Giving the AirPods Pro a run for their ANC.
A pair of Jabra earbuds has held the top spot in our roundup of the best wireless earbuds for over two years now. The Elite 65t were remarkably capable for what the time was a nascent category, and the Elite 75t cemented the company as a major competitor in the space.
Now we have the Elite 85t, which offer bigger drivers for better sound, wireless charging and, most important of all, active noise cancelation. It’s Jabra’s biggest salvo against the AirPods Pro to date, and the company mostly pulls it off. But the Elite 85t introduction lays bare the concessions companies tend to make when adding premium features to their earbuds.
- Sound & ANC
- Should you buy?
Jabra Elite 85t
Bottom line: An excellent pair of true wireless earbuds that challenge the AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3 for ANC royalty, but a few regressions keep these from being the best wireless earbuds overall.
- Tremendous sound quality for the size
- Very effective ANC in most situations
- Compact case with wireless charging & USB-C
- Jabra’s MySound personalized EQ feature is useful
- Extremely comfortable fit
- Larger than the Elite 75t
- Mono mode still limited to right earbud
- Diminished water resistance over Elite 75t
- Battery life is just OK
$230 at Amazon
$230 at Best Buy
Jabra Elite 85t review Design
If you’ve worn any of Jabra’s Elite series wireless earbuds, the 85t will feel right at home: they’re nub-style buds whose rubber tips rest just inside your ear canal, the base extending into a slight point to rest comfortably at the outer base. To insert them and get a seal, you seat the tips and twist; once they’re in, they shouldn’t go anywhere save for a severe jolt.
Each bud comes with three size gels, though keeping with the Elite 85t’s more open design, the tips are wider than that of their predecessors. They’re also perforated to prevent ear wax from clogging up the funnel of the 12mm drivers. Each bud has three microphones, two of which are used for some excellent active noise cancelation, along with a single button that offers a range of customizable controls through the app.
As someone who spent a lot of time wearing the Elite 75t over the past year, the 85t took some getting used to. Each bud is ever-so-slightly longer, which makes it protrude from your ear a bit more noticeably. But that fact, along with the additional 1.5 grams of weight, alters the balance while wearing. It’s not a huge deal, but in an A/B test I found the Elite 75t slightly less likely to fall out of my ears while walking or moving my head quickly.
Jabra Elite 75t (left) vs. Elite 85t (right). Yes, they look almost identical.
Conversely, because the Elite 85t feature ANC, Jabra decided to offset the active cancellation with less passive isolation — basically, there’s less of a stuffy feeling when you’re wearing the earbuds, even when ANC is disabled. I far prefer this balanced approach, and it really does make the Elite 85t easier to wear for longer periods than the 75t despite the physically larger size.
Jabra’s unassuming design is its biggest strength: the Elite 85t are both attractive and functional.
I like Jabra’s unassuming and practical design, both on the earbuds side and the case they sit in. Like the 75t, there’s a strong magnet that holds the buds in place, catching them a few millimeters away to ensure a snug fit.
Jabra moved the multi-purpose LED to the front of the case this time, which saves you having to turn the thing around to check whether a charge or update has completed. And the slightly larger case brings with it wireless charging this year, which was only an optional add-on (sold separately) with the 75t.
The Elite 85t have wider, ovoid-shaped ear tips that don’t seal as much as previous versions.
While I appreciate all the aesthetic and quality-of-life improvements with the 85t’s feature set and design, Jabra didn’t do much to improve battery life over the 75t — though on paper they do seem a bit higher. The company claims each bud will last 5.5 hours per charge with ANC enabled and seven hours with it disabled, which is lower than the 7.5 hours promised on the Elite 75t with ANC disabled. It’s not a huge regression, but it does appear Jabra needed to shave off some battery size to accommodate the larger drivers and additional tech inside each bud, so you may find yourself topping up a little more than usual.
I’m not that impressed with the battery life on the Elite 85t, but given the amount of new tech in here, the regression is understandable.
Still, five hours per charge with ANC enabled is comparable to what you find on the AirPods Pro, Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, Sony WF-1000XM3 and the new Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, and the addition of wireless charging makes it easy to top up when not in use. Plus, the case offers over three additional full charges, for 31 hours total.
In my battery testing, like the Elite 75t I found Jabra’s estimates to be a little generous; I got closer to 4.75 hours per charge with ANC enabled. Thankfully, the case is still small enough that I can easily fit it in my pocket and forget about until I need it, something you can’t really say about other ANC earbuds except for the AirPods Pro.
Jabra Elite 85t review Sound & ANC
The good news is that the Jabra Elite 85t sound significantly better than their predecessors. Jabra swapped out the 6mm driver in the 75t for a spacious 12mm model, and upon first listen it has an immediate widening effect, though part of that is due to the lower levels of isolation.
You get a wider soundstage and more accurate bass, though the equalization has also been tuned by default to offset some of the 75t’s boomier tendencies. With that more enveloping sound you get a much more upfront mid-range, so vocals and instruments forward in the mix feel more prominent. There’s also considerably less sibilance in some of the hi-hats that afflicted the 75t’s default profile, though I managed to tamp it down with some equalization.
The Elite 85t also supports Jabra’s MySound+, a personalization feature that lets you tune the earbuds’ sound to your liking. Out of the box the Elite 85t certainly sound better than the 75t, and given the larger drivers, you have more room to work with. They’re both highways free of traffic on a lovely sunny day, but the 85t offers a second lane while the 75t is limited to a single.
The Elite 85t case is a joy to use, with strong magnets that keep the buds in place and a lid that closes with a satisfying thunk.
I’ve said this before, but I love Jabra’s tuning; even immediately, with no break-in period, the Elite 85t are silky smooth and joyfully listenable. With some tuning, they’re extraordinary. I particularly like how the low-end no longer overwhelms the mix on bassier R&B tracks, and the wider soundstage brings these closer than ever to the experience of wearing a pair of over-the-ear headphones.
The ANC isn’t perfect, but it’s really effective and won’t cloud your music.
Of course, I can’t talk about the Elite 85t without mentioning the new active noise cancelation feature. Unlike the Elite 75t, which received ANC in a recent firmware and only offers an on or off dichotomy, the Elite 85t were built and tuned for ANC from the beginning, and offer five distinct levels of sound masking.
I’m pretty impressed with Jabra’s take at ANC; it’s not quite as severe as the AirPods Pro or Sony WF-1000XM3, but there’s almost no noise floor here, either. In other words, the ANC works to cull external sounds, particularly the low-end hum of traffic or an air conditioning unit. What it doesn’t do as well as some of its competitors is mask mid-range frequencies like nearby voices or distant sirens.
Given that I don’t travel much anymore (for obvious reasons), I compared the Jabra Elite 85t’s ANC to the AirPods Pro and WF-1000XM3 in two distinct but likely common scenarios: walking down a busy street with traffic to one side of me; and sitting in my office with a television playing at regular volumes in a nearby room.
In the first scenario, the Jabras performed very well, cutting out a fair amount of ambient discord and leaving an almost-pleasant murmur of the urban wilds. The AirPods Pro performed about as well, though it was less effective at eliminating traffic noise but did a better job with masking conversations of passersby. The Sonys did better than both at cutting out both frequencies.
The Elite 85t don’t quite match the ANC performance of the best in its class, but it gets the job done.
In the second scenario, the Jabras performed the worst, reducing the TV to a low hum but did not eliminate vocals nearly as effectively as the AirPods Pro or Sonys.
Of course, these are the results I obtained without any sound emanating from the earbuds themselves; when music or other audio is playing, the Jabras do a great job blocking out most external din even at low volumes.
Jabra’s ‘HearThrough’ feature, which uses each earbuds’ microphones to pump in sound from the outside, is also very good — though, again, not as natural as the AirPods Pro’s transparency mode (and I say this as an Android user).
But do the Elite 85t sound better than the AirPods Pro? Or the Sony WF-1000XM3? Or the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2? Either way, it’s certainly not an objective statement, but I think Jabra has performed a small miracle here making these sound as good as they do — seriously, they’re a huge improvement over the 75t — while also adding pretty effective ANC to the repertoire and not ruining the levels of comfort and the small size that made their predecessor so damn great.
I also have to call out Jabra’s continued excellence in the voice call department. I’ve been making a lot of phone calls recently, and it’s been a pleasure wearing the Elite 85t in one ear or both to speak to family and friends. Calls come through loud and clear, and recipients on the other end remarked that, even when things were noisy behind me, they could barely hear a thing.
Jabra Elite 85t review A few nits to pick
I’m hard on products I love, and I really love the Elite 75t. That’s why, after spending a couple of weeks listening to the 85t, I’m a bit disappointed in a few areas, some surprising, some less so.
First, the ongoing issue with being forced to use the right earbud in mono mode. The upshot is that Jabra promised independent usage when it debuted the Elite 75t in January 2019 but was never able to deliver on that promise. The reason is a matter of physics: the left earbud connects to the right one through a very secure, non-Bluetooth method to ensure that they never fall out of sync with one another. But as a result, the left one doesn’t have the antenna strength to communicate independently with the phone itself.
You still can’t use the left earbud by itself, and that’s rightfully going to be a problem for many potential buyers, even if the reason is good.
When I spoke to Jabra on this issue earlier in the year, the company told me it’s a trade-off that it’s happy to make again and again: most people use two earbuds at a time, and it wants to ensure they never stutter or have to resync. Of course, other products, like Apple’s AirPods Pro or Samsung’s Galaxy Buds series, can offer both features — an unwavering connection between the two buds, and the flexibility of connecting either the left or right earbud to the phone in mono mode. I’m not excusing Jabra’s decision here other than to say I’m generally OK with the limitation and understand the reasoning, but it may be a bridge too far for some people spending $230 on a pair of earbuds.
My other major criticism is leveled at the lack of water resistance. Unlike the more enclosed Elite 75t and Elite Active 75t, Jabra chose to create ports in the 85t that let in air — and potentially water. That forced the company to lower the ingress rating to IPX4, a much less reassuring designation than the IP55 on last year’s model. They’ll still withstand a splash or two but I wouldn’t make these your primary workout earbuds, another knock against using them as your “everything” headphones.
Finally, Jabra chose once again not to license Qualcomm’s aptX or aptX HD streaming codecs, despite employing a number of other Qualcomm technologies in these earbuds. As a result, you’re limited to SBC and AAC on both iOS and Android devices, which is fine for iPhone users but a clear disadvantage for Android users, since aptX is just a very efficient, flexible decoding option that outdoes AAC in almost every way.
Jabra Elite 85t review Software
One thing Jabra really has going for it is its Sound+ app, which lets you customize a number of aspects of the Elite 85t experience. I mentioned the excellent MySound+, which uses a series of sounds at different volumes and frequencies to create a personal EQ for each user — one that’s uploaded to the earbuds so it doesn’t need to be recreated upon connecting to a new phone — but there’s also MyControls, which now lets you specify what a single-, double-, and triple-tap accomplish on each earbud (holding down on the button always raises or lowers the volume).
Sound+ also offers a number of sound modes, which set preferences based on the situation — the commute- and travel-based settings were more useful before the pandemic, obviously — and you can quickly toggle EQ presets like ‘Speech’, ‘Bass boost’, and ‘Energize’ if you don’t want to go through the personalization steps.
Being able to connect to two devices simultaneously is, for some people, worth the price of admission alone.
And the Elite 85t also continue to offer one of the best Jabra differentiators: the ability to connect to two devices at once. I love this, especially when sitting at my desk working on my laptop with my phone next to me. Phone calls seamlessly interrupt whatever I’m doing on the big screen, which then resumes afterwards. This is one of my favorite things are Jabra earbuds.
Jabra Elite 85t review Competition
Given that the Elite 85t aren’t replacing, but augmenting, the Elite 75t in Jabra’s lineup, the most obvious comparison is to those year-old buds. The tl;dr, which we’ve written about, is that the Elite 75t is actually a better deal in almost every way unless you explicitly need wireless charging (which you can add with an optional Qi case) or better ANC and sound quality, both of which are slightly worse on the 75t than the 85t.
Given that you can buy the Elite 75t for $180 on Amazon, and they’ve often been on sale under $150, I’d give them a look before jumping on the Elite 85t. On the other hand, if you’re a current Elite 65t or 75t user, the 85t are a definite upgrade in most respects, especially sound quality.
At $230, the other major competitor to the Elite 85t are the AirPods Pro. If you’re an iPhone user, you get the AirPods seamless connectivity and integration with Apple’s ecosystem; on the other hand, the Elite 85t sound much better.
If sound quality is your ultimate bellwether, though, the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 should be on your list. They definitely have a fuller and more robust sound than the Elite 85t, but it’s not a runaway victory, and at $300 they’re quite a bit more expensive.
If you are looking for a pair of the best wireless earbuds that don’t cost even close to $230, you can’t go wrong with Samsung’s excellent Galaxy Buds+, which you can find for a mouthwatering $120 right now.
Jabra Elite 85t review Should you buy them?
You should buy these if…
You want the best compromise of size, sound quality, and features. The Jabra Elite 85t are close to the top in every category, even if they don’t explicitly win in any.
You need a compact pair of wireless earbuds with ANC. Good ANC and small earbuds are still fairly hard to come by, and Jabra pulled it off beautifully with the Elite 85t.
You make a lot of phone calls. The Elite 85t have some of the best microphones and background noise cancelation you can find in a pair of wireless earbuds.
You shouldn’t buy these if…
You want to wear them while working out. There are better workout earbuds out there, and the IPX4 rating on the Elite 85t won’t cut it.
You don’t need ANC. At $230, you can find cheaper wireless earbuds that don’t require you pay extra for features you won’t use.
You want something more compact. The Elite 75t are smaller and cheaper, and offer 90% of the experience.
out of 5
Jabra didn’t quite pull off the flawless sequel that I was hoping for, but the Elite 85t is a solid upgrade over the 75t in many important ways, including comfort, sound quality and, most importantly, ANC.
While the competition is stronger than ever these days, Jabra continues to carve out an impressive space in the wireless earbuds space by excelling in almost every area, even if it doesn’t come out at the very top of any of them.
I’m not quite as enamored of the Elite 85t as I was of the 75t, but I’m going to keep these in my ears explicitly because of the improvements Jabra introduced this year.
Jabra Elite 85t
Bottom line: With ANC and improved sound profile, the Elite 85t are truly outstanding wireless earbuds that hold their own against the AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3.
$230 at Amazon
$230 at Best Buy