The Jabra Vox is a well-designed subwoofer disguised as a pair of earphones. That’s hyperbole, but only by a little; these lightweight, secure-fitting earphones are some of the bass-heaviest we’ve ever tested. It’s not that other pairs can’t match the low frequency output of the Vox, it’s that the Vox doesn’t match the low frequencies with equal boosting of high-mids. Thus, certain genres can sound quite muddy or boomy, while others, like much electronic and pop music, sound like the low frequency assault bass fiends crave. If you’re seeking a well-balanced pair, or, ironically, a pair that puts the emphasis on vocals, the $99.99 (list) Vox isn’t it. However, for certain music types, it will appeal to bass lovers.
The Vox is well-built and well-designed, with a thick cable that is tangle-resistant and earpieces that fit very securely and comfortably. Each earpiece is small and lightweight, covered in rounded black matte plastic with a red stripe near the wire and the Jabra logo on a separate metallic stripe that runs up the earphone. Along the right ear’s cable, there’s an inline remote control and microphone for Android and Apple iOS devices. One nice design touch is two low-intensity magnets built into the left and right ear cables—this allows you to snap the two earpieces’ cables together for easy storage.
Using the remote with my iPhone 4S was simple, and call clarity was about what you should expect from a $100 earphone pair—nothing extraordinary, but your call partner will understand you, and you them. The Vox ships with three pairs of silicon ear tips (small, medium, and large) and a small snap-shut carrying pouch.
A free Android and iOS app, Jabra Sound, is available for download and designed specifically for the Vox and two other new Jabra headphone pairs. Unfortunately, like nearly every free audio app for headphones or earphones, it’s more or less useless. Your phone probably already organizes your music for you, so the only reason to use the Sound app is to access the Dolby Digital processing included with it, and you shouldn’t do that. Dolby processing may be nice for movies and home theaters, but it is no way necessary to run your already-mastered music through more signal processing. The sound quality has nothing to gain, and everything to lose. Processing often sounds flat-out bad, seemingly adding significant low frequency rumble artifacts to quieter tracks, especially classical music.
The Vox was tested without the Sound app, which is optional and didn’t do much for the earphones’ audio perfromance. On tracks with deep bass, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Jabra Vox can get quite loud. At these unsafe listening levels, it never distorts, though I got a sense that just a smidge more volume would send it over the edge. It’s not really a big deal, however—you can’t (or shouldn’t) listen at these unsafe levels. At very high, but less dangerous, volumes, the bass is powerful, boosted, and distortion-free.
The bass boosting is going to be a deal-breaker for anyone looking for a fairly accurate listen—it sounds just fine on electronic tracks with throbbing bass, but apply the Vox’s sound signature to Bill Callahan’s vocals on “Drover,” and there’s trouble straight off. His vocals already have a nice amount of natural low-mid, baritone presence, so adding the extra lows pushes his voice into Barry White territory, which sounds kind of ridiculous coming from anyone not named Barry White. There’s very little sculpting or boosting in the high-mids to help balance things out, and Callahan’s voice gets lost in a muddy mid-range section. The constant drumming pattern in the background gets so much bass boost that it moves to the forefront and contends with his voice for your attention. Even if you are a bass fiend, you still need some high-mids boosting to help the rest of the mix maintain its definition.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” again we have very little presence in the high-mids. Since none of the vocalists are occupying the lower range Bill Callahan’s voice does, it’s less of an issue for vocal clarity, but the bass boosting kills the balance of the mix. This is booming, throbbing low end with very little high-mid or high frequency presence to match it. I heard some boosting in a very specific area of other high mids that can make Kanye West’s voice sound a bit overly sibilant, but mostly the high-mids and highs take a backseat to the thunder. The sheer level of power the Vox gives to the sub-bass frequencies is impressive—I’ve never heard this song sound as bass heavy as it does on these earphones.
Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” sound like film scores with lots of EQ and sculpting. The lower register strings receive a heavy dose of low-end, but the bowing of all the strings retains its crispness, primarily because these are the frequencies that stand out the most already on a less bass-boosted system—they need less help in the high-mid range than other tracks since they have less natural deep bass to compete with. The large drum hits at the end of this track sound like King Kong dribbling the world’s largest basketball.
Overall, electronic music and classical music seem to fare the best with this sound signature—the former tends to handle added bass response quite well and while the latter doesn’t sound like the mix engineer intended it to, it has less serious deep bass content for the boosting to mess with. You may still hear some huge drum sounds in a classical track on the Vox, but the overall balance will not be disrupted like it is on the Bill Callahan track.
Bass fiends, you know who you are. It’s quite possible you’ll love the sound of the Vox, though I feel it’s missing the high-mid sculpting you may not realize you also crave—it’s what gives kick drums their punchy attack and vocals the ability to stay out in front, even when there’s a fat, deep bass synth part to compete with.
If you like a healthy amount of bass, but want to match it with a bit more crispness, the Bowers & Wilkins C5 In-Ear Headphones are a good bet at a much higher price. In this price range, the Jays t-Jays Three offers solid bass, but better overall balance with the highs, as well. If the big bass turns you off, and you’re looking for a crisper sound signature, the Shure SE215 is a solid bet—and even features a detachable cable, a rarity for earphones in this price range. Finally, if you’re just looking for a far less expensive option that doesn’t completely give up on bass, the Jays a-Jays One+ is a decent affordable pair.
For $100, the Jabra Vox is a well-constructed, secure-fitting, powerful pair of earphones, but its sound signature veers pretty far from reality. This pair is worth your consideration if you’re a serious bass lover, but there are other options with more balance that should suit you well, too.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc