When I first popped the Everest Elite headphones on my ears I was smitten. Granted, I was a bit overwhelmed among the chaos and sleep deprivation of IFA, but it seemed like JBL might have finally cracked the Bluetooth headphone.
Plenty of companies have hacked away with varying levels of success, but few have managed to find that perfect balance between sound quality, comfort, pricing, and range. After tempering my expectations a touch, having just taken Quincy Jones' gaudy $1,500 AKG N90Q cans for a spin under the same tent (AKG and JBL both falling under the Harmon headphone megalomerate), I was duly impressed, and the company agreed to send out a pair as soon as they were finished baking.
The Everest Elite 700 are the aesthetic antithesis of Jones' headphones—and a lot of headphones currently lining store shelves (I'm looking at you, Dr. Dre). There's nothing flashy about them. They're not shiny or brightly colored and they don't affect a retro look, though I wouldn't go so far as to call them utilitarian, because they're actually not bad looking.
The 700 series is limited to black or white—the two most universal headphone colors, really. The model JBL dropped off with us is a matte black. It's a tasteful design, one that I felt equally comfortable with sporting on the street and at work.
The band is padded and collapsible, folding at the joint where its ear cups extend. The band itself is quite malleable and the headbands fold down into a fairly compact size that fits nicely into the included travel bag. In spite of all of this, the headphones still have a good, solid feel. And at 10.7 ounces, it's extremely portable at that.
The ear cups themselves, interestingly, stick out slightly from the band, though there's no actual articulation at that point. I should note here that, prior to testing a final retail unit, I was using a preproduction model that seemed to be experiencing a connection problem at that point, resulting in some nasty static. You can't really dock a product for preproduction woes, of course, but it's something to look out for, if you tend to be rough on your devices.
For all of their understated good looks, the Everests do still sport giant JBL logos on the ear cups—but such branding is pretty tough to avoid on consumer headphones in this class, and besides, the dark gray letter isn't too distracting on a black background.
The right ear sports two ports—microUSB for charging and auxiliary for hardwiring. The former, unfortunately, is smaller than standard, so your existing cables might not work with the thing. On the rear of the cups are two pairs of buttons—volume on the left and power/pairing and an Ambient Aware button, which toggles through different levels of noise cancellation to help keep wearers a bit more aware of their surroundings. The controls take some getting used to.
This is arguably the most important factor in headphone shopping aside from sound. I've been wearing the Everest Elite a lot since I started testing. Like a lot, a lot. At work, cleaning the house, taking the train. I can attest to the fact that these are some damn comfortable headphones.
The leather padding on the ear cups is big, soft, pillowy, and large enough to fit my ears comfortably inside. I've thus far been able to wear them for long stretches without discomfort—an issue that I tend to grapple with among over-ear headphones. This is helped along with the Everest's light weight and additional padding along the top headband.
For those who prefer to let their ears breathe a bit, the 300 on-ear line offers all of the same amenities in a slightly smaller (and less expensive) form factor. If you're looking to shield your ears from the harsh outside world, the 700s provide excellent pillowy protection.
Slip these bad boys on, hold down the power button and the active noise cancellation triggers like your outer ear is being vacuum-sealed. The noise cancellation does a good job canceling out ambient sound when coupled with the all-encompassing ear cups. It's not the best noise canceling I've encountered on similarly priced headphones, but it does a solid job drowning out unwanted noise and will certainly do the trick on a long flight.
Though if you find yourself wearing the headphones, say, on a city street, a button on the rear cycles through a trio of different noise-canceling settings for improved ambient awareness—the same effect can also be accomplished through JBL's mobile app. Or you can just shut off noise canceling entirely.
Set to default, the headphones sound great. The 700s offer a solid mix of levels, not relying too heavily on bass like some of the competition (often compensating for other things). Even at high, permanent hearing loss volumes, the signal is clear.
The app also features JBL's proprietary TruNote calibration, which uses internal mics to determine the space and acoustics of the wearer's inner-ear. Borrowed from the company's Harman line, the feature activates with a tap, sending a sort of zapping sound, calibrating the sound to match the landscape. I can't speak to JBL's claims to the science behind the technology, but the music does seem to take on a more balanced distribution once the feature is enabled.
For those who need a little more in the way of customization, the app features three presets: Jazz, Vocal, and Bass. For most music, however, I found that the default did the trick. There's also a custom feature, which lets users create their own custom defaults with 10 different frequency sliders.
A JBL rep told me the company was considering adding more settings to the app, but was fairly noncommittal. Hopefully the company takes a page from Parrot's book and offers up more presets tailored to different genres—and perhaps even settings designed by musicians themselves.
The built-in microphone also performed admirably on calls, though clarity did reduce substantially outside a controlled environment, and folks on the other end of the line reported instances in which the headphones picked up background conversation and in-store music more clearly than my own voice, so you might want to keep the calling inside.
As for battery, JBL's numbers promise 15 hours of playback, a healthy chunk of time. And, indeed, I found I was able to get through a few days of standard usage, so they ought to get you through a long plane flight, no problem. The life is also helped along by the Everest's auto-shut off feature, which powers them down after a few minutes of inactivity.
The JBL Everest Elite 700s aren't without their faults, and at $299, they're priced toward the higher end of the Bluetooth headphone spectrum, along with the industry-standard Bose QuietComfort 25. But between the sound, comfort level, and high-end build quality, they're among the best pairs of over-ear Bluetooth headphones in their tier.