JBL Tune Flex review: earbuds that you can wear two ways

The JBL Tune Flex can be used with either open-ear or in-ear tips

JBL Tune Flex review: man wearing true wireless earbuds waiting for train
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

The JBL Tune Flex are some of the most versatile true wireless earbuds you can buy because they can be used as open-ear headphones or as in-ear headphones thanks to the included set of silicone tips. Granted the former won't give you top-quality sound but it's great to have the option.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Transform from open ear to in-ear

  • +

    Cool design options and colours

  • +

    Lots of extra features

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Sound quality is affected by open ear tips

  • -

    Weak battery with ANC

  • -

    Not fully waterproof

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If you want cheap earbuds but don’t want to be stuck with in-ear headphones, this JBL Tune Flex review will be exactly where you need to be. They’re a great alternative to the Apple AirPods but with a much smaller price tag. 

JBL makes some of the best true wireless earbuds, particularly at a reasonable price. Whether you want some sports buds like the JBL Reflect Aero or if you’re looking for a feature-packed pair like the JBL Live Pro 2 - they’re almost certain to have something that will float your boat. 

This JBL Tue Flex review will go through everything you need to know about these true wireless earbuds. From details on their design and fit to my take on the performance and features, but to cut a long story short, in many ways they're some of the best cheap headphones

JBL Tune Flex review: price and availability 

You can buy the JBL Tune Flex right now for £90 in the UK - they aren’t yet available in the US or Australia. Take a look at the widgets on this page to see the best deals on them right now from across the web. 

JBL Tune Flex review: design and fit

JBL Tune Flex review: black earbuds with charging case

(Image credit: Future)

Not everyone likes the idea of putting a pair of earbuds right inside their ear canal, even if that does mean better sound and better noise isolation - that’s why JBL has the Tune Flex buds, a pair of earphones that can rest in the outer part of your ear instead of deep inside them. 

I tested out the Ghost Edition of these earphones, which have a transparent design for both the charging case and earbuds. They look really cool, and they’re something a little different which I really liked. You can choose to pick them up in either black, white or purple. Or, if you prefer the standard version, you can buy them in a non-transparent blue, white or black. 

In terms of comfort, I found I could wear these for longer periods of time than in-ear earbuds but in terms of fit, they were much less secure and felt as though they could fall out if I moved too suddenly or if I jumped around.

The stem design means they still balance well in your ears for the most part, but for those times when you do want added security or better sound, they do actually come with three sizes of sealing ear tips as well housed in a handy little case to keep them safe.

JBL Tune Flex review: true wireless charging case in transparent black

(Image credit: Future)

You’ll be able to use these in a fair amount of different scenarios, particularly because of the IPX4 water resistance which means they’ll survive splashes of rain or sweat, even though they won’t cope with being thrown in a pool of water.

Each stem has its own touch controls that work very well without being overly sensitive, although there was a slight delay between pressing them and the command actually happening.

By default, you tap once on the right to pause or play the music, twice to skip to the next track, three times to go to the previous track and a long press will summon the Google Assistant. On the left, one tap will switch between the noise cancelling modes and twice will turn on the TalkThru mode. You can change what each gesture does in the JBL Headphones smartphone app.

When it comes to battery life, you can expect the earbuds to last 8 hours at a time with an extra 24 hours added by the case with noise cancelling switched off, so 32 hours all in all. If you turn it on that goes down to 6 hours from the buds and 18 hours from the case - so a total of only 24 hours which is much less impressive.

Charging them back up again will take about 2 hours, and a quick 10-minute charge will give you 2 hours of use. The case doesn’t support wireless charging, unfortunately.

JBL Tune Flex review: performance and features  

JBL Tune Flex: true wireless earbuds on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future)

Because these aren’t sealed in the sound is nowhere near as immersive as you’d get from other in-ear earbuds. Each of my favourite songs lacked depth and clarity, I also found the volume wasn't always loud enough when I was in particularly noisy environments.  

When you do add the extra tips the sound quality massively improves. To fit them, you just need to take off the open ear tips and replace them with one of the pairs of sealing tips, then go into the app and choose the ear tip sound setting to match. 

As I just mentioned, without the tips, the sound doesn’t push through with as much force so you lose out a lot on quality. But with those sealing eartips, the sound is much more precise, more punchy and manages to stay very well balanced especially given the price. I found the overall listening experience to be much better with them fitted especially if you're looking for particularly energetic and rich audio. 

Through the adjoining JBL Headphones smartphone app, which is available for both iOS and Android, you get a whole host of extra features including a manual equaliser to tailor the sound to your tastes. You can adjust it manually in loads of detail or choose between five preset sound modes including jazz, vocal, bass, club and studio. 

Using the open ear tips, the ANC won’t do the best job and you'll still hear a lot of the noise happening around you. But with the sealing tips, it’s much more effective. It won’t block out every sound as well as the best noise cancelling headphones do, I could still hear my keyboard taps and the sound of traffic as I walked down the road but it definitely minimises it all. 

There’s also an Ambient sound mode that lets more noise in but balances it better with the music so you can still hear a lot of what’s going on around you, and the Talkthru mode dips the volume of the music from the earbuds so you can have a conversation without needing to take them out. 

Not only can you call your smartphone’s voice assistant through these but they actually come with the Google Assistant built-in which means you can listen to notifications from your phone as they come in, answer texts or make calls hands-free as well. 

Another useful feature is Find My Buds which will make it easier to locate one or both of the earbuds by playing a loud sound to help you pinpoint where they are in the room. 

Loaded with Bluetooth 5.2, it’s really easy to get set up with the JBL Tune Flex. As soon as I opened the case, my Android phone prompted me to connect to them and they stayed reliably hooked up for the most part too even if it did drop out ever so slightly when I walked into another room. My only issue was that every now and then putting them back in the case didn’t actually disconnect them and the music carried on playing. 

 JBL Tune Flex review: verdict 

JBL Tune Flex review: black transparent true wireless earbuds with matching case

(Image credit: JBL)

Why would you choose the JBL Tune Flex over regular in-ear buds? Well, unlike other options, it’s really useful to have the choice between the open ear and in-ear tips - there might be some days where you would rather be aware of your surroundings and you just want comfort whereas on other days you might want to cut the world out with music and opt for a secure fit instead. These give you the best of both worlds.

Outside of their ability to transform, they’re pretty good with loads of features and a really cool design as well as a very reasonable price tag, although the battery life with ANC switched on does leave a lot to be desired. 

JBL Tune Flex review: also consider 

If you don’t mind having in-ear headphones, and you own an iPhone, the Apple AirPods are likely to be the best choice for you. They sound fantastic, the noise cancelling is very effective and they’re packed full of features. You’ll also be able to use them reliably for workouts because they sit very securely in your ears.

The JBL Tune Flex might also seem a little pricey for you, in which case, the Sony WF-C500 are a super affordable pair of buds that still sound really good even if they don’t have loads of extra features like ANC. They also look really cool with lots of different colour options to choose from. 

Yasmine Crossland
Freelance Tech Expert

Yasmine is the former Reviews Writer for T3, so she's been knee-deep in the latest tech products for reviewing and curating into the best buying guides since she started in 2019. She keeps a finger on the pulse when it comes to the most exciting and innovative tech and is happy to tell you exactly what she thinks about it too. In her free time, you'll catch her travelling the globe – the perks of being a freelance tech expert – tending to her plants when at home and, but of course, planning her next big trip.