One of the most explosive and crowded categories in audio is the truly wireless earphones segment with launches coming in hot across several price points. While AirPods may be the go-to for Apple users, Android users can have a tough time navigating through the market due to the sheer number of choices and the lack of a go-to set of earphones. Amongst all, Jabra has been one of the most reliable brands that offer users a dependable pair of TWS earphones every year. We were fans of the Elite 65t and Elite Active 65t, and were even bigger fans of the Elite 75t and Elite Active 75t since they provided users with an amalgamation of features, decent sound quality and solid build. This is the reason we have been waiting with bated breath for the next generation Jabra Elite 85t to be launched in India. Now that we finally have our hands on the Elite 85t, let’s see how they perform. On paper, the Jabra Elite 85t seems like a fantastic pair of TWS earphones with a host of features including ANC, customisable controls, wireless charging, and others, as well as good battery life. Let’s see if the earphones are as competent in real life as they seem to be on paper.
Build and design
Jabra describes the Elite 85t as “semi-open” earphones that don’t need to be jammed all the way in your ear canals to achieve a proper fit, according to Jabra at least. The earbuds have a similar shape as the last generation, except this time, they come with oval-shaped ear tips and not round ones, which just nestle in your ear without having to be twisted in.
The earbuds also pack in Active Noise Cancelling technology and larger 12mm drivers, which have caused them to become visibly larger than the Elite 75ts. The Jabra logo is smacked right onto the physical buttons at the back of both earbuds. Jabra has also incorporated pressure-relief vents to the buds to prevent low frequencies from exerting too much pressure in the wearer’s ears. The back of the buds has a labyrinth of tiny microphone holes which are much smaller than their predecessors’ and will likely keep more dust out.
The earbuds are still pretty tiny but not quite as compact and diminutive as the 75t, which feels like a step back in some ways. The same goes for the charging case, which also has a considerably larger footprint than its predecessor’s charging case. The case and the earbuds have also lost the velvety, non-slippery texture that we loved so much on the Elite Active 75t. Now, it comes with a plain ol’ matte, plasticky texture that doesn’t feel quite as premium.
The Jabra Elite 85t’s case can be charged with any Qi-certified wireless charger
The charging case houses a USB-C charging port on the back, a single LED light to indicate battery status, and a Qi wireless charging symbol at the bottom of the case. The case needs to be propped upright to charge wirelessly on any Qi-certified wireless charger. The earbuds slot into the case securely and the magnets are strong enough to prevent them from falling out. Unfortunately, the hinge of the charging case on the Elite 85t doesn’t feel quite as robust as the Jabra Elite Active 75t.
Case dimensions comparison – Jabra Elite 85t (left) vs Jabra Elite Active 75t (right)
The buds come equipped with IPX4 water and sweat resistance, down from the IP55 water and dust resistant rating on the Jabra Elite 75t. They’re now on par with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and the AirPods Pro when it comes to IP rating, which is definitely a downgrade in this area. The earbuds will be able to survive light splashes and sweating, but heavy sweaters should steer away from using the Elite 85t as fitness earbuds.
Comfort and fit
As mentioned above, the Jabra Elite 85t’s earbuds are larger than its predecessor and now have an oval-shaped ear tip instead of the more common rounded one. The earbuds, in our experience, slid into our ears easily and stayed put through normal movement and light exercise. The earbuds don’t have to be jammed and twisted in place, however, it is absolutely integral to find a pair of silicone ear tips that fit you perfectly to achieve a good level of comfort and security.
In the box, Jabra has provided two extra sets of oval silicone ear tips that now come with a protective mesh on top to allow less dirt and dust to get in. We found that the L (large) ear tips provided the reviewer with the best fit. We would have preferred it if Jabra provided 4-5 different sizes of ear tips, since everyone may not find the perfect fit in the three provided sizes. Due to the new oval shape, it is integral to find the right fit since the earphones slip out of the ears constantly if the wearer is using wrong-sized ear tips.
The Jabra Elite 75t and Elite Active 75t earbuds were one of the most comfortable pairs of TWS earphones we tested last year. The Jabra Elite 85t is also extremely comfortable, albeit slightly less comfortable and snug in the ear than their predecessors. The semi-open design also eliminates the plugged-up ear feeling that some find uncomfortable.
Jabra Sound+ app and other features
The Jabra Sound+ app is one of the most comprehensive accompanying apps for TWS earphones. It comes equipped with a nifty 5-band customisable EQ that can be used to tweak sound settings as per an individual’s preference. The app also boasts of a few EQ presets such as Bass Boost, Treble Boost, Speech, and others.
Users can also apply their desired noise cancellation or Ambient sound effect. There are currently 5 levels of noise cancellation from least isolating to most, however, the official website mentions 11 toggleable levels of ANC. This will probably be added via a software update, however, at the time of reviewing, we were only able to toggle between 5 levels of noise cancelling. Ambient Sound also has 5 levels of effectiveness, which is pretty convenient in different situations. For example, in a train station, you may want to apply the maximum level of ambient sound or HearThrough in order to listen to announcements easily. On the other hand, in an office setting, you may want lower levels of ambient sound to be allowed in. It’s great to see the sheer amount of control users can have over these settings via the Sound+ app.
Jabra Sound+ app is available on iOS and Android
Like we’ve seen on Jabra models before, the app also allows users to choose between moments including My Moment, Commute, and Focus. You can customise these moments and apply the desired noise cancellation effect for each Moment.
Lastly, you can also customise the controls of your earbuds for both media and calls as per your preference. The default controls are the follows –
- Single press (right) – play/pause media/ accept an incoming call
- Single press (left) – cycle through ANC and HearThrough / accept an incoming call
- Double press (right) – summon voice assistant / reject an incoming call
- Double press (left) – Go to next track / reject an incoming call
- Triple press (left) – Go to previous track
The other controls are left at no functionality by default. You can also control some things during ongoing calls such as single press (either bud) will mute or unmute the call and a double press (either bud) will end an ongoing call. We chose to mess around with the controls a fair bit and customise them as per our preferences. Unfortunately though, you still cannot add volume controls, which is slightly disappointing. Nevertheless, the Jabra Sound+ app is excellent since it provides users with a granular level of control over their earphones. It also has a MySound feature which calibrates the device’s sound according to the wearer’s hearing. Neat!
App aside, the Jabra Elite 85t comes with a bunch of other compelling features and are honestly one of the most feature-laden pairs of true wireless earphones on the market in 2021. The earphones, powered by Bluetooth v5.1, come with multipoint connection support, which means you can connect them to 2 devices simultaneously and seamlessly switch between them. You can also use the buds in Mono mode, however, only the right earbud can be used independently, which is a bit odd. There’s also support for the SBC and AAC audio codecs, however, Android users will be disappointed to know that the buds don’t support the high quality aptX codec at this premium price point. Nevertheless, the performance with AAC is also pretty stable and almost as good as some earphones with aptX support.
Additionally, you also get Qi wireless charging support for the case. As mentioned above, you will have to make the case stand upright to charge it. The case can be charged with all Qi-certified wireless chargers, including smartphones with reverse charging. We used the reverse charging on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and it worked perfectly fine.
Active Noise Cancellation and HearThrough performance
The headlining feature of the Jabra Elite 85t is Active Noise Cancellation. This time around, Jabra has included a dedicated Active Noise Cancellation processor within the buds instead of providing the feature via an OTA update. The earphones use feedforward and feedback noise cancelling.
The ANC on the Jabra Elite 85t is excellent. The earphones are definitely catching up to the heavyweights in this category – the Sony WF-1000XM3 and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. The earphones displayed excellent performance in cancelling out low and mid-range ambient sounds. It even muffled a fair bit of some human voices, which pleasantly surprised us. What’s even more impressive is that despite the Jabra Elite 85t having a semi-open design, the noise-cancelling is not compromised to an easily tangible extent.
The earphones do an excellent job at diminishing sounds such as AC drone, car engine, and even some male voices. They do an acceptable job at cancelling out sounds like high-speed fans, children and female voices, and mechanical keyboards. Overall, the Jabra Elite 85t really impressed us with its ANC chops. The Sony WF-1000XM3 still has the edge at cancelling out some higher-range sounds, but the Jabra is coming incredibly close.
HearThrough is also pretty good on the Jabra Elite 85t. The environmental sounds are clearly audible and they don’t sound unnatural like they do on some cheaper TWS in the market.
Equipped with 12mm drivers, the Jabra Elite 85t establishes itself as a reasonably balanced sounding pair of earphones. The bass notes are slightly exaggerated, however, they are far tamer than what was seen on their predecessors, the Jabra Elite 75t. The lows have a nice weight to them without sounding muddy. Bass-heavy tracks such as bad guy by Billie Eilish or Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson ft Bruno Mars sound impactful, sufficiently detailed and controlled. It isn’t as disciplined as the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 and the Sony WF-1000XM3 when it comes to bass response, but it definitely is a step above the 75t variant. And if you’re looking for some punch and oomph from your earphones, these earphones provide you that without sounding muddy or jarring.
Uncompensated frequency response graph – Jabra Elite 85t (Green) vs Reference IEM (Orange)
The mids are excellent on the Jabra Elite 85t leading to some of the best vocal performances we’ve seen reproduced on true wireless earphones. Vocals sound engaging and are packed with details and nuances down to the slight breaths singers take between lines. Listening to Hunter by Bjork on these earphones, we were impressed by how well the harmonic variances in the sound was picked up and delivered. Alongside, we were also impressed by the stellar imaging and stereo separation.
The highs are decent, at best. The dip in the frequency graph at 3K suggests that highs aren’t rendered with the best detail and you can hear this when you listen to rock tracks where the cymbals and hi-hats lack some sparkle. For example, the track Highway Tune by Greta Van Fleet sounded a bit listless in the higher frequencies which lessened the overall impact of the song. Now, moving on to the soundstage, due to the semi open design the music does sound slightly more open and natural than the Elite 75t, however, it lacks the punch of the 75t as well due to this trait. Simply said, these earphones aren’t for those who prefer boomy bass. Overall, the Jabra Elite 85t impressed us with its performance, albeit the highs could be better reproduced.
As has become pretty standard, call quality on the Jabra Elite 85t is extremely good. Our voice sounded crisp and there wasn’t a lot of background sound that could be heard by the listener on the other end of the call.
The Jabra Elite 85t comes with 5.5 hours of battery…