Review : JBL Synchros Reflect in-ear headphones

Headphones stay put during activities, but sound is problematic

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Product Manufacturer: JBL

Price: $60

The Good

  • Cable management
  • In-ear hold during activities
  • Magnetic backs

The Bad

  • Cable length
  • Discomfort
  • Ear tip fit/seal
All headphones are not created equally, especially when it comes to use during vigorous activities or workouts. Over-the-ear headphones are cumbersome and in the way, but in-ear versions can constantly pop out making them a hassle to constantly manage. So what is left for people that need entertainment during their workout routines? JBL offers a potential solution with the Synchros Reflect in-ear headphones. But are the Synchros Reflects something worthy of considering, or are they just another modern hindrance to deal with?

The Synchros Reflect headphones are a set of wired headphones, keeping the price down to $60 for those that don't want to spring for costlier Bluetooth-enabled versions. JBL keeps the headphones simple, opting to go for a lightweight earbud design that focuses on functionality rather than flashiness. The headphones are available in four different colors, however, the colors offered depend on the model. There are two different offerings from the company with defined by the devices they are intended to be used with. The review model, the Reflect-I, is meant for iOS devices, while the Reflect-A is for Android or universal applications. With the controls on both, wears can answer and take phone calls with the built-microphone, change music tracks or adjust volume levels depending on the platform.

There are a handful of considerations for active users JBL anticipated when designing the Synchros Reflect. One such perk is the installation of magnets within each earbud for better cable management. Lightweight magnets are housed behind the glossy JBL logos on each of the bud, attracting to one another with as little as one inch of distance between them. Wearers can toss an earbud around each side of their necks to connect them to one another without much effort. They come apart with a light pull if they are resting against the neck, so it isn't hard to get right back to the music.

Another consideration on the Synchros Reflect is the cord. The main cord attached to the earbuds is short at only 24 inches, but it makes it the perfect length to be used with a portable music device strapped into an armband. For those looking to connect to a device in a pocket, JBL includes an extension cable to take the total length to 44 inches. A metal clip on the small plastic box at the 'Y' split makes it easy to keep the exact length needed free by anchoring the cord to a shirt or jacket. In addition to matching the color on the earbuds, the flat cord is features a reflective coating on both sides for those running or biking in low light situations.

Unlike the run-of-the-mill in-ear headphones, JBL takes additional steps to secure the buds within the wearer's ears. This is done with the Freebit tip, a licensed, ergonomic design using arcing pieces of material to secure inside the ear. The Freebit rubber ear tip and the fin are constructed as one piece, wrapping over ridges on the earbud to create a protruding fin. The fin then sits under the ridge on the ear created by the antihelix, pressing against the inner wall to keep it in place. This holds the earbuds fast, so it's rare that they will fall out on their own.

This design keeps the earbud from being yanked out with moderate force. It's likely that wearers won't pull them out if the cord gets tangled up in an arm during running or use of exercise equipment, but catch them on a fixed object while walking by could do the trick. Even pulling them out of the ear, it's easier to tug at an angle and compress the fin rather than yanking them straight out.

Hold of the earbuds on the Synchros Reflect is impressive, but their fit in the ear canal isn't. The headphones include three different sizes of tips to fit the ear, but unfortunately, some people will run into issues. Our reviewer found that the large size tips were the best fit, but the angled design didn't completely seal in or against the canal. Due to the angle the earbud sits at and the length, it ends up slightly offset. Given that earbuds won't fit each person in the same manner, it could end up being a problem for only a handful of people, but how do you know until you try?

The lack of seal for some effectively nullifies the low-end of any song. Songs lose much of their depth because of this, sounding very tinny in the process. Those wearing the headphones can find some success in obtaining a temporary seal by pressing the earbuds further in and adjusting the angle. However, the hold is temporary at best, and in some cases doesn't last past a few seconds.

When the earbuds seal properly, the Synchros Reflect put out a surprisingly powerful sound. Using only 8.5mm drivers, the sound provides a great balance and low and high-end sounds. The headphones don't favor highs or lows, nor does sound suffer from a distortion. The bass stands out, as it is rich and possesses impact. For instance, Daft Punk's "Derezzed" still has the signature bassline delivered with the punch intact, but it maintains enough clarity that some of the buzzing from the synthesizers and pitch bends are still heard. Even guitar heavy modern rock songs like Coheed and Cambria's "Welcome Home" maintains its screeching solos without breakup, being lost in the mids, or overpowered by kick drums.

Though the music can be impressive when the earbuds fit correctly, people may not be able to hear it for long due to the discomfort. It's clear that the Synchros Reflect are not headphones meant to be worn for long periods of time, but anything past 30 minutes pushes past the uncomfortable threshold. The earbuds themselves aren't the problem, but rather the fins that are meant to produce a better hold. Though the fin and earbud cover are molded as one piece, the portion that goes into the ear canal is thinner and therefore loses some of the rigidity.

The whole piece is a flexible silicone rubber, but the fin is thicker and produce enough pressure against the ear to be irritating when worn. Usually this sort of material offers enough comfort for long listening sessions, but the tip of the fins dig into the ear depending on how they are twisted to fit. The result isn't painful, but long-term wear isn't recommended. It's all part of the intended design to hold the earbud in place, but it limits the Synchros Reflect to active situations.

JBL's headphones have the right features on paper for active people looking for a pair of in-ear headphones that won't fall or be easily pulled out during their daily routines. Sadly, the fit can be troublesome because of the ear-tip design. While they hold during workouts, jogging and bike rides, they seal provided due to the angular design presents a problem. It's disheartening since the overall sound from the Synchros Reflect is pleasing. Not all users will suffer from this problem, but with the limitation of three tip sizes many consumers won't get the full range of sound the headphones are capable of. Users are left with the dilemma of shelling out $60 for a pair of headphones that may or may not fit right, something that all of the other features combined cannot overcome.