The ‘pro’ suffix has come to represent one thing in the true wireless earbuds world – active noise-cancelling (or ‘ANC’ if you’re an acronym admirer). And we don’t need to tell you the brand who doubtlessly made that so. The JBL Reflect Flow Pro don’t go against that naming grain; active noise cancellation is very much on the menu here, complete with the increasingly common ‘ambient’ mode that actually makes external noise more discernible so as to keep wearers aware of their surroundings from a safety or convenience point of view.
The safety aspect is particularly important for a pair of earbuds geared towards exercise, of course. And JBL has been in the game long enough to know that sporty types demand a few fitness-friendly flourishes from their earbuds that aren’t necessarily part and parcel of ‘regular’ models. In fact, the ‘Pro’-less JBL Reflect Flow, launched back in 2019, remain some of our favourite budget running headphones. So how do these more premium, noise-cancelling-inclusive JBLs match up in that more competitive market?
Those flourishes we speak of chiefly concern the specific measures taken to ensure the earbuds are determinedly durable and won’t fall out of ears. With the Reflect Flow Pro, the former is addressed by an IP68-rated build, meaning the earbuds are dust-tight and should survive being immersed in metre-deep water, while the latter is ensured by four sizes of stabilising eartip fins (which accompany three sizes of standard ear tips). That’s more or less as good as it gets on paper, and in our experience that translates into practice too.
Your first impression (like ours) might be to dismiss the size of the earbuds, which are fairly bulbous and not exactly as discreet as some like the flatter Jaybird Vista 2 and even the standard JBL Reflect Flow. The oval carry case is similarly functional over fancy, seemingly more concerned with standing the test of time than winning any beauty prizes. But put the buds in your lug holes – we find inserting them a pleasantly fleeting rather than fiddly experience – and they don’t feel at all burdensome or obtrusive, even with the fins lodged up in your (cymba conchae) cartilage. They actually feel satisfyingly lightweight – not precariously so but dependably secure. And that firm fit doesn’t let up when things get slippery due to sweat or rain.
If you aren’t sure which size eartips are best for you, the JBL Headphones App can run a ‘test’ that has been designed to find the optimal option with the least sound leakage. The companion app is also a gateway to customising the on-bud touch controls (you can decide whether taps and hold-presses on the right and left earbuds control ANC mode switching, calls, volume adjustment or track skipping); experimenting with three presets and your own EQ adjustments; and switching between noise-cancellation, ambient mode and Talk-Thru (another awareness mode that reduces music volume so you can have a conversation without taking the buds out).
Battery life 30 hours (10 buds (ANC off); 20 case)
Waterproof rating IP68
A ‘Find My Buds’ function does what it says on the tin by notifying you of the location and time they were last used and ‘ringing’ your phone when they’re once again in range. And as is often the case nowadays, the Reflect Flow Pro can be activated for Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant hands-free control in the app. You can see the battery status of each bud and the case here, too.
The JBLs are durable not only in terms of build quality but also battery life. Unless you’re after a pair to see you through a 15-hour Ironman, the Reflect Flow Pro should deliver more than enough juice to see you through a week or two’s worth of exercise. The earbuds themselves offer 10 hours of playback (or eight hours with ANC on), while the USB-C and Qi-compatible charging case stores an extra 20 hours.
It’s a shame the JBLs don’t support Bluetooth in aptX form (for higher-quality transmission between them and compatible sources) or multi-point connection (which allows them to be connected to two devices at once), but neither omission feels like a deal breaker for earbuds with a sporty disposition.
As sport earbuds generally have certain boxes to tick outside the realm of regular models, it would be unreasonable to expect them to sound better than, or even as good as, the non-sporty class leaders. But nevertheless, it is still more than fair to expect an entertaining and detailed delivery that is engaging enough to help you get to your workout’s finish line – and that’s exactly what the Reflect Flow Pro provide.
The JBLs are more neutral sounding than many sport earbuds we’ve tested, resisting the urge to dominate the mix with heaps of bass and instead tuned to offer low frequencies that are well assessed both in terms of quantity and quality. In fact, they’re slightly forward and upfront sounding due to a prominent treble, giving them a fast and lively character that isn’t a negative for sport headphones at all.
We find them less rich than the Jaybird Vista 2 and more energetic than the Bose Sport Earbuds, striking a likeable balance that’s complemented by very decent levels of detail and dynamic expression.
Play GUNSHIP’s Woken Furies and the barrage of synths sparkle and sizzle with clarity and texture, underpinned by a bassline that bubbles purposefully beneath. They have the scrutiny to follow the weaving dynamics of patterns, and the spaciousness to ensure the soupy synth-wave soundstage remains coherent as the mix thickens. Over to something more appropriate for a cool down, such as Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s Albuquerque, and the JBL’s rendition refuses to be prosaic: there’s enough detail behind Cave’s front-and-centre vocal and piano accompaniment to draw you into the song’s sombreness and keep you there.
Yes, you can get true wireless earbuds not geared towards sport that, for a similar price, will deliver more insight into music by offering that bit more detail and dynamic subtlety. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 and Sony WF-1000XM3 are two such pairs. But, unlike the JBLs, they won’t have the honed ergonomics or ruggedness to be hailed as ideal fitness buddies.
Within the context of earbuds for exercise, the Reflect Flow Pro are like champion heptathletes – strong in all areas. And for that they are extremely easy to recommend.
- Sound 5
- Features 4
- Build 5
Read our review of the Bose Sport Earbuds
Also consider the Jaybird Vista 2 running earbuds
Best sports headphones 2021: keep active with these excellent earbuds