It’s hard for earphones to stand out in the $100 price range, but the JBL S100 does a laudable job and should grab the attention of any big bass fan seeking affordable in-canal earphones. At $99.95 (direct), the sensibly priced S100 doesn’t distort on deep bass tracks and brings some serious low frequency thunder to the mix. JBL offers two S100 options—the S100i (with a remote optimized for iOS devices) and the S100a (with a remote optimized for Android devices). Both models are $99.95. The S100 won’t appeal to purists, but bass lovers seeking subwoofer-like lows with (some) balance in the high-mids and highs should read on.
Editors’ Note: This review is based on the JBL S100a, the Android version of the headphones. Besides a slightly different in-line remote, the S100i is effectively identical.
Visually, there’s not much about the S100 that will knock your socks off. It’s only offered in white or black for both the Android and iOS versions, and the earpieces are simple and nondescript, with just the JBL logo to catch your eye. Each earpiece connects to a flat cord, with the inline remote control and mic just below chin level along the left ear’s cable.
There aren’t too many accessories, but each inclusion is sensible and useful. The S100 comes with three silicone eartip pairs in different sizes, one Comply foam eartip pair, a shirt clip, and a zip-up protective pouch. The Comply eartips will offer the most stable fit, but the silicone eartips are also comfortable and secure; they just block out less ambient noise than the Comply eartips do.
On tracks with powerful sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the S100 delivers some serious low-end rumble without distorting even at top (and unsafe) listening levels. At more moderate volumes, the S100 still brings more booming low end than a flat response pair would, but not so much that it’s unlistenable or woefully off-balance. Bass lovers will enjoy the S100 because it brings serious rumble, but doesn’t completely ignore the high-mids and highs necessary to keep the sound from getting muddy.
That said, if balance is your top priority, you’ll probably find the S100 is weighted a bit too much in favor of the lows. On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” his baritone vocals get a lot more added richness than they probably need. There’s still plenty of treble edge there to keep a sense of clarity, providing his vocals with a decent high-mid presence and allowing the guitar strums not to get lost, but the mix seems a bit too weighted towards the lows for anyone seeking an accurate listening experience.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the big bass is on full display. The deep bass synth hits on this track are delivered with subwoofer-like gusto. The attack of the kick drum loop could use more definition in the high-mids to help it slice through the mix, however, and even though it’s never a problem to hear the various vocals on this track over the dense mix, a bit more high-mid and high presence would have balanced out the ominous bass presence.
Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” actually sound pretty exciting through the S100. It’s not a sound purists will gravitate towards, but the higher register strings hold their own in the mix quite well—partially because classical recordings naturally favor the mids and the highs and often lack much in the way of low-end thunder. Here, however, the S100 adds some power to the lower register strings and percussion. The balance is more favorable here than on pop tracks that already have plenty of low-end to work with, and it’s a sound that many listeners will enjoy.
If you prefer more balance in your earphones, you have plenty of options in this general price range. Consider the TDK EB950 or the Jay t-Jays Three. If you want to spend less money but still want booming low-end in your mix, the SOL Republic Relays are a solid option, and the RHA MA150 is a truly inexpensive, decent-sounding pair. For $100, however, the JBL S100 offers a bass lover’s mix that doesn’t overpower, and a thoughtful array of accessories. This price range has several winners, but for lovers of deep low-end, the JBL S100 is an option worth considering.
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