“Features galore and powerful sound make them perfect workout pals.”
- Solid, secure fit
- Excellent noise-canceling
- Choice of hands-free voice A.I.s
- Completely waterproof
- Wireless charging
- Limited control options
- No quick-charge option
JBL isn’t always the most consistent company when it comes to personal audio. Sometimes, as with its Tour Pro+ earbuds and Tour One ANC headphones, it absolutely nails it. Other times, it comes up short, as I felt was the case with its flagship Club One cans. But lately, it’s been more hits than misses, and that’s certainly true of JBL’s latest active lifestyle true wireless earbuds, the $180 JBL Reflect Flow Pro, a product that competes with the $200 Beats Fit Pro, the $180 Jabra Elite 7 Active, and JBL’s own $150 Reflect Mini NC. Just how good are the Reflect Flow Pro? Let’s check em out.
Great fit without the Frankenstein
The Reflect Flow Pro are, in theory, the successors to the company’s Reflect Flow model, a comfy and waterproof set of sport earbuds that unfortunately had a few drawbacks. They were huge — sticking out of your ears a lot, giving what I think of as a Frankenstein’s monster look. Their physical buttons were a bit hard to press, their sound quality was uneven, and their transparency (ambient) mode was only so-so.
But one look at the design of the Reflect Flow Pro and it’s clear that, despite their name, they are actually the Pro model of the Reflect Mini NC, not the Reflect Flow. The Reflect Flow Pro are smaller and lighter, and they address virtually every flaw we found on the original Reflect Flow.
The Reflect Flow Pro come with three sizes of silicone ear tips and four sizes of wingtips (“powerfins” in JBL’s vernacular) that range from large to barely-there, which means more people are likely to find a combo that fits. That stands in stark contrast to the Beats Fit Pro which have a single, permanently installed set of wingtips.
JBL says the fit is secure enough that you could go surfing with the Reflect Flow Pro. I respectfully disagree. Yes, they fit very securely, but no, I would not risk finding out the hard way that they’re no match for a head-first wipeout. Still, as long as they stay put, they’ll have no problem handling all that water — with an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance, they’re just about the toughest earbuds you can buy.
The charging case is not water- or dust-proof, but it’s well built and quite rugged. The built-in lanyard loop is just big enough that you can feed the case through the loop, letting you attach it to a bag strap or even a belt loop on your pants.
From zero to hero
The Reflect Flow Pro don’t just improve on the Reflect Flow’s design, they’re also chock-full of features. Wireless charging, wear sensors, a choice of voice assistants, active noise cancellation (ANC), transparency mode, custom controls, and EQ. It’s as though JBL is defying us to find something missing and frankly, it’s hard to find any faults at all. And that’s before we even get into things like sound quality, call quality, and handy extras (but don’t worry, we’ll discuss these too).
Hours of power
One of the things that the original JBL Reflect Flow got right was their impressive power capacity: 10 hours per charge and two full charges in the case’s battery. The Reflect Flow Pro double these numbers when you’ve got ANC and transparency turned off. But even when you use these features, you’ll still get up to eight hours per charge. That’s better than both the Beats Fit Pro and the Beats Powerbeats Pro.
The only thing missing here is a fast-charge option. Normally I’d ding JBL for this omission, but when you can offer people up to 10 hours per charge, the need for fast charging is considerably reduced. Besides, the Reflect Flow Pro’s charging case supports Qi wireless charging, something that, so far, no Beats products can do.
Sound that moves you
Punchy and powerful bass can be enjoyable regardless of what you choose to do while listening to music, but it’s a huge asset for folks who need workout motivation. The Reflect Flow Pro won’t disappoint: They sound great right out of the box, with plenty of low-end boom and decently clear mid and high frequencies. Throw on a track like Billy Idol’s Rita Hayworth and the Reflect Flow Pro will deliver a high-octane sonic assault that’s guaranteed to get you moving.
Subtlety is not their strength — these aren’t the earbuds for finding lost details in your favorite jazz ensembles — but neither are they a blunt instrument. JBL’s Headphones app offers a very capable EQ tool that will reward some patience and experimentation with a lot of tuning variations. My only criticism is that the company didn’t include a few more built-in presets — you only get three: Bass, Jazz, and Vocal.
Quiet or conversational
I was already pretty impressed with the JBL Reflect Mini NC’s noise cancellation, but the Reflect Flow Pro are even better. So good, in fact, that in comparing them to the Beats Fit Pro (which have excellent ANC), I found almost no difference at all. Outside, traffic sounds were kept well at bay, letting me hear my podcasts clearly without needing to crank the volume. Indoors, the bathroom fan that sits seven feet from my desk — but which can sound like it’s next to my head — was almost entirely neutralized.
Transparency mode is also really good, with the ability to choose between two versions: Ambient Aware (for general environmental sounds) and TalkThru (for conversations). Both can be triggered quickly with a single or double-tap on the earbuds, making them very convenient.
The illusion of control
Controls are the one area where JBL still has some work to do. The Reflect Flow Pro’s touch controls are excellent — they respond quickly and accurately to touches and a small tone confirms when a touch happened, which is a vital form of feedback when a physical click isn’t available. The problem is that JBL makes you choose from four possible control “groups” and you can only have two of them active at once.
For instance, you can pick from playback control, ambient sound/ANC/TalkThru, volume control, or voice assistant. If you want playback and volume control, you can’t have ambient sound/ANC/TalkThru or voice assistant. If you want playback control, and voice assistant, you can’t have ambient sound/ANC/TalkThru or volume control.
If this was something inherent to true wireless earbuds, I wouldn’t complain, but it’s not: Jabra’s Elite series of earbuds give you total control over every gesture, without forcing you to choose between mutually exclusive options.
I also wish there was a way to turn off voice feedback. Switching from ANC to ambient mode quickly is great, but it’s a little less convenient when your earbuds keep saying “Ambient mode on” or “Noise canceling on.”
Speak and be heard
Call quality is generally very good on the Reflect Flow Pro. They can struggle a bit in very noisy situations, but few earbuds excel under these conditions. More importantly, they deal with wind noise better than most earbuds I’ve tried, and that’s helpful given that they’re going to be a good choice for runners or even cyclists. Under relatively quiet conditions, you’ll be heard perfectly.
But with these earbuds, you can also use your voice to summon a variety of assistants — a rare feature that is very handy. iOS users can use “Hey Siri” just as you would with Apple’s H1-based products (AirPods, Beats Fit Pro, Powerbeats Pro, etc.) plus there’s the option to go with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant instead — both of which work with their respective hands-free wake-words.
If you’re the kind of person who misplaces items constantly, the JBL Headphones app can force the Reflect Flow Pro to emit a loud beeping sound. Each earbud can beep independently, but the feature won’t work if they’re docked in the charging case. There’s also no map to show their last known location, which some other earbuds (AirPods, Jabra Elite, etc.) offer.
The app can also help you figure out if the ear tip size you’ve chosen is giving you a good seal from the outside world. If you’re not getting the sound quality you expect — especially if it’s bad bass — this is the place to start.
With superb protection from the elements, great sound and noise-canceling, and excellent battery life, the JBL Reflect Flow Pro are the perfect alternative to the Beats Powerbeats Pro and Fit Pro for folks who want a killer workout companion.
Is there a better alternative?
I think the best alternative to the Reflect Flow Pro is JBL’s own Reflect Mini NC. It’s less expensive, has a smaller charging case which makes it more pocketable, and has virtually all of the same features as the Pro. You won’t get the same caliber of sound quality, noise-canceling, or call quality, but for some folks, this will be a perfectly acceptable tradeoff.
If you want a smaller earbud, the Beats Fit Pro will do nicely, and if you want a much more secure fit, consider the Powerbeats Pro.
How long will they last?
With an IP68 rating and a very long starting battery life, you should get many years of use out of the JBL Reflect Flow Pro. They’re solidly built as is their charging case. JBL backs them with a one-year warranty.
Should you buy them?
Yes. If you’re looking for a robust set of workout buds that can handle anything you throw at them — and are packed with solid features and great sound — the JBL Reflect Flow Pro are an excellent choice.
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