds swiftly with a discreet beep to pause, start, skip tunes, or scroll among noise-cancelling ambient sound control profiles – but this can be customised in the JBL Headphones app.

The left earcup features only one physical button, which is also located on the back edge of the earcup and may be configured to access Alexa or the Google Assistant or to scroll between ambient sound profiles. It’s a clever idea that works extremely well. After testing several versions with questionable or unreliable touch controls, it’s great to find a dependable option that eliminates the need to dig out our phone.

Bluetooth 5.0 is at the helm, and the battery life is 25 hours with Bluetooth and noise-cancelling turned on, and roughly 50 hours with only Bluetooth turned on. A fast 10-minute trip at the power socket (through USB-C on the left earcup) should be enough for two hours of listening thanks to Speed Charging. Do you want to become wired? The right earcup has a 2.5mm connector, and a 2.5mm-to-3.5mm cable is included.

JBL Tour One review – Features

After initial Bluetooth connectivity, the JBL Headphones app leads us to the Alexa or Google Assistant app to add the JBL Tour One as an accessory, then slickly redirects us back to our JBL Headphones in-app control centre. Under the Noise Cancelling tab, you can choose between True Adaptive ANC (which monitors your environment in real-time and automatically adjusts the level of noise cancellation) and ‘everyday mode,’ which has the somewhat blasé explanation “Block out the noise of everyday life” – but essentially just means that ANC is turned on.

We find the True Adaptive ANC a little distracting because we can hear the isolation levels change audibly, occasionally creating a disconcerting wind tunnel effect when out and about, and while the everyday mode is easier on our ears and perfectly adequate for cutting low-level noise, it isn’t the most effective performance we’ve ever heard at this level. It’s also worth mentioning that these profiles can’t be tweaked or customised any farther than ‘on’ or ‘off’.

There’s now an Ambient Sound Control tab where you can choose Ambient Aware or TalkThru profiles (where Ambient Aware filters out extraneous sounds and TalkThru mutes playing in addition), and an intriguing new tab called Smart Audio and Video. JBL allows you to optimise the Bluetooth connection for normal listening, switch up the quality in “music mode,” or switch to the low-latency “video mode” to get your picture and sound in perfect sync – although we’re still unsure why you can’t watch videos and listen in the best quality, especially given that multi-point connection is supported to a device. We experimented with switching between the two while viewing a YouTube video on our phone and found no discernible changes or benefits in either mode, but it’s an intriguing concept nonetheless.

There is an EQ tab at the bottom of the app’s elegant home screen, where you can choose from five presets or draw your own unique line on a frequency stave to emphasise particular frequencies or lower others – and it works quite well.

You can also disable wearer detection to prevent playback from automatically pausing when you remove your glasses.

Overall, the software is simple to use and well-designed. Is the feature set sufficient to compete with the class-leading Sony XM4 when combined with the sound? Sony’s cans are 14g lighter, which isn’t much, but they’re somewhat more comfortable and cool during our listening session. So, let’s see how the JBL Tour One sounds…

JBL Tour One review – Sound

Turning off all EQ optimization to permit a neutral listen, we play Invisible Touch by Genesis on Apple Music and notice the Tour One’s significant onboard oomph. As the song progresses, Phil Collins’ powerful drum beat and vocals, together with the different and distinct canon background vocals, are delivered with an added dollop of enthusiasm and fire. The vocal is important throughout Land Of Confusion, amid grippy bass and treble key progressions, as JBL proves the Tour One is at home with rock music.

Thick As A Brick (Pt. 1) by Jethro Tull is the next tough progressive rock track. The flute sounds three-dimensional, and the strummed guitar sounds expressive, in a mix that is as harmonious as the Blackpool prog group could have desired. However, it is here that we begin to discover a few flaws: the Tour One doesn’t seem to know when to slow down. We hear more dynamic detail in the track’s subtler nuances as it progresses via the Sony WH-1000XM4; the lyrical guitar parts are more sensitively positioned in the soundstage so that the unexpected power chords, tambourines, and trumpets can smash in with greater edginess and impact.

You’d think that the vigour and zeal with which J Hus’ Lean & Bop is delivered would mean a big tick for the Tour One, but the JBL headphones also have a gritty upper midrange that may become weary even during short listening sessions. There is a general lack of finesse and nuance in both the vocals and the instruments, which detracts from the overall listening experience. It’s not bad; it’s just that when you’re up against the Sony Award winners (and surrounded by a slew of capable competitors for the money), the differences become apparent quickly.

JBL Tour One review – Price

JBL’s Tour One headphones aren’t cheap at £279 ($299), but they significantly undercut Apple’s AirPods Max (£549).

They are more in line with the now-regularly discounted, award-winning Sony WH-1000XM4 (now around £279/$399/AU$395), also-reduced Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless (around £233/$270/AU$380), and Bose’s excellent Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (£250/$379/AU$395).

These are among the most popular selections at this price point, even before you consider models that are just below them. So there’s plenty of competition for JBL.

Pros

  • Energetic presentation
  • Reliable touch controls
  • Classy build and finish

Cons

  • Beaten for dynamics and subtlety
  • Coarse and unrefined upper mids

JBL Tour One review – Conclusion

JBL’s Tour One headphones certainly look the part, and the company has provided a unique and intriguing feature set in order to establish itself as a true participant in the over-ear noise-cancelling headphones market. There are some things to enjoy here, but if you shop about and look at competing pairs from Bose, Sennheiser, and Sony, you’ll get more features and, more crucially, greater sound quality.