When you think about high quality headphones, one name that probably comes immediately to mind is a company started by a Rap mogul, recently purchased by a “fruit” company. Everybody from high school kids to athletes seem to be wearing those headphone, but how high quality are they really? They’re expensive, they sound OK, and they honestly kind of look like a child’s toy made out of plastic. They’ve marketed themselves very well, but there are other options.
One such option is named after reggae royalty – The House of Marley. House of Marley has quietly built a product line that includes not only headphones and speakers, but bags, watches, and other accessories. The company strives to create quality products produced using sustainable materials, all while giving back through their charitable arm, the 1Love foundation. Those are all great values to espouse, but that’s just part of the equation. I’m really here to talk about their products, specifically the Liberate XLBT headphones. Keep reading to see how these headphones hold up in our House of Marley Liberate XLBT review.
The first word that came to mind when I first opened the package was “wow.” These are some seriously good looking headphones. From the perforated metal headband with leather padding, to Marley’s REWIND fabric accents, to the FSC certified wood ornamenting the ear cups this is a really nice pair of headphones. To further elaborate, the headband is a lightweight perforated metal with hinges that allow the ear cups to collapse into themselves for a smaller footprint. The headband is nicely padded with leather and REWIND fabric padding. That pad is only attached to the headband via two sewn loops on either side, which while sturdy so far, might benefit from some additional anchoring.
The ear cups are soft padded leather on the inside, REWIND cotton/canvas fabric and wood emblazoned with the House of Marley logo on the outside. The right ear cup includes controls for volume up/down, track forward/back, play/pause/Bluetooth connect, and power. Both the volume and track buttons have different functions for tapping versus holding the button. A tap of the track forward button will advance to the next track, while holding the track forward button will allow you to fast-forward. Similarly, the volume buttons will ramp up or down more quickly if the button is held down. The right ear cup also has a built-in microphone and the plug for the 3.5mm cable should you choose wired operation. The left ear cup provides the micro USB port for charging the internal battery. The ear cups are adjustable, and thankfully adjust far enough to fit comfortably on my giant head. That has been a definite concern with other headphones in the past.
Also included in the package: a micro USB cable for charging, a high quality braided 3.5mm cable with one-button controls, and a REWIND cotton/canvas storage bag. The Liberate XLBT headphones are available in both Midnight black, and Saddle brown, both of which are exceptionally sharp looking.
Design is always nice, but sound is what’s really important when it comes to headphones. Luckily, the Liberate XLBT headphones deliver here too. The big over-the-ear design allows for slightly bigger speakers with extra oomph. With 50mm dynamic moving coil drivers there’s plenty of power to deliver your music.
Both Bluetooth and wired performance for the Liberate XLBT work great. Bluetooth allows for nearly every audio control you could want to be handled from the right ear cup, while wired performance is as you’d expect it to be. Wired was used mostly for PC gaming in my testing, which definitely sounded good. Bluetooth worked flawlessly for wireless streaming from my phone. These headphones use both Bluetooth AAC and APTX encoding for a stronger connection with devices that support both.
House of Marley headphones are tuned using Marley’s “Signature Sound,” which promises “smooth, powerful bass, stunningly precise mids, and an energized high-end.” The Liberate XLBT definitely push quite a lot of bass. You won’t have any problems with rap, dubstep, or any other bass-heavy tracks. The headphones absolutely provide very powerful bass even at lower volumes without washing out the rest of the track.
Songs with less bass can sound a bit muddled at lower volumes, but simply upping the volume a tiny bit helps dramatically without blowing out your ears. Heavy bass is great at any volume, other tunes need just a bit extra volume to keep everything clear.
As with most headphones, speakers, ear buds, etc. the Liberate XLBT headphones offer call capabilities. Callers sound strong and clear, and there weren’t any issues hearing me on the other end of the call. This was tested using both the included braided 3.5mm cable mic and via Bluetooth with the included microphone on the right ear cup.
This one was a bit harder to pin down in my testing. I definitely used the Liberate XLBT for at least three or four hours via Bluetooth on a single charge, and quite a few more in wired mode, which shouldn’t conceivably use any power. After my last Bluetooth usage, there was definitely some charge left on the battery, but after mostly using the headphones wired for around a week, the battery was empty the next time I tried to go wireless. This may be a bit of an anomaly, as battery life is quoted at 15 hours, and others’ real word use seems to hover between 10-12 on a single charge. If you prefer wired usage, battery life won’t be a concern for you anyway, and half a day on battery power should be more than enough considering the relatively short charge time – roughly 2 hours using my Limefuel external battery.
The Liberate XLBT headphones start at $149, which is honestly quite reasonable for a quality pair of wireless headphones. The cheapest wireless headphones on those other guy’s site start at $299, and aren’t nearly as good looking as the House of Marley headphones. I’ve had an opportunity to listen to some of those other headphones too, and I honestly wasn’t anywhere near as impressed as I have been with the Liberate XLBT. You can obviously find cheaper headphones (believe me, I own some cheaper headphones) but they aren’t going to sound or look anywhere near as good as the Liberate XLBTs. If you are looking for a quality set of headphones, the House of Marley Liberate XLBT headphones are just that at a relatively low price.
There are definitely many options available when it comes to headphones. A few less options if you want wireless headphones, and even less if you want a really high quality pair. Some other headphone manufacturers rely on loads of marketing and paid product placement, House of Marley simply builds quality headphones with the backing of a legendary reggae family. Taste is certainly subjective, but I’ll take the metal/leather/wood/fabric design of the Liberate XLBT over those other cheap plastic looking headphones any day of the week.