I’ve loved music since I was a child, and even now I prefer listening to music over watching TV and movies. I went through an embarrassingly expensive audiophile phase five years ago where spending $1k on headphones became normal.
After years of testing hundreds of audio products, I have come back to earth and realized that level of audiophilia is unsustainable. The return on my investment dropped off at a certain level of audio quality and music. Since then I have learned to appreciate audio products based on value to sound ratio, and for the first time in many years I have come across a set that made my jaw drop – The J&L 103s Sports Bluetooth Earbuds.
Naturally when anyone makes a statement of that magnitude, it will make you skeptical. You would think I am being paid to say that, but I promise I was not paid one penny to say that.
Let’s get into the review and I’ll explain how I got to this conclusion.
The J&L 103s Sports Bluetooth Earbuds are wireless as the name implies, but are not truly wire free like the latest Apple Airpod or Samsung Gear IconX headphones. The 103s are a familiar design with two earpieces that are connected to each other by a single wire, with an inline remote control and microphone.
The two ear pieces are machined from an aluminum alloy and are sized to fit most ears. Some wireless earbuds can be quite large due to the internal hardware, but J&L managed to make the canisters quite small. More importantly, J&L made the ear tube that slides into your ear canal very small. I’ll explain why this is important.
It’s difficult to convey how small the inner ear tube is, so I measured them with digital calipers they measure exactly 4.9mm. If you want to know exactly how small that is, grab a ruler, and on the metric side count out the five little lines. That’s the portion of the earbud where the silicone tip slides over and ultimately creates the fit inside of your ear canal.
In my experience, wireless earbud manufacturers make the ports slightly larger to compensate for a lack in power. It allows more sound to escape because wireless earbuds are underpowered to increase battery life, but this ultimately sacrifices comfort. Earbuds that are uncomfortable ultimately end up being shelved by users. Having a small ear canal tube is probably the most important feature in getting the right fit and seal, and the J&L 103s are designed perfectly for just about all ear sizes.
Included in the box are soft silicone tips, in small, medium and large sizes. There’s also flanges that fit on the outer portion of the ear bud canister which make the headphones even more comfortable to wear. Some ear flanges can be a little too stiff when the ear canisters are heavy, but the 103s are the right flexibility due to the light weight of each ear piece. If you plan on using these while not working out, they are light enough to wear without the flanges.
Each ear piece also has a strong magnet built into them which gives them a tight fit around your neck when they are not in use.
Magnets may not seem like a big deal, but it’s actually a feature found in much more expensive earbuds. It’s also very nice to have as the headphones will fit snug around your neck ensuring you will not lose them.
The inline remote control houses the power button which also serves as the Bluetooth connect, play/pause and answer/end phone calls. The + button serves as fast forward and volume up, where the – button does the opposite. The inline remote is also where you will find the microphone for taking wireless calls.
IPX5 Sweat proof rating
CVC 6.0 Noise cancelling (for improved call clarity)
Playback time – 8 hours (80mAH)
Charge time – 1-2 hours
Overall size – 540 x 32 x 20mm
Overall J&L didn’t cut any corners on the build, and the 103s are as premium as you can get under $200, and certainly the best you can get under $50.
The 103s absolutely shine when it comes to audio playback. The 103s reproduce sound that is rich, warm, spacious, articulate, detailed but not overly analytical. As earbuds get overly analytical, they can be accurate but ultimately no fun. The 103s sound as if a team of engineers spent countless hours tuning the large 10mm drivers to pump out sound that matters to all genres of music.
That’s extremely difficult to do, especially in wireless headphones. Wireless headphones usually suffer from poor playback due to the lack of bandwidth Bluetooth provides, but it is clear the engineers got the most out of their ear buds. Most wireless earbuds jack up the low end because the general user loves their bass. Bass usually makes music more fun to listen to, especially when you can feel it. The downside to bass is it muddles the mids, and highs need to be dialed up for the user to get clarity. While that style of music can be fun to listen to, it’s not the best way to enjoy music.
While I typically listen to a wide range of music, I usually turn to Classical music when I love headphones/earbuds.
The detail in classical music is unmatched by other genres due to the wide range of instruments played by human beings. There’s nothing digital with Classical music, and having the ability to differentiate between instruments on earbuds is something I don’t find as often as I would like. The 103s master the Classical genre with beauty.
I also like to turn to Classic Rock like the Beatles to listen for the guitars, pianos and vocals. There’s a nostalgia when listening to Classic Rock too, as the sound equipment to record in that era was not as clean as it is today. Listening to the 103s with my eyes closed brings me back to a time when I fell in love with music.
Those feelings the 103s generate with the high level of sound quality are why I am in love with them.
From Daft Punk, to Taylor Swift, to Carrie Underwood, you will love your music on the 103s.
If you’re wondering about loudness, the 103s get painfully loud. There are some of you who really like to blast your music, and the 103s can get to painful levels. The abundance of power is what pushes the 10mm drivers to sound so incredibly balanced, spacious and rich.
I am truly impressed with the sound reproduction the J&L 103 wireless earbuds produce, and given the price, I have no doubt you would too.
Battery, Bluetooth and call quality
I mentioned earlier that the J&L 103 wireless earbuds are powerful. I never listened to them beyond 75%, and I frequently pulled in over seven hours of playback before needing a recharge. It was pretty consistent to get over seven hours of playback over several weeks of usage.
Bluetooth quality is also important when it comes to wireless headphones. The 103s did not drop signal one time, no matter which pocket I carried my phone in. There are countless wireless headphones that do not get this feature right, and can ruin the overall experience due to music dropping out.
Call quality is spot on too. Most budget wireless headphones make call quality and the microphone a “throw-in” feature. Those budget headphones would probably be better served to leave out the microphone since no one wants to repeat themselves over calls. I know it sound too good to be true, but I even use the 103s for business calls. While I use my mother to test out call quality, using the 103s for work calls is the true measure of acceptance as I will not have poor call quality when it comes to my job as a chemist.
When you consider the build, materials, battery life, Bluetooth connection, call quality, price and most importantly sound reproduction, the J&L 103s are what I would call perfection. That’s a bold statement for anyone to make, but I’ll stake my audiophile reputation on it.
I’ve fallen in love with the J&L 103 Sports Bluetooth earbuds and have no qualms recommending them to anyone who has $40 to spare. Don’t waste your money on any other wireless headphones until you give these a try.