Review: JBL Reference 610 Wireless iPod Headphones - Macenstein

Review: JBL Reference 610 Wireless iPod Headphones

jbl 610Since the beginning of time, man has sought to cut the cable that attaches his iPod to his headphones. Primitive man used stone axes and crude cutting tools to smash the cables, but this often had undesirable side effects.

Luckily, today we have Bluetooth, the “stone ax” of the modern age. JBL has incorporated this modern marvel into their latest set of reference headphones (the 610), in an attempt to finally free man from the tangles of wires that killed off so many of his ancestors. So, how do they compare to stone tools? Let’s see.

jbl 610


The JBL 610’s are an “over the ear” style headphone, whose mid-sized cups are capable of completely covering the ears of all but the biggest freaks. While not billing themselves as “noise canceling”, their comfortable, padded ear cups do a decent job of eliminating room noise, and even worked well for me during a weekend of blowing leaves, easily canceling out the roar of my B&D leaf blower. On the side of the right ear cup are controls that can remotely control your iPod (or iPhone or Mac running iTunes) when connected via Bluetooth. These buttons allow you to adjust volume, play/pause/skip tracks, as well as enter “menu” mode (although odds are you’ll need to look at your iPod’s screen to do any sort of serious menu navigating). Since these controls are located on the cup, they take some getting used to in order to navigate solely by touch, but the most common (volume and pause) can be memorized fairly quickly. The overall build quality is good, although the buttons feel a little too “clicky” for my taste, but to each his own.

jbl 610

The 610 communicates with your iPod/iPhone via a Bluetooth dongle that hooks into your device’s dock port. It isn’t overly large, and it fit securely even while my iPhone was in its rubber Speck case. However, if you plan to keep your iPod in your pocket with the dongle connected, there’s a good chance it will occasionally get bumped out of position depending on how active you are. For my yard work test, I found moving the iPod to my back pocket worked great, and kept my iPod safe from unintentional bumps.

Because of their relatively large form factor compared to traditional “ear bud” or in-ear headphones, the 610’s really lend themselves to interior use, such as working at your computer, sitting at your desk, washing dishes, or cleaning around the house. The cups are comfortable, but large enough that you’ll likely not want to go jogging with them – although as I mentioned, I was able to do a full day’s yard work with the 610’s on a single charge, and found they did a great job keeping out the noise of various lawn machinery.


Ironically, going wireless adds an extra wire to the normal headphone equation. The 610’s come with a rechargeable battery that needs to be plugged in and charged in order to work with the Bluetooth module. If your battery is dead, however, JBL includes a headphone cable to connect the 610’s to your iPod the old fashioned way.

jbl 610

Of course, being Bluetooth headphones, you can use them with a wide range of bluetooth-aware devices. For instance, I was able to pair them with my MacBook via its built-in Bluetooth. Unfortunately, while you can use the 610’s with an iPhone via the included dongle, you cannot use the iPhone’s built-in Bluetooth to wirelessly stream audio to the 610’s (although the iPhone WILL discover them and attempt to pair). But that’s Apple’s problem, not JBL’s.

Sound quality

The most important thing in a headphone is of course how good they sound, and here the 610’s deliver a mixed bag. When plugged in via the audio cable, the headset sounds good, delivering a very nice range in tones for most music types, although it does lack somewhat in the bass department. Fiddling with the exact placement in relation to your ear drum works a bit to help this, but you’ll likely find you need to mess with some EQ settings to achieve better results. Their over-the-ear cup design also helps filter out ambient noise which is nice (and keep your ears warm in the winter). In general, the sound is good for the price, but does not blow away other $200 headphones.

The problem withthe 610’s arises when you decide to go wireless. When connected via Bluetooth, there are noticeable compression artifacts introduced into your music. It’s not horrible, but not great either, and since you are most likely starting out with compressed music files from your iPod to begin with, the slightly “tinny” echo that you occasionally hear is a bit of a disappointment. The compression is far more noticeable in “complex” songs with a lot of stuff going on. I found softer, acoustical songs like Alecia Keys sounded much better than something like a Franz Ferdinand tune with a more constant “wall of sound”. Apparently more instruments means more data that has to get transmitted, thus more compression must be applied. Or maybe not… that’s just my theory.

This is unfortunately a side effect of Bluetooth’s speed limitations, and not necessarily unique to the 610’s. The digital SBC (Single Bit Coding) that Bluetooth uses causes some of the data to be lost during transmission. JBL did their best to minimize this, but the compression is still there (although more noticeable in some songs than others). The loss in quality is the unfortunate trade-off you make for mobility with Bluetooth speakers, and one you should consider this before buying any Bluetooth headset.

7 Responses to “Review: JBL Reference 610 Wireless iPod Headphones”
  1. JS says:

    Absolutely amazing, isn’t it, that you cannot use the iPhone’s built-in bluetooth to connect to these. It’s very uncharacteristic of Apple, and very, very annoying.

  2. Robbie says:

    What DOES blow away the JBL 610? I have a new Itouch, 8 gig, I love it. It would be fabulous to have a wireless headset, but I honestly don’t know much about them. I tried the JBL’s at the mall, they sounded great, but I had to come home and do an Internet search to make sure there isn’t something even better out there. Is there a higher quality wireless headset that will work with my new Itouch?

    thanks for your time, I apprecaite it!

  3. Anju says:

    In case you guys haven’t heard, iPhone OS 3.0, which is coming this summer will enable A2DP on iPhones and 2nd gen iPod Touches (it has an unactivated Bluetooth chip).

  4. Francis says:

    I am in desperate need of a front picture of a person wearing these headphones. I also wanted to know, if they are too big for a women’s head? Thank you.

  5. Bluetooth Guy says:

    The iPhone 3.0 OS supports A2DP music streaming capability. This is only a software update to existing iPhones and iPod Touch devices. You don’t need the annoying attachments to iPhones anymore.

  6. Buffon says:

    Has anyone been able to use these with a Macbook? I was able to pair them with mine but it is telling me that there are no supported services, thus I can’t use them. Anyone out there that can help me?

  7. Johnx1 says:

    I bought one.Very Nice.

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