JBL Reference 420 Headphones Review

After a long night of drinking, I came home the next morning to discover a package from JBL. Inside was a black pair of Reference 420 Headphones; one of JBL’s latest ventures into over-the-ear headphones market. I opened up the box and discovered they came with their own personal case for transport, which is a great when you’re trying not to break a $150 item.

However, putting these cans on is another story. They’re shaped very differently than other headphones. The band sort of curves back while the earphones push forward. It’s a comfortable fit, but it takes a little getting used to. As far as looks go, the 420s are stylish to say the least. Each side has a clover-like pattern on the earphone and a padded cover that looks like it’s from 1983. You can also get these in black or white, depending on your preference. I still wouldn’t wear these while taking a stroll around the park though.

Like a lot of other JBL headphones and earbuds, the Reference 420s use this weird rope instead of plastic cables. It’s definitely more durable, so that’s a plus. But the problem is that this cord is really short — about 3-feet max. A 1-meter extension cable is included, along with an airplane adapter thankfully.

Enough with the aesthetics though, as always, you want to hear about the sound. I hooked these up to my Macbook and threw on some progressive rock like Genesis, Yes, etc. and listened to see how the clarity was. Surprisingly (for real), I didn’t like what I heard. I adjusted my equalizer from the fabled “Perfect” setting, which I think personally isn’t all that great, and put on “Rock”. The music improved and in came the quality I expected from JBL.

One thing that’s interesting is how precise things seem through these headphones. It’s not just some bullshit term I’m making up or anything like that. If you own a Mac, you know that when you adjust the volume, it makes this little clicking noise. Nothing special. Through the Reference 420s, this noise is completely different sounding. Take that for whatever it’s worth, but it caught my attention and made me want to investigate further into the quality of these headphones.

So I switched things up. I have over 110GB of music, most of it in 320kbps or LAME V0 encoding, so there’s bound to be some great stuff to put a pair of headphones to the test. Running the gamut, everything you’d expect from JBL is there. The bass, the crisp treble – it’s a great sound. For $150 though, I’m not all too sure how I feel about these.

I’ve tried out tons of headphones over the years. The JBL Reference 420s are certainly one of the better pairs I’ve used, but not the best. At $150, I think these are priced a little high compared to other models from companies like Sony, Grado, Sennheiser, and Yamaha. If JBL re-prices these or you come across them for around the $100 mark, then pick these up. The quality and thick bass are both pleasing, just not enough to warrant the cost of an iPod.