With the Elite 85t, Jabra brings ANC to its wireless range of earbuds. While they summon up effective performance both in terms of sound and noise-cancellation, there are better-performing options available.
- Good, clean sound
- Excellent fit
- Effective noise cancellation
- Better-sounding options available
- ANC not as thorough as rivals
- Reduced IP rating
- Review Price: £219.99
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Sound+ app (Andoid/iOS)
- IPX4 rating
- Semi-open design
- Qi-wireless charging
- Adjustable HearThrough Mode
The Elite 85t are Jabra’s latest wireless earbud, bringing active noise cancellation to this range of models.
Both the Elite 75t and Elite Active 75t put in strong performances, with both awarded 4.5 stars in our reviews. However, competition in the wireless earbuds market is high, so brands can’t afford to stand still for long. With the addition of ANC, the Elite 85t are propelled alongside the likes of Bose, Sennheiser and Sony at the premium end of the market.
Are the Jabra Elite 85t the wireless earbuds to get?
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Jabra Elite 85t design – Petite size and great comfort levels
The Elite 85t are the first from Jabra to feature built-in active noise cancellation, and they claim they do so without compromising size or fit. They’re slightly bigger than the Elite 75t, but aside from a bulkier undercarriage (for lack of a better term), the difference between the two isn’t huge.
Their size helps them to achieve a comfortable fit. Unlike some chunkier earbuds, the ergonomic shape of the Elite 85t means they slot into the ears easily. You get three pairs of silicon EarGels (S, M, L) that are oval in shape, since Jabra believes such a design helps to create a better seal and fit.
Ascribing to the twist-to-lock method, the semi-open design – which uses vents to prevent pressure from building up in the ear – in combination with the weight (7g for each earbud), means you’ll barely notice you’re wearing the Elites. Some may find the fit loose, but I found them to be one of the most comfortable earbuds I’ve worn this year.
The Jabra Elite 85t rely on trusty physical buttons, for which Jabra says it has reduced the level of pressure required for button presses to avoid discomfort. The buttons do indeed require little pressure and are responsive, so if this is a potential issue then the Elite 85t does a good job of circumventing it.
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In terms of operation, playback, volume and skipping tracks are all covered, with toggling ANC and HearThrough done on the left earbud, while playback control and activating a voice assistant are performed on the right. A hold on either earbud changes volume, while double- and triple-tap skips forward and backwards respectively. For calls it’s the same process for volume, and you can accept or reject calls with either earbud.
Jabra Elite 85t features – Solid noise cancelling with adjustable transparency mode
Like the earbuds, the charging case that holds them is slim and small in form. Compared to a Bose or Sony, you could easily slot this unit into a pocket without fuss.
The case itself holds 25 hours of battery life, with the earbuds offering 5.5 hours with ANC on. Quick-charging is supported; a 15-minute charge supplies an hour of playback. The case is also Qi-compatible, so if you have a charging pad the Elite 85t will happily draw power from it.
The IP rating has taken a hit due to the design tweaks, with the Elite 85t having an IPX4 rating compared to the Elite 75t’s IP55. They’re protected from splashes of water, but less so against dust.
They work with Alexa, Google and Siri voice assistants, and tucked inside each earbud are three microphones for noise reduction on phone calls and wind protection on outgoing calls. Bluetooth connectivity is 5.0 and while I haven’t encountered any dropouts, I have experienced interference walking past the security systems in and out of supermarkets. Codec support stands at SBC and AAC. There’s no sign of aptX for streaming music at CD-quality and above, although that didn’t harm the performance of the WF-1000XM3.
The Elite 85t feature Jabra’s Advanced Active Noise Cancellation technology and performance in this regard is good. The Elite 85t suppress an effective amount of external everyday noise, but they’re not as all-consuming as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds or Sony. You can still hear voices of other people, as well as vehicles of any size audibly going past.
The HearThrough feature filters through noise so you can hear what’s around you, and its effect is natural enough. It’s only when you knock it up to maximum does noise come into play.
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You can configure HearThrough levels in the MySound section of the Sound+ app, which also offers “buttons’ for quick toggling between ANC, HearThrough and Off modes. Below those controls are music equaliser settings and presets for customising the sound, as well as a feature called Soundscapes.
I’ve not come across a feature such as Soundscapes before; it offers added isolation by mimicking various sounds such as white noise (avoid), ocean waves, a storm, and the sound of a cavern, among others. It’s odd, but I quite like the effect. Other features include firmware updates, customising buttons and visual indicators of how much battery is left.
Jabra Elite 85t performance – Clear, clean and detailed sound, but competition is tough
Initial impressions of the Elite 85t’s sound are favourable. Their approach to music is measured and they offer versatility in terms of genres, handling a wide range of musical styles without coming unstuck.
Tonally they’re neutral, and performance is fairly well balanced, clear and detailed. Listening to Elbow’s Weather To Fly, the treble notes that open the track are rendered bright enough to be distinct and have some sparkle to their description.
Travel down to the lower reaches of the frequency range and the Elite 85t’s 12mm drivers pack a punch in their delivery of bass that belies their size. The beats in Booka Shade’s Interpretations land with a meaty thud – but it’s in this aspect where the first cracks in the Jabra’s armour can be noted.
Compared to the presentation the Sony WF-1000XM3 affords the track, the Elite 85t can’t deliver the same level of nuance in the lower registers. Where it must deal with big bass performance, the Jabra can go big but also sounds a touch unrefined.
However, there are no complaints about the energy, rhythm and flow that these earbuds can produce. They’re a cohesive and coherent sounding performer, displaying a good sense of timing with layered and complex tracks. Dynamically, they describe the spread between loud and quiet in a broad and effective way, with plenty of power and punchiness to make for an exciting listen. The Jabras are consistently enjoyable performers.
What proves to be the Elite 85t’s undoing, at least at this higher echelon of true wireless performance, is that there are better-sounding earbuds available. Whether you go slightly more expensive (Bose) or cheaper (Sony), there’s more performance on tap whether that’s musically or in terms of noise cancellation.
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This is perhaps most evident in the mid-range performance of the Elite 85t. While the amount of detail they dig up in the mid-range is good, the Sonys are sharper, subtler and clearer in their approach. Although the Jabra display good clarity and no trace of sibilance or harshness with male or female vocals, Christina Aguilera’s voice in On Our Way is sharper, clearer and is given more space to exist in the soundstage by the Sonys.
The WF-1000XM3 are also more expansive and cleaner by comparison – the Jabra don’t dispel noise quite as well and they’re a bit thicker sounding, too. The Jabra Elite 85t are enjoyable wireless earbuds – I could listen to them for a long time – but at the deeper end of the wireless earbud pool they come up just a tad short. A very good pair of wireless earbuds, then, but the competition is tough.
Should you buy the Jabra Elite 85t?
There’s a lot to like about the Jabra Elite 85t, from their entertaining sound, comfortable fit to their solid performance when it comes to noise cancellation. The problem is, there are better performing wireless earbuds available – and in the case of the Sony WF-1000XM3 – at a more affordable price.
If you like Jabra earbuds and are looking for a gym-ready option, it’s probably worth waiting until the (likely) Active Elite versions appear. Otherwise, options include the WF-1000XM3, which offer better sound and ANC, and discounts since their release has made them even better value.
Then there’s the Bose. The QuietComfort Earbuds are more expensive at £250, but their noise-cancelling performance is extremely thorough, while they deliver a clean, neutral and big sound – and achieve an excellent seal, too.