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JBL Synchros Reflect Headphones Review

These in-ears are a great companion for your workout routine—or any time

November 12, 2014
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Believe it or not, the holiday season is a great time to get a head-start on your upcoming new year's resolutions. You're probably going to be carbo-loading anyway—thanks, Grandma—so a solid set of sports headphones can be the perfect ally in the war against unwanted holiday weight.

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 Outfit

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.

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Reflective material runs along the length of the cable, highlighted by a vivid color—in this case, red.

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.

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The Reflect's curved ear tips may look bizarre at first, but you'll thank them when the headphones continue to stay snug in your ears.

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 added weight make the Reflects a little less comfortable than other in-ear headphones. Tweet It

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.

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The Audio

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.

The Reflects boost bass, but unlike lesser buds, they don't do so at the expense of mid- or high-range content. Tweet It

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.

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Despite being so obviously geared towards exercise, the Reflects produce a surprisingly high-quality sound.

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.

Testing revealed absolutely no perceptible distortion, from the deepest bass to the tinniest treble. Tweet It

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.

The Verdict

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.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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