Jabra’s latest true wireless earbuds release is the Elite 85t, featuring a new semi-open design and active noise cancellation. If you’re looking for a good pair of earbuds that can do it all—deliver decent music quality, offer a top-notch voice-calling experience, block background noise, and last for a respectable time on a battery charge—the Jabra Elite 85t buds are well worth considering.
New Design Offers Improves Audio Performance
Jabra’s true wireless earbuds have previously used a closed design. With the Elite 85t, the company switched to semi-open, with pressure-release vents. The move to a semi-open design has advantages, including reduced pressure build-up inside the ear and a way for ambient noise to be heard more easily—making the earbuds safer to wear in situations like running in an urban environment.
These earbuds are slightly larger than models from last year and use oval silicone EarGels to stay in place. The larger size gives more room for drivers, and Jabra went from 6 mm all the way up to 12 mm for the drivers in the Elite 85t. The larger driver has a payoff in improved audio, especially bass performance. The buds support AAC and SBC codecs for high quality, and I noticed no voice sync issues when using them with streaming video. Audio can be customized to a high degree, using Jabra’s Sound+ app. These buds aren’t aimed at an audiophile crowd, but music playback is energetic and enjoyable.
Fit is going to vary by person, but I found the larger Elite 85t earbuds did not fit as snugly as other Jabra earbuds I’ve tried, such as the Elite Active 75t buds I reviewed last year.
The other downside to the new design is a hit to water resistance. The semi-open approach leaves more ingress points for water, so Jabra applied a protective nano-coating to components. The Elite 85t earbuds are rated IPX4 (the same as AirPods Pro), which protects against sweat and Jabra says being caught in the rain won’t be a problem. However, water resistance isn’t as robust as it was with Jabra’s older design.
If you use your earbuds for voice calls, Jabra has a reputation for leading the pack in this respect. The Elite 85t earbuds are equipped with three MEMS mics on each bud, and they are equipped with wind noise reduction and sidetone (so you can hear yourself talk).
Active Noise Cancellation + a Wrinkle
The spotlight feature for the Elite 85t earbuds is active noise cancellation, a first for Jabra’s true wireless earbuds. The company went all-in on ANC, with a dedicated processing chip and two extra mics. The result is ANC with 11 different levels ranging from full blocking to a HearThrough mode that uses mics to pipe in ambient noise. Jabra says each step up or down represents 3db of change. I tried the ANC through the fall, working from my home office. Our three kids were home and making noise, my wife was working from home with frequent Zoom meetings, the dogs and cats were tearing around all day, and as an added bonus there was heavy construction equipment working on the street outside. Jabra’s active noise cancellation worked very well for muting general background noise, especially when cranked up to high levels. Sudden and sharp noises like the dogs barking were slightly muffled but even at its highest level, the ANC couldn’t fully counter this.
The Elite 85t earbuds can’t compare to the ANC you get from over-ear headphones (which benefit from completely sealing your ears), but for earbuds their performance was impressive. Being able to adjust the level to such a degree also came in handy.
The wrinkle? Jabra released a firmware update for some of its previous generation earbuds (including the Elite Active 75t) that gives them ANC capability retroactively. Lacking the extra mics and dedicated chip of the Elite 85t buds, it’s not quite as effective, but it’s there. Good on Jabra for doing so.
One of the big considerations when choosing a set of true wireless earbuds is battery life.
Using Apple’s AirPods Pro as a standard (fair, I think, given the runaway popularity of Apple’s wireless earbuds), that would be up to five hours per charge with ANC off and up to 4.5 hours with ANC on. Including the charging case, that is a total of up to 24 hours of listening time.
Jabra rates the 85t earbuds at up to seven hours per charge with ANC off and up to 5.5 hours with ANC on. Including the charging case, that’s up to 31 hours of total listening time. Not spectacular—especially if you use ANC—but a significant improvement over what AirPods Pro offer. I saw those numbers in real life, although when the buds were at the point of shutting down for charging, the left always had a significant change left. That makes sense because the Bluetooth radio for connecting to a music source is in the right bud, so it drains more quickly.
The Elite 85t charge case supports both USB-C and Qi wireless charging. Plugged into a wall charger, the case took about three hours to charge. The charging case also supports fast-charging—15 minutes in the case gets about an hour of playtime.
Jabra Elite 85t Recommendation
If you’re looking for a solid pair of true wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation, Jabra’s Elite 85t buds deliver. At $229.99, they cost slightly less than Apple’s AirPods Pro, but deliver effective ANC while offering excellent voice call results, energetic audio performance (with a high degree of customization), and besting the Apple buds on battery life. They are also far less conspicuous, although those who wear the AirPods as a status symbol won’t appreciate that distinction.
If you want to keep costs down, the company’s Elite Active 75t earbuds are also worth looking at. They now have ANC—albeit not quite as good as the Elite 85t—with superior water resistance, and at $149.99 they offer significant savings compared to the latest model.
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