Many active noise cancelling wireless earbuds have stepped up to challenge the AirPods Pro, and none have managed to dethrone the category leader. Even the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, which features best-in-class ANC, couldn’t get the job done. Now, Jabra has thrown its hat into the ring, releasing the all-new Elite 85t, which has the performance and spec sheet to give Apple’s sound-silencing danglers a run for their money.
Let’s not forget why the AirPods Pro are considered some of the best noise-cancelling headphones. Great active noise cancellation, improved sound, and an ergonomic design have elevated the AirPods series to a level we didn’t think Apple could achieve. It was only fitting that we awarded the AirPods Pro a 5-star rating at launch. No wonder so many are searching for AirPod Black Friday deals right now.
- Check out our Apple AirPods Pro review
- ...and our Jabra Elite 85t review
- AirPods Pro vs Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Here's how they stack up
Despite being late to the party, Jabra’s first-ever ANC earbuds were well worth the wait and build on the foundation that made their predecessor, the perfect-scoring Jabra Elite Active 75t, a true wireless triumph. This includes superior sound, luxe aesthetics, reliable wireless performance, and a wide feature set. The inclusion of active noise cancellation doesn’t disappoint either.
Which of these is the better noise-cancelling option? Let's find out.
AirPods Pro vs. Jabra Elite 85t: Specs compared
|AirPods Pro||Jabra Elite 85t|
|Colors||White||Black, Grey, Copper/Black, Gold/Beige, Titanium Black|
|Battery life (rated)||4.5 hours, 24 hours (with charging case)||5.5 hours (ANC on), 7.5 hours (ANC off), 24 hours (with charging case and ANC on), 28 hours (with charging case and ANC off)|
|Size and weight||1.22 x 0.86 x 0.94 inches, 0.19 ounces||0.91 x 0.75 x 0.64 inches, 0.25 ounces|
|Durability||IPX4 (water and sweat resistance)||IPX4 (water and sweat resistance)|
|Processor||Apple H1||Qualcomm QCC5126|
|Special features||Active noise cancellation, Transparency Mode, adaptive EQ, spatial audio, automatic switching, customizable fit, audio sharing, announced messages with Siri, “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance, wireless charging||Adjustable active noise cancellation, HearThrough Mode, adaptive listening features, customizable EQ, Call Equalizer, Bluetooth 5.0, wireless charging|
AirPods Pro vs. Jabra Elite 85t: Price and value
The price point for top-tier ANC wireless earbuds is usually set around the $200 (or higher) mark, so to see the AirPods Pro and Jabra Elite 85t fall in this range is no shocker.
Jabra lists the Elite 85t at a lower price point than its competitor, and for $230, you can’t go wrong when factoring in overall performance. Even if the AirPods Pro is pricier at $250, the amount of functionality you get makes these earbuds worth every penny. This decision ultimately comes down to your preference and budget.
AirPods Pro vs. Jabra Elite 85t: Design
The Elite 85t is the more fashionable option, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Jabra housed these buds in a durable all-plastic shell that protects the internals, doesn’t scuff up easily, and boasts a smooth matte finish. They also have an IPX4 rating for water resistance.
Jabra stays committed to its oval-shaped design, which is discrete, but slightly bulkier this time around to accommodate the extra hardware. The buds are noticeably heavier, though you won’t feel weighed down when sporting them on walks. Jabra’s ear tips do a fine job with on-ear stability as well.
The Elite 85t’s charging case is thicker and wider, but also lighter and more durable than the AirPods Pro’s case. The buds are handsomely displayed when docked on the charging magnets. Speaking of which, the magnet used to close the lid is very strong and ensures the buds won’t spill out when dropping the case; this is the biggest issue with every AirPods case.
Apple’s long-stem silhouette has overstayed its welcome, which is why we’re excited about the rumors regarding the AirPods Pro 2 featuring an all-new design. But we won’t completely undermine the current design, as Apple did make some changes to give this version a more distinctive look. The all-plastic construction remains intact, but small touches like the black vents on the front and silver accents at the bottom are appreciated. IPX4 coating was also added for sweat and water resistance.
We did find the AirPods Pro to be comfier and provide a better fit. The longer sound port with ear tips is a huge difference maker that allows the buds to rest firmly on the ears. Apple even developed its own Ear Tip Fit Test to help users determine the best tips for enhanced performance. So, you can see why the AirPods Pro is considered one of the best sport headphones out there.
The AirPods Pro’s charging case isn’t all that different from the previous versions. It’s still slim and attractive, and you can easily slide it into your pockets. The only real change is that the frame is wider. However, the weak magnet is a concern, as it doesn’t provide the tightest seal. All it takes is one hard fall to the ground to see your buds slide across the room.
Winner: Jabra Elite 85t
AirPods Pro vs. Jabra Elite 85t: Controls
Apple’s new pinch-gesture system is awesome. Placing the force sensors near the bottom of the stems may seem awkward at first, but it’s something you’ll easily adapt to with time. More importantly, they register multi-presses accurately. On-ear detection is also spot-on for when you want to automatically pause playback by taking off one of the earbuds.
While the Elite 85t’s physical buttons operate well and produce great tactility to ensure users that their intended commands will be executed, they also work against the model. How so? Every time you press a button, it digs the buds further into your ear, which, after several presses, creates discomfort. On the plus side, the MyControls feature expands the controls for both earbuds, letting you assign single-, double-, and triple-press gestures to manage playback, call management, and enable/disable listening modes. On-ear detection is available too, and works well.
But the real clincher in this category is digital assistant support. As great as Siri and Google Assistant work on the Elite 85t, nothing beats the hands-free “Hey Siri” on the AirPods Pro that instantly calls up Apple’s AI bot whenever spoken and operates flawlessly. Apple’s mics pick up every syllable, and Siri responds to commands as quickly as she receives them.
Winner: AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro vs. Jabra Elite 85t: Audio
The Elite Active 75t proved that Jabra had Apple’s number in the audio department and the Elite 85t ups the ante. Jabra redesigned and fine-tuned its drivers to pump out pleasant, energetic sound, giving the Elite 85t a unique soundstage that falls somewhere in between bright and warm. That means you can expect a full dose of lows, mids, and highs.
Listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” I could feel the reverberation from the guitar plucks, as the consistent hi-hats maintained their presence over the symphonic production. The lead vocals sounded compelling and only intensified as the song progressed. Raising the bass levels, I transitioned to hip-hop and blasted Jazz Cartier’s "Tempted," which delivered a sonic boom to my eardrum. The monstrous (and enticing) low end was reproduced superbly, something I have only experienced from Sennheiser and Sony’s flagship wireless earbuds.
Audio on the AirPods Pro is clean and warm, a significant upgrade from the previous models. I loved how crisp and punchy the snares sounded on The Pharcyde’s “Runnin’” over the groovy Jazz sample, while the iconic guitar riffs on AC/DC’s “Back in Black” carried that same intensity you would expect to hear from premium over-ear headphones. All good things aside, the AirPods Pro doesn’t perform well with low-fi recordings and cannot match the bass prowess of the Elite 85t; percussive elements are masked on certain songs.
Where the AirPods Pro shows its true value in sound is spatial audio. Enabling the feature creates a 3D-like soundscape that creates an immersive listening experience when watching videos. It makes watching movies more entertaining compared to the Elite 85t. We also believe it’s a fine example of how Apple continues to optimize performance on the AirPods Pro through software updates.
Winner: Jabra Elite 85t
AirPods Pro vs. Jabra Elite 85t: Active noise cancelation
It was close, but we give the ANC edge to Jabra’s buds based on adjustability. You can tailor the Elite 85t’s active noise cancellation to your hearing and adjust the intensity on five levels, which increases 3 decibels at each level.
The combination of six mics, Qualcomm’s QCC5126 processor, and Jabra’s dedicated ANC chip work hard to block out 85% of ambient sound, doing so at a level right below the QuietComfort Earbuds and Sony WF-1000xM3. This was sufficient for muting common distractions like chirping birds and doorbells, though high-frequency noises like car horns and whistles were noticeable, but only when in close proximity.
I have sung Apple’s ANC praises since the AirPods Pro launched last year and nothing has changed. The two-mic noise-cancelling system does a surprisingly good job of quieting your commutes, noisy co-workers, and many other distractions you’ll encounter on a daily basis. However, Apple’s technology isn’t as powerful as Jabra’s, muting about 80% of ambient sounds.
A transparency mode is available on the AirPods and Elite 85t, letting environmental sounds into the soundscape to gain better awareness of your surroundings. Both are equally great and purposeful if you want to hear what is happening around you. I found Jabra’s mode offered better clarity, which made it easier to communicate with family members when I didn’t want to remove the buds or stop music.
Winner: Jabra Elite 85t
AirPods Pro vs. Jabra Elite 85t: App and special features
When it comes to special features, Jabra has had a leg up on Apple a long time. But with the latest iOS 14 update (and some hidden AirPods Pro tricks), Apple has caught up to the competition. The good news is that both the AirPods Pro and Elite 85t are loaded with features that elevate the user experience in unique ways.
The Jabra Sound+ app is the hub for all of the Elite 85t’s functionality. Audio-wise, there is plenty to mess around with, from the customizable EQ to the well-engineered presets that lend themselves well to most music genres. There is a cool Soundscapes mode with 12 settings that produce different soothing sounds to relax you when feeling tensed up. You can also improve call quality either through the Sidetone slider to adjust how loud you want to sound on calls or the Call Equalizer to add more treble or bass for the caller on the opposite end.
Jabra has other versatile features worth checking out, including MyControls and MySound. The former lets you personalize and expand the controls on both earbuds, while the latter performs an audio test to create a sound profile based on your hearing. Both were buggy when launched earlier in the year, though they have been fixed and work very well. There are also sliders for the ANC and HearThrough modes to adjust either listening mode.
With the launch of the iPhone 12, Apple started to roll out the AirPods Pro’s heavyweight features, with the aforementioned spatial audio being at the forefront. iOS users also receive auto switching to easily swap between audio sources, as long as those iDevices are paired to the same iCloud account. It may not be multipoint technology, which the Elite 85t supports to pair to two devices simultaneously, but it’s still a great alternative.
Keep in mind that the AirPods Pro already has some great perks that come programmed with the H1 chip. This includes better battery management, “Hey Siri,” and audio sharing between two pairs of AirPods or Beats headphones. Apple has yet to develop an adjustable EQ for its buds, but you can modify audio by going into the iPhone settings and picking from 20 different presets (the same can be done in Spotify).
What’s so wonderful about these two models is the prospect of more features to come via firmware updates.
AirPods Pro vs. Jabra Elite 85t: Call quality
I’m a huge fan of the AirPods Pro’s call quality. Apple’s noise-cancelling mics make a world of difference, minimizing background fracas to enjoy clear-sounding calls. Feedback has been positive over the past year, especially on video conferences, where many of my clients have complimented the loudness and crispness of calls. It’s also great that the H1 chip gives you 50% more talk time, which is clutch for business types who jump from call to call all day long.
Call quality on the Elite 85t is a step up from its predecessors. Jabra’s mic system does do a fantastic job of neutralizing external sounds when taking calls outside; my wife was unaware of the chaos (e.g. construction tools, gusty winds) around me during calls. As well as it performs, I still find the AirPods Pro to be the more reliable calling headset.
Winner: AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro vs. Jabra Elite 85t: Battery life and charging case
You already know that ANC sucks up a lot of juice, but there are a few truly wireless models out there that can get you strong playtimes on a single charge. The AirPods Pro and Elite 85t do not fall into this category. Nonetheless, the Elite 85t is the longer-lasting pair.
Jabra rates battery life at 5.5 hours with ANC on, which is only an hour more than the AirPods Pro (4.5 hours), but you also have the option to disable the feature to gain an extra 2 hours. This was enough for 3 days of moderate listening (with ANC on) before recharging. You can disable the noise functions (ANC and Transparency modes) on the AirPods Pro, which reduce battery life significantly, though it still doesn’t get you more playtime than the Elite 85t.
Like the Elite 85t, Apple’s buds have terrific power optimization, so you’ll be able to squeeze every bit of juice out of the battery. Quick charging is programmed into these two models as well, with the AirPods Pro estimated to get you 2 hours on a 15-minute charge, while the Elite 85t generates 1 hour of use in the same charge time.
Apple and Jabra’s charging cases support wireless charging (they work with Qi-certified wireless chargers) and hold the same battery life when using ANC regularly: 24 hours. The only difference is that Elite 85t case has a stronger battery underneath the hood and holds 28 hours when disabling ANC.
Winner: Jabra Elite 85t
AirPods Pro vs. Jabra Elite 85t: Verdict
Ladies and gents, we have our first face-off draw. The truth is you can’t go wrong with either the AirPods Pro or Jabra Elite 85t. These are two high-performance models worth every penny. However, if you need deciding factors to determine the better buy, we've broken it down for you in the score card below and elaborate a bit more underneath it.
|AirPods Pro||Jabra Elite 85t|
|Price and value (5)||4||4|
|Audio quality (20)||18||18|
|Active noise cancelation (20)||17||18|
|Special features and apps (15)||13||13|
|Call quality (5)||4||3|
|Battery life and charging case (10)||7||8|
|Total score (100)||83||83|
Both the AirPods Pro and Elite 85t deliver gratifying sound and come with a wide range of features that extend functionality. Apple’s buds have impressive noise cancellation, the more practical control scheme and voice assistant, and are only second to the QuietComfort Earbuds in call quality.
As for the Jabra Elite 85t, you’re looking at premium aesthetics (these are some sleek-looking buds), longer battery life, and stronger ANC. Ask yourself what categories matter most and don’t feel a drop of guilt splurging on the model that best suits your needs.
- More: Our list of the best noise-cancelling earbuds right now