Years after the great audio jack massacre of the iPhone 7, true wireless earbuds have come into their own. Wireless headphones and “wireless” neckbuds (that still had a dangling cable between the left and right channels) were a dime a dozen, but true wireless was the real grail of all wireless audio.
Several start-ups promised the futuristic form-factor of two tiny earbuds stuck in your ears at an impossible price. These, of course, were impossible. The JBL Tune 120TWS, at SGD 149 (USD 99.95) pitches themselves at a very competitive price point: the AirPods, arguably the market leader, start at SGD 238. Online listings can even be found under SGD 120, although I would recommend against it with the widespread issue of counterfeits on online shopping sites.
As JBL’s cheapest true wireless earbuds, the JBL Tune 120TWS would be an extremely attractive option for those looking for value-for-money options while taking their audio game to the next level.
Unboxing and First Impressions
On the outside, the Tune 120TWS looks anything but cheap. It shares JBL’s characteristic design found on its Endurance line of fitness earphones.
Within, we find the included charging case, earbuds, two extra pair of ear tips, and trademark flat orange JBL cable. These are all held in place in a flimsy clear plastic insert – very much like those you’d find in dollar store purchases. I’d still say the Tune 120TWS would make a great casual gift, especially for teens and maybe even older parents.
The Tune 120TWS comes in black – purely black or with blue or green accents, and in white – purely white or with pink accents. With so many options, there’s definitely something for everyone, but I especially like the pure white option I received that had hints of grey.
Build and Ergonomics
The JBL Tune 120TWS, like most true wireless earphones, save the AirPods, are designed to be worn in-ear. The extra silicone ear tips help with finding the perfect fit, and as a long-time JBL user, the medium one already on the earphones sealed the deal – pun intended.
Made of solid and rigid plastic, the earbuds themselves were rather light. However, the weight is distributed a distance from the opening of the ear, which can cause the seal to be broken, especially when walking, running or turning my head quickly.
Another issue I had with the earbuds, in particular, was the low legibility of the marks for the L and R channels. Unlike every pair of true wireless earbuds I’ve tried thus far, both channels of the Tune 120TWS look identical when rotated, save for the orientation of the JBL logo, which can be a little confusing at times.
When worn, the Tune 120TWS delivers shockingly crisp audio. That’s only delivered when you achieve a perfect seal with the earphones, so be forewarned. It’s small enough to be unobtrusive, yet does not sit within the ear like the Jaybird Run or the Jabra Elite 65t. Instead, it protrudes a little from the ears and covers the tragus (that cartilaginous flap you press when you plug your ears with your fingers).
Personally, this visually inches toward obtrusive Bluetooth headset territory, but it’s really not that bad at all. I’m a stickler for appearances, you see.
Obtrusiveness seems to be a theme here. The included charging case is also significantly bulkier than the competition.
The case is definitely pocketable, but you would look like you’re smuggling a hockey puck.
To its credit, the case is impeccably built. Solid, unlike that of the much, much more expensive Jabra Elite Active 65t, and with a robust metal hinge – like the AirPods and unlike the Jabra and even top-of-the-line Sennheiser options.
It even takes a cue from the AirPods with its magnetic closure – the cherry on top of the cake. It snaps shut and pops open decisively with a flick of your thumb. That’s something you’d notice when rushing on your morning commute or when your off-hand is occupied with takeaway or a laptop bag on the way home.
The JBL Tune 120TWS lasts for about four hours per charge, with an additional three charges with the case for a total of 16 hours. That’s slightly under what I got with actual testing, and really is plenty for week’s worth of daily commutes.
The connection is fine in most situations but I encountered severe stuttering in a crowded cafe even after repairing and restarting both devices.
With its small size, the Tune 120TWS only accommodates a single button on either channel. That controls play/pause, next/previous, calls and summons the voice assistant.
And that’s all. The JBL Tune 120TWS doesn’t allow for fancy always-on Assistant, remove-to-pause or sport any ingress protection (IPXX) rating.
The JBL Tune 120TWS is an absolute shocker in this regard. Though the sound it delivers is far from audiophile-quality, the earphones dish out an absolutely fun listening experience.
The low end carries weight and power. Kendrick Lamar’s The Art of Peer Pressure had an energetic bassline with thumping bass drums. In SBTRKT’s Pharaohs, the pulsing synth rhythms throughout the track punctuate the song with percussive strength.
Similarly, mids have significant volume be it guitars or vocals. Podcasts sounded great on hour-long binges, but the earbuds performed equally well on vocal-centric songs like Carry on Wayward Son by Kansas. The vocal presence was front-and-centre, playing along well with the soaring guitar solo near the end. All-male acapella group The Persuasions’ take on The Beatles’ Oh! Darling came to live with great texture from raspy baritone to resonant bass.
For all its merits, the highs on the JBL Tune 120TWS, however, trade a bit of sparkle. Oscar Peterson’s instrumental rendition of Duke Ellington’s Take The “A” Train seemed weighed down by the stringed bass ostinato, where the ride cymbal sounded flat in comparison. Also, the upper register of the piano also sounded recessed.
The soundstage on the Tune 120TWS also punches above its weight. The live recording of the Eagles’ Hotel California sounded very spacious and life-like. Elvis Presley’s Fever had finger snaps that sound a metre away.
At SGD 149, the JBL Tune 120TWS will be an incredible performer for most. Especially for those who prioritise sound quality and enjoy a fun listening experience, the Tune 120TWS might even be a better option than several true wireless earphones that cost double.
However, everything has a trade-off, and my chief niggles with the Tune 120TWS were the poor connection in certain scenarios, not-so-ergonomic form-factor, and slightly large charging case. I didn’t like the micro USB port for charging either, but that’s also very subjective.