The popularity of noise-cancelling wireless earbuds has soared over the past year, even ushering in a new sub-category: noise-cancelling wireless sport earbuds. Sony helped set things off with the WF-SP800N, a model that delivered strong bass and active noise cancellation in a durable shell. Now, JBL is looking to follow suit with its latest release: the Reflect Mini NC. These fitness-centric buds bring ANC into the mix, while keeping intact several JBL hallmarks, including stable battery life, Signature Sound technology, and waterproof protection.
- Our expert picks for the best wireless earbuds, per budget and style
- Check out our Apple AirPods Pro review
- …and our Sony WF-SP800N review
But while the category is limited to only a handful of models (well, at least, good ones), the Reflect Mini NC does face some stiff competition. Market favorites like the AirPods Pro are being used at the gym, and then there are critical darlings like Jabra Elite Active 75t, which have just received a free over-the-air ANC update. So, how does the Reflect Mini FC fare against the field? Answer: Incredibly well.
JBL Reflect Mini NC: Availability and price
The JBL Reflect Mini NC is available for $149 at major online retailers, including Best Buy or directly from JBL. These buds are sold in four colors: Black, Blue, White, and Green (Best Buy exclusive). Bundled with the purchase are a charging case with lanyard, three extra sets of tips, a USB-C charging cable, and two quick guides.
Make sure to bookmark our cheap headphones deals page to stay informed on the latest JBL headphones sales.
JBL Reflect Mini NC: Design and comfort
Most of JBL’s products are well built and have attractive elements. The Reflect Mini NC won’t outshine stylish creations like the Beats Powerbeats Pro or Jabra Elite 85t, but these buds do have a ruggedly handsome appearance, highlighted by shiny accents and a robust exterior built to withstand the daily abuse you’ll put them through. The casing is built from a composite plastic-like material that can fend off scuffs and scratches, while protecting the internals from hard falls to the concrete or moisture damage thanks to IPX7 sweat and waterproofing. Small details like the silver ring around the touch panel and brand logo complement their premium look.
The charging case is basically one thick piece of plastic that comes in a capsule shape and has some heft to it (0.5 ounces). It isn’t something that will easily slip into your pockets like the AirPods Pro case; expect an unflattering bulge if you attempt to do so. What I do find cool is the built-in lanyard for users to wrap around their wrist during runs, making portability effortless. The casing is sturdy as well, though the lid is very flimsy.
Regarding comfort and fit, the Reflect Mini NC is a mixed bag. One of the problems that arises when using hard, damage-proof materials is that they can often cause discomfort. The inner part of the earbud next to the sound port pierces the concha, which can make wearing the buds very uncomfortable after an hour of use. It isn’t something you will notice during workouts, but I wouldn’t advise using the buds for casual listening.
The ear fin stabilizers that come installed benefit runners with larger ears; they didn’t mold perfectly or stay put on my small ears. Luckily, JBL included three other sizes to accommodate my ear size, so once I found a proper fit, the buds remained in place.
I will say that the Reflect Mini NC offers a more reliable fit than the WF-SP800N, mainly because the chunky exterior and weight of Sony’s buds creates stability issues. However, I can’t deny that the AirPods Pro’s weightlessness and Ear Fit Tip Test do make sporting Apple’s wireless danglers more appealing.
JBL Reflect Mini NC: Controls and digital assistant
The controls on the Reflect Mini NC are not the most trustworthy. JBL’s touch panels didn’t always recognize taps, nor did on-ear detection always work to automatically pause playback when removing the buds from my ears. On the plus side, JBL programmed these buds with several multi-taps and hold gestures that can be individually assigned to each bud, giving you full functionality at the tip of your finger.
One redeeming quality in the controls department is the digital assistant. You get Google Assistant and Alexa integration, along with Siri support for iOS/macOS, and all three provide speedy results. JBL’s mic array does a fine job of picking up vocals and registering voice commands, while the AI bots deliver accurate responses as quickly as they receive them. Not many buds come with Alexa, so it’s nice that JBL gives it to you as third option, especially for those tied to Amazon’s ecosystem.
JBL Reflect Mini NC: Active noise cancellation and transparency mode
I have never thought much of JBL’s ANC technology, but I must say that it is surprisingly good on these sporty in-ears. Granted, I still prefer the WF-SP800N’s noise neutralization, but the Reflect Mini NC is no slouch at minimizing external sounds. I barely noticed family members shouting to each other across the living room. The droning noises from our centralized AC unit were muted, along with other common household noises like door buzzers and kitchen appliance timers.
The buds do struggle with high-frequency sounds, which isn’t shocking since I feel the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are really the only wireless earbuds equipped to handle that level of noise, and even they don’t completely silence them. My newborn grabbed my attention every time he belted out feed-me cries, while ambulance sirens made their way onto the soundstage. Despite these noises being audible, they weren’t distracting enough to pull me away from whatever I had playing at the moment. That is a huge plus. Also, JBL lets you adjust the ANC levels to your liking in the companion app (search for ANC Tuning on the Settings page), which is a feature very few models offer.
Smart Ambient and TalkThru modes are available as well, each serviceable in their own way. The former helps increase awareness when exercising outside, meaning you’ll be able to hear your surroundings more clearly and avoid accidents, while the latter drops the volume down to 30% so you can communicate more easily with commuters. These modes work well on the Reflect Mini NC, though I felt they operated better on the JBL UA Flash X.
JBL Reflect Mini NC: Audio quality
Anyone who has owned a pair of JBL headphones or earbuds know exactly what they’re getting: bass-forward sound. Since we’re dealing with sport wireless earbuds, it’s fitting for the Reflect Mini NC to be engineered with an emphatic low end, which is exactly what you get, only it’s been adjusted and properly balanced. I say that because bass on the Live 300 TWS was “either absent or bogged down with distortion” on many records.
Gearing up for a jog, I played NaS’ “Hate Me Now” and was immediately energized by the song’s intense production, which consists of pounding drum snares and synth effects. Even Diddy’s distorted vocals on the hook were cleaned up to hear him clearly, granted, that could also be viewed as a negative to some listeners. I’m kidding. Nonetheless, it was an intense listen that got my adrenaline pumping, and one that will appease bass aficionados.
I proceeded to blast Muse’s “Hysteria” shortly after to get a greater feel for the JBL Reflect Mini NC’s lows. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. What I heard put my legs into second gear, as the loud and infectiously driving bassline fueled my energy levels. The only thing more captivating was how the soundstage emphasized the production’s fuzzy bass elements without compromising clarity.
The Reflect Mini NC also dishes out some compelling highs, which I came across when listening to Jazz classics during recovery mode. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ “Hipsippy Blues” was pleasantly soothing to hear, rewarding my ears with mellow hi-hats and smooth horn play.
A word of advice is to play music with ANC mode on, as this will boost the bass levels and volume a smidge. In addition, make sure to swap out the EQ profile from Jazz (the default) to Bass.
JBL Reflect Mini NC: App and special features
The JBL Headphones app is where you can personalize functionality on these buds. It hosts a number of features, though other apps like Jabra Sound+ and Sony Connect Headphones have a wider range of options to play with. On the front screen are battery level indicators for each bud and the charging case, as well as toggle controls for the several listening modes.
Below that is the app’s biggest feature, the EQ, which comes with three presets (Jazz, Vocal, Bass) as well as a custom one to create your own sound profile. The latter is easy to use, so that even wannabe audiophiles can tweak the low, mid or high range to their liking. The app’s second standout feature is Smart Audio Modes, where you get three options to improve performance in certain areas: Normal (stable connection), Audio Mode (music listening), and Video Mode (audio latency on videos). All work well, in particular, Video Mode, which drastically improves lip synchronization when watching videos versus Normal mode.
Select the Settings icon on the top right to access other features such as control customization, sleep mode, and ANC Tuning to adjust manually noise cancelling levels. Another sweet inclusion is Find My Buds to help locate misplaced or lost earbuds. Overall, JBL blesses you with a nice set of features to work with.
JBL Reflect Mini NC: Battery life and charging case
JBL rates battery life at 7 hours, which is misleading since JBL doesn’t state whether this is with ANC on or off. I reached out to the brand and they confirmed that music playtime is 7 hours with Bluetooth on, 6 hours with Bluetooth and ANC on. This was pretty accurate based on my testing. It is a sufficient amount of playtime to have for at least a week’s worth of exercising. Not to mention this is higher than many other ANC wireless earbuds, including the AirPods Pro (4.5 hours) and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds (6 hours).
The charging case holds up to 21 hours on a full charge and comes with quick-charging technology to generate an hour of use on a 10-minute charge. Not the shortest, nor the longest, but good enough to keep the buds juiced when travelling around the world. However, I feel any case that has a shorter playtime than the AirPods Pro’s case (24 hours) should be considered a disappointment. The lack of wireless charging must also be acknowledged.
JBL Reflect Mini NC: Call quality and connectivity
The Reflect Mini NC is OK as a calling headset. I was able to have loud and clear conversations on the phone with my wife. Skype chats with clients were the same. Background noise was minimal with only a few clients hearing keyboard clatter. Performance was hindered a little when talking outside, as the missus noticed my voice sounding more muffled. I thought this was due to the cars speeding past the house, but she made no mention of them, which suggests that JBL’s mic array has strong wind resistance.
Bluetooth 5.1 operates superbly. Connections remained strong across all of my devices, and I enjoyed a 37-foot range for wireless listening. More impressive were the buds’ wireless capabilities. I was able to instantly pair to devices via Google Fast Pair and re-pair manually by pressing the button on the charging case. JBL’s proprietary Dual Connect + Sync feature helped strengthen wireless performance by connecting the buds independently. Multipoint technology was also available to pair the buds with two devices simultaneously.
JBL Reflect Mini NC: Verdict
JBL has taken multiple stabs at creating high-quality wireless earbuds, and though several of their attempts have come up short, the Reflect Mini NC rises to the occasion. These buds aren’t just a great versatile pair of wireless sport earbuds, they are relatively affordable buds with really good ANC. Durable aesthetics, longer battery life than the AirPods Pro, and a user-friendly app with several features add to their value.
But these buds are not without their drawbacks. The controls can be frustrating to use at times, which is something that will annoy runners who like to skip tracks or change listening modes on the go. Depending on your pain threshold, you ears may be pulsating after workouts due to the hard casing. The bulky charging case may seem like a nitpick, but just know that there are smaller charging cases out there that hold longer playtimes.
All criticisms aside, at $150, the Reflect Mini NC gets you more bang for your buck, especially if you’re not looking to splurge on the AirPods Pro or Sony’s sub-luxury WF-SP800N earbuds.