Review: JBL Reference 220 Earphones

by on May 21, 2007

Even with Apple’s “updated” earbuds, many users are not satisfied with the original equipment that comes with their iPods. Sometimes they don’t fit well, don’t sound as good as some alternatives, or get damaged or lost. No matter what, many people are looking for replacements, and JBL has stepped in with their own product, the $80 Reference 220 Earphones, riding the fine line between “consumer” and “audiophile” earbuds.

JBL Reference 220
JBL Reference 220 Earphones

JBL Reference 220 Accessories
JBL Reference 220 Earphones & Accessories

JBL Reference 220 Over-the-Ear
Over-the-Ear Attachments

JBL Reference 220 Chin-strap
Under-the-Chin Strap

First, although these earbuds have “reference” in their name, they most certainly are not neutral. Instead, you get something that’s slightly bass-heavy, but still has clear highs and mids. What you get is a good, solid sound, and won’t have to worry about messing with the iPod’s EQ settings.

Although the sound-quality of earbuds is important, what else does your $80 get you? Quite a bit, actually. Included with the earbuds (more on the design of them later), you get a carrying case, silicon ear inserts, foam ear pads, attachments to use the earbuds as over-the-ear headphones, an under-the-chin strap, a phono adapter, and an airline adapter.

The unique design of the earbuds allows them to be used as traditional earbuds, with either the silicone inserts or the foam ear pads. The ear pads are a bit on the awkward side, since the actual earbuds are rather thick. Fortunately, the silicone inserts (you get three sizes) fit much better and the sound quality is the same.

Although the earbuds can be used as just that—earbuds, they also can be used in other configurations. Unfortunately, these are better in theory than in execution. The grey silicone over-the-ear attachments fit onto the earbuds and allow you to clip the earbuds onto your ears. Although they ended up not being in the ear (thus, not having that sound-isolating “seal”), the sound was still pretty close to “normal” use, but a bit tinnier. The under-the-chin strap is a folding piece of plastic that fits onto the earbuds creating something that looks like an awkward stethoscope. This didn’t work at all and just felt clumsy. We would’ve rather seen a headband like the $15 Sonys you see at various retailers.

Other than that, the earbuds themselves are somewhat interesting looking. They are available in white or black and take some design cues from JBL’s Creature speakers. The cord is also a bit unique—rather than plastic or rubber insulation, you get a stitched fabric. This seems very durable (and after a few months of rigorous use did not look “dirty”), but the fabric does seem to carry noises caused by the rustling of the cables.

Overall, the 220s offer quite a bit for the money. The superb sound quality, lots of accessories (including some you probably won’t use), and great design translates into a pretty good choice if you get sick of Apple’s included earbuds.

The One-Sentence Verdict™

The JBL Reference 220 Earphones offer a great alternative to Apple’s stock earbuds, and shouldn’t put too big of a dent in your wallet.

Pros: Great sound, design compliments Creatures, cloth cord, lots of included accessories

Cons: A little heavy on the bass, some accessories not very useful

The Facts

4/5Product: Reference 220 Earphones
Company: JBL
Price: $79.95

This post has been filed in Reviews, Speakers/Audio