The JBL Live 660NC is the latest pair of noise-cancelling headphones from the popular audio brand. On top of featuring JBL signature sound, which consists of warm, boom-heavy sonics, this set of over-ear cans come with adaptive ANC and some of the longest battery life in the category.
Colors: Black, Blue, White
Battery life (rated): 40 hours (ANC on), 50 hours (ANC off)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Processor: Bestechnic BES2300YP
Size: Not stated
Weight: 9.3 ounces
Results are satisfying, thanks to an energetic soundstage and multiple listening modes that help personalize the listening experience. You can also expect reliable wireless performance from this set of headphones. The only things holding the Live 660NC back from beating the very best noise cancelling headphones are the buggy voice assistant and uncomfortable design.
JBL Live 660NC review: Price and availability
- JBL Live 660NC costs $199...
- ...except at Walmart, which sells it for $99
These headphones cost $199, the same as the JBL Quantum 800 gaming headset. By comparison, the Live 660NC falls in a price range similar to other sub-luxury competitors like the Jabra Elite 85h ($199) and the Urbanista Miami ($149). Luxury models like the AirPods Max ($549), Bose 700 ($399), and Sony WH-1000XM4 ($350) come with more features and stronger noise cancellation, but for a premium.
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JBL Live 660NC review: Design and comfort
- Well-made, but lacks ruggedization
- Tight, secure fit
JBL has a credible track record of constructing stylish and sturdy headphones, and the Live 660NC is no different. It's are composed of quality materials, including plastic, aluminum, leather and canvas, all of which look and feel premium. The headband and yokes are pliable, though the earcups are the most durable component and boast striking details like an embossed JBL logo and silver accents. They also support collapsible hinges to easily store the Live 660NC.
There is no IP rating listed for these headphones, so you should be mindful of where you leave them and how you use them. For instance, the canvas wrapping around the headband attracts a lot of dirt, especially on the white version, which also makes scuffs and scratches more noticeable.
There is a canvas bag in the box to carry the headphones on commutes, though it isn’t as chic or durable as the 700 and WH-1000XM4’s leather carrying cases. Don’t think about wearing these at the gym or around the jacuzzi either, because there is zero water or sweat resistance.
Comfort and fit are a mixed bag. The yokes have 11 length settings to fit most head sizes, but the clamp force is incredibly tight and feels like your head is caught in a vise, applying unwanted pressure on the skull. This also creates a warm, moisture-filled environment after long listening sessions. I guess the one positive of the snug, overly-tight fit is that the headphones remain stable when worn.
JBL Live 660NC review: Controls and digital assistant
- An abundance of controls
- However, some inputs are finnicky
- Google Assistant not very reliable
The Live 660NC is one of the most function-heavy pairs of headphones on the market. We’re talking physical and touch controls, along with motion detection and voice activation. The majority work well, but the digital assistant feature has its fair share of technical issues.
Let’s start with the button commands that consist of single and 2-second presses. There's a multifunctional button that enables playback, call management and digital assistance, as well as volume rockers that either raise/lower sound or skip back/forward a track. Above the three-button module is a spring-loaded power toggle that has a nice recoil effect, while below it is a Bluetooth button and Ambient Aware button to cycle through the different listening modes. These all produce solid tactility to ensure intended commands are met.
The Auto-Play/Pause function works superbly, automatically pausing music when removing the headphones and resuming play when placed back on the head.
It’s pretty cool that JBL programmed an alternative way to access the voice assistant via touch panel on the left earcup. A 2-second press or placing your hand atop the ear cup will enable the native digital assistant, or so the instructions say. I say that because it took numerous tries and an hour of troubleshooting to even get this feature working properly.
The Live 600NC comes with Google Assistant and Alexa integration. Siri is supported too, but the Voice Assistant setting must be set to default in order to get it working on Apple devices like the iPhone 12, which is something JBL doesn’t tell you. When able to use the Google Assistant, I was happy with the AI bot’s responsiveness to inquiries and the speech recognition JBL’s mic-array demonstrated. Unfortunately, the feature was spotty, either giving me a voice prompt stating the Google Assistant wasn’t set up or not recognizing the “OK Google” voice control.
JBL Live 660NC review: Active noise cancellation
- Reasonably effective ANC
- Ambient Aware mode works well
JBL’s noise-cancelling technology has improved over the years, and though it’s still several notches below what Bose, Sony, and Apple deliver, it’s effective for blocking about 80% of ambient noise. Whenever wearing the Live 660NC inside the house, common distractions like, door buzzers, kitchen appliances, and my wife’s iPhone alarms went unheard. Despite my newborn making his presence felt here and there, his cries and grunting were minimized well enough to keep me focused on tasks.
Outside provided fairly decent noise neutralization. Wind resistance wasn’t as strong as I would have liked, as the whooshing effect produced in drafty conditions and by whisking cars had my full attention. Gardening tools like leaf-blowers and lawnmowers were also unavoidable, along with high-frequency sounds like police sirens and whistles. The good news is that these noises weren’t blaring, so despite being audible, none were harmful to my hearing.
Ambient Aware is JBL’s transparency mode and opens up the mics to give listeners a better sense of their environment. It’s serviceable for use inside the house, but you’ll get the best performance when outside. I was able to pick up on cars that were nearly a block away from me, while also hearing joggers sprint past me and dogs barking from a distance. Vocals are much louder and clearer in TalkThru mode, which drops volume down to 20 percent so you can communicate with others without taking off the headphones. In short, it performs well.
JBL Live 660NC review: Sound quality
- Favors bass over treble
- Using app controls yields best results
The Live 660NC’s standard sound signature is flat and keeps frequency response relatively balanced. However, this is only the case when disabling the EQ in the companion app. JBL actually makes its JBL Club Pro+ TWS EQ the default, which is the more favorable option and gives music a livelier presence, though bass does become overly aggressive on certain tracks.
The striking snares on Naughty by Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray (Pete Rock Remix)” had my neck snapping back off impact, while the conga-and-drum amalgamation on Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” landed hard blows to my eardrums that stimulated a head-nod trance. The low end on Wyclef Jean’s “We Trying to Stay Alive” did come off more boomy than necessary, but the headphones handled other percussive elements well and opened up the soundscape for the rapper’s braggadocious rhymes to be heard clearly.
While highs are present, they often get put on the back-burner, which is most noticeable on Jazz recordings. The hi-hats on Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” lacked emphasis and sounded a bit tinny. In addition, the live audience was mostly veiled behind the instrumental play. Rock classics like Iron Maiden’s “Hallowed Be Thy Name” had this same issue; the tolling bell at the beginning wasn’t stirring enough to set the mood.
One thing worth noting when listening in standard mode: bass is minorly increased compared to Ambient Aware and noise cancellation. Sound quality does remain the same when switching from Ambient Aware to noise cancellation and vice versa. Another tidbit is that bass and clarity take dips when using the aux cable.
There is terrible latency when watching videos, but there is a special mode in the app that drastically improves the quality (more on that in the next section).
JBL Live 660NC review: App and special features
- Video mode essential for movie playback
- Lots of sound profiles and bonus features
Most of the major features in the JBL Headphones app are supported by the Live 660NC. You’ll see the Ambient Sound Control setting to manually select from all of the listening modes, as well as the Smart Audio Modes setting with three options to optimize Bluetooth and sound based on preference. Normal keeps your connection stable, Audio emphasizes sound, and Video improves lip synchronization when watching videos. You won’t notice much of a difference between the first two modes, but as I previously alluded to in the audio quality section, Video fixes the horrible latency on videos.
At the bottom is the EQ setting, where users can create their own sound profiles or select from four presets: Jazz, Vocal, Bass, and the aforementioned JBL Club Pro+ TWS. Again, stick with the latter to achieve the best sound. However, you’ll get some value out of Jazz when zoning out to Miles Davis, while Vocal is ideal for podcasts and commentary clips.
Rounding out the app are a battery level indicator, firmware updates, toggle controls for the voice assistant and on-ear detection, and an Auto-off setting to place the headphones in sleep mode when inactive after a certain amount of time. Overall, you have an extensive feature set to work with.
JBL Live 660NC review: Battery life and charging case
- Lasts longer than sub-luxury rivals
- Effective fast charging
Battery life is rated at 40 hours with ANC on. That is double the playtime of the 700 and AirPods Max, and 10 hours longer than the WH-1000XM4. Realistically, it’s about 37 hours when factoring in volume, streaming, and several features running simultaneously. Even then this is more than substantial for a week’s worth of entertainment at your work desk or on an international flight. For reference, I’m still at 30 percent after using the headphones 2 hours daily over the past two weeks.
Even better is that a quick charge can net you 4 hours of use on 10-minute charge, while turning off noise cancellation extends playtimes to 50 hours. I would say that wireless charging should have been included, as it is on the Marshall Major IV wireless headphones, but that almost seems greedy considering portable power the Live 660NC already possesses.
JBL Live 660NC review: Call quality and connectivity
- Decent calls, but lots of background noise
- Excellent Bluetooth performance and range
The Live 660NC is adequate for calls and video chats, though you’ll have to participate in quiet settings since the mics pick up every bit of noise around you. Clients found my voice loud and clear when speaking indoors, but could also hear everything around me, from my baby boy shaking his rattle to the cat scratching the door. Trying to answer calls outside was a little tougher due to the Live 660NC’s middling wind resistance. My wife could make out most of my sentences. She also noticed when I was stuck in drafty conditions.
Wireless performance is superb with Bluetooth 5.0 running the point. Pairing to devices is effortless no matter the platform, though Android gets the better end of deal thanks to Google Fast Pair. Re-pairing is even quicker, with the Live 600NC instantly linking to your most previously connected device.
Range is also longer than advertised, getting you up to 45 feet of wireless listening. The only thing missing is JBL’s proprietary Dual Connect+Sync technology that allows for instant switching from one device to another, though it would seem a bit pointless since the headphones have multipoint technology to pair with two devices simultaneously.
JBL Live 660NC review: Verdict
The JBL Live 660NC is an enticing deal for bass lovers who want adaptive noise cancellation in an appealing package. JBL’s 40mm drivers maintain the brand’s signature sound, feeding your ears punchy lows and solid midrange, though the bass does come on strong and covers up highs on certain tracks. Battery life is top tier at nearly 40 hours, which puts the Bose 700 and AirPods Max to shame. The noise cancellation is beneficial for the price as well.
Despite the Live 600NC having almost every bell and whistle desirable on a pair of noise-cancellers, not everything hits its mark. The voice assistant acts screwy out of the box, and JBL needs to do a better job of showing its support of Siri or at least inform users of how they can enable it hassle-free. Another drawback is comfort, as the headphones clamp down hard on both the skull and ears when adjusting the yokes to a low setting.
Nonetheless, the Live 660NC has so much going for it that a lot of $200 headphones simply don’t, which makes them an inexpensive standout.