Updated January 16: At CES 2024, JBL unveiled that it has taken the same 1.45-inch LED touchscreen charging case from the JBL Tour Pro 2 and matched it up with three models in a new JBL Live TWS 3 series. Expected to arrive by mid-June 2024 for $199 / £179 / €199, this means users can control music playback or access the settings straight from the charging case with no need to access a phone. Follow our best audio at CES 2024 page for a roundup on all our favorite audiophile picks from the world's largest consumer electronics show.
We’ve witnessed many firsts for wireless earbuds. From the AirPods series pioneering in-ear detection, one-tap pairing, and spatial audio, to Sony's wireless earbuds adding advanced technologies such as DSEE upscaling and LDAC support for higher quality audio handling. Even bargain earbud makers like Skullcandy led the brigade on Bluetooth tracking by integrating Tile technology into their buds, which is even on the $29 Dime 3.
But what about the charging case? Why is it that only a handful of brands have figured out greater uses for it other than recharging? Bowers & Wilkins engineered the Pi7 charging case to double as a wireless adapter that streams music in aptX when connected to an analog audio output. There are also bargain bin models with LED screens showing the battery levels for each bud and the case itself.
Although we haven't ranked many of JBL's models among the best wireless earbuds on the market, the company has found a way to differentiate itself from the pack by releasing the Tour Pro 2 with a touchscreen charging case. At $249 (£199 / AU$329) they're pitched pretty similarly to rival the recently updated AirPods Pro 2, and although we haven't give them a full Tom's Guide review just yet, I've been impressed by their performance and the flexibility the touchscreen charging case has introduced to my wireless earbuds experience.
Whether JBL is the first to put a touchscreen on a charging case is debatable (Poly can make the same argument for the Voyager Free 60 series), but it feels pretty innovative. All I know is that JBL flexed its creative muscle and developed something that is not only a game-changer, but has changed the way I interact with these wireless earbuds, thanks to its effective and practical setup.
Here's how the JBL Tour Pro 2 convinced me that a touchscreen charging case is a winning accessory that every new wireless earbud model should adopt in 2024.
JBL's charging case doubles as a remote controller and flashlight
Touch controls have changed the way we operate our devices, but they don’t always work accordingly, especially when it comes to wireless earbuds. The Tour Pro 2’s controls are responsive and register touch gestures properly, for the most part. However, playback and call management on the Tour Pro 2 was much more convenient through the charging case. You basically have a second set of controls at your disposal that can be activated directly on the touchscreen, which demonstrates excellent touch accuracy.
The home screen displays a media player to play/pause, skip, or backtrack what you’re currently playing, no matter the platform. I was surprised by how well the Tour Pro 2 handled connectivity between devices, especially with the charging case serving as a middleman for playback, but the device never skewed connections and picked up on the primary streaming to seamlessly manage controls. Swiping right brings you to the volume screen to increase/decrease sound.
While the Tour Pro 2’s charging case makes for an awesome playback remote, it can also act as a flashlight (swipe to the last screen). Turning on the feature will emit a bright light from the screen that lets you see in the dark. It’s not as bright as the smartphone’s camera light, but it’s a novelty that serves a purpose when your iPhone is lost in the dark.
Makes the JBL Headphone app almost obsolete
The JBL Headphones app is one of the better and more feature-friendly apps available. Downloading it gives you a variety of perks, including control customization, customizable ANC, Equalizer, Find My Buds, latency modes, Personi-Fi personalized sound, spatial audio, and numerous other extras.
Now, what if I told you that most of the app’s top features are accessible and selectable directly on the charging case? It’s true. You can enable ANC, swap out the EQ, turn on spatial audio mode, and enable several other functions. This doesn’t make JBL’s app completely useless because you can’t customize certain features on the case or receive firmware updates without software.
A smarter case means better battery life
Think of a touchscreen charging case like a smartphone. Now think about all the processing that’s done underneath their touchscreen. It’s a lot, which means JBL had to stuff a larger battery into the accessory. This also means longer playtimes in between charges. Specifics on battery size have not been disclosed. However, the Tour Pro 2 wireless earbuds come with plenty of portable power: up to 10 hours per charge and 40 hours max via charging case. A 15-minute charge generates 4 hours of use. There’s also an option to adjust screen brightness for power preservation.
What about the buds?
They’re fantastic in many ways. The long-stem design is sleeker than many of the best noise-cancelling earbuds out there and has aluminum accents, as well as a protruding touch panel for improved touch accuracy. They boast a sturdy plastic frame and have and IPX5 rating for protection from water. JBL’s charging case is just as attractive, composed of durable plastic with matte finish, and is reasonably compact. The 1.45-inch screen is a perfect size and displays a lot of information.
Sound is warm with great bass extension. Employing the Studio EQ balances out frequency range to enjoy crisp highs and striking mids. JBL added spatial audio support, which is available in three modes (Movie, Music, and Game), but the technology pales in comparison to Apple and Bose’s versions. Vocals sounded distant and there is noticeable echoing on most tracks.
Adaptive ANC performed well. It was sufficient for blocking out common household distractions (e.g., kitchen appliances, loud TVs), as well as construction sites and talkative pedestrians. Several high-frequency sounds did make their way onto the soundscape, but none of them pulled me away from what was playing. Ambient Aware mode needs some work; incident sounds don’t as transparent as they do on other ambient listening modes. Talk Thru does serve its purpose well, lowering volume and opening the mics up for stronger vocal capture, so you can easily communicate with people.
Special features like VoiceAware come in handy for voice calls by increasing the loudness of your voice, which boosts call quality. Another highlight is LE Audio support for richer audio quality over streaming, minimal latency, and reduced battery consumption.
Wireless earbuds everywhere should follow JBL's lead
Overall, the Tour Pro 2 are an impressive set of wireless earbuds that are elevated by their smart charging case. Their middling performance on the audio and ANC ends take a backseat to the wide amount of functionality JBL puts right in your hand. Immediate access to all major sound settings, along with basics like a flashlight, Find My Buds, screen brightness, and wallpaper selection, are awesome features to have directly on the charging case. This is a much simpler and faster way to personalize the buds than pulling out your phone and searching for the companion app.
This is the most innovative charging case I've seen from any earbud maker, and I’m excited to see what JBL will do with the accessory next. Everyone should be following JBL's lead, and come up with ways to make the underutilized real estate on charging cases a more integral part of the wireless earbuds experience.
More from Tom's Guide
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.
- Lee DunkleyAudio Editor