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Forget AirPods: These wireless earbuds offer clever features that Apple doesn't

The JBL Tour Pro 2 may just be the start of something new with wireless earbuds. Just look at it.
Written by Christina Darby, Associate Editor
Reviewed by Kerry Wan
Christina Darby/ZDNET

I'll be candid. When JBL launched its Tour Pro 2 earbuds with a touchscreen case back in January, my immediate reaction was one of cynicism. "Just what I need, another screen to look at," I thought to myself. 

Also: These $169 Apple-owned earbuds were made with Android users in mind

While the screen was undoubtedly innovative, and patents suggest that the idea of it is on Apple's mind too, what I -- and most audiophiles -- ultimately value is sound quality, especially with the Tour Pro 2's $250 premium.

However, after a few weeks of testing the JBL Tour Pro 2, I'm happy to report that, while not perfect, both the functionality of the external display and audio performance has swiped and canceled my initial reservations. And there's a software feature that may be even more appealing to some. Read on.

View at Amazon

To start, the JBL Tour Pro 2's headliner is that 1.45-inch touchscreen embedded in the charging case. While some of the touchscreen features are more fun than practical, like the customizable screensaver, tiny "flashlight," and timer, the display is still very fun to interact with. (Kudos to JBL's PR team, by the way, for sending the tester with a ZDNET logo preloaded!)

Also: These $169 headphones sound so good you'd think they'd cost a lot more

While the screen has a slight delay between taps and swipes and requires more pressure to navigate than that of your smartphone or tablet, I was able to customize my personal EQ settings and even use the built-in earbuds locator feature. It also makes for a swift toggle from ambient to ANC mode, both of which impressed when it came to sound control.

Describe what's shown in the image.

The external design can be configurated with an image of your choice. 

Christina Darby/ZDNET 

I found that the Tour Pro 2 wasn't too far off from matching the transparency mode of Apple's second-gen AirPods Pro. Both effectively allow me to remain aware of my surroundings, especially in the busier streets of New York City, without sacrificing my morning Taylor Swift listening ritual. 

The ANC wasn't too far off from the AirPods' noise-canceling, too. When toggled on, the buds offer a tight seal and can muffle out subway screeches. But, again, the sound is slightly thinner than other $200+ earbuds and far off from the current ANC champion, The Bose QuietComfort II

Also: Best noise-canceling earbuds you can buy right now

My favorite feature, believe it or not, was not the buds' touchscreen display or noise cancellation. Instead, I found the VoiceAware, which lets you control how much of your voice you can hear when making a call, the most impressive. 

As someone who despises the sound of their own voice and primarily uses wireless earbuds for calls, this feature not only reduced how loud I sounded to myself when speaking but was easily accessible thanks to the touchscreen display. The overall microphone quality was also passable; I had little to no complaints from callers as I walked around the noisiest of streets.

For the price, the JBL earbuds feature the usual list of premiums like wireless charging, multi-point connectivity with up to two devices, and 40 hours of battery life in the case. While the touchscreen compromises some of the compactness of the case, it still fits comfortably in a front and back pocket.

Also: Bowers & Wilkins' Pi7 S2 are music to my ears, but there's a catch

Ultimately, I'm impressed with the JBL Tour Pro 2. The touchscreen is by no means life-changing, but it also didn't give me the impression of having more screen fatigue. In the future, I'd love to see a screen that requires less pressure to interact with and a quicker touch response time. At $250, should you buy these over the similarly-priced competitors? Yes, but only if the added functionality of a display and the blessing of lowered mic input appeals to you.

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