We review the Jabra Rox!
Jabra made a name for itself by producing some of the best Bluetooth (BT) voice-call headsets with superb build and call quality. For music listening, I have also been relying on a couple of Jabra stereo BT headsets for the greater part of the past decade. Our Jabra BT-320S and BT-3030 each weathered many generations of mobile phones and are both still in active use, which is perhaps the best testament to their durability and build quality.
The appeal of those two Jabras is that we didn’t have to rely on the less-than-stellar-sounding drivers that they came with, since we could use any of our favorite earbuds or even headphones that use a 3.5” plug. It isn’t exactly cutting the cord, but at least we didn’t have to bring our phone or media player out in the open when commuting or jogging.
The recent slew of Bluetooth “sports headsets” turned our head and lured our ears though. Here now are BT units where the use of wires are kept only to the very short ones connecting each earpiece together. And they finally sound good, if not great. Most of them that sound great, though, still look and feel like two heavy mono voice-call headsets strung together. The smaller ones, on the other hand, still leave a bit to be desired in the sound quality department.
And then came the Jabra Rox Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds.
While having similar features, the unit isn’t included in Jabra’s lineup of sports earbuds. Its name also points to what is probably its intended focus: sound quality.
So does the Jabra Rox Wireless manage to live up to its name? Read on…
- “Immersive sound with wireless controls”
- Battery-saving power magnets
- Splash- and dust-resistance
- NFC pairing
- 4 sizes ColorCore EarGels (silicon tips)
- 3 sizes EarWings (ear hook stabilizers)
- Dolby sound enhancement through mobile app
Solid construction protected from the elements
The Jabra website claims that “the Rox Wireless is protected against dust and water with its solid steel construction.” The steel parts aren’t really visible, as most of the outer shell looks to be made of hard plastic and rubber, with brushed metal accents on the backs where the USP magnets are housed (more on this later). But there’s no denying the sturdy build and quality materials that went into the design. The unit is IP52 certified, which means it’s drop-, strength-, dirt-, temperature- and humidity-tested. At 97 grams (0.67 ounces) it’s also among the lightest stereo BT headsets.
The earbuds may seem a little large compared to usual wired ones, but definitely smaller than the prevailing “sports” designs. The size is on par and maybe even slightly smaller than wired IEMs (in-ear monitors) that use double dynamic drivers, but with a rounder shape.
They’re connected by a 55cm (around 1.7ft) cord that’s flat enough to prevent tangling but still a bit round due to the thickness and quality of the materials used. Approximately 5.5cm down the cord from the right earbud is the inline remote control module. Distance between the three buttons is good, as is tactile feedback. The location on the cord would probably take some getting used to, as it is a bit close to the right earbud. This is a good compromise as any lower and it would probably be situated almost behind your neck, unless they made the cord a bit longer – which we don’t really want.
The angled design counters the size and weight a bit for greater comfort. But then this removes the possibility of switching the left and right buds if ever you want to have the remote on the left — unless you prefer to wear your buds with the cord circling over-the-ear style, which is possible only if you switched the left and right…but then you can’t have that with the remote on your right.
Over-the-ear style will also affect the performance of the microphone, which isn’t on the inline remote control module, but on the bottom part of the left earbud, right before the stem. We appreciate not having the microphone brushing against skin or another part of the cord when making calls on the move, but we feel that the placement of the mic compromises call quality on the other end — the only real drawback of the Rox Wireless, albeit an important one.
The stem of the left earbud is much longer than the one on the right, probably due either to the microphone components, or maybe the antennae module is placed there, or both.
The back panel of the left earbud can be opened to reveal the micro-usb charging port.
Designing convenience into the user experience
The Jabra Wireless package comes with four pairs of silicon tips: L, M, S, XS. The small sized ones are bi-flanged. Also in the box are three size pairs of ear hook stabilizers, a USB cable (for charging), a FitClip attachment (use if you want to tighten/shorten the cord further), a protective carrying bag, guide manuals and warranty certification (Australia only)/product registration, and a flyer for the Dolby enhancement app.
The bag, while pretty, has a fiddly drawstring and offers not much in the way of protection, but is a carrying convenience and better than nothing.
Jabra didn’t include Comply ear cushion tips in the selection, but chances are you’ll find one of the ColorCore EarGels enough to provide a combination of comfort and seal for the best possible sound isolation and sonic reproduction.
In our case, the large sized EarGels provided the best sound and comfort. They didn’t fall out, even while running. So I didn’t really see any need for the ear hooks. But we found that there would be days when we didn’t want the sound isolation to be so total, especially when commuting. The large ones didn’t really lend themselves to being placed just slightly inserted and not all the way inside our ear canal. This is where the ear hooks came in handy.
Jabra’s EarWings aren’t the usual ear hooks that you apply to the cords when wearing over-the-ear, rather they’re fastened onto the buds themselves and then hooked onto the inner curve of your earlobe. It feels strange at first, but if you find the right size combination of EarGels and EarWings, they sort of disappear after some acclimatization. They do become uncomfortable after an hour or so, especially when used in the gym, but then you only have to move them a bit back into the best position.
Unique Selling Proposition
A feature found only in the Rox Wireless is very convenient and smart that we wonder why no one else has thought of this before. It’s also very simple: The presence of magnets on the backs of the buds allow you to wear them necklace style when not in use. When touched together, the magnets switch the unit off, saving battery. When pulled apart, it switches back on. Reconnection takes less than two seconds, even with two devices simultaneously connected.
Beware especially when commuting though, the magnets have just the usual attraction force, which means a snatcher can take it easily off your neck, or a bag or jacket hastily taken off may force it off you if you’re not too aware.
Also, when stashed inside your bag, they may easily separate and switch back on. So better to turn them off before stashing to avoid unnecessary battery drain.
Aside from the usual BT setup, the Rox Wireless can also be paired using Near Field Communication. The NFC chip is at the back of the inline remote, which you simply swipe along the back of your NFC-equipped phone. We had no problem setting up a connection with both an LG G3 and a Xiaomi Mi3 via NFC.
You can pair the Rox Wireless with up to eight devices, and two devices can be connected simultaneously. When playing music, a call from either of the connected devices will pause the music. Putting the magnets together does the same.
The controls are similar to BT speakers rather than inline remotes on wired headsets. This means that pressing the middle button twice doesn’t skip to the next music track but dials the last number used…a mistake we kept making. To skip to the next track, you instead make a long press on the volume up button. Skipping to previous track is done similarly on the volume down button.
When connected to iOS and Mac OSX devices, the volume buttons mirror the volume controls of the devices themselves. On Android, the Rox seems to have its volume separate from the devices — thus, we usually set the Android device on full before stowing it our bag and just vary levels from the Rox.
Excellent sound quality for the price
Our time with the Rox Wireless showed that it’s already among the best-sounding BT earbuds in the market now. We think our unit will get even better with some more burn-in time, when the drivers have opened up and flexed a bit more. Jabra has come a long way in improving sonic reproduction in their earbuds. There is now greater dynamic range spewing out from the 6mm dynamic drivers, lending itself to good separation and a sound stage that’s wide for a canal earphone. Volume is also much improved, louder than most BT earbuds.
You also get very good bass response, with thuds and thumps that you can feel but that aren’t overpowering. High frequencies are also clear and bright without getting tinny. The middle frequencies are only slightly recessed but still very present. Unlike most commercial headsets that try to bring out the bass at the expense of the midrange, the sound reproduction from the Rox Wireless does not sacrifice vocals and other mids.
The one thing that the Rox suffers from is voice calls…but only at the other end of the call. We can hear the other person very clearly, but our own voice is usually received with much interference from ambient sounds. We suspect this is because of the placement of the microphone in the left earbud, which is such a tragedy considering the rest of the design of the Rox is so well thought-out.
Dolby enhancement is limited to app
The Rox Wireless is stamped with the Dolby seal, but the enhancement is only available when you download the Jabra Sound app for Android or iOS. It’s more of a marketing gimmick really, as the app itself doesn’t apply the enhancement across the whole device, but acts as a player for music and youtube videos. This means that Spotify or Google Music or iTunes or PowerAmp, or any other media player for that matter, won’t have the Dolby enhancement. With videos, it’s also only just YouTube. Even then, the app doesn’t add any real value since we found our favorite media apps to still sound better than Jabra Sound, even after much fiddling with the equalizer settings, at least to our ears.
Sans the Dolby Enhancement app, the Rox Wireless is already one of the sweetest sounding BT headsets you can find. We feel that the sound quality is, in fact, a bigger selling point than even its unique power magnet feature. It’s the perfect sound companion for working out and when commuting. Just keep in mind that it’s more for rocking than for calling. If a call comes in with the Rox connected, though, you can always just take the call from the handset’s own speakers by bringing the magnets into play.
The Jabra Rox is priced at Php 6,950 in the Philippines.