I’m back again with another comparison, this time the bout is between the Strauss and Wagner, and the JBL Live 400BT. The wireless Bluetooth headphone market is a bit crowded, so let’s try and narrow things down. In this comparison, we’re going to look at each headphone’s strengths and weaknesses. I’ve been listening to the 501s a lot, and they appear to stand tall when compared to most of its competition, but JBL is a brand that I have some affinity for. JBL is nowhere near perfect as a headphone brand, but they have some qualities worth looking at. So let’s throw these guys in the ring and see how they fare.
Look and Feel
Both models sport uniquely sleek designs and are relatively straightforward in aesthetic. I happen to have tried the JBL in white but is also available in black. I do have an issue with the JBLs in look, and especially when compared to the 501s, and its that the JBLs come off very toy-like. The 501s have a more stable and consistent design rather than the JBL’s plastic surfaces. On the side of comfortability, the 501s have a significant leg up on the JBLs. I can’t tell if the JBLs are F-cushion cups, or they are just small and don’t fit around my enormous outer ear. The JBL uses PU leather, which is a nice material, but my ear was fatigued after a while, and I found myself adjusting the headphones several times. The 501 are snug, fit around my ears, and sustain their stability through long hours of listening.
These are both Bluetooth wireless headphones, so the accessibility of actions is a big aspect in overall value. Both headphones feature play/pause, and volume control, as well as Bluetooth connection buttons. As I have said previously in other comparisons, the 501 have flimsy controls. In my model, you could hear the parts themselves moving around the surface which didn’t catch me as being sturdy. However, the buttons respond immediately to actions, and the interactivity is seamless. I found that the JBL while being responsive, had a short noticeable delay.
The JBL has an impressive amount of features that go above and beyond the 501s. We should first touch on the heavily advertised “Ambient Aware” technology in the JBL. The 400BT has a system where at the push of a button your main signal will drown itself, and let the environment around you make itself more present. In a way, it’s a sort of anti-noise-canceling button to be aware of something important going on, and the added “Talk Thru” feature lets you listen to someone speaking to you. The JBL also features Alexa, Google Assistant, and a separate companion app that might make the 400BTs functionality handier. In comparison, the 501 doesn’t offer a lot and plays it pretty straight. I should point out that the 501s do use ANC, which you won’t find on the JBLs, so if you buy the 400BT expecting noise canceling you’re out of luck.
The JBL uses a lithium-ion polymer battery (3.7V, 700mAh), while the 501s battery uses 900mAh/3.7V. You’ll get 24 hours max out of the JBLs at full battery and 2 hour charging time. The 501s have a whopping 40 hours of playback time, so the win has got to go to Stauss and Wagner in this round.
Strauss and Wagner relieve another automatic win in the wireless connection department because the 501s support Bluetooth 5.0 and the JBLs only use 4.2. So you’ll get superior bandwidth in the 501s as well as a much more substantial range.
Alright, let’s shift focus to the most important aspect of any headphone, the sound quality. When listening to the JBLs, it felt like its soundstage was designed for one task: getting you to pay attention to the low-end information. With that, it sacrifices other important aspects of fidelity, and as a result the soundstage suffers. There’s barely any space to sort out because the lows are just filling every inch of the sound field. The 501s do a much better job replication spatial imaging information, and for a wireless noise-canceling headphone, it’s not a bad response by any means.
The aforementioned low end in the JBLs is a lot. There’s an undeniable body to them, and enough detail for an impactful bass feel. The Low-end timbre is more like an exclamation point than it is a natural, deep response, but it makes for an engaging tone nonetheless, though some genres will react to it better than others. The 501s have a more robust low-end in comparison. It contains more textural nuances while still delivering that bass punch people like. There’s also a sense of depth here that’s missing in the JBLs, but for some, the 400BT might be on the money, but most genres will still sound great coming out of the low end on the 501s.
The JBL has a surprisingly clean mid-range response that doesn’t get overshadowed by its low-end. I’d say the clarity of the mids makes for an all-around meatier sound for the JBLs, and they never struggle for the limelight. The mid-range response on the 501s also shares the same amount of clarity the JBLs have, but with just a little bit more forward amplitude.
This is not what you’re buying the JBLs for, and with the 400BT the highs are one of its poorest aspects. There’s a harshness to the upper bands that make a lot of tracks lose any sense of fidelity. Instrumentations and vocals never seem to reach that full clarity, and peaky textures don’t help that aspect either. The 501 doesn’t do anything special here either, but it does succeed in providing a greater sense of width, and charm.
There’s very little in the JBLs characteristically that I would prefer over the 501s. They might have enough meat in the low end for some people’s taste, but Strauss and Wagner present a more all-around better product in both sound signature and usability.
JBL Live 400BT is available at Audio46
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