No one will ever accuse JBL of not manufacturing enough Bluetooth headphones. The company’s various models occupy virtually every price range below $300. The E45BT, at $99.95, are solid wireless on-ear headphones with an impressive bass-forward sound signature. There’s very little to complain about here, unless you’re after an accurate sound signature. Otherwise the comfortable E45BT are some of the more comfortable $100 headphones we’ve tested lately, and ship with a cable for passive, wired listening. That said, for just slightly less, there are plenty of solid options, and the same could be said for spending just slightly more—and of course, JBL makes several of those models, too.
Available in matte black, blue, red, teal, or white, the supra-aural (on-ear) E45BT headphones feature exceptionally comfortable earpads and a cloth-lined headband that’s slightly less padded, but comfortable nonetheless. The grilles covering the 40mm driver in each earcup are labeled L and R. The earcups swivel at their connection point to the headband and can also fold inward, though there’s no included case for them to be stowed in.
The outer panel on the right earcup houses the power switch, a Bluetooth pairing button, a multifunction button that controls playback and call management, and plus/minus buttons that operate volume levels when tapped and track navigation when held for longer. The volume levels work in conjunction with your mobile device’s master levels. We’re not huge fans of combining volume and track navigation controls because it makes it easy to accidentally skip a track when you intended to adjust the volume. Also on the panel is a connection for the included headphone cable, and a pinhole microphone.
The included cable is covered in cloth and features an inline microphone and remote control of the single-button variety. Connecting the cable automatically kills the Bluetooth connection to save battery life, and the headphones switch to passive mode. An included micro USB charging cable is also included, and connects to the left earcup’s outer panel.
The on-ear mic offers so-so intelligibility—using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we could understand every word we recorded, but sound quality was tinny, with audio artifacts typical of most Bluetooth headphone mics. The inline mic offers far better clarity, with crisper treble, richer lows, and few artifacts of any kind.
JBL estimates battery life to be roughly 16 hours, but your results will vary with your volume levels.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the headphones deliver a strong low frequency thump—bass lovers will not be disappointed. At top, unwise listening levels, this challenging track doesn’t distort the drivers, and at more moderate volume levels, the lows are still quite robust and nicely matched with some crisp high-mid and high frequency presence.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the general sound signature. The drums on this track can sound overly thunderous on heavily bass-boosted headphones. Here the lows are full, and certainly receive some added bass depth, but nothing that sends the balance of the track careening into muddy, overwhelmingly bassy territory. The drums definitely have a little extra thump, and Callahan’s baritone vocals have a rich low-mid presence, but they also benefit from some high-mid treble edge, giving them contour and keeping things clear. The acoustic guitar also receives some sculpted high-mid and high frequency presence, accentuating the attack of the strums.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loops receives a solid high-mid presence, allowing its sharp attack to retain most of its edge and slice through the layers of the mix. There’s also a notable additional low and low-mid fullness to the drum loop, giving it a bit more bass push than it normally receives. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with some strong depth—again, nothing that overwhelms the mix’s balance, but it’s a sound that will have bass lovers smiling. The vocals on this track are delivered clearly, albeit with a smidge of added sibilance thanks to the high frequency sculpting.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, receive more added bass presence than most classical music listeners will want. The orchestra gets a strong low frequency boost, with the lower register instrumentation stepping out of its supporting role and standing on nearly equal footing with the higher register brass, strings, and vocals. The highs still occupy the spotlight, however—just not as prominently as they typically do. There’s plenty of brightness, particularly on the brass stabs, but this is a sculpted sound that isn’t terribly accurate.
The difference in audio performance with or without the cable is a matter of power. In passive mode, the headphones lacks the oomph they have when paired and streamed in powered mode, but the audio isn’t thin or bereft of bass response, it’s simply a little quieter in the volume department. In passive mode, the headphones can still get plenty loud when boosting the volume on your sound source.
For $100, JBL’s E45BT headphones offer a powerful sound signature with boosted lows and crisp, clear highs. The earpads are comfortable, and generally speaking, anyone that considers themself a bass lover will be pleased. In this price range, however, while the headphones stand out as a solid choice, they’re not a terribly unique one. We also like the Sony MDR-XB650BT, the Urbanears Active Hellas, and the Skullcandy Grind Wireless, the latter of which are our Editors’ Choice for featuring a slightly lower price point. If you’re looking for the JBL sound signature in an over-ear design, meanwhile, JBL’s E55BT headphones are a good bet.