Apple has officially kissed the headphone jack goodbye and put it to rest in favor of the all-mighty Lightning connector. But you shouldn’t worry too much now that every audio brand is starting to release Lightning connected headphones. So if you can’t wait until Apple releases its weirdest looking wireless AirPods or perhaps you’re looking for a higher-quality sounding pair of in-ear headphones to use with your iPhone 7 (or any Apple device with a Lightning port), then you may want to consider JBL’s new Reflect Aware. These sporty and sweat-proof in-ear headphones feature a Lightning connector instead of the now obsolete 3.5mm jack. And for the very first time, the Reflect Aware are the first in-ear headphones to have powered active noise-cancellation technology. And because power is being delivered through the Lightning connector, the Reflect Aware never need to be recharged and don’t even have a weighty built-in battery. The only question left unanswered is whether or not JBL's active noise-cancelling headphones are worth purchasing over others that are truly ahead of the curve – truly wireless earbuds.
JBL's Reflect Aware aren't exactly cheap at $200, but that's not really asking a lot when you consider the fact that they're designed with active noise-cancellation. And speaking of design, the Reflect Aware might not require a rechargeable battery like other offerings that feature ANC as they are fully powered using the Lightning port on your iPhone, but I can't help and feel like these leave a little to be desired in terms of design. They're bulky as if they each had a battery on the inside, the remote control is huge, they're not particularly impressively built, and while I really like the robust cable that is visibly reflective at night to traffic, I find it to be too heavy as well. And all that weight adds up. The Reflect Aware feel hefty, however, they somehow still manage to stay in my ears when I move around a lot.
If it wasn't for the Freebit silicone tip wings that help lock the earbuds in your ears, they would instantly fall out as the so called "mushroom tips" (literally how JBL described them) by themselves do not fit all the way inside your ear canal like a normal round ear tip would. Without support from the wing tips, the Reflect Aware would fall out of your ears quicker than Apple's EarPods. That being said, the Reflect Aware are very comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
Three sets of silicone tips and Freebit ear wings are included in various sizes, so be sure to try them all and mix different sizes together to find the best combination that will fit you just right. I found that I personally had to use the small mushroom tips with the medium sized Freebit tips.
This remote controls the Reflect Aware's active noise-cancelling feature and ambient awareness volume levels, including a bunch of your standard music playback and call controls. The issue I have with this remote goes beyond the fact that it's just chunky. The buttons are poorly implemented as none of them have a distinguishable shape causing you to mistakenly press a button you didn't intend on pressing.
For size comparison, the Jaybird X2 wireless in-ear headphones don't look quite as chunky anymore next to the JBL Reflect Aware. The difference between the two in-line remote modules is astounding. Jaybird has really nailed it with the flat and lightweight cable and the ultra-lightweight remote design, whereas JBL's Reflect Aware already look outdated even though they are technically superior for wired earbuds.
We know JBL knows how to engineer some fantastic sounding headphones, but for some reason I wasn’t expected the Reflect Aware to sound all that good due to their oddly shaped, earbud-style silicone tips that lack proper isolation. But I’ve got to say that I was beyond pleasantly surprised when I hit that play button for the first time. The Reflect Aware are really impressively great sounding across every single frequency with a richness and tightly balanced sound signature. Highs are insanely clear, the midrange is too and filled with detail and cleanliness - while the bass is simply enjoyable even if you’re stepping down from full-sized headphones. For in-ear headphones that don’t have the best ear tip sealing, the Reflect Aware have an unexpectedly deep and satisfyingly thumpy bass. Whether it's the huge 14.8mm dynamic drivers or this digital signal afforded by the Lightning connector that has anything to do with how amazing the Reflect Aware perform is still questionable. Whatever it may be, it’s definitely working towards JBL’s advantage here.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that when turning on the noise-cancellation feature, the Reflect Aware did not start to hiss and sound any different than if you were to listen to music without active noise-cancellation turned on. Even when you're not listening to anything, there isn't any weirdly annoying interference noise coming from the powered headphones. And as far as the actual performance of the Reflect Aware's ACN mode, things like engine and fan noise are noticeably reduced when turning on the ACN. Granted the difference in noise reduction isn't as significant as it may be when using active noise-canceling headphones like Bose's wireless QuietComfort 35 or even JBL's own Everest Elite series, but for wireless earbuds the Reflect Aware offer some of the best noise-cancellation performance in a small, portable form factor.
With the My JBL Headphone app you'll be able to control some of the Reflect Aware's features such as the ambient awareness intensity which will essentially control the amount of background noise that passes through the headphones - in case you need to be more aware of your surroundings outdoors for example. In addition, there's a comprehensive EQ setting where you'll be able to effectively personalize the sound profile of the Reflect Aware to a great degree. If you want some more bass or treble, it's just a slider away.
The biggest drawback when it comes to using the Reflect Aware and some other Lighting connected headphones is compatibility. Now of course these will work just fine with your iPhone or iPad, but you'll run into trouble when you want to use your headphones with anything other than those devices due to the fixed Lighting connector at the end. Other headphones have got that issue answered with a detachable cable that users can choose between using a 3.5mm or a Lightning connector cable as both are included and easily interchangeable. JBL does offer the Reflect Aware C to Android users with a USB-C connection as an alternative, but a 3.5mm connector variant isn't available at all for obvious reasons.
JBL clearly made some seriously great sounding, albeit bulky, Lightning connected earbud-style headphones with the introduction of the Reflect Aware. Having active noise-cancellation that actually works well even though a tight fit inside your ears isn’t going to be an option while wearing the Reflect Aware is really beneficial. JBL’s ergonomically shaped winged ear tips do their job at ensuring your earbuds stay in your ears when you move, and that’s what you want, but you’ll need to sacrifice some audio leakage in exchange for these very Bose-type tips. The biggest trouble we have with JBL’s Reflect Aware, however, is that they’re targeted at people who have an active lifestyle and need sport-proof headphones. While you don’t have to worry about charging these particular headphones and have the ability to control the amount of ambient noise passing through, you will still have to inevitably worry about a distracting cable - and one that can only be connected to an iPhone or an iPad. If you’re willing to accept these tradeoffs and you’re sick and tired of constantly having to charge wireless headphones, then we think you’ll really like what the Reflect Aware have got to offer.
Now if only JBL would shrink these down into a truly wireless earbud solution, we’d be all over the Reflect Aware. Because we’re really finding it hard to recommend the Reflect Aware to people who will be using their headphones when working out over wireless headphones like Jaybird’s X2. While you won’t be getting ACN features, you aren’t tethered to your phone or locked into the Lightning connector ecosystem. And if you do fly a lot or really need the benefits of having active noise-cancelling headphones, we’ve recommend going with the wireless Bose QuietComfort 35. Or wait for Apple’s AirPods.