Jbuds Mini Review: Tiny Earbuds Are Great if You’re Okay With Big Compromises
Jlab’s Jbuds Mini earbuds make being small the big attraction.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are a lot of wireless earbuds out there. And in that vast sea of buds, most of them share, more or less, the same set of features. There’s active noise cancellation (ANC), maybe personalized EQ, touch or squeeze controls, a beefy charging case for keeping them juiced on the go.
Those are all really nice things to have, and once you have them, there’s really no going back — I love Nothing’s Ear 2 wireless earbuds and don’t have any current plans of jumping ship.
And consistency is great — the earbuds most of us use now are leaps and bounds better than the ones we used years ago. But all the sameness does make me yearn. For something different; for something interesting; for something...
As much as there’s a time and a place for a big screen or big, chonkin’ over-ear headphones, I’m an advocate of tech that doesn’t bog you down. That’s why I’ve always been a fan of the iPhone mini (RIP), even if it’s not as small as it should be. Or lightweight e-bikes like the tiny Jack Rabbit.
So naturally, when I saw Jlab’s Jbuds Mini — possibly the tiniest earbuds I’ve ever laid eyes on — I was immediately interested.
Unlike the iPhone mini, the Jbuds Mini are truly mini. I was immediately drawn to their comparison to an SD card and was happy to find that when they arrived, the press pictures didn’t lie. Here they are attached to my keys like you would attach pretty much any keychain. Let the smallness envelope you.
And as much as I am prone to liking small, cute things for the simple fact that they’re small and cute, my real reasons for gravitating towards tiny buds are a lot more practical. I hate cluttered pockets, and as someone who doesn’t like to carry a bag of any sort, having to shove a bulky charging case in my pockets — which are typically stuffed with a phone that’s too big for my liking, a wallet with too much stuff, keys, cigarettes, a lighter, and god forbid gum or something — is annoying.
I’m happy to report that on that front, the Jbuds Mini pass the size test with flying colors. Taking them in and out of my pocket is simple and I felt no discernible difference between shoving them in my pockets compared to shoving just my keys in there.
Plus, being able to freely and comfortably attach the buds to my keys gives me another superpower, so to speak: they’re always there. While I rarely forget to take my buds on long subway rides, stranger things have happened. But with the Jbuds Mini always at my side, my mission of commuting without subway riff-raff in my ears is basically foolproof.
Then there are the times when I’m walking to the store and just don’t feel like finding my Nothing Ear 2 wireless earbuds. No worries; I just grab my keys and I have earbuds by my side. Scooter rides are the same. Should I be scootering around Brooklyn with earbuds in? No. But if I’m going to live dangerously, this isn’t a bad way to do it.
There’s a reason why earbuds like Apple’s ubiquitous AirPods are the size that they are. Being beefier means bigger drivers, better battery life, and generally just more room to fit all the things that make premium earbuds premium earbuds.
As you might imagine — from the price and the size — the Jbuds Mini are lacking a lot of that. Firstly: they don’t have ANC. If you’re looking for a pair of buds that block out noise, these are not the buds for you.
They’re also quite small, and as a result, lack the same depth and clarity as buds that have bigger, roomier, and more specialized drivers. I’m going to be honest, if you’re comparing to a pair of premium earbuds like AirPods, these are definitely going to disappoint. And the sound quality / dynamic range? Well... let’s just say I’ve heard better.
Jbuds Mini, for better or worse, have touch controls as opposed to squeeze controls like the Ear 2 or AirPods. This, I assume, comes down to cold hard engineering. The Jbuds Mini, unlike AirPods, don’t have a stem, so cramming in squeeze controls for changing songs, adjusting volume, or playing and pausing, just isn’t an option.
The sensors on the buds are quite sensitive. That’s a good thing if you don’t feel like futzing around trying to skip a song you hate, but a bad one if you, say, go to adjust the buds in your ear and accidentally touch the volume all the way up (something that happened to me quite a few times while testing).
I am personally a fan of touch controls when they’re done right since they don’t require heavily manipulating a bud that can sometimes be precariously perched in your ear, but the reality is that touch controls rarely function how you want them to. Jbuds Mini are no differnet.
Hi-fi the Jbuds Mini are not, but I think if sound quality is of lesser consequence to you (read: someone who needs quick and dirty listening at an affordable price tag) they can’t be ruled out.
Again, the Jbuds Mini aren’t about being the best earbuds money can buy (or even the best deal), they’re about compromise. Sure, you’re not going to be blown away by the dynamic range, but if you want a low-footprint pair or earbuds to go running with — and not have to worry about losing an earbud (and a hefty sum of money) — while you’re moving around, well... maybe these are the ticket.
With life, as with gadgets, you often get what you pay for, and for $40 the Jbuds Mini give you less. That means less to shove in your pockets, and also, less to write home about. If you want AirPods, well, buy AirPods. But if you want tiny small, well, Jlab’s might just have you covered.