The JBL Synchros Reflect in-ear headphones (MSRP $59.95) are ready to spot your eardrums while you dead-lift some tasty jams. They're sweat-proof, reflective, magnetic, and fitted with ear-tips to keep them in place. They also sound great, presenting a bass-friendly, balanced sound that's a perfect fit for most listeners.
Compared to similarly performing exercise-focused buds—which cost almost three times as much—the Reflects are simply an awesome value. Even at full price, there's no reason not to grab a pair and hit the gym.
The JBL Synchros Reflect in-ear headphones ($59.95) sound spectacular—not just within the realm of sports headphones. With so many exercise-focused features, we weren't expecting top-of-the-line audio, but the Reflects surprised us with winning performance. They don't produce a flat, audiophile emphasis, but most consumers will be more than happy with such balanced, distortion-free audio.
Functionality in fashion's clothing
You only have to glance at these headphones to figure out where they got their name: shiny, reflective material runs along either side of the cable. The reflective strip serves to keep joggers safe during night runs, but it does so without looking ostentatious or ugly—in fact, it looks pretty cool.
The Reflect-I model (for Apple products) features red, green, blue, or black highlights along the cable and buds. Android users have less variety to choose from when it comes to the Reflect-A model (for Android products) which is available in black only. The headphones will work on either platform, theoretically, but you might find the remote doesn't work if you buy for the wrong platform.
The round, curved rubber tips protruding from either ear bud might look bizarre at first, but you'll be glad you have them once you're in the middle of a workout. Available in small, medium, or large sizes, the tips curve up into your outer ear, helping the Reflects stay put while you pound the pavement. If you've ever found yourself fuming over ear buds falling out for the millionth time during a run, you'll understand just how useful this feature is.
To further complement their status as workout headphones, the Reflects feature a metal shirt clip rather than the usual flimsy plastic. Attached to a sturdy neck-split piece, the clip adds a good amount of weight to the whole cable—helping keeping it in place while you're active. A three-button mic/remote lives just below the left ear bud, allowing you to pause music or cycle through a playlist without looking.
It's worth noting that the cable itself is very short, no doubt to maximize the benefit of an arm band. Fortunately, JBL includes an equally reflective extension that adds another foot or so if your smartphone is going to be in your pocket.
Finally, the ear buds are equipped with magnets; it's easy to clasp them around your neck, freeing up your hands to grab a gatorade or dismount a treadmill. I'm impressed by just how many intelligent features JBL packed into this product, it really makes all the difference compared to traditional ear buds.
The only drawback to all these great features is that the combined weight of the magnets and neck-split piece make the Reflects a little less comfortable than other in-ears—and much less comfortable than good over-ear headphones for long-term usability.
In the world of personal audio, frequency response is what separates the wheat from the chaff. A frequency response refers to how a speaker "responds" to each frequency, across the audible spectrum. To test this, we feed a pair of headphones a full frequency sweep at 78 dB while our Head-and-Torso Simulator (or HATS, for short) listens with infallible robot ears. Whether headphones crank bass like Grandmaster Flash, or drops it like Skrillex, we'll know.
The Reflects perform admirably here, roughly following an equal-loudness contour. Unlike a flat response (all frequencies the exact same as every other), an equal-loudness contour inverts the shape of human hearing in order to equalize the loudness of each frequency, from bass to treble. This means that however your music is mixed, the Reflects preserve it with serious panache. This is an awesome result for such affordable, niche headphones. Way to go, JBL.
Outstanding sound—whether or not you even lift.
With such a heavy focus on features, you might expect lackluster performance from the Reflects—wrong. JBL really wowed us with its excellent S200 in-ear headphones earlier this year, and the Reflects carry on that tradition via a balanced, bass-friendly sound that exhibits minimal distortion.
Time in the lab (and in our ears) revealed that the Reflects follow a well-established trend of boosting bass. Unlike lesser buds, however, they don't crank the low-end at the expense of mid- or high-range content—everything is tastefully tuned. I listened to a range of material, from groovy R&B to obscure 70s progressive rock, and found that the Reflects complement most styles with a winning flourish. Content that's already very bass-heavy (or poorly mixed) can sound a little over-the-top, however.
Let's talk distortion. Musical distortion refers to any unwanted noise present during playback, as well as clipped or cut-off harmonic elements. Everybody hates it when their favorite song is ruined by excessive distortion, but the Reflects deftly avoid that issue. Testing revealed absolutely no perceptible distortion, from the deepest bass to the tinniest treble. Regardless of whether you're listening to a podcast or Spotify, the Reflects keep distortion out of the mix.
Because they plug directly into your ears, the Synchros Reflects are in a good position to keep your music in while keeping unwanted sound out. While they don't squash deep, rumbling noises like a set of active cancelers, higher-pitched noises (like people talking, or a whirring treadmill) will be muted considerably. Likewise, no one around you will ever know that you've been listening to Eye of the Tiger on repeat for your entire workout.
They aren't the best in-ear headphones we've ever tested, but for such a niche product the Reflects deliver a surprisingly high-quality sound.
A big no-no in speaker school, Total Harmonic Distortion (or THD) refers to unwanted noise during playback, such as clipped harmonics or fuzzy bass elements. We measure musical distortion the same way we measure frequency response, running a frequency sweep until audible distortion rises above 3%.
In the case of the Reflects, we measured no distortion above 3% from 10 Hz (the lowest bass notes) through 10kHz (the highest treble notes). You can expect this lack of distortion as long as you don't play music any louder than 117 dB, which is way louder than you should be listening anyway—seriously, you'll poke your eardrums out, kid.
They pump you up—without pumping up the price
Overall, JBL's Synchros Reflect sports headphones deliver a tremendous value. These aren't an audiophile's dream, but they preserve music from top-to-bottom with subtle bass boosting and no perceptible distortion. For such a specialized product, this performance is unprecedented.
For $60 (or $50 online right now), the Reflects check off all the right boxes in terms of exercise-focused features, too. You can sweat, lift, run, and jump to your heart's content and they stay put and stay dry—while keeping you a little safer during nighttime runs. We wish the extra weight didn't detract from their overall comfort, but it's a small price to pay for a product that's otherwise top-of-the-line.
If you're looking for something different, you can always shop around for something that's a little more tailored for your needs. If you're in need of an extreme bargain, the Monoprice Enhanced Bass HiFi are an absolute steal for under $10—but they're a little more geared for classical listeners than pop fans. The Westone Adventure Series Alpha might tempt you, but in this case we'd advise you to save your money if you can do without a huge array of tips. If you need better low-end isolation, the Sol Republic Jax offer better isolation for a comparable price—but ditch all the premium features you'd get with the JBLs.
The relative volume of either channel, known as "tracking," can be a huge nuisance if one channel is excessively loud or quiet compared to the other. The Reflects don't have much trouble here—they favor the right channel just a little more than the left, but never by more than about 2dB, which is barely perceptible to most people.
Impulse response refers to how long sounds take to decay when played through a speaker or set of headphones. This is rarely an issue, but you could call it excess "ringing," which can muddy up music if it's too over-the-top. The Reflects have a mild imperfection here that golden-eared listeners should keep in mind: right around 200 Hz, sound persists for lightly longer than 15ms, which is roughly the cut-off point for problematic ringing.
Like most in-ear headphones, the Reflects do a good job as passive isolators—they naturally block outside noise because they fill your ears. The Reflects aren't necessarily any better/worse than other in-ears in this regard, but consumers can still expect lots of mid-range and high-pitched noise to be blocked. Frequencies at 1kHz are dampened by about 20 dB, while higher frequencies between 3kHz and 8kHz will be basically inaudible while the Reflects are in your ears.
Note that the bass range isn't dampened at all, so you'll still hear lower pitched noises, like truck horns and airplane engines. That could get annoying on a long flight, but you'll adapt. And it's actually a good thing if you're out for a run, as you can hear all your music and still be aware of your surroundings.
Meet the tester
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.See all of Lee Neikirk's reviews
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