Once the preserve of high-end headphones, active noise cancellation (ANC) is starting to become a regular feature on mid-range and even budget sports buds. However, I’ve yet to find a cheaper pair that offers much in the way of ANC, and that remains the case after testing the JBL Reflect Mini NC.
Turning on the ANC had little to no effect on what I heard – in fact the passive noise cancellation of the in-ear design did a lot more to block external sounds. If you want ANC that really makes a difference, you still have to spend significant money on something like the Jabra Elite Active 75t or Apple AirPods Pro.
However, ineffectual ANC aside, the JBL Reflect Mini NC headphones are impressive and offer good value at £130.
The headphones stayed securely in place during runs and workouts even when things got very sweaty – I’m talking treadmill-runs-in-a-hot-garage sweaty. The IPX7 rating means there’s no fear of excess sweat damaging the headphones. They are waterproof so you can sweat all you want during a workout and rinse them off under a tap afterwards.
There are three sizes of ear tips and fins in the box to help you achieve a secure fit, though another smaller size would have been welcome. Even the smallest fins felt large in my ear, and I think I could have had just as secure a fit from a smaller wing, and it would have been more comfortable to wear for long periods.
The buds offer seven hours of battery life, with another 14 hours in the carry case. That’s a little less than I’d like from the case, but at least it’s small, and there’s a loop on the side to make it easier to secure to a running belt. There’s also a quick charge feature that gets you one hour of playback from 10 minutes of charging.
The sound of the headphones has a notably bass-heavy profile. It’s an enjoyable, warm sound, and free of distortion even when I cranked up the volume. You can fiddle with the EQ in the partner app and save sound profiles to switch between.
I had no problems with the buds connecting to my phone during workouts and runs, but they often wouldn’t disconnect when placed back in the case afterwards. I had to fiddle with them a bit and line them up just so for them to recognise they were in the case and switch off. It would be annoying if you forgot to do this and then found your phone was still linked up to them later in the day.
Each earphone has a touch panel on the side that you can use to control playback, activate a voice assistant, and switch between the ambient and ANC settings. You can configure which controls you’d like on the partner app, and overall the panel reliably recognised commands while exercising. Fairly often the first tap would go unregistered, which I don’t mind too much because it means you don’t set off the controls by accident when adjusting them.
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The ambient noise mode, like the ANC, was disappointing. This is a feature I like on in-ear sports headphones because it allows you to hear traffic when running by busy roads. However, with the Reflect Mini NC buds I found it impossible to use when running or cycling outdoors because it was essentially a wind mode. It can be handy indoors to let you hear other people, but for outdoor exercise I just used the ANC mode or turned both modes off.
Strip out the fairly useless ANC and knock £30 off the price and I’d recommend these wholeheartedly. Even at £129.99 they are worth considering, since they’re still a little cheaper than top-notch buds like the Jabra Elite Active 75t (with effective ANC) or Jaybird Vista. However, these give you a similar level of performance as sub-£100 buds like the Creative Outlier Air V2 or JLab Epic Air Sport ANC, and you even get mostly useless ANC on the latter as well.
Buy from JBL (opens in new tab) | £129.99 (currently reduced to £114)
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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