One of the downsides of Google’s second-gen Pixel Buds, as well as their mid-range successor the Pixel Buds A, is that there’s no noise cancellation. With powerful competition like the AirPods Pro and the Galaxy Buds Pro both packing noise cancellation, it was a shame to see the Pixel Buds skip it.
In its place though, the most unique aspect of the Pixel Buds series is their ability to respond to the “Hey Google” hotword, which up to this point had not been replicated on any third-party earbuds. That is, until now. JBL’s latest true wireless earbuds, the JBL Tour Pro+, are the first third-party earbuds to have full Google Assistant integration, including audible notifications and “Hey Google” support.
Comfort & portability
For true wireless earbuds, “comfort” falls into two completely unrelated categories: comfort in the ears, and comfort in the pocket. Each one is a battle between packing as large of a battery as possible while not being unreasonably bulky.
Where I’m normally accustomed to stashing the charging case for earbuds in the otherwise-useless coin pocket on my pants, the JBL Tour Pro+ case is far too thick for that. Even in my full pocket, it’s a bit on the bulky side for an everyday carry, but if you keep your tech in a bag, it’s a moot point.
In exchange for that bulk, you get a full three charges on top of the buds’ eight-hour playtime capacity, meaning you can get as much as 32 hours of playback on a full charge. I’ve essentially never had either the earbuds themselves or the battery case fully run out of power in my usage – charging randomly, the few times I remember to do so – which is certainly a solid trade-off.
One thing to note about the charging, however, is that I find I can’t just “drop” each bud into the case. There’s a slight magnetic attraction pulling them into place, but it isn’t usually enough to turn them into the right orientation for the pins to line up to charge. Instead, I’m usually twisting each bud while watching for the charging light to turn on.
As for the buds themselves, I at first found them to be a bit too large, coming from the Pixel Buds. With a few days adjustment, though, I find the JBL Tour Pro+ to be comfortably snug, holding in place more on the outside of my ear than in the ear canal. That said, they still happily come loose with jaw movements from eating food or chewing gum.
The design has surprisingly allowed me to wear the earbuds for longer than I normally would while still maintaining a solid seal for noise purposes (more on this in a bit). Of course, everyone’s ears are shaped differently, so you may have a different experience or preference. To that end, though, JBL has included multiple sizes of both the inner ear tips and the outer ear wings to optimize your fit.
Sound quality & noise cancellation
In addition to providing fantastic battery life, the larger size of the JBL Tour Pro+ gives ample room for the speakers. With 6.8mm drivers, these earbuds pack a punch and can get fairly loud (at least far beyond what I’d call a comfortable level) without getting muddy.
With a few tweaks to the excellent equalizer offered in the JBL Headphones app, the Tour Pro+ offer a warm, rich sound profile. On my favorite punk/emo tracks, I find the tom drums to have a very full-bodied sound and feel, though cymbals were not quite as crisp as I would have liked. When listening to jazz, each instrument is well separated, with horns sounding particularly impressive.
In all categories, these earbuds sound much, much better than Google’s Pixel Buds, thanks to JBL’s decades of audio engineering experience. And that’s before you factor in the noise cancellation. With active noise cancellation enabled, you’re afforded far more isolation than normal true wireless earbuds offer.
That said, JBL’s noise cancellation is not as effective as that from Bose or Sony. The major sources of unwanted noise, like a car engine, a neighbor’s subwoofer, or your home air conditioner are all filtered out entirely, with ease. However, higher-pitched noises like the jingle of a dog collar, the bubbling of a fountain, and the sounds of nearby voices still manage to leak through. While far from perfect, it’s better than no active cancellation at all.
There are a few toggles in the app allowing you to turn off noise cancellation, allow outside sound to be more audible for sake of safety, or even carry on a conversation with the earbuds in. However, unless you assign these to a gesture — more on this in a minute — it would be far easier to simply take your earbuds out rather than fiddle with the app. They’re nice enough in theory, but not very handy in my experience.
Google Assistant & controls
Next, let’s take a look at the built-in controls of the JBL Tour Pro+, including the main way of accessing the Google Assistant. JBL has a very simple control scheme consisting of single-tap, double-tap, triple-tap, and tap-and-hold gestures.
Notably, there are four different sets of gesture actions, and you can only assign one set to each earbud, with no room for deeper customization. “Playback control” lets you play/pause and skip tracks. “Ambient Sound Control” lets you toggle noise cancellation as well as the “TalkThru” feature that’s designed for quick conversations. “Volume control,” as you’d expect, allows you to bump the volume up and down.
Lastly, there’s “Voice Assistant” that gives you access to Alexa or the Google Assistant. Despite the JBL Tour Pro+ offering “Hey Google” support, you need to set one side’s gestures to Voice Assistant in order to have any access to the Google Assistant, by touch or by voice. That means you’re sacrificing access to one of the other gesture sets, making the earbuds a bit harder to manage on the fly.
That said, the Google Assistant integration is one of the most compelling parts of the earbuds, making essentially all of your playback controls and volume controls available through voice. Even better, you can select new music or podcasts without ever touching your phone with a simple command like, “Hey Google, play John Coltrane on Spotify.” And since the earbuds are so close to your face, you don’t need to speak too loudly for the Google Assistant to hear you.
“Hey Google” honestly pulls a lot of weight in making up for the poor touch gestures on the JBL Tour Pro+. I’ve especially had issues with the double-tap gesture working consistently unless I’m consciously thinking about my finger’s aim and timing.
The clunky gestures still manage to undermine the Google Assistant experience at times, though. For instance, when the Google Assistant offers for you to reply to a notification by voice, you’re expected to tap-and-hold one ear to speak, but for whatever reason this has consistently failed to work on my end.
Should you buy the JBL Tour Pro+?
With a $199 retail price – only $20 more than Google charged for their 2020 Pixel Buds – the JBL Tour Pro+ buds offer strong advantages in battery life, connectivity, noise cancellation, and audio quality, while maintaining at least some of the Assistant-powered capabilities.
Conversely, though, the refined and intuitive gesture controls are a huge part of what made the Pixel Buds great in the first place, and JBL has fallen far short of that mark, in my experience. In many cases, though, if you’re not afraid to say “Hey Google” in public, these gestures can be replaced by the Google Assistant.
Whether or not the JBL Tour Pro+ are a good fit for you really depends on where your priorities lay. If deep Google Assistant integration and noise cancellation are your must-haves, you can’t go wrong with this set.
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