Gyms are noisy environments. You have creatine-enhanced beasts jabbering away in the bench-press area, runners yelling conversation at each other on treadmills and awful dance cover versions of classic songs you loved as a child blaring through oversized speakers. To survive this environment and exercise with sanity intact, you’ll need something that blocks out the din and offers durability. After trying JBL’s Reflect Aware USB type-C active noise-cancelling earphones over ten sessions, here’s my report. Note that there is also a lightning cable variant available for iPhone users.
The Reflect Aware headset has a robust cable that is among the hardest to tangle I’ve come across. There’s virtually zero friction when two parts of the wire rub against each other, thanks to a smooth, reflective coating. I tested this by chucking the set into my drawstring gym bag on several occasions, sans the included carrying case. The only thing that the wire might catch itself on is the ear wings, but they are short enough that it’s not a real inconvenience.
The remote, however, is a different story. It’s a four-button piece of plastic encased in matte-finished rubber and is larger than most. It’s hard to ignore the weight when on the rowing machine, cross trainer or treadmill – the remote bounced against my chest on a number of occasions – but it’s perfectly fine for cycling and lifting – activities where your body is stationary. It lets you control volume, play, pause and skip tracks, and toggle noise cancellation.
Gone are the days when you’d spend more time untangling headphone wires than actually listening to music. Manufacturers understand that this is one of the biggest consumer pain points, and sticky rubber wires used to create almost permanent tangles. JBL is no exception. Whatever it is the brand has used on the Reflect Aware cable, you have to apply significant pressure to feel any friction when rubbing two wires together. This is especially useful given the relatively small carry pouch provided with the headset. The cable feels fairly durable – you need not worry about an earpiece being ripped out after snagging on something.
I tested the JBL Reflect Aware set using my HTC 10, which has a built-in DAC for high-res audio. Whether it was some old-school Duran Duran, EDM mix, an ambient soundtrack from a video game or Slipknot’s Subliminal Verses, the headset meets the standards of a JBL device.
Listen to the OST from Journey – a title that’s less game and more contemplative soul-enriching exercise – and you can feel each string being plucked, the harmony flowing through eastern wood instruments and the bass-heavy reverberations of drums beating. Simon Le Bon’s ethereal vocals of holy war and holy need on Ordinary World shine through, as does the legendary solo. Moving towards something more modern, EDM megamixes on YouTube come through with visceral tenacity as the beat drops. The faded piano and sinister bass drop on Go tell Aunt Rhody from the Resident Evil VII OST comes through well too. Voices can be clearly heard while you’re watching something on Netflix, even in a noisy canteen at work.
Thanks to its USB type-C connectivity, the Reflect Aware offers a higher resolution of audio than you get with the standard 3.5mm jack. Plug the headset in and the JBL app automatically launches to let you set the level of noise cancellation and ambient awareness. Interestingly, you’re able to adjust ambient awareness for each ear.
This is particularly useful for flights, where you can tune out the baby crying on your right side but keep the level higher on your left to listen to your partner.
If you’re listening in an open office, you can tune out the chatterbox to your right while keeping awareness high for the quieter one on your left.
The app lets you use preset jazz, vocal or bass equaliser settings, but hardcore audiophiles can adjust the high-, mid- and low-range kHz levels for added control. Even if you’re not a sound engineer, it’s still interesting to experiment with this feature.
4. Working out
With its robust design, the JBL Reflect Aware has been designed to wear while working out, but just how practical is it for this purpose? The ear buds come with a range of sizes in wing tips, and I had no issues with the fit of the oval-shaped ear piece even while on a treadmill.
However, the remote is a different story. While built robustly – You could step on this and it probably wouldn’t break – the lack of a clip coupled with the remote’s weight means it will bounce against your sternum while running or on a cross-trainer. It can also be annoying while lifting barbells or simply reaching down to grab a plate. An easy solution would have been the inclusion of a removable clip that would tether the remote to the front of your t-shirt during these moments.
The device can be cleaned with minimal fuss, even after an hour on an exercise cycle. It doesn’t seem to stain easily.
One catch of wired noise cancellation is that the headset draws power from your device to do this. At what rate? I listened to a 30-minute interview using the Reflect Aware on my nine-month-old HTC 10 with the screen on medium brightness, Wi-Fi running. Starting at 42 per cent, the device had dropped 8 per cent battery over this duration.
JBL’s Reflect Aware is great for blocking out gym noise, but a little less practical for use during more dynamic workouts. However, while in the office, on a flight or in a busy mall, we can’t fault its performance. The noise cancellation does what it’s supposed to, and the headset fits well in our ears. Dh449 is a little steep, but given the sound quality and JBL’s heritage in this space, it may be worth it if you have to spend a lot of time in noisy places.