Jabra Elite 85t review: AirPods Pro-beating noise cancelling Bluetooth earbuds

Jabra is back with its fourth-generation Bluetooth true wireless earbuds, the Elite 85t, with improved fit, better sound and active noise cancelling to rival Apple’s AirPods Pro. The Elite 85t cost £219.99 and top the range that includes its predecessors the £170 Elite 75t and £140 Elite 65t. The new earbuds have a lighter and more balanced fit compared with the Elite 75t . The redesigned oval-shaped silicone ear tips don’t enter your ear canal quite so deeply, but are no less secure. The remainder of the earbud sits comfortably outside your ear, avoiding resting on any delicate parts or protruding too far. Specifications Water resistance: sweat and weather resistant (IPX4) Drivers: 12mm Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1, SBC, AAC Battery life: 5.5 hours with ANC (up to 25 hours with case) Earbud dimensions: 23.1 x 19.0 x 16.2mm Earbud weight: 7g each Charging case dimensions: 64.8 x 41.1 x 28.5mm Charging case weight: 45.1g Case charging: USB-C, Qi wireless charging Connectivity and controls The Sound+ app for Android and iOS makes it easy to customise the earbuds’ controls, sound and noise cancelling. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian The Elite 85t are some of the first true wireless earbuds to be able to connect to two different devices simultaneously – something that is common in high-end Bluetooth over-ear headphones and handy for connecting a phone and computer or tablet at the same time. They support the latest Bluetooth 5.1 and both the universal SBC standard Bluetooth audio format as well as the higher quality AAC format used by Apple’s various products and most Android devices. They do not support aptX or higher quality audio formats commonly used by Windows PCs and Android devices, however. Their connection to various iPhone 12 models , a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 and OnePlus 8T was rock solid. The right earbud can be used on its own for calls or music, but the left cannot. A button on each earbud supports single, double or triple presses to control playback, noise cancelling or to summon your phone’s voice assistant. You can set which button combo does what in the Jabra Sound+ app . Pressing and holding adjusts the volume – left earbud for down, right for up – with useful audible clicks as each new volume level is set. The music pauses on removal of an earbud and resumes once reinserted. Sound and noise cancelling The redesigned oval ear tips are more comfortable and produce just as good a seal for isolation and bass. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian The sound quality is much improved over Jabra’s previous efforts. The earbuds produced a rich, highly detailed but balanced sound with excellent dynamic range. Bass is deep, but doesn’t dominate in the way it does for the Elite 75t, mids are rich in detail and highs are precise. The earbuds handle most music genres well, including the complex and overlapping tones of tracks such as the Who’s Baba O’Riley. They are suitably aggressive for Dr Dre’s Next Episode while still managing to sound deep and rich on tracks such as Darkside’s Paper Trails. A fully customisable equaliser is available in the Sound+ app alongside a test to personalise the sound to your hearing, although they sounded great out of the box. They beat Apple’s AirPods Pro on audio quality, making them easily some of the best-sounding true wireless earbuds you can buy, but fall just shy of the sonic highs of Sony WF-1000XM3 . The active noise cancelling is equally impressive. Turned up to maximum it was very effective, reducing the sounds of speech, eliminating rumble and unwanted noise but without making you feel completely plugged in or cut off from the outside world. There are five noise cancelling levels to choose from, plus “hearthrough”, which is a really good ambient listening mode that allows you to hear the world around you – great for listening out for announcements or road awareness. Battery life and case The case charges via USB-C in about 2.5 hours or three hours via Qi wireless charging. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian The battery lasts more than five hours of continuous playback with noise cancelling active or about seven with it off. The case can recharge the earbuds 3.5 times, bringing the total combined battery life to 25 hours with noise cancelling or 31 without. A 15-minute charge in the case provides up to an hour of playback. The case is small, black and plastic with a flip-top lid. It’ll fit in the money pocket of a pair of jeans, making it one of the best in the business. Sustainability Jabra estimates the batteries in the earbuds and case will last for 500 full-charge cycles while retaining at least 80% of capacity. None of the batteries are replaceable nor are the earbuds repairable, ultimately making them disposable. You can buy replacement tips, earbuds and cases. Jabra operates a recycling and trade-in scheme but the product does not contain any recycled material. The company publishes sustainability goals and yearly reports as part of parent company GN Store Nord. Observations The smooth matt black plastic of the case is fairly easy to mark. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian Activating noise cancelling doesn’t inhibit the bass or tone. Call quality was good, with recipients saying I sounded clear, and there was little background noise. Price The Jabra Elite 85t cost £219.99. For comparison, the Elite 75t has an RRP of £169.99 , the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds cost £249.95 , Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live cost £179 , Apple’s AirPods Pro cost £249 and Sony’s WF-1000MX3 cost £169 . Verdict The Jabra Elite 85t are some of the best true wireless earbuds you can buy. They combine great sound, good noise cancelling, long battery life and a comfortable fit with an excellent, pocketable case and the ability to connect to two devices at the same time. Only the right earbud can be used on its own and it is regrettable, similar to most true wireless earbuds, that they cannot be repaired. It has been a long time coming, but Apple’s AirPods Pro have finally been bettered by the Jabra Elite 85t, particularly for Android users. Pros: great sound, good noise cancelling, multi-connection, good controls, comfortable fit, great case, long battery, no stalks. Cons: only right earbud can be used on its own, no aptX, not repairable, batteries not replaceable, expensive. The bottom of the case has the Qi symbol showing where to place it on a wireless charging pad. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian Other reviews Jabra Elite 75t review: small and long lasting AirPods beaters Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review: just shy of noise-cancelling greatness Sony WF-1000XM3 review: updated noise-cancelling earbuds sound great AirPods Pro review: a touch of Apple magic Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review: novel bean-shaped AirPod rivals Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review: top-quality sound with ANC Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review: less business, more modern design $0 contributed so far $1,250,000 our goal Since you’re here … … we have a small favour to ask. Millions are flocking to the Guardian for open, independent, quality news every day. Readers in all 50 states and in 180 countries around the world now support us financially. 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