JBL Reference 510 Headphones

The Reference 510 produces some great sound, but noise cancellation isn't that great.


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JBL Reference 510 Headphones

JBL is now another regular at the Tech2 AV party that I hold thrice a week at the Tec2 labs. I 'm hoping to review all their stuff, by and by – mostly new, but also some old classics. As a brand JBL has always impressed; only rarely have I encountered the occasional flaw.

The Reference 510 noise canceling headphones has an active circuit, which means there's a dedicated circuit (a small one though) that does the task of dissolving pesky neighbors into silent oblivion. I used to flip them the bird, but as that doesn’t seem to help these days, noise cancellation sounds like a cool alternative.

 JBL Reference 510 Headphones

Bose is the real McCoy in this field with its range of Quiet Comfort stuff, but price-wise it offers no comfort. Logitech, Seinnheiser and some others have jumped on the bandwagon too and are riding this new marketing wave called noise cancellation, but to be fair the technology does seems to work. Let’s see how the JBL Reference 510 fares.

Design and Features
Design is something that represents the era you are in, especially with tech products. These supra-aural (sitting on the ear, rather than enclosing it) headphones look ultramodern, with black and dark metallic lead providing visual stimulation. The headband, noise cancellation remote unit, wires and driver cups are all black, with a look that can only be described as sexy. The small patches of lead enhance the aesthetics, with a mild luster and smooth finish.

The earphones lead out into a set of three juxtaposed wires: two for the stereo signal and one that goes into the isolated remote unit. This unit features an on/off slider switch that does precisely what these headphones are sold for: cancel noise. The unit also has a clip to attach somewhere if you like. JBL logos are visible in three places; one on the unit and one on each ear cup.

The unit comes with a couple of converter jacks, including a very useful EP-to-Phono (small to big) jack. Also included is a cool pouch.

The headphones are a predictable 32 ohms, with 100mW of power. The sensitivity is medium to high at 110 dB SPL at 1 mW. Frequency response will appeal to dogs, as it is way beyond our limits at 12 Hz-28 kHz .The most important feature is the noise cancellation level, which states a 15 dB reduction above 1.5 kHz.

All plugged in, we were ready to go. I first put on the headphones noise canceling circuit solely, that is without music, to see what it can do. The noise defnintely reduces, but not to the max level. It's good for continuous sounds with more lows, as the circuit does negate those waves. After all, theoretically it is simpler if the waveform is continuous.

Speech and other material with transients cannot get eliminated, though they do get filtered. Another thing that causes it to lose a half mark is noise (ironic or what?) The circuit is a bit noisy, and if you are unfortunate enough to have discerning ears, it will irritate you.

When the music is on, however, it’s a different story. That’s when JBL gets down to what it does best: produce sound. The spectrum is nice and present, with high clarity levels in the vocals and mid intensive instruments. Bass and its related thump is there too aplenty. When the circuit is switched on, the sound remains pretty much the same, which is another plus point.

If you are looking at using these for music they can be very good. But if noise removal is your prime obsession, they are not likely to prove as useful. So it’s a bit of a Catch 22. At Rs 7,950, these headphones are priced quite competitively, and are definitely cheaper than the other brands mentioned in this article.

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