JBL Live Free NC+ TWS True Wireless Headphones Review

Tested using Methodology v1.4
Reviewed May 31, 2021 at 10:07 am
JBL Live Free NC+ TWS True Wireless Picture
7.3
Mixed Usage
7.4
Neutral Sound
7.5
Commute/Travel
8.4
Sports/Fitness
6.9
Office
5.7
Wireless Gaming
5.6
Wired Gaming
5.3
Phone Calls
Type In-ear
Enclosure Closed-Back
Wireless Truly Wireless
Noise Cancelling Yes
Mic Yes
Transducer Dynamic

The JBL Live Free NC+ TWS True Wireless are in-ears with active noise cancelling (ANC). These headphones have a neutral sound profile that you can tweak to your liking using their companion app's parametric EQ or presets. They have a comfortable, breathable fit and are also stable enough for running or working out. Unfortunately, their ANC does a sub-par overall job of blocking out noise around you, and it performs very similarly to their passive isolation abilities. Some users may find their 5.4-hour battery life a bit short, too, although their carrying case supplies roughly two additional charges if you need it.

Our Verdict

7.3 Mixed Usage

The JBL Live Free NC Plus are decent for mixed usage. These comfortable and well-built headphones come with stability fins that keep them from falling out while you're running or working out. They also have a neutral sound profile that you can tweak to your liking using their companion app's parametric EQ or presets. However, their ANC delivers a sub-par overall performance, and it doesn't block out bus or plane engine noise. While it does a better job of cutting down office chatter, some users may find their roughly 5.4-hour battery life a bit short.

Pros
  • Comfortable and well-built.
Cons
  • Sub-par noise isolation.
7.4 Neutral Sound

The JBL Live Free NC+ are decent for neutral sound. Out-of-the-box, they have a fairly neutral sound profile that's suitable for a variety of audio content. However, they lack a bit of low bass, and their treble range is recessed, so vocals and lead instruments are veiled while sibilants like cymbals are dull. On the upside, their companion app offers a parametric EQ and presets to help customize their sound. They also have consistent audio delivery.

Pros
  • Very consistent audio delivery.
Cons
  • Terrible passive soundstage.
7.5 Commute/Travel

The JBL Live Free NC+ are good for commute and travel and are comfortable, lightweight, and portable. They're also well-built and have a breathable fit. However, their ANC struggles to block out bass-range noise like the rumble of bus or plane engines, which could be annoying.

Pros
  • Comfortable and well-built.
  • Barely leak audio.
Cons
  • Sub-par noise isolation.
8.4 Sports/Fitness

The JBL Live Free NC Plus are great for sports and fitness. These comfortable and lightweight earbuds have stability fins, so they shouldn't fall out when you're running or working out. They also have a breathable fit and are rated IPX7 for water resistance, although we don't currently test it. They're very portable, too, and can easily fit into most pockets or bags without a problem.

Pros
  • Comfortable and well-built.
  • Stable in-ear fit.
Cons
  • Terrible passive soundstage.
6.9 Office

The JBL Live Free NC Plus are fair for office use. These headphones have a comfortable, breathable fit and hardly leak any audio, so you can listen to music at high volumes without your colleagues hearing it. The ANC can also block out ambient chatter around you. However, their roughly 5.4-hour battery life may not be enough to get you through your day without pausing to recharge them.

Pros
  • Comfortable and well-built.
  • Barely leak audio.
Cons
  • Sub-par noise isolation.
  • No multi-device or NFC pairing.
5.7 Wireless Gaming

The JBL Live Free NC+ aren't recommended for wireless gaming. While you can connect them to a Bluetooth-enabled PC, the latency is likely to be too high for gaming. They also aren't compatible with Xbox One or PS4 consoles.

5.6 Wired Gaming

The JBL Live Free NC Plus are Bluetooth-only headphones that you can't use wired.

5.3 Phone Calls

The JBL Live Free NC Plus are disappointing headphones for phone calls. Their integrated mic has a poor recording quality, so your voice sounds very thin and lacking depth. It struggles to separate speech from ambient noise around you, so you may have a hard time being understood if you're talking in a noisy environment. Their ANC also does a sub-par job blocking out ambient sound, making it harder to hear the other person.

Pros
  • Comfortable and well-built.
Cons
  • Sub-par noise isolation.
  • Poor overall mic performance.
  • 7.3 Mixed Usage
  • 7.4 Neutral Sound
  • 7.5 Commute/Travel
  • 8.4 Sports/Fitness
  • 6.9 Office
  • 5.7 Wireless Gaming
  • 5.6 Wired Gaming
  • 5.3 Phone Calls
  1. Updated May 31, 2021: Review published.
  2. Updated May 26, 2021: Early access published.

Test Results

perceptual testing image
Design
Design
Style

The JBL Live Free NC+ have a straightforward look similar to the JBL CLUB PRO+ TWS True Wireless. They're mostly one color, and the brand's logo is visible on both earbuds. However, they're a bit bulky and stick out of your ears. They come in four color variants: Blue, Black, Pink, and White.

7.5
Design
Comfort
Weight 0.03 lbs
Clamping Force
0 lbs

The JBL Live Free NC+ are comfortable. They don't put much pressure on your ears and don't have a deep fit. Using the touch controls doesn't hurt your ear either, and they come with differently-sized ear tips and stability fins so you can find the best fit for you. However, the earbuds themselves are a bit bulky.

6.7
Design
Controls
OS Compatibility
Not OS specific
Ease Of Use Good
Feedback Good
Call/Music Control Yes
Volume Control No
Microphone Control Mute/Unmute
Channel Mixing
No
Noise Cancelling Control On/Off
Talk-Through
On/Off
Additional Controls Voice Assistant

The JBL Live Free NC+ have alright controls. You can tap the left earbud once to cycle between ANC on, ANC off, and Ambient Aware, which allows you to hear your surroundings without turning off your audio. You can also double-tap for Talkthru, which allows you to talk to someone without taking your earbuds out. The right earbud has music and call-related controls. You can tap once to play or pause your audio, tap twice to skip the track forward, and tap three times to skip the track backward. If you double-tap either bud, you can answer or end a call. Holding either bud also mutes your mic when you're on a call or activates voice assistant.

The controls are responsive, and the buds have a chime for the number of taps you register. However, it can be hard to differentiate chimes for ANC/Ambient Aware/Off. You also lose some control if you're using one earbud while the other one charges.

9.2
Design
Breathability
Avg.Temp.Difference 0.8 °C

These headphones have outstanding breathability. Since they don't cover your outer ear, they don't trap in much heat, so you shouldn't sweat more than normal when wearing them.

9.5
Design
Portability
L 1.1"
W 1.3"
H 1"
Volume 1.3 in³
Transmitter Required No

The JBL Live Free NC Plus are incredibly portable. Like most truly wireless in-ears, they're small and lightweight, so it's easy to toss them into most pockets or a bag. They also come with a small carrying case, which should also fit into most pockets.

7.5
Design
Case
Type Hard case
L 2.4"
W 1.2"
H 1.4"
Volume 3.9 in³

The case is good. It's made of sturdy plastic and has four LED lights to indicate the battery level. There's a button on the back of the case that resets or reconnects the left and right bud. On the downside, you may need to adjust the fins to fit inside the case for the earbuds to fit.

7.5
Design
Build Quality

The JBL Live Free NC Plus have a good build quality. They're mostly solid plastic, which feels durable, and they come with three types of ear tips to help you get a more comfortable fit. However, they seem potentially weaker than the other parts of their build. On the upside, they have an IPX7 rating for water resistance, although we don't currently test for this.

8.0
Design
Stability

The JBL Live Free NC+ have a very stable fit. Thanks to their stability fins, they should stay in place, even during moderate physical activity.

Design
Headshots 1
Design
Headshots 2
Design
Top
Design
In The Box

  • JBL Live Free NC Plus headphones
  • 3x ear tips
  • 2x ear fins
  • Charging case
  • USB-C to USB-A charging cable
  • Manuals

Sound
Sound
Sound Profile
Bass Amount
-0.32 dB
Treble Amount
-1.16 dB

The JBL Live Free NC Plus have a very neutral sound profile suitable for a variety of audio. However, they lack a bit of low bass, so your mixes lack a bit of thump and rumble. Vocals and lead instruments are also veiled, while sibilants like cymbals are dull. On the upside, their companion app offers a parametric EQ and presets so that you can tweak their sound to your liking.

9.3
Sound
Frequency Response Consistency
Avg. Std. Deviation
0.15 dB

The JBL Live Free NC Plus have outstanding frequency response consistency. Like most in-ears, once you achieve an airtight seal, you should get consistent audio delivery each time you use them.

Sound
Raw Frequency Response
9.1
Sound
Bass Accuracy
Std. Err.
1.13 dB
Low-Frequency Extension
29.54 Hz
Low-Bass
-1.99 dB
Mid-Bass
0.45 dB
High-Bass
-0.47 dB

The JBL Live Free NC Plus have outstanding bass accuracy. They lack a bit of low-bass, so your mixes lose out on some thump and rumble. However, the rest of the range is very flat and balanced, so mixes have punch and warmth without sounding overwhelming.

8.8
Sound
Mid Accuracy
Std. Err.
1.56 dB
Low-Mid
0.02 dB
Mid-Mid
-1.96 dB
High-Mid
-1.14 dB

These headphones have excellent mid-accuracy. Vocals and lead instruments are clear and accurate, although the dip in the mid-mid slightly nudges them to the back of the mix. However, this shouldn't be too noticeable.

7.6
Sound
Treble Accuracy
Std. Err.
3.23 dB
Low-Treble
-2.32 dB
Mid-Treble
-2.62 dB
High-Treble
-3.31 dB

These headphones have good treble accuracy. The response is underemphasized across the range, so vocals and lead instruments are veiled while sibilants like cymbals are dull.

8.6
Sound
Peaks/Dips
Peaks
0.96 dB
Dips
0.83 dB

The JBL Live Free NC+ have excellent peaks and dips performance. Most of the peaks and dips are minor. A small bump in the bass range adds a bit of extra thump and punch, while a dip in the mid-mid slightly nudges vocals and lead instruments to the back of the mix. The uneven mid-treble makes sibilants alternatingly dull and piercing.

9.2
Sound
Imaging
Weighted Group Delay
0.2
Weighted Amplitude Mismatch
0.25
Weighted Frequency Mismatch
1.19
Weighted Phase Mismatch
1.94

The JBL Live Free NC Plus have outstanding imaging. The weighted group delay falls below the audibility threshold, resulting in a tight bass and transparent treble. Also, the L/R drivers of our unit are well-matched in phase, frequency, and amplitude response, so objects like footsteps and voices are accurately placed and localized within the stereo image. However, these results are only valid for our unit, and your experience may vary.

1.1
Sound
Passive Soundstage
PRTF Accuracy (Std. Dev.)
N/A
PRTF Size (Avg.)
N/A
PRTF Distance
N/A
Openness
4.0
Acoustic Space Excitation
0.8

These headphones have a terrible passive soundstage, which is typical for in-ear headphones. Due to their design, they completely bypass the outer ear. This is a key factor in creating a large and out-of-body soundstage. The sound seems like it's coming from inside your head rather than from speakers placed around you. Since they also have a closed-back design, their soundstage doesn't seem as open or spacious as open-back headphones.

0
Sound
Virtual Soundstage
Head Modeling
No
Speaker Modeling
No
Room Ambience
No
Head Tracking
No
Virtual Surround
No
8.2
Sound
Weighted Harmonic Distortion
WHD @ 90
0.211
WHD @ 100
0.078

The JBL Live Free NC+'s weighted harmonic distortion performance is great. The entire range falls within good limits, which results in clear and pure audio reproduction.

Sound
Test Settings
Firmware
v2.2.0
Power
On
Connection
Bluetooth 5.0
Codec
SBC, 16-bit, 48kHz
EQ
Off
ANC
On
Tip/Pad
Silicone (small)
Microphone
Integrated

These are the settings used to test these headphones. Our results are only valid in this configuration.

Isolation
5.9
Isolation
Noise Isolation
Isolation Audio
Overall Attenuation
-14.84 dB
Bass
-2.76 dB
Mid
-13.85 dB
Treble
-28.95 dB

The JBL Live Free NC Plus have sub-par noise isolation. Their active noise cancelling (ANC) feature doesn't offer better performance than the headphones' passive noise isolation abilities. They struggle to block out bass-range noise like the rumble of bus or plane engines. They do a better job of cutting down office chatter, though, and can block out the high-pitched hum of an AC unit. If you're looking for similarly designed JBL earbuds with a better noise isolation performance, check out the JBL Tour Pro+ TWS True Wireless.

9.3
Isolation
Leakage
Leakage Audio
Overall Leakage @ 1ft
25.45 dB

The JBL Live Free NC Plus have an outstanding leakage performance. They don't leak a lot of sound, and escaping audio sounds thin. You should be able to listen to audio at high volumes without disturbing those around you, even in a moderately noisy environment.

Microphone
Microphone
Microphone Style
Integrated
Yes
In-Line
No
Boom
No
Detachable Boom
No
3.5
Microphone
Recording Quality
Recorded Speech
LFE
604.08 Hz
FR Std. Dev.
12.81 dB
HFE
22,988.02 Hz
Weighted THD
2,423.124
Gain
-12.45 dB

The integrated microphone has a poor recording quality. Your voice sounds very thin and lacks depth. There's also some distortion present.

Note: Although the Recorded Speech file doesn't appear to match the test's overall scoring, this is the correct audio file. The microphone's frequency response lacks bass, which isn't very noticeable in the recording. That said, the Microphone Frequency Response graph represents the mic recording and matches the scoring of this test.

5.5
Microphone
Noise Handling
Speech + Pink Noise
Speech + Subway Noise
SpNR
7.47 dB

The microphone has sub-par noise handling. It struggles to separate your voice from background noises, even in moderately noisy settings. You may need to take calls from a more quiet environment to be heard clearly.

Active Features
6.9
Active Features
Battery
Battery Type
Rechargable
Continuous Battery Life
5.4 hrs
Additional Charges
2.0
Total Battery Life
16.2 hrs
Charge Time
1.3 hrs
Power-Saving Feature
Auto-Off Timer
Audio While Charging
Yes
Passive Playback
No
Charging Port USB-C

The JBL Live Free NC+'s battery performance is alright. With their ANC on, they're advertised to last around six hours, but we tested a bit less than that. Their case holds roughly two additional charges, and you can use one bud while the other charges. Note that battery life can vary depending on usage, so your real-life experience may vary.

8.0
Active Features
App Support
App Name JBL Headphones
iOS Yes
Android Yes
macOS No
Windows No
Equalizer
Parametric + Presets
ANC Control
On/Off
Mic Control No
Room Effects
No
Playback Control
No
Button Mapping Yes
Surround Support
No

The JBL Headphones app is impressive. It has a parametric EQ and presets so that you can customize their sound to your tastes. You can also control the ANC, adjust the auto-off timer, turn the auto-pause on or off, see the battery level of the headphones and case, and set up gestures or voice assistant. The app has a couple of Smart Audio Modes: 'Normal', 'Audio Mode', which is advertised to optimize your Bluetooth connection for high-quality audio, and 'Video Mode', which is advertised to lower latency.

Connectivity
7.0
Connectivity
Bluetooth
Bluetooth Version
5.1
Multi-Device Pairing
No
NFC Pairing
No
Line Of Sight Range
197 ft
PC Latency (SBC)
180 ms
PC Latency (aptX)
N/A
PC Latency (aptX HD)
N/A
PC Latency (aptX-LL)
N/A
iOS Latency
69 ms
Android Latency
57 ms

The JBL Live Free NC+ have decent Bluetooth connectivity. While they don't support multi-device or NFC pairing, they have low latency on iOS and Android devices when using their 'Audio Mode'. Their latency is a bit higher on PC, though, so they may not be the best choice for streaming video. That said, some apps and devices compensate for latency, so your real-world experience may vary.

You can also use these headphones in 'Video Mode'. They have 0 ms of latency on iOS, 26 ms on Android, and 137 ms on PC.

0
Connectivity
Non-Bluetooth Wireless
Non-BT Line Of Sight Range
N/A
Non-BT Latency
N/A
0
Connectivity
Wired
Analog Audio
No
USB Audio
No
Detachable No
Length N/A
Connection No Wired Option
Analog/USB Audio Latency
N/A

The JBL Live Free NC+ can't be used with a wired connection. They have a USB-C to USB-A cable to charge their case.

Connectivity
PC / PS4 Compatibility
PC/PS4 Analog
No
PC/PS4 Wired USB
No
PC/PS4 Non-BT Wireless
No

You can use these headphones on Bluetooth-enabled PCs with full compatibility. However, you can't use them on PS4 or PS5 consoles.

Connectivity
Xbox One Compatibility
Xbox One Analog
No
Xbox One Wired USB
No
Xbox One Non-BT Wireless
No

These headphones aren't compatible with Xbox One or Xbox Series X consoles.

2.2
Connectivity
Base/Dock
Type
Charging Case
USB Input
No
Line In
No
Line Out
No
Optical Input
No
RCA Input
No
Dock Charging
Yes
Power Supply
USB-C

The JBL Live Free NC Plus have a portable charging case that has roughly two extra charges. It charges via USB-C.

Differences Between Sizes And Variants

The JBL Live Free NC+ come in a few color variants: 'Black', 'Blue', 'Pink', and 'White'. We tested the Blue variant, and you can see its label here. We expect all color variants to perform similarly to our model.

If you come across another variant, please let us know in the discussions, and we'll update our review.

Compared To Other Headphones

The JBL Live Free NC+ are in-ears with active noise cancelling (ANC). Like the JBL CLUB PRO+ TWS True Wireless, they have a comfortable fit, well-built design, and are compatible with the JBL Headphones app, which offers a parametric EQ and presets to help you customize their sound. However, their ANC feature does a sub-par overall job, especially compared to other ANC earbuds like the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds Truly Wireless.

Check out our recommendations for the best noise cancelling earbuds and in-ear headphones, the best noise cancelling headphones, and the best wireless Bluetooth earbuds.

JBL Live Pro+ TWS True Wireless

The JBL Live Free NC+ TWS True Wireless and the JBL Live Pro+ TWS True Wireless have different strengths and, depending on your usage, you may prefer either one. The Live Free NC+ have a more bass-heavy sound profile out-of-the-box, which some users may prefer, and their ANC has a better noise isolation performance. While both headphones are comfortable, the Live Pro+ have better controls. However, the Live Free NC+ are more stable, and they have lower latency on iOS and Android.

Sony WF-1000XM3 Truly Wireless

The Sony WF-1000XM3 Truly Wireless are somewhat better in-ears than the JBL Live Free NC+ TWS True Wireless. The Sony are better-built, have a longer continuous battery life, and support NFC pairing. Their ANC can also cut down more ambient noise around you, and their integrated mic does a better job of recording your voice. However, the JBL are more comfortable and stable in-ear.

JBL CLUB PRO+ TWS True Wireless

The JBL CLUB PRO+ TWS True Wireless are somewhat better than the JBL Live Free NC+ TWS True Wireless. While both headphones are comfortable, the CLUB PRO+ are better-built, and their ANC can isolate more noise around you. Their mic also offers better overall performance, and they have longer continuous battery life.

Jabra Elite 75t Truly Wireless

The Jabra Elite 75t Truly Wireless and the JBL Live Free NC+ TWS True Wireless have different strengths and, depending on your usage, you may prefer either one. While both headphones are comfortable, the Jabra are better-built, have a better noise isolation performance, and support multi-device pairing. They also have under seven hours of continuous playback time, and their carrying case holds three additional charges. However, the JBL have a more stable fit, and they have a neutral sound profile, which some users may prefer.

Apple AirPods Pro Truly Wireless

The Apple AirPods Pro Truly Wireless are better in-ears than the JBL Live Free NC+ TWS True Wireless. While both have a comfortable fit, the Apple are better-built, their ANC can block out more ambient noise, and they have higher total battery life. They also have an H1 chip for seamlessly pairing them with your Apple devices. However, the JBL's companion app allows you to tweak their sound with a parametric EQ or presets.

JBL Reflect Flow True Wireless

The JBL Live Free NC+ TWS True Wireless are somewhat better headphones than the JBL Reflect Flow True Wireless. The Live Free NC+ are more comfortable, and their sound profile can be customized using their companion app's parametric EQ and presets. The Reflect Flow are better built and can isolate more noise passively.

JBL LIVE 300TWS Truly Wireless

The JBL LIVE 300TWS Truly Wireless and the JBL Live Free NC+ TWS True Wireless are similarly performing in-ears and, depending on your usage, you may prefer one over the other. While both headphones are comfortable and well-built, the 300TWS do a better job of passively blocking out noise than the NC+'s ANC. The 300TWS have a better mic performance. However, NC+ have a better battery performance and have lower latency on Android, iOS, and PC, although different devices and apps compensate for this differently.

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds Truly Wireless

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds Truly Wireless are better in-ears than the JBL Live Free NC+ TWS True Wireless. The Bose are better-built, have a more neutral sound profile, which some users may prefer, and have longer continuous battery life. Their ANC also does a better job of blocking out background noise around you. However, the JBL are more comfortable, and their companion app offers a parametric EQ and presets to help customize their sound to your liking.

Beats Solo Pro Wireless

The JBL Live Free NC+ TWS True Wireless are more versatile headphones than the Beats Solo Pro Wireless. The JBL are in-ears that are more comfortable, stable, and neutral-sounding, which some users may prefer. They also have a companion app that offers a parametric EQ and presets so that you can customize their sound to your liking. However, the Beats are better-built, and their ANC does a better job of cutting down more ambient noise around you. They also have longer-lasting total battery life.

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