It’s not as fun to travel without noise cancelling headphones, but kids don’t often get them because of price. JBL’s Jr 460NC makes it possible, and for not too much money.
Kids headphones tend to be very same-same, offering bright or shallow audio amidst equally bright colours and small cup sizes made for small heads. It’s largely what we’ve come to expect, though we do like to be surprised.
And a few years ago, that’s exactly what happened, when JBL’s Jr 310 showed up, delivering the colours, but reasonably balanced sound, almost to the point that could put some adult headphones to shame.
In the Jr 310 BT, JBL had managed to create a great pair of wireless headphones for kids that made their music experience about as solid as it could get. We liked them so much, we awarded them a Best Pick in kids technology, because they’re that useful.
A couple of years on, JBL has upgraded things a bit and brought something that’s beginning to trickle down from the high end: active noise cancellation. With more families jumping on planes over the holidays, the addition makes sense, but does it work with JBL’s Jr headphones?
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Design and features
A little larger than the JBL Jr 310 we’ve seen and loved prior, the Jr 460NC are a slightly different pair.
While the 310 offer a flat and more on-ear style, the 460NC are bigger and fit around the ears. Smaller ears.
Ear sizes vary wildly, of course, but with the target market being kids, it makes sense that these circumaural-styled around-the-ear headphones are designed to do that, fitting snugly around an adult ear, which means they’re also surprisingly roomy for a kid.
Drivers in the headphones are sized to 32mm with three microphones to assist with talking through them and sampling the outside world for that whole ANC tech. There’s an audio limiter built into the cans designed to prevent the sound from being too loud, maxing out at 85 decibels (dB).
You’ll find support for Bluetooth multipoint in this pair, plus a 3.5mm cable if you want to plug directly into a sound source, and a limited number of buttons on one side, covering power, playback control, and a cute little happy face which is the button to decide whether noise cancellation is switched on or off.
Using the headphones is more or less just getting your kids to wear them and see if they can recall what the buttons do, which isn’t much. There are no volume controls and the only obvious button is the happy face, which turns noise cancelling on and off, and that’s it.
You can control the media by pressing the main button, with one button push pausing and playing, two pushes in quick succession going forward a track, and three quickly going back one. That’s about all pretty normal for a pair of Bluetooth headphones, though it’s not exactly kid-friendly.
Testing the JBL Jr 460NC with the Pickr Sound Test, which either you or your kids can hear for themselves, we’re treated to a surprisingly punchy sound experience that’s easy to get into.
While the Jr 310 were relatively balanced, the 460NC has more oomph in its delivery, something you can hear in electronic from Daft Punk, in pop from Carly Rae Jepson, or even some earthy and grunty rock tracks, as well.
The sound you get from the headphones comes out like JBL has boosted the bass, where the delivery is seeing the lows pushed harder than expected. It’s not so much warm, but rather oomph-y, and it’s a sound we suspect kids will like, though it can come to the detriment of tracks.
In Ariana Grande’s “Into You”, the lows sounded as if they were having their detail squeezed out of them, almost as if a mortar and pestle was breaking it apart. The punchy sound was more balanced in the likes of Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”, where the punch didn’t overpower the music, but rather delivered comfortably alongside.
It’s almost as though JBL has found a comfortable mid-point between bassy headphones and headphones for kids, and many will definitely be happy.
Modern music shines through these cans and young ears, punching reasonably hard in some songs, while older tracks manage to strike a surprising balance at times. David Bowie’s “Starman” is surprisingly firm and clear, likely because the bass isn’t overly enhanced, and the same is true in tracks we tried from The Beatles and Dave Brubeck.
Not every child is going to listen to older music styles, but if they do, they’re in for a treat. With less modern music, these headphones perform surprisingly well. Our jazz-loving six year old will dig them.
You also can’t drive them particularly loud, but that’s also a feature rather than a limitation.
Like other headphones for kids, JBL supports a maximum volume of 85dB, which from our tests is plenty loud. Push the volume up that high and the sound will likely feel like it’s being crunched down, but your kids shouldn’t need to push it too loud, either.
These headphones sound totally find at 70 to 80 percent for our ears, and if kids need to push them louder, at least the decibel limiter means they won’t go deaf. That’s good news for parents.
JBL’s addition to the lineup with active noise cancellation won’t deliver a “best of” ANC experience the way other headphones might, though.
The addition is more just a beginning noise cancellation tech, quelling some repeatable noise you might get from a bus or plane, but it’s still going to let quite a bit in.
Sitting on trains moving across Sydney, the whirr of the train had no problem making its way past the headphones in the slightest, and neither did nearly anything else.
In short, you’re not buying the JBL JR 460NC for the inclusion of active noise cancellation. It’s more just a handy addition to keep kids happy mid-flight, dulling some of the aircraft noise ever so slightly.
The battery life could be an assistance, too, offering up to 20 hours to work with, though you also get a 3.5mm headset jack in case it runs out.
While 20 hours isn’t incredible for noise cancelling headphones, it’s also not bad all the same. The most impressive battery life for a pair of ANC headphones runs to about 50 hours, with the premium Sennheiser Momentum 4 and the less expensive Soundcore Space Q45.
Neither headphone sits in the same price range as the JBL Jr 460NC, which makes a difference.
In Australia, the JBL 460NC will cost $129.95 RRP, though street pricing sees the headphones closer to $100 if you look around, making them positively inexpensive ANC headphones.
Granted, the noise cancellation isn’t stellar, but it’s also not meant to be. For the price, you’re getting basic active noise cancelling tech made to help with aircraft noise, as opposed to the AI-enhanced ANC found in more premium headphone and earphone models today.
What needs work?
That limited amount of ANC range means the noise cancelling tech is one of the things that could be improved on these headphones, as it feels entry level without a whole lot of improvements we’ve seen from noise cancellation.
Forget about blocking a lot of engine sound on buses or trains, because these let in quite a bit. You can tell JBL has mostly geared the 460NC for aircraft, which we guess is the point.
As good as its previous junior headphones have been, they weren’t designed to deal with inflight rumbling, and these are. That is largely the main reason they seem to exist.
It’s certainly not for any of the tweaking or customisation you might expect from any other pair of JBL headphones, as the Jr variety don’t support the JBL app. You might have it already on your phone from another pair of JBL headphones or earphones, but it won’t matter; these do not talk to the app. They’re app-less.
They’re built to help your kids survive an inflight engine with an amplified sound. That’s about it.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
That is totally fine, of course. Combatting engine noise is the very point of active noise cancelling headphones, it’s just that ANC gear tends to do a whole lot better these days than simply dealing with aircraft noise.
For aircraft and flying, the JBL Jr 460NC make a lot of sense, especially if your kids have ever complained about hearing the low rumble of the plane through what they’re watching. You know it all too well as an adult, and before noise cancelling headphones turned up, you were probably complaining about the exact same thing.
This is exactly what JBL’s Jr 460NC aim to quell. They’ll cut back on engine rumbles and leave kids immersed in their digital world.
You may find you need to take kids out of the headphones every hour or two, simple because the pressure from the around-the-ear design can get a little tight — every ear and head is different — but if you want to seal your kids in a bubble of sound just like you might with a better pair of ANC headphones, JBL’s Jr 460NC might have your kids in mind.