With the Jabra Elite 85t, the noise-cancelling headphones arena has just received another heavy hitter. While fashionably late to the party, this upgraded version of the widely popular Elite 75t isn’t short on performance, with the ANC technology and audio capabilities to take on rivals like the Apple AirPods Pro and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds.
With bigger sound, enhanced listening modes, more features, and monstrous specs, these are certainly some of the best wireless earbuds money can buy. But are they better than their truly wireless sibling and current category leader, the practically perfect Elite Active 75t?
What can be said is that these are Jabra’s most powerful, feature-laden buds to date, which already says a lot. The $230 price tag may seem a bit steep, especially since Jabra is offering a free over-the-air ANC update for the Elite 75t models, but many will find the Elite 85t to be well worth the investment. Read our full Jabra Elite 85t review to see how these new wireless earbuds stack up to the competition.
Colors: Black, Grey, Copper/Black, Gold/Beige, Titanium Black
Battery life (rated): 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: 0.91 x 0.75 x 0.64 inches (per bud); 2.55 x 1.62 x 1.12 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.25 ounces (per bud); 1.59 ounces (charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Processor: Qualcomm QCC5126
Jabra Elite 85t: Price and availability
Jabra Elite 85t: Design and comfort
When placed next to any of the last-gen Elite 75t models, the Elite 85t looks nearly identical. The one prominent distinction is the larger frame, which makes the buds stick out more when placed on the ear. At the same time, they are much more discrete than the dangling AirPods or elongated QuietComfort Earbuds. The all-plastic construction also has a substantial feel that gives these buds a well-built, business class presence.
The all-plastic construction has a substantial feel, while the smooth matte finish not only gives the buds a business class appearance, but also complements Jabra’s several colorways. Sadly, you only have the choice of one color at launch: Titanium/Black. The other four versions — Gold/Beige, Copper/Black, Black, and Grey — will be released January 2021. These colors fall in line with the Elite 75t lineup, but I prefer the bolder colors that were featured on the Elite Active 75t, such as Navy, Sienna, and Mint.
Jabra fans will also love the new packaging introduced on the Elite 85t. It’s smaller and consolidates everything, from the accessories to the user manual flap, into a more compact setup for convenient unboxings.
The Elite 85t’s charging case is a hybrid of the 75t and 65t cases, but with very few changes. Clearly, the new version is slightly bigger to accommodate the buds’ thicker form. You’ll see the LED charging indicator has been moved to the front. In addition, the magnets on the inside are stronger to ensure the buds are safely secured. The plastic exterior remains durable to stave off scuffs and scratches, which the AirPods Pro case fails to do. It is portable-friendly too, so you can slide it in denim pockets and not worry about an unflattering bulge, something that can’t be said about the QuietComfort Earbuds’ massive case.
These buds are longer (2mm longer) and heavier (1 gram more) than their predecessor, but these are changes that don’t affect overall comfort. The sound port was redesigned with an oval shape to allow for seamless insertion into the canal, while the gel tips don’t go too deep into the ear and provide decent on-ear stabilization. You’ll be able to sport the buds for about 1.5 hours before fatigue sets in.
Jabra Elite 85t: Controls and digital assistant
Ever wonder why Jabra hasn’t adopted touch controls? According to the company, some user experience studies showed that people liked the sensation of using buttons versus tap gestures. I’m not one of them, specifically because physical buttons require pressing the buds into the ears which creates discomfort, but I give credit to Jabra for making control management less painful.
The Elite 85t’s control scheme isn’t as encumbering as other models, with responsive buttons that offer great tactility. Hearing the click sound when pressing the left or right button reassures you that intended commands will be executed properly. On-ear detection is available as well, automatically pausing music when removing the buds and resuming play when placed back on the ear. It’s accurate for the most part. Jabra also gives you the freedom to program the buttons any way you want with the MyControls setting (more on that later).
If having virtual assistant support is important, then the Elite 85t won’t disappoint you, as the buds demonstrate excellent speech recognition to register voice commands. Much fun was had using Google Assistant to pull up World Series box scores and voice-to-text friends when playing video games in the office uninterrupted. Siri gave me the same attention on macOS and didn’t skip a beat when pulling up calendar invites. Jabra confirmed that Alexa is coming in a Q1 2021 software upgrade.
Jabra Elite 85t: Active noise cancellation and HearThrough
Jabra’s last attempt at ANC headphones, the Elite 85h, was surprisingly good and fared well against category kingpins like the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Sony WF-1000xM3. The same can be said about the Elite 85t’s noise-neutralizing capabilities when pitted against the AirPods Pro and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds.
You can thank Jabra’s robust spec sheet for the stellar results, which includes six microphones, the Qualcomm QCC5126 processor (the same one featured in the Elite 75t), and its own dedicated ANC chip. There are also five levels of noise cancellation that can be adjusted in the Sound+ app, each level increasing by 3 decibels.
Three out of the six mics are employed in ANC mode, with two positioned on the outside and one on the inside to cancel out any unwanted sounds that make their way in. I was shocked by how well the technology blocked out external noises (e.g. Amazon delivery trucks, dog barking, whisking cars) while resting on the front porch during a breezy afternoon. Wind resistance was also strong and didn’t affect ANC performance. Using the buds inside the house was more rewarding, as common distractions such as juice blenders, loud sibling conversations, and a pestering cat went unheard.
HearThrough makes a return and has five adjustable levels that you can select in the app. It’s a slight upgrade over the previous version and makes external sounds clearer and more pronounced, much like the QuietComfort Earbuds’ ambient mode, which blends ANC and ambient listening together. HearThrough doesn’t do this, but that doesn’t make it any less serviceable. Those who want better awareness of their surroundings or want to engage in brief chats without removing the buds will do in care-free fashion.
Jabra Elite 85t: Audio quality
Audio has never been an issue for Jabra and the Elite 85t is exemplary. The engineers doubled the speaker size (12mm) to pump out even bigger, more detailed sound, which can be personalized in the Jabra Sound+ app, though many find that the default EQ is sufficient for enjoying all popular media formats (e.g. music, videos, podcasts, games) on the go.
Every model in the series features a warm signature, but the Elite 85t falls somewhere in between warm and bright. You’ll be able to hear more high-pitched sounds and subtle nuances in recordings without bass levels being compromised. Songs like M.I.A.’s “Bird Song (Diplo Remix)” let you bask in the buds’ sonic glory, reproducing the kazoo melodies superbly over pounding kick drums. Even the looped piano key taps throughout NaS’ “N.Y. State of Mind” were given prominence and ride smoothly alongside the nasty, head-banging drum break.
The Elite 85t is arguably at its best when playing orchestral records. Personal favorites like Ahmad Jamal’s “The Awakening” encouraged me to go on a Jazz binge during the testing phase. It was a soothing listen, but the extra oomph added to the low end sweetened the deal. The double bass delivered some amazing reverberation, which felt surreal, as if the instrument was being played right next to my ear.
Turning on ANC gives bass an incremental boost that only those with detailed hearing will notice. These buds can get extremely loud, which was a major complaint I had with the Elite 75t, but I recommend bringing the volume down five notches from the max level if you want to feed your ears lively sound and prevent any hearing damage. Oddly, the Elite 85t’s sound was much lower coming from my phone than from my MacBook Pro, though this issue was temporary and gone the following morning.
If you're the type who watches YouTube clips or Netflix shows from your mobile device regularly, then expect even better audio performance. When watching several Joe Biden campaign speeches, I loved how crisp and clear the low-voiced former VP sounded. Audiobooks, podcasts, and IG Live clips were also audibly satisfying.
Jabra Elite 85t: App and special features
Jabra Sound+ is a companion gem loaded with customizable features that continue to grow via firmware updates. Almost everything that was available on the Elite 75t series has been carried over to the Elite 85t, with the exception of the Active Noise Cancellation slider and toggle. The HearThrough slider also remains intact.
The one feature you’ll play with most is the EQ to create sound profiles by tweaking the bass, midrange or treble. It’s simple to operate and really makes a difference if you prefer one frequency range over another. Jabra also included a few presets – Neutral (aka default), Bass Boost, Energize, Speech, Smooth, and Treble Boost – each one well engineered for specific content. Treble Boost is perfect for smooth hip-hop tracks, while Speech is ideal for podcasts.
MySound and MyControls are the two latest features added to the app. The former analyzes your environment to tailor the EQ to your hearing, while the latter is for customizing the controls. MyControls is the more useful of the two, letting you extend functionality by assigning single, double, and triple-press commands to both buds.
Soundscapes returns and is a feature I recommend integrating into your daily routine. There are 12 modes that produce different noises to help relax you and all of them work well; the Waterfall soundscape does a wonderful job of immersing you in the setting. If only the feature wasn’t so glitchy on the Elite 85t. Sound effects either stop playing or the app would crash a few minutes after enabling the feature.
Hit the Settings icon on the top right to stumble upon the app’s other cool features. Call Experience gives you a Sidetone slider to adjust how loud you want to sound on phone calls, while the Call Equalizer adds more treble or bass to whoever is on the opposite end. There is also a priority toggle that enhances Bluetooth connectivity during calls. You’ll find some other toggle controls, as well as the Find My Jabra function that is clutch for relocating lost buds.
Jabra Elite 85t: Battery life and charging case
Battery life on the Elite 85t is standard: 5.5 hours with ANC on and 7.5 hours with ANC off. This is higher than the AirPods Pro (4.5 hours), but shorter than the QuietComfort Earbuds and Sony WF-1000xM3, with ANC on (6 hours). At least the Elite 85t gives you the option to power off the feature, but so does the WF-1000xM3, and that model offers 30 mins more playtime.
One positive is that the buds have terrific battery management, so you squeeze every bit of juice from the battery. I used them for 1.5 hours daily over a three-day span before recharging. High volume, heavy streaming, and ANC tend to drain the battery quickly on most wireless earbuds, but the Elite 85t optimizes power incredibly well. Setting up the Sleep Mode in the app preserves battery life as well by automatically turning off the buds when inactive anywhere between 15 minutes to 2 hours (you choose).
You would think with a bigger charging case than the older models that the Elite 85t had more portable power. Well, it does, and it doesn’t. For example, a fully charged case generates 25 hours of music time with ANC on (the Elite 75t offers 28 hours), while having it off gets you 31 hours. Either way, this equates to about 5 or 6 extra charges. There’s also quick charging to net you 1 hour on a 15-minute charge.
Wireless charging was introduced on the Elite 75t and Elite Active 75t, though the company made it available several months after both models launched, and is optional for an extra $30. The Elite 85t comes equipped with it right out of the box.
Jabra Elite 85t: Call quality and connectivity
The call quality on Jabra’s last two models left much to be desired. As much of an improvement as the Elite 85t is, Apple and Bose’s offerings are superior. What I can say is that the noise neutralization on calls is remarkable. Outside, my wife couldn’t hear the noises around me, which ranged from flapping birds to the buzz saw action taking place next door. Clarity is much better indoors; my clients were satisfied with how loud and clear I sounded on Zoom chats.
Bluetooth 5.0 is steady and reliable on the Elite 85t. The buds automatically show up on the available device list the moment you take them out of the charging case and pair instantly to your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Range is solid for about 35 feet of wireless listening. Multipoint technology is also at your disposal to connect the buds to two different devices simultaneously.
Jabra Elite 85t: Verdict
The Elite 85t is a great pair of noise-cancelling headphones that deserves recognition in the best-in-class conversation. Jabra’s ANC technology is an effective feedforward/feedback solution that blocks out ambient noise at such a high level. Sound quality is upper echelon, with better-balanced bass that blends nicely with crisp-sounding mids and highs. Even in categories where it falls short like battery life, the Elite 85t helps make up the difference with optimized charging and battery management.
There’s nothing you can do about the bigger design, and the multiple software bugs require fixing, but neither of these are deal-breakers. And if we’re going based on the company’s track record, then Jabra will set out to fix these errors and give us nothing short of excellence when releasing the eventual Elite Active 85t.
Does the Elite 85t beat the AirPods Pro or QuietComfort Earbuds? While Jabra scores some wins on battery life and features, we'll be spending more time facing these top earbuds off before declaring a winner. But if you want wireless earbuds with great ANC, sound, and functionality in a tiny package, the Elite 85t is one of the best options out there right now.