Headphones in general come in many shapes and sizes, and that's equally true of wireless earbuds, too. Here we're pitting two of the best headphones for running against each other: the Bose SoundSport Free and the JBL Reflect Flow.
These are two of the best wireless earbuds around. Both offer superior sound quality, all-day comfort and a portable charging case for juicing up on the go. Of course, you get all the convenience of true wireless earbuds, too, like a subtle, sophisticated design and no cables for getting tangled up in.
That last point is especially handy when exercising, which these two pairs are built for. That means they stay securely in your ears when you're moving about, and they're sweat- and water-resistant for running during a downpour.
But which is the best true wireless earbuds? As in premier sports, the competition is fierce – let's see which comes out on top.
Bose SoundSport Free vs JBL Reflect Flow: price
When they launched, the Bose SoundSport Frees cost £180 ($249, AU$299). But they have since come down in price, and can now be had for a reasonable £130 ($199, AU$240).
The JBL Reflect Flows were cheaper to begin with – £130 ($170, AU$237). Again, they've dropped in price, and are now selling for around £90 ($118, AU$164).
**Winner** JBL Reflect Flow
Bose SoundSport Free vs JBL Reflect Flow: battery life
When you're looking for the best wireless earbuds, decent battery life is a must. That's especially true for a sporty pair – there's nothing worse than them giving up the ghost halfway through a training session.
The JBL Reflect Flows tick that box and more. You get 10 hours of run time from the earbuds themselves, as well as a further 20 from the carry case. With 30 hours of total battery life before needing a recharge, they should last even the most ardent of fitness fanatics a week or so of use, including commuting/leisure listening.
The Bose SoundSport Frees fall a little shorter in this regard. They give you five hours from the buds themselves, plus 10 from the carry case, for a total of 15 hours. That's half the run time of their rivals.
**Winner** JBL Reflect Flow
Bose SoundSport Free vs JBL Reflect Flow: design and comfort
The Bose SoundSport Frees are a little chunky – not what you would expect from a sporty pair – but they're certainly built to last. Which is something you want from a pair of sporty wireless headphones.
They poke out of your ears a little further than some rivals but are held in place well by Bose's StayHear tips. These feature little wings that rest against the inside of your ear for extra stability. They come in small, medium and large sizes, which means they should fit most ears. We found them comfortable enough to forget about during a workout (though one member of our review team found them uncomfortable after an hour or so).
The glossy Triple Black finish is the most modest option available. Midnight Blue and Bright Orange are also available, which manage to be bright and colourful without tipping over into garish.
While the case for the JBL Reflect Flows provides plenty of extra battery life, it is rather large – too large to take with you on a run. It's also not brilliantly finished – while the brushed plastic won’t show up fingerprint smudges, the silver coating in our sample began to rub off slightly after only a few days of being carried around.
The earbuds come with three sets of separate tips and fins supplied, which provide a safe and secure fit.
Bose SoundSport Free vs JBL Reflect Flow: features
The SoundSport Frees' case tells you how much battery is left with a row of five LED lights. The right earpiece includes controls for playing music from your smartphone – as well as play/pause and the ability to skip tracks, you can also change the volume, which is useful (some earbuds require you to use their smartphone app).
Speaking of apps, you connect the Frees to your phone using the Bose Connect app for Android and iOS. It walks you through each step, and lets you rename the headphones and seek help should you have any queries about using them.
It also includes a feature called Find My Buds. It's similar to Apple’s Find My iPhone: if you happen to misplace either of your SoundSport Free earbuds, the app shows their location on a map and pings a distress signal if you’re in the vicinity. Handy for the forgetful among us.
The Reflect Flows don't let you adjust the volume per se. But by short-pressing the left bud, you’ll scroll through to a slightly quieter sound (Ambient Aware mode) or a low volume playback (TalkThru mode). These are handy for hearing station announcements or even holding a conversation without taking the buds out. But a simpler ability to turn the volume down might have been easier. A case of over-engineering, perhaps, which costs JBL this round.
**Winner** Bose SoundSport Free
Bose SoundSport Free vs JBL Reflect Flow: sound quality
The SoundSport Frees don't burrow too deep into your ears, so they don't feel too invasive. But they still create a decent seal, blocking out outside noise. Their sound is bold and balanced, with a rich, weighty bass.
This solid, unwavering presentation works well across a range of genres, from the lilting melodies of classical music to the kind of pounding bass you're likely to want while pounding the treadmill.
Switch to the JBL Reflect Flows, and you won't be disappointed by the bass. It's deep but playful, precise and well-balanced, with no timing issues to report. Overall, they impress sonically. The only issue is with the midrange, where they're a little reserved. It's good they don't get too carried away, but this slightly conservative approach can leave you feeling a little distanced when the action gets going.
**Winner** Bose SoundSport Free
Bose SoundSport Free vs JBL Reflect Flow: verdict
If you're on a more modest budget, the JBLs have plenty to like. They're affordable, go the extra distance in terms of battery life, and they're comfortable and sound great for the money too.
But, the best-sounding earbuds are the Bose and they have built-in volume controls which really help when it comes to living with wireless headphones. They'd just get our vote ahead of the JBL's but we're confident either pair will make your workouts that bit more bearable.