Overall, the sound quality on the Go Air is mediocre. I didn’t expect to be wowed by a $29 set of earbuds, but they’re probably fine for some people. More specifically, the sound is compressed and thin. Even with the best of the audio presets, there was a lack of depth to almost all the music I tried. Despite some decent bass, there’s too much treble and not enough midrange tone. I’d argue even the bass is high-pitched unless you’re using the bass-boosting setting. Bass boost also provides a little space for the music to work, but it still sounded compressed compared to most other true wireless earbuds I’ve tested.
Across genres, the results are mixed. Bands like Caspian and the Appleseed Cast that create big, open and airy soundscapes clearly highlight the Go Air’s compression issues. Those acts are skilled at building layered songs that seem to envelope you with each instrument. With these earbuds, that’s all flat — especially the drums. Metal and hard-core acts like Gojira and Oh, Sleeper fare slightly better. The sound you get from JLab’s signature setting is big and boomy, but not as much as it would be otherwise. Unsurprisingly, hip-hop sounds best with the bass-boost preset. Kaytranada’s Bubba has some good thump, but there’s little midrange, and some of the finer details get lost.
If you’re a podcast junkie who rarely listens to music on the go, the Go Air will allow you to cut the earbud tether with what you’d spend on a couple of cocktails after work. Podcasts sound fine on these, as the audio shortcomings aren’t as obvious. They’re still far from perfect, but if you primarily consume spoken content, you could save a lot of money with a $29 device. However, if you want an all-around set well-suited for both music and podcasts, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
In terms of battery life, JLab promises five hours on a charge, which is on the low end for true wireless earbuds these days. Much of the competition is in the 10-hour range now. But again, five hours shouldn’t be a dealbreaker on a budget set like the Go Air. It’s still enough to get you through a good chunk of the day, and the included case holds three full charges. What’s more, a quick-charge feature will give you an hour of playback in 15 minutes. These earbuds also give you a battery update when you turn them on. It’s a vague “full,” “medium” or “low,” but it’s still handy, as it gives you a ballpark idea of how much battery you have left.
I’ll admit I’m not well-versed in the sub-$50 true wireless earbud market. The closest I’ve come is Audio-Technica’s ATH-CK3TW. But at $119, they’re more than twice the cost of the Go Air, and they have flaws of their own. JLab has piqued my interest though, and you can expect to read more about sub-$100 and even sub-$50 earbuds on Engadget from now on. If you’re considering the Go Air, they’re scheduled to go on sale in March.
While the Go Air isn’t a game changer, it did exceed my expectations in terms of experience. These earbuds are easy to use and offer several handy features that more-expensive models sometimes omit. The touch controls are well-organized and reliable, which keeps frustration to a minimum. Kudos to JLab for making volume changes as quick and painless as possible. In the end, the Go Air is serviceable. But if you need a well-rounded seat of earbuds that can handle both your music and podcast libraries, you’ll want to consider some alternatives — even if that means a bigger investment.