For several months, the debate of best noise-cancelling headphones has been between two models: the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Sony WH-1000XM3. We pitted the two against each other as part of our face-off feature and claimed Bose's sound silencers the winner. Since then, Tom's Guide has sought out new competitors worthy of challenging the champion. Enter the Jabra Elite 85h.
Jabra's latest over-ear cans made a strong debut earlier this year — so strong that they were already being billed as Bose's biggest threat, due to the headset's insane spec sheet and list of features. With 40-millimeter, custom-engineered speakers, noise-cancelling technology powered by four mics, tridigital assistant support and the longest battery life of any headphones in the category – who's to say otherwise?
Now that it has officially hit retail shelves, we tested the Elite 85h to see if it wields the power to dethrone the QC35 II.
Bose QC35 II vs. Jabra Elite 85h: Specs Compared
|Bose QC35 II||Jabra Elite 85h|
|Colors||Black, Silver, Midnight Blue and Triple Midnight||Black, Gold Beige, Navy and Titanium Black|
|What's in the Box||Aux cable, carrying case and micro USB cable||Aux cable, carrying case, USB Type-C cable and travel adapter|
|Battery Life||20 hours (NC on); 40 hours (NC off)||38 hours (NC on); 41 hours (NC off)|
|Size||7.1 x 6.7 x 3.2 inches||7.2 x 7.1 x 2.2 inches|
|Weight||8.2 ounces||10.44 ounces|
Here we have two clean, minimalist-looking headphones with distinct aesthetics. Bose performed very minor upgrades to its design, but the QC35 II is the more attractive and portable option to own. The corrosion-resistant stainless steel and glass-filled nylon instead of plastic make the headphones look and feel premium. Details such as the reflective Bose logo give the cans some flair, too.
But Jabra's craftsmanship shouldn't be overlooked. The Elite 85h is built from materials such as mesh fabric, soft leatherette and sturdy plastic that resembles polished aluminum. It's also water resistant, which is perfect for fitness buffs and outdoor adventurists. Unfortunately, the cans have a large silhouette that isn't flattering and look huge when worn.
Both companies offer their cans in four colors. The Elite 85h comes in Black, Gold Beige, Navy or Titanium Black. Bose carries the sleeker options, however. The QC35 II is sold in Black, Silver, Midnight Blue and Triple Midnight. There's also the option to create your own colorway for an extra $30 as part of the Bose customization program (opens in new tab). And when you need to stow them, both pairs of headphones can be folded up and put into their respective carrying case.
Winner: Bose QC35 II
The QC35 II is the more pleasant wear because of its lighter weight (8.2 ounces) and slim, compact frame. The synthetic protein leather material on the ear pads and headband is very supportive and supplies enough breathability to maintain a perspiration-free environment. Fitwise, the cans are gentle on the ears and remain stable to prevent slippage. The extenders provide enough length to accommodate larger heads as well. I sported the headphones for 3 to 4 hours daily and never felt any discomfort.
The Elite 85h is comfy, thanks to its ultrasoft foam ear cushions and headband, which are plumped with padding. But due to their extra heft (10.4 ounces), the headphones are somewhat uncomfortable to wear after an hour. They also exude a heavy leather scent that may be unpleasant to sniff after several wears.
Winner: Bose QC35 II
Basic or intuitive? That's the question to consider when determining the better control scheme between these two high-tech models.
The Elite 85h has physical buttons and on-ear/motion detection for call and playback management. Both methods are responsive, but the motion controls are more fun. It's cool to be able to instantly power on and pair the headphones, just by folding out the ear cups, and the automatic play/pause and answer/mute call functionality when you remove them from your head is also a nice touch. The three buttons on the right ear-cup panel are programmed with a variety of commands that don't require much of a learning curve, either.
The QC35 II controls are as basic as they come, with a three-button module on the right ear cup for media and call management, and a dedicated Google Assistant button on the left ear cup. The power/pairing switch is located on the face of the right ear cup. Everything is simple to locate and operate, with each button producing great tactility. The Elite 85h just brings more creativity to the table.
Winner: Jabra Elite 85h
Active Noise Cancellation
It's hard to compete with Bose's industry-leading noise-cancelling technology. Rarely do we stumble upon a company that can put up a good fight, and Jabra is one of the lucky few.
The Elite 85h features Smart Active Noise Cancellation, which is powered by a four-microphone digital hybrid solution to neutralize noise. It's an effective technology capable of drowning out different frequencies, but not all. Loud conversations and train engines will go unnoticed in ANC mode. Don't expect the same results when walking past construction sites, though.
Jabra introduces its own ambient listening mode, called HearThrough, which employs the headphones' several mics to analyze environmental sounds and lets you enjoy music while you remain aware of what's happening around you. It is helpful for certain occasions. Unfortunately, enabling the mode affects the sound quality.
ANC on the QC35 II is better suited for outdoor listening, with two noise-cancelling modes (Low and High) available, allowing you to enjoy stellar noise cancellation no matter the noise levels. Low mode does a great job of blocking wind interference. I've also found the QC35 II performs better on airplanes, muting everything from the rumble of the plane's engine to crying babies.
Winner: Bose QC35 II
The Elite 85h and QC35 II are tied on the audio end. Jabra's headphones produce spot-on audio reproduction, giving instruments and vocals enough space to breathe on songs without hiding musical elements. Lows take precedence when you're listening to contemporary music genres like EDM, hip-hop and rock, but mids and highs are also well-represented. One caveat is that listening to the headphones in either listening mode causes distortion, so you'll want to stick to the default sound profile.
Audio performance hasn't changed much between the QC35 I and QC35 II, which is both a positive and negative. Bose's sound profile is still on the warm side, placing emphasis on the low end. Bass notes might not sound as dynamic as on the Elite 85h, but the QC35 II delivers great balance and rich audio that isn't compromised by the company's stellar noise cancellation.
In terms of video content, the QC35 II is the more reliable option because of latency issues with the Elite 85h; Netflix programs and YouTube clips experience a lag of 1 to 2 seconds. In addition, Bose's aux cable is better suited for passive listening as it gives a slight increase in clarity and volume. The Elite 85h produces slightly clearer vocals, but muddy lows as well.
Apps and Special Features
The Bose Connect and Jabra Sound+ apps share a handful of traits, including a battery life indicator, digital assistant selection, firmware updates and standby timer. Each one has its own unique set of skills, but Sound+ blesses listeners with far more tricks.
Sound personalization is a huge selling point for Jabra's cans — its app carries multiple sound profiles for many scenarios. Each one hosts several widgets to automatically enable the listening modes (ANC and HearThrough), customize the EQ and select music presets – this creates more convenience for at-home listening or when you're on the road. Each preset is fine-tuned for different music genres, though it's more practical to create your own sound profile by manually tweaking the bass, midrange and treble.
Jabra Sound+ has some other cool features hidden in the settings page. Hit the wheel icon on the right and it presents several commute settings, like on-ear detection for music playback and several call-experience options. There is an equalizer for calls and a Sidetone slider to adjust how loud you want calls to sound on both ends.
Other huge highlights on the Elite 85h include connectivity and digital assistant support. The headphones run on Bluetooth 5.0 and demonstrate some of the longest range (up to 50 feet) I've tested on a pair of ANC headphones. Even cooler is Jabra's multipoint technology, which connects the cans to eight devices simultaneously. Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri are also integrated into the headphones and perform well with great speech recognition.
Bose Connect might lack an EQ, but it has a feature called Music Share that lets you stream music between two Bose headphones. You can also toggle between the two ANC modes. The app does support a Find My Buds feature; however, it's reserved only for the SoundSport Free wireless.
The QC35 II operates on the older Bluetooth 4.1 standard, yet still provides a stable connection for calls and music streaming, along with multidevice connection to let listeners switch seamlessly between two devices. Having a dedicated Google Assistant button comes in handy for voice commands. If only the digital assistant experience were as fluid as on the Elite 85h.
Winner: Jabra Elite 85h
Jabra's reputation for premium call quality is impeccable. While I prefer its truly wireless model (Elite Active 65t) for making calls, the Elite 85h also serves as a reliable calling headset. The mic system has some impressive noise-filtering properties and produces clearer vocals. There is also on-ear detection to answer/end calls, and personalized voice settings via app.
The QC35 II performs similarly to its chunky rival, keeping noise to a minimum when you're taking calls in noisy crowds. Wind resistance is the one area where it makes the most impact. I screened a few calls in drafty conditions and none of my friends complained about interference.
The Elite 85h provides nearly double the playtime of the QC35 II in ANC mode: 38 hours vs. 20 hours. In passive mode, there is only a 1-hour difference, with Jabra's headphones rated at 41 hours and Bose's at 40 hours.
The Elite 85h had me powered up for two weeks without requiring a charge, which calmed my low-battery anxiety. Quick charging is also more powerful on the Elite 85h, with a 15-minute charge getting you 5 hours of use. The QC35 II gets you only 2.5 hours in the same charge time.
It's worth noting that the QC35 II is capable of surpassing its advertised length, often stretching usage to 22 hours on a full charge in ANC mode. That's an ideal amount for frequent flyers. Fast charging and a timer function promise enough juice for international round trips. Having almost double the listening time in wired mode is clutch as well.
Winner: Jabra Elite 85h
If we're going for a choice that's based solely on noise cancellation, then the QC35 II provides the better value. However, today's consumer wants more bang for the buck, and that's exactly what Jabra offers. The Elite 85h is priced at $50 less and boasts more features and specs than you'll find on any other noise-cancelling model.
Winner: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Overall Winner: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
The goal of buying a pair of noise-cancelling headphones is to enjoy the best noise neutralization possible. That being said, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II keeps the crown, but not just for its unbeatable ANC performance. Its comfy, lightweight design, combined with detailed sound and super-reliable battery life make the cans more appealing for those with active lifestyles and travelers. If Bose ever decides to release more features via updates, the QC35 II could arguably top all other headphone categories.
|Bose QC35 II||Jabra Elite 85h|
|Active Noise Cancellation (25)||25||22|
|Special Features and Apps (10)||7||8|
|Call Quality (5)||4||4|
|Battery Life (10)||8||10|
|Total Score (100)||86||83|
Even in defeat, the Jabra Elite 85h stands out as an exciting newcomer with the technical prowess to go toe to toe with Bose's best. Nothing on the market tops its battery life, and with the Jabra Sound+ app granting several ways to optimize listening, the audio performance is superb. The rugged, luxe design is much appreciated, but it also adds more bulk and weight to the equation. Still, it's an amazing investment with solid noise cancellation – just not the best.
Credit: Regan Coule