JBL Live Beam 3 review: a strong case for stellar earbuds that easily outlast the rest

 JBL LIve Beam 3 on starry blanket.
Credit: Future

JBL Live Beam 3: Two-minute review

There are lots of great options on our guide to the best noise-cancelling earbuds, but there's one feature that none of those excellent buds offer: a screen on the case. And the screen on the JBL Live Beam 3 is so much more fun than the display of its predecessor, because now you can select a lock-screen wallpaper from any of the photos stored on your paired smartphone, and the image will even flip so it stays the right way up (so all your friends can see it) when you snap open the case.

I still wouldn't describe it as a must-have – it still feels as if JBL could deliver greater more through this touchscreen, since it still doesn't present functionality that your smartwatch can, for example –  but given the fact that to tweak the volume by tapping the buds results in the loss of either playback control or ANC profile-scrolling (you don't have to sacrifice anything using the box), it's certainly useful. In addition, the lock-screen wallpaper personalization feature is a nice touch.

However, the real improvements here aren't to do with the screen. No, the real star here is the improved audio quality. It's typically Harman curve-esque and meaty – but in the best way. There's an expansive soundstage; there's dynamic agility; there's cohesion across the frequencies this time around.

Plus, battery life is excellent at up to 12 hours from the earbuds alone, minus noise cancellation, or 10 hours with it engaged (and nearer nine with adaptive ANC on –more on the efficacy of this later). The case, too, delivers three further charges, taking your total audio playback time up to a class-leading 48 hours. For clarity, Apple's priciest Pro-suffixed AirPods only deliver 5.5 hours with its top-tier Spatial Audio deployed, or a maximum of 30 hours including the case.

The JBL Live Beam 3 also boast a very well-rounded feature set, including auto-off when you remove one bud, a fit test, multipoint connectivity, plus a few novel bits and pieces – including "Personi-Fi", where a detailed hearing test of each ear enables you to better tailor the sound to your liking.

I wasn't convinced by the spatial audio profiles, which is a shame, since JBL has offered a total of three immersive soundscapes for music, movies and games. If you're expecting sonic articles in a three-dimensional space here, you'll be disappointed – and although the ANC is fine, it isn't about to challenge Sony or Bose in the supreme bubble-of-silence stakes. Yes, low-level constants are massaged (my microwave humming away didn't filter through, for example), but the sound of cars outside simply floating away wasn't quite there.

One truly valuable addition few competitors offer is something JBL is calling Smart Talk. It lowers the volume of your music and activates JBL's TalkThru mode as soon as you speak, then resumes to normal service either five, 15 or 20 seconds after you've stopped. It's a great little feature because you don't have to touch the buds to engage it  – for example, when someone in the office wants to know where that report is. And, of course, if you don't like it, it's easy enough to toggle it off in the JBL Headphones app.

The fit is great, the battery is seemingly never-ending and, honestly, the JBL Beam 3 quickly became my go-to earbuds for confident, banging, thumping bass – and given my qualms over the audio in previous stablemates, it's a big leap forward for JBL, for which I commend the company.

For the price, JBL offers a very reasonable sound-per-pound proposition here. Having said that, the price in the UK is currently £179.99 – not the initially reported £149.99. Nevertheless, the JBL Beam 3 still represent value for money, particularly if stamina is a priority in noise-cancelling earbuds.

JBL LIve Beam 3 on starry blanket
JBL LIve Beam 3 on starry blanket

JBL Live Beam 3 review: Price & release date

  • Unveiled January 2024 (but only available to buy from June 3, 2024)

  • Priced $199.95 / £179.99 / AU$249

The keen-eyed will note that the prices above mean the JBL Live Beam 3 (thus called because of the "beams", or stems attached) retail for $50, £50 or AU$100 cheaper than the screen-on-case-enhanced earbuds they effectively replace, the JBL Tour Pro 2.

The Live Beam 3 are actually one of three earbuds propositions with cases that JBL unveiled simultaneously in January 2024. The Live 3 range comprises the Buds, Flex and Beam, the latter of which we're reviewing here. The Buds 3 look most like standard earbuds; the Flex 3 are akin to the shape of regular Apple AirPods, with a stick design but no silicone tip that sits in the ear canal; and the Beam 3 are similar to Apple's AirPods Pro, with a stick design plus an in-ear fit and ear tips.

All three options boast JBL's smart screen case, True Adaptive Noise Cancelling, Bluetooth 5.3 with LE Audio, JBL Spatial Sound, LDAC Hi-Res Audio for compatible phones, multi-point connectivity, wireless charging, and six external mics to facilitate noise cancellation and to help with calls. Also, all are similarly priced.

There are a few differences to quickly scoot through: Buds and Beam are certified IP55 for water-resistance, while the Flex are IP54; the Buds and Beam have 10mm dynamic drivers compared to 12mm for the Flex; and the quoted battery life is up to 40 hours on the Buds, 48 on the Beam, and 50 on the Flex (for the buds and case combined).

A picture of a seal on the JBL Live Beam 3's lock-screen
A picture of a seal on the JBL Live Beam 3's lock-screen

JBL Live Beam 3 review: Specs

Becky Scarrott dancing, in a lock-screen on the JBL Live Beam 3
Becky Scarrott dancing, in a lock-screen on the JBL Live Beam 3

JBL Live Beam 3 review: Features

  • Excellent call quality features

  • Personal amplification and Personi-Fi add value

  • The case – you can't ignore it

JBL has thrown everything it has at these earbuds – and that's putting the charging case to one side for a moment, concentrating on the various audio augmentations and fixes instead.

Call-handling is ace, thanks in no small part to the numerous options you have available to enhance the experience, including Sound Level Optimiser, which balances the volume of the voice on the other end of the line; Sound Setting, with which you can increase the bass or treble of that voice, or keep things "natural"; Voice Setting, which is the same thing, but for your own voice; VoiceAware, which is a slider to control how much of your own voice you'd like to hear during calls; and Private Call Mode, which actually lets you remove one bud and use it as a mic, so you might lower your voice a little and keep the convo private. During tests, the majority of folk on the other end said that I sounded as if I was just talking on the phone – which certainly can't be said of every set of earphones I've ever tested.

This level of attention to detail continues across the board. You have six EQ presets or the option to create your own, plus Adaptive EQ for real-time adjustments, with the option of toggling on "Low Volume EQ" to boost highs and lows, even if you're listening at low volumes. There's even "Leakage Compensation", to sort the sonics if the tips you've fitted don't offer an optimal seal.

The ANC has similar scope. Deploy ANC (over Ambient Aware, TalkThru or off all together) and you can customize functionality by toggling Adaptive ANC – which adjusts the level of cancellation based on your surroundings – and Auto Compensation, which adjusts things based on your ear canal and wearing status once more.

But we're not done: if you switch Adaptive ANC off, you're presented with a slider that offers seven increments of noise-nixing, irrespective of your location. On paper, it sounds exceptional – and in reality it's good. The seventh level nixes most low-level thrums happily; it certainly doesn't color or negatively impact the presentation. Nevertheless, I think Adaptive is the way to go, because I felt it did a fair job of making adjustments when I was at the beach, on the street, and at home. Does it lower the noise floor in your noggin as deftly as the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds or the AirPods Pro 2 can? Not quite. And that goes for the JBL Beam 3's spatial audio profiles (movies, music or gaming have been supplied), too. Things feel a little warmer, more bass-centric and cosier for sure; but it isn't the eyebrow-raising, bullets-over-my-head performance I might have dreamt of.

That's the reason I knocked half a star off the score for this section, but I maintain that there's still so much here to love – and I haven't even spoken about Personi-Fi yet! This involves a lengthy hearing test of ever-quieter tones at various frequencies dealt to each ear (after an initial fit test). But it's worth it.

After the tests, you're presented with a written report, which offers a mini verdict on the compensation required for each ear and the option to "have a try" by toggling it on and off. Suffice to say, it's not just parlour tricks or fun graphics (although there is one); it does genuinely make the music ever-so-slightly more detailed, the leading edges of notes more impactful, and the overall presentation is layered with greater precision – to my ears, at any rate. I tended to deploy this, but leave spatial audio to one side when wearing the JBL Live Beam 3.

Lastly, to the case. I used it much more than I did when testing the JBL Tour Pro 2. It's responsive and far easier to navigate than the previous iteration, plus you can hide features you won't use in the app – the flashlight feature is fun, but it essentially just turns the screen a bright white; my iPhone's torch feature is better. I also really liked the lock-screen wallpaper. Yes, it might be the high-tech equivalent of a Polaroid sticker on your earbuds case; but so what? We're allowed to want that.

  • Features score: 4.5/5

JBL Live Beam 3's JBL Headphones app, three screen-grabs showing smart charging case settings
JBL Live Beam 3's JBL Headphones app, three screen-grabs showing smart charging case settings

JBL Live Beam 3 review: Sound quality

  • LDAC tracks are beautifully relayed 

  • Bass is resolute; treble well handled

  • Greatly improved audio 

No matter what you listen to, the JBL Live Beam 3 will sound rather good, but it seems a shame to listen to lowly compressed Spotify streams when Sony's LDAC (from a compatible device – a Sony Xperia smartphone, for instance) is on the menu with these JBLs. Apple Music tracks are handled with zeal and flair, as are my trusted Qobuz tracks.

Melissa Etheridge's' I'm the Only One is a bass-walking, axe-talking country romp. Etheridge's textured vocal is central and emotive in a mix that shines a light on each solo, riff or musical passage; it will have you dancing wherever you listen to it.

Baby Lasagna's Rim Tim Tagi Dim is a tough ask for the driver-snap, dynamic nuance and musical cohesion in any set of earbuds, but the JBL Live Beam 3 don't shy away from it. This is techno, and it can easily be muddied in lesser earbuds. Here, though,  I felt every cymbal as it darted from my left to right ear, but never at the expense of the vocal.

The JBL Live Beam 3 are able to unearth an extra ounce of detail through the strummed guitars and vocal in Noah Kahan's acoustic Stick Season, too, and the fact that I was tapping my foot along is proof that the timing here and agility through the low end is greatly improved over the JBL Tour Pro 2, which I felt were a tad treble-centric, even tinny on occasion.

The sound is typically JBL at its best again, and you love to see it – sonically, they're a big hit. Want big, exuberant sound that knows when to deliver large, but also when to pull back just a little, allowing the detail to shine through? That's the sonic recipe the JBL Beam 3 present – and I like it for the money.

  • Sound quality score: 5/5

JBL Live Beam 3, showing an incoming call, case held in a hand with red fingernails
JBL Live Beam 3, showing an incoming call, case held in a hand with red fingernails

JBL Live Beam 3 review: Design

  • Earpieces fit snugly and securely

  • On-ear functions require compromise

  • The case is very likeable

I found these earbuds easy to wear – despite my small ears. However, it's worth noting that the Live Beam 3's earpiece design does sit rather far into your ear canals. Those who find this type of fit claustrophobic – think AirPods Pro 2 – may want to look at JBL's other designs, although I can't vouch for those. Again, it won't be an issue for most, just worth noting.

The on-ear touch functions respond well and can be customised, but this does lead me to a minor negative: you need to ditch a set of functions. To explain, your command options are Playback Control, Ambient Sound Control, and Volume Control, but you have only two ears – and only two earbuds to assign jobs to. I often criticize earbuds that don't offer a way to tweak the volume of music without having to dig out a phone (or ask Siri); while the JBL Beam 3 do offer volume control, assigning that to the left earbud and Playback Control to the right meant I had to forego on-ear ANC. Yes, the touchscreen enabled me to quickly access the ANC, Ambient or TalkThru modes (although not the extra adaptive toggles), but at this level I don't think it's churlish to expect your earbuds to be able to handle all three – because other options, such as the Cambridge Audio Melomania M100, do.

However, that's where the criticism ends; because the case is very fun. Where the JBL Tour Pro 2 felt like a prototype, the JBL Beam 3 feel every millimeter a second-gen upgrade. They've been refined, made more sleek – and more svelte, too. Yes, the case is still deeper than your average case at 3.25cm (or just over one-and-a-quarter inches) thick, but the little lanyard spot on the top right (as you look at the screen) is quite delightful – because you've now got lock-screen wallpaper to show off.

The build quality of this case feels resoundingly expensive – and I maintain that Apple is watching from afar, to implement in future AirPods designs. And while the screen isn't an essential yet for functionality, the resolution, responsiveness and brightness – which can be adjusted; you get three levels – is spot on.

  • Design score: 4/5

JBL LIve Beam 3 on starry blanket
JBL LIve Beam 3 on starry blanket

JBL Live Beam 3 review: Value

  • Exceptional battery life; great sound

  • The classy finish feels expensive

  • Spatial audio performance is the only issue 

The JBL Live Beam 3's battery life, sound quality (with its smorgasbord of customisations), build and finish are more than worthy of the money here. And the noise cancellation will please all but the most picky of noise-nixers. Oh, and you also get a screen – which in no way affects the stellar stamina.

My only real gripes are the compromises relating to on-ear functionality, plus the somewhat disappointing spatial audio trio JBL offers here. If you're after buds that are great for movies, for example, I'd point you to the (much more expensive) Sonos Ace headphones, or the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds.

But given the competitive asking price of the JBL Live Beam 3 (the Bose alternative listed above cost $299 / £299 / AU$449, which is $100 / £120 or AU$200 more than the JBLs), there's so, so much still to enjoy for the money.

  • Value score: 5/5

Should I buy the JBL Live Beam 3?

Buy them if...

Don't buy them if...

JBL Live Beam 3 review: Also consider

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100
Another pricier option (although not as pricy as the Bose), but the ANC here is very good indeed – as is the sound quality. And to top it all off, you also get the option of Matt Berry on voice prompts (his "Waiting to pair!" is the best you've ever heard). No screen on the case, mind, and the overall aesthetic is far more shy and retiring.
Make your choice by reading our Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 review

How I tested the JBL Live Beam 3

JBL Live Beam 3 held in a hand with red fingernails
JBL Live Beam 3 held in a hand with red fingernails
  • Tested for two weeks; listened against the Cambridge Audio Melomania M100, AirPods Pro 2 and Bose QuietComfort Ultra

  • Used at work (in the office, walking through London, on a train), at home and on the beach

  • Listened to Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless tracks and Spotify on an iPhone 13 Pro, a Sony Xperia 1 V and a MacBook Pro

The JBL Live Beam became my musical companions for two weeks – after a thorough 48-hour run-in period (during which I loaded many lock-screen wallpaper options to the case).

They accompanied me to work on weekdays (walking brusquely to the station; on the London Underground network; at the office), and throughout a week in Dorset, with regular trips along the promenade and to the beach at low tide – which is a great way to test any wind-interference from mics during calls.

To better test the comfort levels and security of the JBL Live Beam 3, I wore them to the gym – and they certainly did not budge during training.

To check the audio quality across the frequencies, I listened to various playlists (spanning everything from classical to crunk) on Apple Music, Qobuz and Tidal, but also to podcasts and albums on Spotify – and YouTube tutorials (mostly about soldering sterling silver bezels to make jewelry from the sea glass collected at the beach, if you're curious) on my MacBook Pro.

I’ve been testing audio products for over five years now. As a dancer, aerialist and musical theater performer in another life, sound quality, fit and the user experience have always taken priority for me – but having heard how wonderful ANC can be when done well, I know what to look for.

Read more about how we test

  • First reviewed: June 2024