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JBL Soundgear Sense: A Fresh Take on Open-Air Audio—First Impressions

nextpit JBL Soundgear Sense Test
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The Soundgear Sense is JBL's true wireless open-ear earbuds. If you're confused about the terminology, keep reading this hands-on review to understand how it works. Spoiler alert: it uses air!

JBL Soundgear Sense
JBL Soundgear Sense: All deals

In a nutshell

JBL is raising the bar with its new Soundgear Sense. The device's form factor is original; it's not something you encounter every day, as it features open-ear earbuds. Additionally, the brand has developed a technology called OpenSound, which utilizes air conduction.

The main idea here is to provide an immersive listening experience while still keeping you connected to your surroundings. However, despite the innovative concept, my initial experience didn't quite live up to that promise.

The JBL Soundgear Sense was released at IFA 2023 and will be available in black and white starting from the end of August 2023. While we don't yet have pricing information for the United States, it is priced at €149.99 in Europe and £129.99 in the United Kingdom.

JBL, Soundgear Sense earbuds, review
The Soundgear Sense is hooked up to your ear without entering your ear canal. / © nextpit

JBL Soundgear Sense design and build quality

The first thing that always catches my attention in a device is the design, and the Soundgear Sense impresses with a blend of a well-known form factor and a unique twist. The earbuds hook onto the ears without actually being plugged into the ear canal. At first glance, I was quite impressed .

JBL, Soundgear Sense earbuds, review
As the sound is transmitted through the air, as you can see here. / © nextpit

However, the more time I spend with them, the less comfortable they feel. Initially, I was concerned they would fall off my ears, but surprisingly, that hasn't happened. The Soundgear features a rotation mechanism that helps adjust the fit in the ears. However, JBL adopts a one-size-fits-all approach here, meaning your only adjustment option is the rotation mechanism.

JBL also offers a detachable neckband that is supposed to balance the weight at the back of your head. I've been using it for a few hours now, and I still can't understand why it's causing me such discomfort. It puts unnecessary pressure behind my ears, to the point that I've given up on using it.

JBL, Soundgear Sense earbuds, review
The touchpad on these earbuds are pretty large, so easy to use. / © nextpit

When it comes to the charging case, it's relatively hefty at 69.5 grams. This is understandable given the open-ear earbuds' large hooks. One interesting feature is its LED battery light indicator. Every time you open the case, you're immediately informed about its battery status. Based on my calculations, the charging case can recharge the earbuds up to eight times, which is quite impressive.

JBL, Soundgear Sense earbuds, review
In the charging case, you can see the battery status using an LED bar. / © nextpit

JBL Soundgear Sense performance

Since the Soundgear Sense uses air conduction to transmit sound, the ear canals are not obstructed. This means that there could be some audio leakage, exposing your music choices. However, JBL has done an impressive job here, as people would need to be very close to your ear to hear any sound coming out of the earbuds. So, your privacy is well-protected .

JBL, Soundgear Sense earbuds, review
JBL also offers a detachable neckband that is supposed to balance the weight. What do you think about it? / © nextpit

What is even more impressive about the Soundgear Sense is that even though it doesn't offer any ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) feature, when you are listening to music, you can't hear your surroundings. However, when you pause the audio, you don't need to remove the earbuds to start a conversation or pay attention to something else. In my opinion, this is remarkable. This feature doesn't work for podcasts or audiobooks though.

According to JBL, the device features "uniquely designed" 16.2mm drivers and a bass-enhancing algorithm. From the time I spent with it, I must say that the sound quality is quite good, with nice punchy bass and clear vocals.

JBL, Soundgear Sense earbuds, review
Does the JBL Soundgear Sense have an appealing design for you? / © nextpit

As for the JBL companion app, I have only good first impressions. It offers a nice overview of the earbuds and charging case battery status, and it's definitely educational when it comes to touch gestures like volume or playback controls. You can also set the audio mode such as video or audio quality.

However, what really enchanted me were the Equalizer profiles, of which there are five in total. While trying them out, I noticed that JBL also offers a very nice visualization of variations in Bass, Mid, and Treble. This more holistic approach to sound truly makes me happy.

JBL Soundgear Sense technical specifications

  Specs Table
Image JBL Soundgear Sense
Driver size
  • 16.2mm/0.638" Dynamic Driver
Power supply
  • 30 mm 5V =- 1A
  • 13.1 g per pc (26.2 g combined) / 0.029 Ibs per pc (0.058 Ibs combined)
Charging case
  • 69.5 g/ 0.153 lbs
  • 5.3 g/ 0.0117 lbs
Earbud battery type
  • Lithium-ion battery (70 mAh/ 3.85 V)
Charging case battery type
  • Lithium-ion battery (600 mAh/ 3.8V)
Charging time
  • 2 his from empty
Music playtime with BT on
  • Up to 6 hrs
Talk time
  • Up to 3.5 hrs
Frequency response
  • 20 Hz - 20 kHz
  • 32 ohm
  • 112 dB SPL@1 kHz
Maximum SPL
  • 90 dB
Microphone sensitivity
  • -38 dBV/Pa@1 kHz
Bluetooth version
  • 5.3
Bluetooth profile version
  • HFP 1.8, A2DP 1.4, AVRCP 1.6.2
Bluetooth transmitter frequency fange
  • 2.4 GHz - 2.4835 GHz
Bluetooth transmitter power
  • <10 dBm
Bluetooth transmitter modulation
  • GFSK, 11/4-DOPSK, 8DPSK
Maximum operation temperature
  • 45 °C

Early Verdict

Since this is only a hands-on, I didn't go in-depth with sound quality and battery tests. However, even though I'm not used to reviewing headphones and earbuds at nextpit, I'm an audiophile. That said, my first impressions are very good. The sound is pretty clear, and the JBL equalizer profiles are very noticeable and do an impressive job.

JBL, Soundgear Sense earbuds, review
The sound quality is pretty good for a device that offers an open-air design audio experience. / © nextpit

On the downside, though, the charging case is a bit big for my waist bag, and it's quite a challenge to fit it together with my iPhone 14 Pro Max (Huge). So the experience with Soundgear Sense is not really compact.

Furthermore, I'm also not thrilled with the ergonomics of it, as my ears hurt. Based on previous experiences, I know my ears will need to adapt to them, but again, I don't really experience this with all earbuds. So, for now, I'm considering it a product design failure.

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Camila Rinaldi

Camila Rinaldi
Head of Editorial

With over a decade of experience in tech product reviews, I’ve recently embraced the world of wearables and developed a passion for digital health innovations. While I am now deeply immersed in the Apple ecosystem, my enthusiasm for Android still burns strong. Formerly editor-in-chief at AndroidPIT and Canaltech in Brazil, I now share my insights with the US audience at nextpit. Beyond tech, I cherish my vinyl collection and believe exploring local cuisine is the best way to discover new places. Join me as I explore the fusion of technology and culture in our everyday lives.

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