JLab’s popularity has skyrocketed over the past two years. Hitting that sweet spot between affordable and highly functional, this American-based audio brand continues to release some of the best cheap wireless earbuds on the market, including the all-new $20 Go Air Pop. Wait a minute. Surprisingly good $20 wireless earbuds from a reputable name? That’s correct.
Colors: Black, Lilac, Rose, Slate, Teal
Battery life (rated): 8 hours, 32 hours (with charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1
Processor: Not stated
Size: 0.9 x 1 x 0.9 inches (per bud), 2.4 x 1 x 1.6 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.1 ounces (per bud), 1 ounces (charging case)
Just when we thought the $25 Skullcandy Dime laid claim to the best true wireless value, in comes this bargain gem with strong audio, steady battery life, and a durable design. Of course, an MSRP this low presents compromises, which in this case is bad call quality and no companion app with extra features. Are these deal-breakers? Read our full JLab Go Air Pop review to find out.
JLab Go Air Pop review: Price and availability
- $20 from JLab
- Five color options
You can pre-order the JLab Go Air Pop for $20 from JLab (opens in new tab), with shipping starting in late August. It is sold in five colors: Black, Lilac, Rose, Slate, and Teal. You get a charging case with integrated USB charging cable, quick start guide, and three different sizes of ear tips with the purchase.
We already mentioned the Skullcandy Dime, but there are several worthy competitors available at low price points, including the $80 Anker Soundcore Life P3 and sporty sibling $99 JLab Epic Air Sport ANC, two well-received models that come with lively sound and noise cancellation. There’s always the popular $159 Apple AirPods as well.
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JLab Go Air Pop review: Design and comfort
- Small, light and reasonably comfortable
- IPX4 protection
JLab knows all about constructing small, sturdy, and aesthetically appealing buds. The Go Air Pop is no different, maintaining the brand’s bold-colored, minimalist-appearing design, while being shrunk down 15% compared to previous releases.
These buds come with IPX4 sweat and water resistance and a body composed of hard plastic. In other words, these are some tough in-ears that won’t crack when hitting the concrete or damage easily when exposed to moisture. The debossed logo doubles as a touch pad, too.
JLab also managed to scale down the charging case. It is 40% lighter, incredibly small and pocket-friendly. The coolest element is the built-in USB cable that is stored underneath the case, letting you charge on the go with compatible devices or accessories. The magnetic lid does feel flimsy, but I guess something had to give when accounting for cost. I would have loved to see the case receive IPX4 protection as well.
Comfort is moderate. The buds rest gently on the concha for about 2 hours before fatigue sets in, and the sound port seamlessly inserts into the canal. Fit is where I found some issues, as the cavity doesn’t shape to the inner part of the ear as well as some other models, resulting in looseness. Furthermore, the silicone tips lack grip and don’t form a tight seal, which can affect audio performance (more on that later). I recommend purchasing the brand’s $10 Cloud Foam Mnemonic Universal Earbuds Tips for a more secure fit.
JLab Go Air Pop review: Controls and digital assistant
- Controls are unreliable
- Siri and Google Assistant buggy as well
Kudos to JLab for programming a full suite of media controls on such limited hardware. You can manage calls, playback, volume, EQ activation, and digital assistance at the tip of your finger. On-ear detection for auto-pause/play didn’t make the cut.
The control scheme is unique, but not the most reliable, particularly on the right bud. Play/pause (double tap) doesn’t respond well to its assigned input and gets mistaken for volume up (single tap) almost 90 percent of the time. Multi-taps didn’t register well either, requiring several attempts to fire up Siri/Google Assistant or cycle through the EQs.
Speaking of Apple and Google’s AI bots, both are buggy on the Go Air Pop. When working, they respond quickly to inquiries. JLab’s mics also demonstrate great speech recognition. It’s getting the feature to work properly. For some odd reason, these buds have some kind of glitch where tasks can’t be executed if another program is in use. Examples: My Google Pixel 3 XL wouldn’t execute the “Open Gmail” command while Spotify was in use and my MacBook Pro wouldn’t acknowledge me enabling Siri during Google Meet conferences.
JLab Go Air Pop review: Audio quality
- Mostly good for the price, with custom profiles
- Noise isolation could be better
The Go Air Pop is scarce on features, but at least it offers some audio personalization through EQ settings that don’t require a companion app to enable. You can do this manually on either bud via triple-tap gesture. The three EQs on here are JLab Signature, Balanced, and Bass Boost, and each one has been vastly improved from when the company first introduced them on their earlier creations.
JLab Signature is considered the flagship between the three and suits most music genres. I immediately noticed the amplification in vocals and bass when switching to it, which complemented the energetic resonance on Mary J Blige’s “Family Affair.” The infectious snares knocked hard, and the queen’s silky singing shined over the funky production. I was satisfied with the frequency response as well.
Switching to Balance provided neutral sound, resulting in an equal mix of lows, mids, and highs. JLab suggests using this preset for audiobooks, podcasts, and classical music, and I completely agree. The instrumental separation and reproduction on Ahmad Jamal’s “The Awakening” were stellar and had me feeling like I was sitting front row at a live performance at the Blue Note. Pop records also performed well, as exhibited on the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way,” where the vocals were articulated and crisp.
Lastly, there is Bass Boost, which is self-explanatory. This preset emphasizes the low end and provides some room for mids to breathe, though highs are nearly phased out. Pressing play on Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See,” that monstrous bassline bounced hard off my eardrum and sent a surge of electricity through my body with every drum strike. Since bass dominated the entire soundscape, the tambourine jingling in the background barely had any presence.
Noise isolation is mediocre due to ear tips not creating a tight seal, meaning ambient noise will creep in during listening sessions. Active noise cancellation would have helped blocked out and minimize certain distractions.
Codec support is limited to AAC and SBC. No aptX, which would have improved the audio transmission and grant lossless audio when streaming from hi-fi platforms like Tidal.
JLab Go Air Pop review: Battery life and charging case
- Respectable longevity
- Case has convenient built-in cable
To get 8 hours of playtime from a pair of $20 wireless earbuds is exceptional. Realistically, it is about 7 hours when factoring in volume, streaming, and the EQ modes, but that’s still longer than both the standard AirPods and the AirPods Pro: 5 hours without ANC. I got about four days of moderate use (2 hours daily) before tossing them in the charging case, which holds up to 32 hours total when fully charged.
The integrated USB cable is an awesome bonus to have when you want to power up the buds at home or in an office setting; it’s practically designed for charging on desktops and laptops. At the same time, you may need to keep a power adapter with a USB connection on hand, should you need to charge via wall outlet. Otherwise, the only disappointment here is the lack of wireless charging.
JLab Go Air Pop review: Call quality and connectivity
- Call quality is the buds' biggest weakness
- General connectivity much better
I didn’t expect much from the call quality on these buds, but nothing this bad. When taking calls indoors, there were several complaints from friends about my voice cutting in and out, along with some muffling. Outside was worse because the slightest ambient noise (mostly wind) interfered with every conversation. My wife also complained about how I sounded hollow at times. Being in a completely quiet room and speaking loudly was the only time she could understanding anything I said.
Strangely, the Go Air Pop performs much better on video calls. I have no clue why this is the case, but my experience during Zoom chats was enjoyable, as family members and clients praised the clarity and volume on my end.
In better news: Bluetooth has always been a hallmark for JLab and that hasn’t changed on the Go Air Pop. Range is advertised at 30 feet, though it’s higher when using the buds in widely open spaces: 35 feet max. Going from room to room does cause some dropout around the 25-foot mark. JLab’s Auto On & Connect technology is still amazing, instantly paring to devices and making the switch from one recognized device to another an effortless task.
JLab Go Air Pop review: Verdict
Had you told me that JLab planned on launching even cheaper wireless earbuds that would deliver great functionality in a tinier package, I would have called BS. Well, color me convinced because the Go Air Pop mostly lives up to the hype. Sound alone makes the buds worth owning, thanks to properly engineered EQs that match different types of content. Playtimes are sufficient for all-day listening. Build quality is on point as well.
I had reservations about the controls and call quality before testing, two categories that haven’t always performed well on previous JLab products, and my gut was right. Unless you’re taking video calls in a quiet room, there is no fun to be had using the Go Air Pop as a calling headset. The controls can be frustrating to operate as well due to weak touch accuracy.
The lack of features might turn some consumers off, but what more should you expect from a pair of $20 wireless earbuds? Exactly. Look past these drawbacks and you’ll find the Go Air Pop is the best $20 you can spend right now.
- More: The best Apple AirPods alternatives — similar styling at lower price