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Jabra Elite 85h Headphones Review: Great Bose Alternative with Killer Battery Life

With adaptive listening modes, great sound, and lengthy battery life, the Jabra Elite 85h is a noise-canceller that commands your attention.

Our Verdict

The Jabra Elite 85h boasts the features and performance to give Bose and Sony’s noise-cancelling headphones serious competition. But is it a category leader?

For

  • Best battery life of any noise-cancelling headphone
  • Great sound reproduction
  • Intuitive controls and listening modes
  • Digital assistant support for Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa
  • Companion app with personalized sound options
  • Strong build quality

Against

  • Bass distorts in listening modes
  • Bulky and heavy

Backed by 35 hours of noise-cancelling performance, tri-digital-assistant integration (Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri), smart listening modes, and Jabra’s popular audio customization features – the Jabra Elite 85h’s spec sheet alone lends promise to some amazing results.

Thankfully ,outside of some minor sound issues and imperfect noise cancellation, the Elite 85h lives up to the hype, making them a worthy Bose alternative and the most recent addition to our best headphones and best noise cancelling headphones pages.

Design

Jabra spared no expense when crafting these cans. A combination of black mesh fabric (ear cups), soft leatherette (ear padding and headband), and sturdy plastic (yokes) comprise the frame. The woven fabric along the sides has nano-coating to protect the circuitry from water damage. It hits that sweet spot between luxury and sporty.

This makes the headphones ideal for all activities, from travel to working out, though I don’t recommend the latter. Another standout component is the curved yoke, which gives the Elite 85h an ultra-modern look, much like the AKG N700NC.

I appreciate the leather accents, but the material’s scent becomes unsettling after 30 minutes of wear. I also not pleased with the hinges, which aren’t as sturdy as some of the other components.

Jabra bundles a number of accessories with these cans, including an auxiliary cable, USB-C charging cable, travel adapter, and a chic leather carrying case to store everything. The headphones are available in four colors: Black, Navy, Gold Beige, and Titanium Black.

Comfort

At 10.4 ounces, the Elite 85h is an enormous ANC’er that outweighs competitors like the Bose QC35 II (8.2 ounces) and Sony WH-1000xM3 (9 ounces). I felt fatigued sporting them after 2 hours. However, what it lacks in lightness, it makes up for in comfort and fit.

The ultra-soft foam ear cushions offer great padding; I liked how buttery and plush the material felt on my skin. The oval cutout on each ear cup also gives plenty of room for ears to breathe. Stability is another strong characteristic, with the pre-tensioned headband conforming to your skull and providing flexibility to move around without applying unwanted pressure. Adjusting the extenders at the proper setting secure the headphones in place.

Controls and Setup

Functionality is comprised of physical buttons and on-ear detection gestures. These two control schemes work well, although I was more impressed with the latter’s accuracy.

The cans automatically power on and enter pairing mode when folding out the ear cups, whereas swiveling them inward enables power off. You can also assign automatic play/pause and answer/mute call functions that execute when placing or removing the headphones on your head. The gestures worked flawlessly during testing.

Jabra could have gone even more futuristic and placed touch controls on the earcup panels like Sony’s headphones, but incorporated a responsive three-button scheme on the right panel that blends into the design. The two small protruding dots act as the volume (one press) and navigation buttons (hold), while the indented circle in the middle is the multifunction button used to play/pause music or answer/end call (one press).

MORE: Best Wireless Headphones 2019

On the edge of each ear cup is a dedicated button – one for the Active Noise Cancellation/HearThrough mode (left) and the other for the digital assistant/mute mic function (right). The aux and USB-C ports are on the bottom of the right ear cup.

Pairing the headphones to an audio source is simple. Either swivel out the ear cups to initiate automatic pairing or hold the MF button for 2-3 seconds. Look for “Jabra Elite 85” on the available devices list, select it, and you’re good to go.

Smart Active Noise Cancellation

Jabra introduces its Smart Active Noise Cancellation, which employs a 4-mic digital hybrid solution to clear out noise. How well does it work? Very effectively. The headphones are engineered to reduce a high amount of sound – just not as high as the QC35 II or WH-1000xM3.

Even with the explosion-heavy Lethal Weapon playing in the background at high volume, I continued to work on my MacBook Pro unbothered.

I tested the technology indoors and outside, and it performed well when pitted against different levels of sound. Most of the uproar in my apartment felt nonexistent when sporting these cans. My girlfriend had to peg me with the cat’s toys just to get my attention from across the room. Even with the explosion-heavy Lethal Weapon playing in the background at high volume, I continued to work on my MacBook Pro unbothered.

Jabra’s technology does a commendable job with noise neutralization, but I found the ANC on the QC35 II performed better in public settings, with the WH-1000xM3 a close second. In the streets, the Elite 85h muted about 70 percent of environmental fracas. It drowned out car engines and nearby conversations. Sirens and construction tools like jackhammers were audible at moderate volume, but raising it to max level silenced these noises.

Audio Performance

The Elite 85h has 40mm custom-engineered speakers that exhibit a big, warm soundstage with plenty of sonic depth. It won’t outperform WH-1000xM3 headphones in the sound department, but it gives the QC35 II a run for its money.

I tested several music genres and was enamored by its sound reproduction. Jazz albums like Ahmad Jamal’s The Awakening showcased great instrumental separation. The layered arrangements on Dolphin Dance were detailed, with every key and string accounted for; Jamal’s phenomenal piano play wasn’t eclipsed by the track’s heavy bass signature.

Much of the same performance carried over into alternative rock jams. The bluesy guitar loop and pounding drums on Beck’s Loser were infectious, while the blaring chorus on Blink 182’s Adam’s Song was given more clarity, making mids more transparent over the crashing drums and hi-hats. The QC35 II’s emphasis on bass and treble tend to lower vocals and hide certain production elements.

Bass is what normally sells headphones, and Jabra packs a lot into its noise-cancellers. Booming tracks like Black Thought’s “Making A Murderer” lose some detail on most warm-sounding headphones, but the Elite 85h is an exception. It balanced the song’s punchy lows with crisp vocals, resulting in some serious head-nodding energy.

MORE: Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Unfortunately, the cans have some sound issues, mainly when hearing music in both listening modes. The bass and synths on Bruno Mars 24K Magic were muddled in ANC mode, while D’Angelo’s Devil’s Pie suffered from distortion in HearThrough mode. Thankfully, you can tweak the EQ settings in the Jabra Sound app to flatten the soundscape.

Normally, the aux cable enhances the sound quality on wireless headphones, but it does very little for the Elite 85h. The only real difference I noticed was that vocals were somewhat clearer, but it required listening to many live performances before I noticed.

HearThrough Mode

This isn’t Jabra’s first rodeo with ambient listening modes (Check out our Elite Active 65t review). The Elite 85h has the company’s HearThrough technology, which enables more environmental awareness without taking off the headphones. The mode comes in handy for eavesdropping on people’s conversations or keeping tabs on conductor announcements when riding public transportation. Unfortunately, the mode distorts the bass, and there’s audible hissing that goes in and out when media is paused.

Jabra Sound+ App

Much like the Elite 65t and Elite Active 65t, the Jabra Sound+ app (Android and iOS) serves as the main hub for personalizing the headphones. It’s programmed with four profiles – My Moment, Commuter, In Public, and In Private – to accommodate listening preferences when in specific environments. You’ll likely stick to My Mode since it’s the first available option and shares the same settings as all the other profiles.

Sound+ has many features, none more useful than the customizable EQ that has five sound presets and the option to create/save your own sound profile. Surrounding Audio mode lets you enable the listening modes directly through the app. The settings icon on the right brings up other features like the Sleep Mode timer, on-ear detection gestures, and special calling options. You can adjust the sound for callers, as well as how much of your voice you want to hear.

The Discover menu at the bottom hides a few others including firmware updates, voice assistant access, and the Find My Jabra feature to locate misplaced headphones.

Digital Assistants

Much of the hype surrounding these bad boys is based around its tri-digital assistant integration. The Elite 85h supports Amazon Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, with the option to select one as your default assistant via app. Each performs well, but what really makes using voice commands special is Jabra’s advanced 8-microphone call technology. The mics offer great speech recognition, picking up every query you speak.

Jabra originally stated that the Elite 85h would support wake word activation found on the Amazon Echo, but confirmed it would not be available since it didn’t live up to their expectations.

Battery Life

The Elite 85h currently has the highest-rated battery in its class. We’re talking 36 hours with ANC on. That’s about 16 hours more than the QC35 II and 8 hours more than the WH-1000xM3. I got about 34.5 hours of noise cancellation out of these cans, which was more than enough for a full week’s worth of listening. Three days of heavy Spotify streaming and several Skype calls saw battery life hovering around 60 percent.

The headphones also work passively, meaning you can listen to them in wired mode for up to 41 hours. Bose promises up to 40 hours, while the WH-1000xM3 is rated at 38 hours. Even more clutch is the fast-charging feature that generates five hours of playback on a 15-minute charge.

Call Quality

Call quality is good, but not as great as the brand’s truly wireless earbuds, the Elite 65t and the Elite Active 65t. Jabra’s mics are highly-engineered to phase out distractions and pick up your vocals thoroughly. Most of my friends heard me clearly and never noticed any background noise when answering calls at home or in the park.

My only complaint is the Elite 85h requires you to speak loudly to be heard. My girlfriend said that I sounded distant when speaking calmly in our quiet living room. I played with the Sidetone slider in the app to adjust how low or high my voice sounded on calls.

Connectivity

Wireless performance is top-notch. Bluetooth 5.0 provides up to 15 meters (50 feet) of cord-free listening. I was surprised that my connection held up well after chasing my cat outside of the apartment and down a flight of stairs. More impressive was Jabra’s multipoint technology, which connects the headphones with up to eight devices simultaneously. I only paired two – my Google Pixel 3 XL and MacBook – enjoying the perks of hearing Spotify on my phone, while controlling the playback commands on my laptop keyboard.

Bottom Line

For $250, the Jabra Elite 85h deserves serious consideration  as your next noise-cancelling headphones. It’s a versatile option that hits nearly every mark, from adjustable, dynamic sound to solid noise cancellation. Best-in-class battery life and a plethora of features raise its stock as well.  

Despite these achievements, its few shortcomings don’t warrant these headphones “Bose killer” status. The Bose QC35 II is still the s active noise cancellation king, and it’s more convenient to carry around. While sonics on the Jabra Elite 85h are crisp and detailed, the Sony WH-1000xM3 has set the bar for sound quality on any ANC headphones. It also doesn’t help that the Elite 85h’s bass levels become distorted when enabling the listening modes.

Overall, the Elite 85h is totally worth the money and gives listeners more in functionality and performance than any other pair of headphones not manufactured by Bose or Sony, which speaks volumes.

Credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide