JBL is jumping into the crowded gaming headset field with its new Quantum line. Since it faces some stiff competition, the company has seemingly packed every feature it could think of into its flagship Quantum One wired headset. It features simulated surround sound, programmable colored lighting, head motion tracking like the Audeze Mobius and HyperX Cloud Orbit S, and even active noise cancellation (a rare feature for gaming headsets). It has a stiff $299.95 price to match that impressive feature list, though, and while it tries a lot of things, it doesn’t really excel at any of them.
The JBL Quantum One is a stealthily flashy gaming headset. When unplugged, it looks like a humble black pair of over-ear headphones, with rounded plastic edges and little of the industrial or sci-fi flair you often see with gaming headsets. Plug it in through the included puck-sized USB chat mixer and the USB-C port on the bottom of the left earcup, and that immediately changes. The plain black plastic lights up with hidden colored LED lighting pulsing over the back of each earcup in thrumming cyberpunk-styled patterns. The lighting is programmable through the JBL QuantumEngine app, and you can set separate color patterns for the faux circuit designs around the earcups and the circular JBL logo on the back of them.
Aside from the USB-C connection for the chat mixer, the left earcup holds a number of other connections and controls. A 3.5mm input sits in front of the USB-C port, with a connector for the removable boom mic and calibration mic in front of that. The back edge of the earcup features a mic mute button, a volume wheel, a head tracking re-centering button, and an ANC button. It’s a busy layout, especially since the right earcup has no controls or ports.
As a pair of headphones, the JBL Quantum One is big and comfortable. The large earpads are made of memory foam covered in synthetic leather, and the underside is generously padded with the same materials.
The chat mixer is one of the smallest we’ve seen. It’s a tiny black puck with five feet of fabric-wrapped cable running out of the front and back; the front cable terminates in a USB-C plug and connects to the headset, and the back cable ends in a USB-A plug and connects to your PC. The puck itself simply has a large dial that can rotate left to increase chat audio or right to increase game audio in the mix that goes to the headset. Surprisingly, there are no other controls, like master volume, mute, or microphone gain. It’s a very limited mixer compared with the Astro A40 TR’s MixAmp or the Turtle Beach Elite Pro 2’s SuperAmp.
In addition to the chat mixer, the Quantum One comes with a boom microphone, a calibration mic, and a fabric-wrapped 3.5mm headset cable with an inline remote that includes a volume dial and a mic mute switch.
Loads of Features
The JBL QuantumEngine app for Windows does more than let you customize the Quantum One’s lighting. It enables the headset’s spatial sound features, of which there are many. To start, you can use simulated 360-degree surround sound via JBL’s QuantumSphere 360 system. QuantumSphere 360 uses the included calibration mic to measure the sound that reaches your ears, to determine the best way to mix channels to produce surround sound effects. It’s a simple process: Just plug the calibration mic into the boom mic port, place the earplug-like microphone into your left ear, let the headset play a fast sweep of frequencies, then repeat for your right ear. If you want simpler simulated surround sound without calibration, the app also lets you enable DTS Headphone:X 2.0 instead.
Besides calibrated and conventionally simulated surround, you can enable the Quantum One’s built-in head tracker for even more immersive audio. The headset can track your head position just like WavesNX-enabled headsets such as the Audeze Mobius and HyperX Cloud Orbit S. This is just a toggle on the top of the JBL QuantumEngine app, and when enabled a wire frame image of the headset will show exactly how it’s oriented, letting you know the head tracking is working.
Microphone and Noise Cancellation
The Quantum One’s microphone sounds very good in a quiet room, but it can pick up some outside chatter. While the headset itself has active noise cancellation for the headphones, it doesn’t do much to block out noise from the mic. Test recordings sounded clear and clean, but they caught some very slight noise from a nearby TV. It’s a solid microphone, but it isn’t quite as crisp as the mic on the Razer Kraken Ultimate.
Speaking of ANC, the Quantum One’s noise cancellation circuitry is modest at best. It certainly tamped down outside noise (including the aforementioned nearby TV) in testing, but it isn’t nearly as powerful or comprehensive across frequencies as noice-canceling models from Bose. To be fair, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphone 700 and QuietComfort 35 both cost more than the Quantum One and don’t attempt to fit most of the latter’s tricks like head tracking, simulated surround sound, or programmable lighting. At this price, the noise cancellation is decent, but not great.
Of course, since the headset requires power for the ANC to run, you won’t be using it wired on the go to block out subway or other travel noise. The ANC is there for minimizing distracting sounds near your desk.
Music sounds best in standard stereo mode, with spatial audio disabled. DTS 7.1 mode can produce a slightly bigger, more crisp sound at the expense of some balance, but the head tracking QuantumSphere 360 mode sounds a bit awkward. In that mode, the balance between the headphones’ drivers pans back and forth depending on the position of your head, but the conventional drivers don’t produce quite the same sense of space that the Audeze Mobius’ planar magnetic drivers offer, so the effect isn’t nearly as striking or as realistic. For music, stick to stereo, but don’t be afraid to use QuantumSphere 360 for gaming or watching TV or movies, where the directionality can feel more precise without needing quite as accurate a response across the frequency spectrum as music demands.
The Quantum One won’t overwhelm you with bass, but it’s quite capable, especially if you use the Bass Boost EQ preset rather than the default Flat preset. Our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” presents no distortion even at maximum volume, though the kick drum hits have little low-end presence in Flat mode. With Bass Boost on, though, the drum sounds round and full.
Yes’ “Roundabout” sounds excellent on the Quantum One, and demonstrates how the Bass Boost EQ preset is generally better for music. In this setting, the opening acoustic guitar plucks get a good amount of low-frequency resonance to go with some strong treble finesse in the string texture. When the track properly kicks in, the electric bass sounds full without overwhelming the mix, and the guitar strums and vocals maintain solid presence. The Flat EQ preset, by contrast, keeps the same detail in the high-mids and highs, but loses most of the bass resonance. In the right EQ mode, it’s a good sound signature for music.
I played some Doom 64 and Doom Eternal with the Quantum One. The thunderous growls and explosions of Doom Eternal’s soundtrack were full and powerful on the headset, with plenty of detail to be discerned. The older (“classic”) sounds of Doom 64 also came through cleanly, with the crunchier ’90s-era effects having their own nostalgic detail. QuantumSphere 360 produced a solid sense of surround sound, giving me a good sense of enemy placement as I moved my head and ran around the maps, though again the sound field didn’t feel particularly spacious compared with the Audeze Mobius.
3.5mm Jack of All Trades
The JBL Quantum One is an ambitious gaming headset that tries to do everything. It largely succeeds, but it doesn’t excel in any one category. It has a strong microphone, but not quite as good as the Razer Kraken Ultimate’s. It has active noise cancellation (a rare feature on gaming headsets), but it doesn’t work nearly as well as ANC from Bose or Sony. It even has head tracking simulated surround, but it doesn’t produce quite the same big, directional sound field effect as the Audeze Mobius and HyperX Cloud Orbit S. Overall, it’s a very good headset with a steep price that pits it against stronger models like the Astro Gaming A40 and Turtle Beach Elite Pro 2 wired headsets, as well as the wireless SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless and Sennheiser GSP 670.