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Jabra Elite 85t review: Catching up to the best
Jabra Jabra Elite 85t
What we like
What we don't like
It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you’re hunting for new true wireless earbuds, especially as an Android user. There’s no simple AirPods solution to turn to. While that might be a headache to some, to others it means the freedom to track down a pair of buds that are just right for you. We submit for your consideration the Jabra Elite 85t, a powerful pair of noise-cancelling wireless earbuds.
The Elite 85t can block out the loud world around you while keeping a tiny footprint, but are they worth the money? Let’s find out.
Update, April 10, 2021: This Jabra Elite 85t review was updated to address new software features that enable Amazon Alexa services.
Who should get the Jabra Elite 85t?
- Students will love the Jabra Elite 85t for their tiny size, and the noise-cancelling is solid enough for long study sessions in the library.
- Commuters will be well-pleased with the noise-cancelling, portable size, and comfortable fit.
- Frequent flyers, like commuters and students, will enjoy the portability and the noise-cancelling to knock out the drone of jet engines and crying children.
What’s it like to use the Jabra Elite 85t?
Jabra’s Elite 85t true wireless earbuds stand out from the crowd thanks to their top-notch microphone setup, ergonomic design, and effective noise-cancelling. The Elite 85t finally ditch the round ear tip of previous generations in favor of an oblong option that fits much better in the ear canal. Jabra didn’t skip any details either since the silicone sleeves include an earwax guard to keep the grill clean.
Each earbud features the Jabra logo, and it serves as a playback control on both sides just in case you’re only listening with one ‘bud at a time. You can also personalize these controls straight from the Jabra Sound+ app. You’ll also notice a cluster of small holes at the end of the earbud itself — these are for the powerful six-microphone array. Some of these microphones handle phone calls while others tackle noise-cancelling, but we’ll circle back to that a bit later on.
See also: Best workout earbuds of 2020
Every pair of Jabra Elite 85t earbuds includes a charging case, though this one is better than many competitors. It supports wireless charging straight out of the box, or you can opt for the included USB-C cable instead. The case itself is plastic, but it clamps shut with a magnet and should stay shut even if you drop your earbuds.
Jabra packed plenty of features into these buds, with very few compromises.
Passthrough is an important technology on noise-cancelling headsets nowadays, and Jabra’s approach goes by the name HearThru. You can control it using the left earbud, and it allows outside sound to flow into your ear in case you’re out for a run. This is one of the best versions of passthrough that we’ve tested, as it does the trick without adding white noise to the playback. You can always listen in mono mode, too, if the software just doesn’t cut it.
Can you use the Jabra Elite 85t for workouts?
As long as you stick to a basic workout, the Elite 85t are great. The grippy material stayed locked in my ears while cycling, and it should work well for running or weightlifting too. However, they’re not going to fit the bill if you plan to swim or run on the beach — Jabra’s buds pack just an IPX4 rating. That means no dust resistance, so sand or climbing chalk could spell doom. If you really want to go for a swim, you can always opt for the Elite Active 75t instead.
Do the Jabra Elite 85t have good noise-cancelling?
To put it simply, yes the Jabra Elite 85t do have good noise-cancelling. It effectively quiets ambient noise like a running faucet or a heater by using a feedforward and feedback setup. I’d compare the noise-cancelling to Panasonic’s highly effective RZ-S500W, and it almost works too well. I felt slightly disoriented at times during testing, and the Panasonic set had the same effect.
During my tests, I decided to see how the noise-cancelling impacted human speech. I found that I had trouble hearing my friend from about 10 meters away. While I could still hear some sound, it was challenging to discern exactly what he was saying. You’re ultimately supposed to have 11 levels of noise-cancelling to choose from, though my early testing only let me select five levels from the Jabra Sound+ app.
This is all to say that the Jabra Elite 85t is a great noise-cancelling setup, but you have to get your fit just right. The better your seal, the more sound the earbuds can block, and the better that the ANC can do its job.
Do you need the Jabra Sound+ app?
It seems like every pair of noise-cancelling or wireless earbuds comes with an app these days, and it’s once again necessary if you want the full experience. Jabra’s version is the free Sound+ app, and it adds all of the advanced features like HearThru, remapping your controls, and even finding your earbuds. You’ll also need the app to tinker with your EQ — you can set up a custom profile or choose from a mix of presets.
Jabra has also implemented a handy feature that it calls Moments. Essentially, moments takes some of the adjustings out of your earbuds. You can set three modes — MyMoment, Commute, and Focus — and each tracks a certain level of noise-cancelling or HearThru for your daily life. This is a very convenient feature, and takes just a few minutes to tweak to your liking.
On March 30, 2021, Jabra released software version 2.0.0, so you can now access Amazon Alexa at the touch of a button. Previously, Jabra released software version 1.38.0, and this added three significant features You can take a fit test in the mobile app to optimize isolation, rename the Elite 85t (which is good if you own multiple Jabra headsets), and disable ANC and HearThrough directly from the earbuds. This is different from before because previously you could only toggle between the two hearing modes.
On November 23, 2020, Jabra released a significant software update that upgrades Bluetooth 5.0 firmware to Bluetooth 5.1 firmware. It also reduces the total charging time for the earbuds and case from 4 hours to 3.5 hours. Other user-reported issues have been resolved like improved streaming stability, call audio improvements through the earbuds and better multipoint switching. You must have version 1.27.0 of the Jabra Sound+ app.
What Bluetooth codecs do the earbuds support?
Apple users will be happy to know that the Jabra Elite 85t support both the SBC and AAC codecs. AAC ensures high-quality streaming on iPhones and other iOS devices, though it can be inconsistent at times on Android. Regardless of your platform, the Elite 85t packs Bluetooth 5.1 firmware, which is altogether better than the Bluetooth 4.0 alternative.
The Jabra Elite 85t also support Bluetooth multipoint, which means you can connect two devices at once for some easy multitasking. It works well overall, but it’s not quite up to the high bar that the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 set. The buds won’t switch automatically, so you’ll have to pause playback on one device before you swap. Multipoint introduced some slight audiovisual lag in my testing, but there were no problems when the earbuds were set up on a single device.
Even though Jabra packed a ton of technology into the Elite 85t earbuds, I found occasional problems with connection stability. My earbuds dropped connection when I took a call on my Galaxy S10e, and again during a conference call on my MacBook Pro. The problem isn’t tied to one platform or the other, so hopefully, Jabra can fix this with a firmware update.
How does the battery life stack up?
The Jabra Elite 85t lasted for five hours, 41 minutes of playtime per SoundGuys’ testing. That’s enough juice to outlast both the AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3. If you disable noise-cancelling, or lower its intensity, you may eke out even more battery life. It’s worth spending a few minutes in the Jabra Sound+ app to find the right setup for your needs.
Unlike the older Jabra Elite 75t, the Elite 85t case supports wireless charging. It takes a full 3.5 hours to charge the entire unit (case and earbuds). When you place the earbuds in the case for just 15 minutes, the earbuds will net an hour of playback. It’s not the most efficient charging, but it should keep you covered for long trips.
How do the Jabra Elite 85t sound?
Like many popular earbuds, the Jabra Elite 85t tend to skew towards a consumer-friendly frequency response. This means that the 12mm drivers are pumping out bass notes twice as loud as midrange notes. It’s good for general listeners because you can feel the bump of the bass, though it’s not at all an accurate response.
If you choose the Jabra Elite 85t, you might have some trouble picking out high-pitched vocals, which is a result of auditory masking. Our brains prioritize loud sounds over relatively quiet ones, so the consumer-friendly response is partly to blame. This feature of our brains was probably more useful back in the early days of mankind, but it’s not quite as useful now that we’re trying to snatch details from our favorite songs. You can counteract the masking effect using Jabra’s Sound+ app by dropping the bass by 6dB, boosting the mids by 3dB, and lowering certain treble ranges by 6-10dB.
As for the passive isolation, the Elite 85t perform well thanks to the oblong ear tips. Human voices are often half as loud once you have the right tips inserted, though you’ll have to spend time testing out sizes.
Do the earbuds work well for phone calls?
As long as you can keep them connected, the Jabra Elite 85t are great for phone calls and conference calls. Jabra managed to find a way to pack six total microphones between the two buds, four of which are used to tackle noise-cancelling. They work as a group to combat the proximity effect by de-emphasizing sounds lower than 500Hz. The proximity effect is when bass notes are amplified due to a speaker being too close to the microphone.
Jabra Elite 85t microphone demo:
Some setups take bass attenuation a bit too seriously, which can make speakers with low voices sound strange, but that’s not the case here. I found that my voice transmitted accurately with the Elite 85t, and the microphones do a good job of eliminating distracting sounds. Give the microphone test a listen below and hear it for yourself.
Jabra Elite 85t vs Jabra Elite 75t: Which is better?
Oh, the age-old question — are the old earbuds better, or should you go for the new hotness? In this case, the Jabra Elite 85t dominate the older Elite 75t in terms of noise-cancelling, thanks to the dedicated processor. The Elite 75t integrate noise-cancelling into the Qualcomm SoC, which still does the job, but it’s not nearly as effective. Overall, the Elite 85t comes out on top in noise-cancelling, and it’s the go-to for more advanced hardware as well. The Elite 85t packs three microphones per bud while the Elite 75t manages just two. Also, the Elite 75t series cases don’t support wireless charging.
Jabra Elite Active 75t microphone demo:
Sound quality also favors the Elite 85t right out of the box, which means less time spent messing with the Sound+ app. Both pairs of earbuds generally look similar, but the Elite 75t keep a rounder shape with circular ear tips. This might be better for some users, though Jabra is banking on the better seal of the oblong shape.
While the Jabra Elite 85t tops the Elite 75t on almost all fronts, neither is your best bet for a heavy-duty workout. For that, we’d recommend the Elite Active 75t thanks to its IP57 rating for both water and dust resistance. It also manages a better battery life than the newer Elite 85t.
Jabra Elite 85t review: The verdict
If you’re going to call yourself elite, you better rise to the occasion. Jabra’s Elite 85t true wireless earbuds do just that, and they can handle almost anything you throw at them. As long as you have the cash to spare, you’ll be well-treated by a pair of Jabra’s latest. We’re happy to recommend them, and the Elite 85t have earned their place among the best true wireless earbuds you can buy.
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Of course, some users may not find a need for advanced noise-cancelling features, especially at the cost of battery life. If that’s the case, the Elite 75t is still a good pick, and you can save a good bit of money on a pair. Either way, Jabra truly means elite when it comes to truly wireless earbuds, and that doesn’t seem to be changing.