JLab is introducing a new Bluetooth audio gadget designed to be clipped onto your existing glasses or sunglasses. The JBuds Frames are two modules with downward-firing speakers you position right outside your ears. They are part of a resurgent trend of open-ear audio that has usually been the domain of Bluetooth-enabled sunglasses and bone-conducting bands.
They’re retailing for just $50, which fits in with another trend: JLab’s history of offering surprisingly inexpensive headphones. Sometimes, those headphones outperform their price point and so the company is hoping it can pull that trick off again by undercutting Bose, Amazon, Aftershokz, and others. However, so far, there’s a fairly low ceiling on audio quality for open-ear headphones — so don’t expect audiophile quality regardless.
The JBuds Frames are two largish modules which clip to the temples of the glasses you already own. Unlike integrated solutions, there’s no attempt whatsoever to hide the fact that you’ve got headphones in your eyeglasses. They ship with multiple sizes of clips so they can fit to more sizes of glasses.
For audio, each unit has a 16mm driver that JLab says won’t be “heard by those close by.” That’s the basic premise of open-ear audio: although the audio is playing just outside your ears, it is directed in such a way that only you will hear it. You might not get the greatest fidelity, but your ears won’t be covered so you can pay attention to the world around you if you are out exercising.
The JBuds Frames have an IPX4 water resistance rating, so they should be good for the rain or sweat. They have buttons to control volume, accept or reject calls, and switch EQ settings. JLab says they can be used as a pair or independently, if you just want to attach and use one.
Battery life is rated at over eight hours of audio playback — and it ought to be good, given the size of these modules. Rather than coming with a charging case, they ship with a special cable that splits into two magnetic charging points.
I recently reviewed the Amazon Echo Frames and found having open-ear access to audio throughout the day to be really convenient. In theory, the JLab Frames would offer that same convenience without asking me to change my eyeglasses. There’s competition, however, in the form of the recently announced (and much more expensive) Bose Sport Open Earbuds, which rest on your ears instead of your glasses.
Both are going to be available in the early spring of 2021, so we’ll have a chance to test both of them out soon.