Jabra Elite 65t vs. Apple AirPods: Why the Underdog Wins

When it comes to truly wireless earbuds, Apple's AirPods ($159) have ruled the roost for a while, thanks to their easy pairing with iPhones, quick-charge capabilities and seamless integration with Siri.

Apple Airpods (left) and Jabra Elite 65t (right)Apple Airpods (left) and Jabra Elite 65t (right)But the Jabra Elite 65t ($169.99) has emerged as the first true great challenger, offering great audio quality for music and calls, a sleek design and a load of functionality via its complementary app.

Which set of buds is right for you? From design and setup to audio quality and battery life, we've compared these two heavy hitters to find out which set of buds reigns supreme.

Design

When I first reviewed the AirPods, I compared them to the "hair mousse" scene from "There's Something About Mary," and I stand by that statement. The AirPods retain the polarizing-yet-iconic shape of their predecessor, the EarPods, while ditching the cord. The result is a pair of blindingly white buds weirdly hanging out and down the sides of your earlobe. (See what I mean about "There's Something About Mary"?)

The Elite 65t buds offer a more elegant design that draws from Jabra's extensive history making mono Bluetooth headsets. The titanium-gray plastic buds sit serenely in your ears, with the tiny arms facing toward your face when properly positioned. The multifunction buttons on each bud are demarcated by the Jabra logo in the center.

But the Jabra earbuds don't just look good; they can take a bit of a beating as well. The Elite 65t has an IP55 rating that signifies its water-and-dust resistance. If that weren't enough, the buds also have a two-year warranty for that type of damage. The AirPods, by contrast, aren't water-resistant.

That durability makes for a somewhat bulkier earbud. In the case of the Elite 65t, the right bud weighs a smidgen more than its counterpart, at 0.23 and 0.2 ounces, respectively, but both still measure 1.2 x 0.9 x 0.3 inches. The AirPods are noticeably lighter, at 0.14 ounces each and 0.7 x 0.7 x 1.6 inches.

Winner: Jabra Elite 65t

Setup

The AirPods are the easiest headphones to pair with your mobile device or laptop, especially if you have a Apple device that's running iOS 10 or later, watchOS 3 or macOS Sierra or higher. As soon as you open the lid on the charging case, your iPhone will flash a message saying the buds are connected.

If you're using an older device or an Android one, they pair much as you'd expect for any Bluetooth device. After you press the small button on the back of the AirPods' charging case, a light will start glowing, signaling it's time to search your phone's Bluetooth menu to connect. It's still pretty fast but not as slick as opening a lid and achieving near-instantaneous pairing.


For its part, pairing the Elite 65t to a Bluetooth device is pretty straightforward. After you press the multifunction button on both buds for 3 seconds, they power on and connect to each other. From there, you can connect to your phone, laptop or tablet in your phone's Bluetooth menu.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Controls

One set of earbuds wants you to tap, while the other wants you to press. You control the AirPods via a series of well-timed taps on either bud. A quick double-tap will summon Siri, which you can direct to skip tracks, play specific songs and ask about the weather. It's cool in theory, but I often found myself tapping everywhere but in the right spot to get Siri to respond. I could have been jamming during that time if I had just used my phone as a control.

Most of the functionality of the Elite 65t is accessed via the multifunction buttons on each side. Jabra wisely split up control duties between the two buds, with the left controlling volume and track changes and the right handling the functions of answering and ending calls, playing and pausing, and queuing up the digital assistant of your choice.

Changing tracks calls for a long press on the front and rear notches of the left earbud. That added pressure can be a bit uncomfortable on the folds of your inner ear, but the quick taps are fine.

Winner: Draw

Special Features

Thanks to the free Jabra Sound+ app, the Elite buds are jam-packed with features, including a Voice Assistant, Audio Experience, Call Experience and Equalizer. The software also keeps track of the buds' remaining battery life.

Voice Assistant lets you choose which digital assistant you want the buds to summon based on the phone you own. So if you're using an iPhone, you can access Siri, and depending on the Android phone, you can toggle between Google Assistant and Samsung Bixby. No matter which device you use, there's an option to access Amazon Alexa, too. HearThrough allows you to decide just how much ambient noise you wish to let into the buds, if any at all. You can also tweak the frequency setting in the Equalizer and adjust how loud your voice sounds during a call so that you're not speaking louder than normal. The buds also have integrated sensors that automatically pause whatever you're listening to when you remove a bud. However, you can't program them to switch to mono so you can share the tuneage with a friend.

And as cool as adjusting call volume and toggling the EQ is, the Sound+ app is missing a major feature: Find My Buds. If you lose a bud, you're going to be frantically scouring the ground, instead of ringing an alarm to track down your wayward bud as you can with the AirPods.

The AirPods are smarter than your average in-ear headphones. For instance, if I started listening to music with only one earbud in, the AirPod would switch over to mono, which combines the dual channels into one so you can hear everything with one Pod. The one-Pod solution comes in handy when taking calls.

When I had to take a bud out to hold a conversation, the music paused almost instantly, resuming once I placed the AirPod back into my ear. And when the inevitable happened and I dropped one of the buds, I used Find My Buds to track down the errant earpiece.

Winner: Jabra Elite 65t

Audio Performance

Fancy features aside, the Jabra Elite 65t just sounds good, especially considering it's a set of truly wireless buds. When the buds are properly placed with a tight seal, the passive noise cancelling kicks in, allowing you to enjoy balanced audio.

When I listened to Janelle Monae's "It's Code," it was easy to articulate the lead from the background vocals. The cymbals and percussion were crisp, with rich bass and clear guitar. The bass guitar sounded really clean on the AirPods, as did the electronic wind machine. However, the percussion was a bit muted.

MORE: Best Headphones and Earbuds for Enjoying Music

The Elite handled the pulsating bass line on Kanye West's "Flashing Lights" with ease while producing a punchy vocal and good snap on the drums. The AirPods suffered from weak bass and muted hand claps but served up some clean strings and synths.

Both sets of buds were evenly matched on Diana Krall's live rendition of "Fly Me to the Moon." Each pair produced enough detail that I could hear brushes gently hitting the drumhead. However, the Elite 65t was best at delivering bright, sparkling piano with lively jazz bass and guitar. The piano on the AirPods sounded lively and was a great jumping-off point for Krall's vibrant alto; my only complaint was the bass was a bit submerged.

Winner: Jabra Elite 65t

Call Quality

All that work Jabra's done to make conferencing speakers and mono Bluetooth headsets shows in the Elite 65t. The buds deliver in clarity and volume in all sorts of conditions. There are four microphones built into each bud that filter out ambient sound, like wind or low-grade chatter. During my test calls, my boyfriend couldn't tell that I was using a pair of earbuds, and he didn't sound like he was in an underwater cavern.

The best part of making calls on the Elite 65t is the app, which has functionality to enhance the sound quality of the call, including the ability to adjust treble and bass. You can also adjust your own volume.

The Jabra Elite 65t buds deliver in clarity and volume in all sorts of conditions.

But the call quality on the AirPods is no slouch by any means. As much as I detest the little rods hanging from the ends of the AirPods, they do serve an important purpose. Each has a special voice accelerometer and dual mics to ensure your caller hear you loud and clear. The voice accelerometer detects when you're speaking, while the dual mics amplify your voice while eliminating background noise.

My boyfriend reported that he could hear a bit of traffic as I made my way to the subway. Otherwise, the audio was crystal clear on his end. I heard a slight echo at times, but the audio came through at a comfortable volume, which made for a solid call.

Winner: Jabra Elite 65t

Battery Life and Charging

Both the AirPods and the Elite 65t claim to get up to 5 hours of battery life on a charge. And both products almost live up to their estimated times. I managed to squeeze 4 hours and 29 minutes out of the AirPods before I heard the low-battery warning, while I got to 4 hours on the Elite 65t with 20-percent battery to spare.

But where the AirPods really shine is their charging capability. The charging case can deliver up to 24 hours of charge, which translates to about 4.5 charges. In comparison, the Elite 65t's charging case can provide only two additional charges. And while both cases deliver a quick charge, the AirPods are superior, delivering 3 hours of juice in 15 minutes, compared with the Jabra's 1.5 hours in the same time frame.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Bottom Line

Die-hard iPhone fans won't find a better pair of truly wireless buds than the AirPods. I mean, the buds are literally made for your device. The instant pairing is marvelous to see in action, as is the Siri integration (when it works). And no company to date has come up with an answer to Apple's quick charging solution.


Jabra Elite 65t

Apple AirPods

Design (15)

14

11

Setup (10)

8

10

Controls (15)

12

12

Special Features (15)

14

12

Audio Quality (15)

14

13

Call Quality (15)

15

14

Battery Life and Charging (15)

12

14

Overall

89

86

However, the Jabra Elite 65t offers better audio, a more handsome and t durable design, and better music and call quality. Long-pressing on the multifunction buttons can be a bit uncomfortable, but it's forgivable. Plus, you can customize the audio in the app. It's a great mix of value, functionality and customization for both Android and iOS users.

Credit: Tom's Guide