JBL Syncros S400BT: Close to Syncros-nicity

Ah, Bluetooth. The desire to cut the cord has led to a market flooded with a dozen new wireless headphone options in the last few months. The latest to enter the fray is JBL, with their Synchros S400BT: a touch sensor controlling, LED glowing, aptX encoding, Bluetooth 3.0 stereo over-ear headphone. With all those bells and whistles, I just had to give them a try. How would they measure up?

First off, nobody can deny that the materials in the build of the S400BT feel solid. A metal headband connects to substantial-feeling textured plastic earcups and supple/squishy earpads. They fold up nicely, and fit in a relatively small case. The whole design feels smooth and polished in your hands. Even the LEDs fade in and out rather than blink clunkily. Each earcup has a glassy circular JBL emblem, and the left one serves as the touch-sensor. It’s also rimmed with those aforementioned LEDs, so each touchpad swipe causes the ring of soft lights to glow in response. Not that you can see them, if you’re wearing the headphones.

This is where the problems with the overall concept start to reveal themselves. The lights are cool, I suppose, but what’s the point if you never seem them? I mean, they’re on the side of your head, well out of view. I guess if you want other people to check you out while listening to something...? Or you listen to music while facing a mirror? Regardless, it’s the sort of thing that seems silly when you really consider it fully. Also, that touch pad is weirdly sensitive. Swipe too much on an angle and rather than altering the volume, you change tracks. Bump it when you adjust the headphones on your noggin, and you stop the music altogether. Or start it. Or, make a call. Or… you get the idea. It’s a learning curve, to be sure. It’s not a deal-breaker, but if you are someone with large hands, you might find yourself frustrated trying to get the S400BT to do your bidding. Another issue is that the internal microphone is not the best when making phone calls. While you will hear your caller clearly, they may have a difficult time understanding you. So don’t plan on making important calls through the the headphones.

Another quibble is with the proprietary charging cable. It’s 1/10th” phone to USB. I tried to do a quick search on the JBL site to see where I could get a new one should I lose the cable that’s included, but didn’t have much luck. I’m sure they have it available, but it’s not readily accessible, and not something you can just snag at a local Radioshack. Again, not a deal breaker, but it’s small things like this that make the difference between good and great. And, this is a small thing, but the earcups stick out in a Rosie-the-Jetsons’-robot-kinda way. Does that bother me? No, but if you are someone who likes other people to watch your headphone lights glow, maybe that visual will bug you.  

Anyway, all of that aside, how do they sound? Well, they are by no means flat in response. The highs and low end are boosted significantly; not in an offensive way, but the S400BT definitely are not going to be everyone’s sonic cup of tea. For those sensitive to higher frequencies, female voices as well as snare hits could be a bit too much at higher volumes. The bass is also loud in the mix, which some people really like, but also greatly changes the overall balance of pop, electronic, hip-hop, or anything with an already intense bass line. That said, if you find yourself increasing the high and low faders on your EQ, these might be right up your alley.

In general, the Syncros S400BT are decent headphones. They’re built well, have a distinctive sound (though geared to a specific taste), and have some really neat features that you aren’t going to find in many other offerings on the market, especially in this price range. I suppose the collection of small issues I have may sound like I’m being a tad hard on them, but I think its because they came so close to being fantastic. The ideas are there, the materials are there, and with a few small tweaks, I think they could easily be a favorite. JBL is on the right track, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

The JBL Syncros S400BT are available on the JBL site for $229.95.