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Lifewire / Andy Zahn
Great sound quality
Impressive noise cancelling
Comfortable fit for smaller heads
Useful hear-through feature
Extraordinary battery life
Clever ease of use features
May not be comfortable for very large heads
Exterior picks up dirt and is hard to clean
The Jabra Elite 85H offers great sound, effective noise cancelling, and attractive modern design.
In our busy modern lives we crave simplicity, and relieving even minor inconveniences can help decrease the stress that weighs so heavily on our shoulders. The Jabra Elite 85H clearly understands this, and it is designed to eliminate as much hassle as possible from listening to music.
Of course, you expect more than ease of use from headphones, and the 85H doesn’t disappoint in terms of audio quality, comfort and advanced features. If you’re looking for excellent, hassle-free listening on the go, then the Elite 85H might be just what you’re looking for.
The Elite 85H differs from other headphones in its woven fabric exterior, which comes with a variety of unique pros and cons. On one hand it’s eye catching and uniquely appealing, giving it a matte look that would match nicely with denim clothing, an aesthetic that dodges the pitfalls of shiny metal or plastic headphones. Combined with the chunky, tough build quality, the 85H imparts a reassuring sturdiness that proved more than superficial during the course of our extensive testing. They are rated to IP52 standards, which means they can easily repel dust but that water resistance is not so robust.
Included with the 85H is a stylish carrying case that should provide ample protection for the headphones during transport. Our one issue with this case is that it can be a little tricky to get the headphones positioned in it correctly. This is due to the odd way they fold up, with one earpiece tucked into the headband and the other extended.
The 85H imparts a reassuring sturdiness that proved more than superficial during the course of our extensive testing.
Ports for audio and USB are located at the bottom of the earpieces, and the noise cancelling and pairing buttons are located along the rim. Skip, rewind, volume, and the multifunction button are concealed under the cloth texture exterior of the right ear piece. It should be noted that skip/rewind do not get dedicated buttons, but instead are operated by long presses of the volume buttons. The location of each is easily distinguishable by touch, and all are exceedingly tactile and satisfying to operate.
The included USB-C and AUX cables are rather disappointing: they’re short and feel flimsy compared to the quality of the headphones themselves. The included airplane adapter jack is a nice touch for frequent flyers.
Setting up the 85H is as simple as unfolding them and placing them on your head, whereupon you will be prompted to select them with your device from the Bluetooth menu. This is among the easiest Bluetooth pairing experiences we have ever encountered, and automatic reconnect features improve the usability of the headphones even further. When you connect an audio cable, Bluetooth automatically cuts out, and reconnects automatically as soon as the cable is disconnected.
We really appreciated the fact that to turn the 85H off and on all you need do is open and close the headphones, and that they detect when the headphones are on your head and when you take them off, automatically pausing whatever you’re listening to and resuming when you’re wearing them again. It’s very reliable, and saves a lot of fiddling with buttons and your phone.
We found that the Elite 85H was quite comfortable for people with small to medium sized heads, but could be slightly tight for larger noggins. However, with extended use they do become more comfortable even on bigger heads. The ear pads are thick and soft and there’s some room for adjustment.
What will potentially impact your comfort more than the fit of the headphones themselves is the noise cancelling. It creates interference to cancel out detected noise, and this extra sound can create the sense of pressure on your ear drums. This varies greatly from person to person—some people may experience headaches, while others may not be affected at all. Also, we found that it was possible to become used to the sensory side effect of active noise cancellation, though this can take some perseverance. You can also disable the noise cancelling entirely, though in that instance you’d likely be better off buying a less expensive pair of traditional headphones.
Jabra claims that the Elite 85H has a whopping 36 hour battery life, and after extensive testing we found this claim to be no exaggeration. Despite long periods of daily listening, we only had to recharge the Elite 85 once a week. When you do need to recharge it, the process only takes 2 ½ hours from empty. Using the active noise cancelling will reduce your battery life, but we had it turned on for much of our testing and never noticed significant amounts of extra battery drain.
It is hard not to talk about the Elite 85H’s audio quality without waxing hyperbolic with praise. The sound quality these headphones deliver is truly excellent, and we were quite taken aback the first time we put them on and listened to “Don Quixote” by Gordon Lightfoot. The 85H creates a great 3D soundscape with rich, vibrant tones and delivers excellent clarity throughout the frequency range.
You get great sound quality, excellent active noise cancelling, a durable, attractive exterior, and design choices that make listening to music a little more effortless.
While bass notes are certainly amplified, it doesn’t come at the cost of overall sound quality. Listening to “Joker and the Thief” by Wolfmother we enjoyed the crisp clash of the symbols, soaring guitar work, and the clear quality of the vocals. The 85H has a truly impressive soundstage and produces a remarkably 3D stereo effect.
The 85H also excels at rendering acoustic music, and while listening to the Vitamin String Quartet’s cover of “Cheap Thrills” we reveled in the rich tones of the cellos—we could practically smell the varnish!
The Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) is really superb in the 85H. It effectively eliminates exterior sound with little effect on audio quality and only the slightest hissing noise when no music is playing. The effect on audio quality is noticeable, though slight, and we actually preferred the deeper bass we got with ANC on as opposed to having it disabled.
We appreciated being able to cycle between ANC, no ANC, and hear through via a physical button on the 85H. Hear through is essentially the opposite of noise cancelling, and instead of using the exterior microphones to detect and cancel noise, it instead pipes that noise into the headphones, giving you better awareness of your environment with just a few clicks of the aforementioned button. We found the audio from this hear through mode to be very accurate and clear, to the point where it was hard to tell that it was being recorded and rebroadcast electronically.
The Bluetooth connectivity in the Elite 85H is so quick to pair as to be almost instantaneous, and is powerful enough to pierce numerous walls and other obstacles. Once we forgot the connected phone in a house, and only realized our error after we had left the house and walked a considerable difference from it. There were three separate walls, furniture, and a lengthy span of open space between us and the headphones, yet they remained connected.
The 85H also includes an AUX cable for analog connection, though it is so short and flimsy you will want a longer, tougher third party cable if you plan on connecting that way on a regular basis. The 85H is clearly designed to be used primarily in wireless mode.
It’s worth mentioning that the 85H doesn’t play well with some PC applications such as Teamspeak or Discord. It is obviously not intended to be used as a gaming headset, and we would not recommend it for such uses, though it’s perfectly fine for simple listening on PC or Mac.
The 85H is compatible with the Jabra Sound+ App for IOS and Android, which enables extensive customization options. You can switch between virtual assistants (Google, Siri, Alexa), and adjust the EQ to tune the headphones to your personal taste. A number of presets offer useful easy options for you to choose from or use as a baseline for your own personalized settings.
You can also access “moments” that change the behaviour of the active noise cancelling based on your environment. You can manually select moments, disable them and use your own settings, or enable “Smartsound” which will listen to and analyze your environment every few minutes and alter your “moment” to better suit your changing environment. We found this automatic switching worked reasonably well, but the voice that pops in to inform you of the change can get a bit distracting, and you may want to disable voice prompts.
We appreciate the locator function in the app, which can help find your headphones if they get lost based on the location of your phone the last time they were connected. It’s a little limited in scope, but can be a useful aid in some situations.
The app also enables easy firmware updates, which have already delivered improvements to sound quality, ANC, and other aspects of the headphones and the Sound+ app. Jabra has so far demonstrated a dedication to further improving this device, and we are excited by the potential for future updates.
The Jabra Elite 85H has an MSRP of $300 and are available exclusively from Best Buy. Because of this you can’t shop around and find them for less from a competing retailer. However, the quality of sound they produce, the effectiveness of the active noise cancelling, and the excellent build quality add up to a significant value for your investment.
Of course it is impossible not to talk about Bose’s latest wireless noise cancelling headphones when considering the Elite 85H. The Bose 700 does just about everything a little better than the 85H, though the two are remarkably close given their $100 price difference. It’s hard to judge which has the better sound - both are great, but we’d give a slight edge to Bose. The real difference comes in terms of comfort. The Bose 700 just disappears on your head - no pressure, pure comfort, even on especially big heads.
The Bose 700 is slickly and minimalistically designed, packs down smaller than the Elite 85H, and despite its slim profile manages to feel much wider around your ears, thus reducing strain and improving the soundstage. The Bose 700 soundstage is especially impressive when you consider that the 85H already has a stunning sound stage, and to be so markedly better is a true accomplishment for the Bose.
These are both excellent headphones, and if you want to save $100 you will be quite happy with the Jabra Elite 85H, but you won’t regret splurging on the Bose 700, and for those with larger heads we would really recommend making that investment.
An audio powerhouse.
The Jabra Elite 85H really is a complete package. You get great sound quality, excellent active noise cancelling, a durable, attractive exterior, and design choices that make listening to music a little more effortless. Only those with especially large heads may find the 85H less than perfectly comfortable. Despite the somewhat high price tag these are remarkably well rounded and impressive headphones that are worth every penny.
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