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JBL Reflect Aware review: A Lightning headphone that's ready for your new iPhone 7

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JBL's Reflect Aware sports earphones are being marketed as noise-canceling, which makes them fairly unique -- but on top of that they're one of the first Lightning headphones. That means they have a Lightning connector on the bottom and plug directly into the Lighting port of iOS devices. So, for iPhone 7 and 7 Plus owners, that means no headphone dongle required.

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6.9

JBL Reflect Aware

The Good

The JBL Reflect Aware in-ear sports headphones offer a secure, comfortable fit, are sweat-resistant, and have an integrated Lightning connector and reflective cord. They also feature active noise cancellation, and a companion app allows you to adjust ambient noise levels and customize EQ settings.

The Bad

Noise canceling isn't strong enough; Lightning connection draws a small amount of power from your phone and reduces battery life; no adapter included to plug the headphone into a standard headphone jack.

The Bottom Line

There's a lot to like about the JBL Reflect, particularly the fit, but some performance drawbacks hurt its value.

They cost $200 (£150, $AU300), which is pretty pricey, but they do seem well built, with a sturdy reflective cord and a nicely designed inline remote, and they're sweat resistant. They fit me really well, too, and have silicone tips and wings that lock the buds securely in place. They reminded me of little Bose's ear tips, which are really comfortable.

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What you get in the box.

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On the remote there's a button for turning the noise canceling on and off. The noise canceling isn't all that strong, and it's certainly not as good as the noise cancelling on Bose's QuietComfort 20 headphones, which cost $250.

The headphones are called the Aware because they have a feature where you can choose to let more ambient sound in, which is good if you're a runner or biker and want to be able to hear the world around you -- traffic in particular. (Note: JBL also makes a USB-C version of these headphones called the Reflect Aware C for USB-C phones such as the Moto Z. Those also cost $200.)

You control the ambient noise setting in the JBL headphone app. That app also allows you to customize the EQ setting, which is important because the headphones' default setting is considerably bassy and makes them sound a little muddy. I was able to improve the sound by adjusting the EQ to a more balanced setting (in fact, I turned the EQ to "Off"), and felt better about them after that. It still lacks a little clarity and sounds a little processed, but compared to typical sports headphones it sounds good.

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The headphones plug directly into the Lightning port on your iPhone and other iOS devices.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Ultimately, the biggest drawback may be that they do draw some power from your phone and will reduce your battery life. I also didn't think the noise canceling is strong enough, even with the ambient noise setting at zero. So you're taking a hit on your phone's battery life and not getting enough in return.

Overall, I still like the Aware, but it just seems like they should deliver more for the money. For $200 they've got to have stellar sound or stellar noise canceling -- and ideally, both. I can't rave about either, though I can say the headphones fit really well, which helps make up for the shortcomings in performance.

The headphones do have upgradable firmware, so it's possible JBL could improve them with time. It could also reduce the price to make it more attractive, for the fact is you can get a very good wireless sports headphone for $200 -- or less.

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The JBL Headphone app.

Sarah Tew/CNET
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6.9

JBL Reflect Aware

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 7Value 6