JBL Soundgear Personal Speaker

This story originally appeared at InnerFidelity.com

I know...I know...HD 660 S...I'm working on it, but can't rush the listening tests. So, I figured I'd get this one up...'cuz it didn't take much listening.

JBL Soundgear ($199)
Not long ago I wrote enthusiastically about the Bose SoundWear Companion neck-worn speaker. It was my first experience with such a device and it was, and continues to be, a very pleasant one. Way better than I expected. So, I figured I should look into some of the other options for this new type of device.

JBL was kind enough to send me their Soundgear—a $100 less expensive alternative to the Bose. Having experience only one other device of this type, it's probably best just to compare and contrast the JBL directly with the Bose for this review.

The JBL Soundgear is much the same size and shape as the Bose, but is made of an inflexible plastic body while the Bose is remarkably flexible with its silicon body that can be shaped to conform quite closely to your neck. The JBL Soundgear does seem to fit me quite well, but getting it on requires me to slide it on from directly behind my head. With the Bose I can put it on more naturally, grasping the ends and just separating the arms to come down from directly above my head.

The Bose weighs in at 280 gr., the JBL at 354 gr. Given you can carry quite a bit of weight on your shoulders, I didn't find the heavier weight of the JBL made an apreciable difference in wearing comfort. Both seem pretty light around the neck, actually.

The top of the JBL is fabric covered; the bottom is a soft silicon-like coating over plastic. The Bose has a removable cover with fabric over the top and pleather on the bottom. They're about the same with regard to wearing feel and stickiness when perspiring. Bose comes with a black cover, but three other colors are available; no options here with the JBL.

Controls are almost identical to the Bose though the sides are reversed. The JBL Soundgear has the volume and multi-function play/pause/answer buttons on the left, and power and Bluetooth button on the right. USB charging port is on the left rear with a tethered small cover door.

I did experience some dropouts with the JBL on a number of devices, even when quite near the transmitting device. Like the Bose, the JBL can connect to two devices at once and operated similarly.

Battery life on the JBL is 6 hours with a 2 hour charge; the Bose is 12 hours with a 3 hour charge.

Given the flexible nature of the fit with the Bose, longer battery life, lighter weight, and optional replaceable covers allowing some choice of styling, I'd say you're getting respectable improvements for the extra money spent.

Sound Quality
The Bose SoundWear is a unique listening experience. It seems to create a sonic helmet around your head and has way more bass than a device it size should. When I walked up to the Bose kiosk at the Denver airport I was stunned by the experience. (Video here.)

The sonic experience of the JBL Soundgear is wholly underwhelming. With a mildly bright tilt, confused treble, and completely missing bass, this is what I was expecting when I walked up to the Bose kiosk.


Specs from the JBL Soundgear say frequency response is 100Hz-20kHz (-6dB)...but it certainly doesn't measure that way. For comparison, here's the Bose measurements.


While the Bose is certainly no bass monster, the waveguides and phase tricks they play certainly give a solid impression of having decent bass response. In comparison, though the JBLs do have bass ports at the rear the JBL seems essentially bassless.

To me the most interesting thing about the two is when I drive one channel only.


Here is the plot with the left channel only. You can see there's about 10dB to 20dB channel separation. The Bose is quite different.


What's going on here, I think, is that we're seeing the response from the waveguide port from the left channel that exits next to the right ear. It's important to understand that while the channel separation may look worse, the output from the waveguide port is being delayed by the length of the waveguide. In my Bose SoundWear Companion review I posit that the Bose engineers have done this intentionally (in combination with DSP) to to provide the psychoacoustic cues for better imaging.

When I compare the sonic image of the two products, the Bose is quite a bit more spacious making this weird sonic helmet; while the JBL is focused quite a bit more in my head—somewhat more headphone-like.

At any rate, it is quite interesting to get a sense of how much channel separation you can get with a device like this, and how much crosstalk Bose is introducing with their SoundWear Companion.

It's a no-brainer, really. The JBL Soundgear is an inferior listening experience. With no bass, a mildly bright tilt, confused treble, and inside the head imaging it's simply a poor listening experience. You're far better off spending the extra $100 on the Bose SoundWear Companion...far better off.

Watch on YouTube.

JBL home page and Soundgear product page.
Bose SoundWear Companion product page.
Head-Fi thread.

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