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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Excellent build quality
Impeccable battery life
Decent, customizable sound
Wireless charging case
Not as comfortable as some other earbuds
A tad pricey
No aptX codec
The Jabra Elite 85t earbuds are a modern offering in the true wireless space, with tons of features and a great companion app.
Jabra provided us with a review unit for one of our writers to test. Read on for the full review.
The Elite 85t earbuds are quite possibly Jabra’s best foot forward into the audio space. The Elite line has been a key AirPod competitor since the 65t, and they improved vastly on the design and build quality with the updated Elite 75t versions last year. Conversely, the newer Elite 85t earbuds look almost exactly the same as the 75ts, at least on the surface. When it comes to emulating a pair of true wireless earbuds, you can do a lot worse than the Elite 75ts, so it’s not really a problem that they didn’t update the form factor.
Instead, Jabra seems to have taken to heart the few omissions consumers noted last gen and brought them all to the party here. With Qi-certified wireless charging in the battery case and next-level noise cancellation available on the earbuds, the Elite 85t offering is near perfect, but it will all go for a fairly premium price point. I spent a few days testing all the different applications for these earbuds, and here’s how things shook out.
The first thing you’ll notice when you unbox the Elite 85t earbuds is that they look almost exactly the same as the 75t generation. In fact, the only difference is the weight of the battery case (likely due to the new wireless charging coil Jabra had to put in) and the Qi logo embossed in the bottom of the case. Otherwise, they are clones of last year’s model. That isn’t a problem—the 75t and 85t earbuds look sleek and premium. The titanium black color I got is a two-tone design, with matte black covering the inner part of the earbud and a dark gray, almost gunmetal color covering the outside.
The first thing you’ll notice when you unbox the Elite 85t earbuds is that they look almost exactly the same as the 75t generation.
The amoeba-like shape, with the Jabra-logo touch buttons and microphone grills all fit nice and subtly on the outside of the earbuds. The extremely compact, dental floss-esque black case also looks tiny and sleek and will fit perfectly on your office desk or into your briefcase. While the fit of these earbuds is a point of discussion for later, it’s important to note that the construction does put most of the earbuds against the outer part of your ear. They don’t feel as low-profile as something like Samsung’s first-gen Galaxy Buds, but they’re also not as bulky as other brands like Bose.
The more I review earbuds, the harder it is for me to really reach a definitive verdict on fit for everyone. Because comfort is inherently related to the shape of your ears and your specific preferences, it’s hard to make wholesale statements. This is obviously why earbud manufacturers included multiple eartip sizes, and you’ll find three sizes with the 85t package. The eartips themselves aren’t perfectly round but are pinched into more of an ellipse-like shape. I tend to like this choice because it means you won’t force a super-tight, rounded fit into your ears, but if you like a stifling seal in your earbuds, this might be an issue for you.
There are no ear wings or fins on the 85t earbuds. Instead, Jabra has designed small, rubberized contours into the enclosure. These bumps are meant to rest on the inside of your outer ear, using gravity to sit firmly. Jabra claims they’ve “scanned thousands of ears” for this process, but I think this is marketing language.
At the end of the day, if you prefer sporty rubber wings that help grip to your ear, you won’t find that here. If you want something more subtle that rests nicely in your ear (and as long as that style of fit doesn’t tend to fall out of your ears) then these earbuds will be good for you. In short, these earbuds offer a similar fit to the last generation, but because so many other headphones have evolved their shape, I can’t help but think that Jabra could have added some improvements here.
When the first generation Elite 65t earbuds hit the market, there were no complaints about sound quality and call functionality, but the battery case and the earbuds themselves didn’t exactly feel up to snuff for the price point. Jabra vastly improved on this with the 75t, and again, they didn’t fix what wasn’t broken on the 85ts. The soft-touch rubber/plastic on the outside of the earbuds feels very nice both in your hands and in your ears, and though the silicone used for the ear tips feels a little stiffer than the ultra-soft variant used in some other premium earbuds, I think it’s mostly okay. Even the battery case employs a satisfying easy-open lid that snaps shut with magnets—and contains equally powerful magnets to bring the earbuds into their charging ports quickly and easily.
While the 85t earbuds feel fairly rugged, they only offer an official IPX4 rating. This means that they’ll survive easily in the rain or during a sweaty workout but might suffer eventually in heavy precipitation and certainly shouldn’t be submerged in water. At face value, this rating should seem fine, and truth be told, it’s a common rating for headphones of this caliber, but last year’s 75t featured IP55 water and dust resistance. Not only is that water sealing just a bit better, that first 5 in the rating indicates debris and dust protection where the X in the 85t’s rating indicates no official debris sealing. Jabra clearly feels like this wasn’t necessary for the latest gen, and to be fair, it isn’t a dealbreaker. But if you want outdoorsy headphones meant for hiking, you might be better off with last year’s model
Jabra has earned a spot in the conversation against AirPods because their headphones have always sounded better for both calls and listening. Jabra has carried this legacy nicely into the 85ts, with a nice, rich, full sonic response. That’s partly due to the massive 11mm drivers they’ve managed to squeeze into these earbuds. The frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz isn’t the widest I’ve seen but is certainly enough to cover the full spectrum of human hearing. But, this sound quality is also due to a good degree more control via the app than you’re afforded with many other earbuds. I’ll dig into some of this later, but the “MySound” customization makes these earbuds sound really great. And with two dedicated microphones on each earbud, call quality is as crisp as you’d expect from a brand like Jabra.
This year, Jabra has doubled down with a dedicated noise-cancelling chip with what they’re promising are six bands of EQ analysis to better cancel out specific parts of the noise spectrum that are around you.
Then there are the noise-canceling and transparency modes (Jabra calls the latter “HearThrough). For the most part, I’m satisfied with the noise-canceling on board here. The 75ts didn’t come with active noise cancellation out of the box, but a few months after their release, Jabra figured out a way to coop the on-board call microphones for use in a firmware-support ANC. This year, Jabra has doubled down with a dedicated noise-canceling chip with what they’re promising are six bands of EQ analysis to better cancel out specific parts of the noise spectrum that are around you.
So, if ANC is important to you, the 85ts are a much more capable model. In practice, I think these headphones are in line with most of the other ANC earbuds on the market, except perhaps for Bose’s new QuietComfort earbuds, which are truly incredible in this capacity. Overall, there’s a lot to like about how the Elite 85ts sound, and you’d be hard-pressed to find complaints, but having tested a ton of premium earbuds, I can’t say these are the absolute best.
The battery life on the Elite 85t earbuds is almost without rival. Suffice it to say that the battery life offered here is just about as good as you might expect from most of the top-of-the-line true wireless earbuds available on the market. The spec sheet promises seven hours of use with just the earbuds, plus an additional 24 hours (that’s more than 30 total hours) when you include the battery case. These numbers are totals I normally only see on larger over-ear headphones, so it’s impressive to see them at play here.
The spec sheet promises 7 hours of use with just the earbuds, plus an additional 24 hours (that’s more than 30 total hours) when you include the battery case.
The numbers do lower to 25 total hours when you activate ANC, but that’s still very impressive. In practice, I was trending toward these totals nicely, and even if your headphones run out of juice shy of these astronomical averages, you’ll still easily get through multiple workdays or a couple of long flights without any issue. And, because there’s Qi wireless charging built into the battery case, it’s easy to throw them onto the same charging mat as your phone when you aren’t using them. There is, of course, decently fast charging capabilities through the USB-C port allowing for up to an hour of playback with just a 15-minute charge. In short, this category makes for a true achievement for Jabra.
This category is a mixed bag, but I’ll start with the good. First, there’s Bluetooth 5.1 running all the connectivity for these earbuds, which means you can connect two devices simultaneously, and you’ll get a solid 30-foot range. In real life, this worked very seamlessly, switching back and forth between my computer and phone easily and offering no interference from my (many) other Bluetooth devices. You’ll also get all the latest versions of profiles including HSP, A2DP, AVRCP, and more.
Where you won’t find the modern trimmings is in the Bluetooth codec department. Jabra is relying only on the standard SBC and AAC compression formats here. To transmit audio, the Bluetooth protocol has to compress your audio to deliver it with lowish latency. SBC and AAC are the most aggressive forms of this compression, having the greatest effect on the quality of the file you’re listening to.
Qualcomm has created a codec called aptX that aims to lessen the effect of this compression, but Jabra hasn’t chosen to include this third-party codec in their product. I’m guessing this is the case because they want full control over the audio through the app’s equalization, but if you want aptX for latency and quality reasons, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I don’t think this has a tremendously noticeable effect on the quality of playback, but it is something to note.
Jabra has included the requisite battery case, charging cable, and eartip sizes, giving you only the bare minimum of what you expect in an accessory package. They’ve also opted not to include fancy touchpads on the earbuds, going for one giant button on each instead. These buttons allow you to answer calls, pause music, and even call up Siri or Google Assistant. There’s also a sensor baked into the earbuds that will automatically pause music when an earbud is taken out. This is all great to see, but nothing too extraordinary.
The feature set really goes up a notch when you factor in the control afforded by the Jabra Sound+ app. Through this app, you can adjust the noise cancellation levels (I like mine right in the middle, so it isn’t quite as stifling) and you can also reverse the noise cancellation process and pass ambient sound through (great for walking around busy, heavy-traffic areas). You can then take these settings and save them to a specific part of your day, creating presets for your commute, your workday, and more.
The feature set really goes up a notch when you factor in the control afforded by the Jabra Sound+ app.
This customization is also brought to the sound quality via a graphic equalizer that lets you mold the amount of bass, mids, and highs via a few levels. There’s also a MySound feature that runs you through a short hearing test on the app and then loads the earbuds up with a sound profile that accentuates your ears’ physical hearing abilities. Then there’s all the button and control customization that you’d expect from an app, too. Jabra is one of my favorite companion apps for headphones because it tows a nice line falling short of too complicated but still enough to be called full-featured. It’s really user-friendly, and it’s a huge selling point for these earbuds.
The launch price of the Elite 85t earbuds is $229, right in line with other offerings from similar brands like Bose, Apple, and Samsung. These are premium headphones, and there’s really no way around it. But, they are not the most expensive true wireless earbuds out there by any stretch.
For the features on offer here, I think the $200+ price point is totally warranted, especially when you factor in the premium build and the excellent battery life. I think a better IP rating like last generation and perhaps more premium codecs would be warranted here, but overall I’m not disappointed. If you’re willing to pay more than $200, these are worth consideration.
It’s hard not to compare these two Jabra Elite generations; they look virtually the same, for one thing. But because the 85t headphones are newer, you can find a great deal right now on the Elite 75ts. So what do you sacrifice? It’s really just a few things: the dedicated ANC processing, the Qi wireless capabilities, and the better battery life of the 85ts. Jabra does sell an option of the 75t with a Qi wireless charging case, and you can add better ANC via a firmware update. And, of course, the 75ts have the better IP rating. Really it comes down to price, battery life, and the dedicated ANC chip—so if you have the money, then go for the 85t.
An impressive premium offering.
Whether you’re in the market for the older 65t version or you want the 85ts here, buying Jabra Elite true wireless earbuds is going to yield satisfying results. What you’re buying is an impressive pair of headphones that do a lot of things well—from excellent battery life and impressive sound quality to solid ANC and tons of customization. You can do better on the noise-canceling front, you can find better-sounding earbuds, and you can certainly find a cheaper offering with some features available with Jabra. But, you really would be hard-pressed to find all of that in one nice, premium package like the Jabra Elite 85t earbuds.
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