Jabra Elite 85t review: Incredible noise cancellation
Quick verdict: Jabra’s Elite 85t may feel a little bulky, but that increase in size allows for superb noise cancellation and sound quality.
- Noise cancellation is superb and customisable
- Solid battery life
- Cheaper than AirPod Pros
- The eartips can feel a little loose
- Not as water resistant as the 75t Active
There's no denying that headphone makers have pivoted hard towards true wireless headphones in recent years. Whether it's an AirPods "halo effect" or just the engineering challenge of creating a great sounding product with decent battery life in such a small body, every week there seems to be a new pair of true wireless headphones landing on store shelves.
Jabra has been at the true wireless game longer than most – we tested the Jabra Elite Sport back in February 2017. While Jabra specifically designed that model for the fitness market, the Elite 85t is geared towards the premium true wireless space, going head to head with the AirPods Pro.
And the good news is that they compete extremely well. They may not feature the same deep integration with Apple software as the AirPods, but from start to finish, the Elite 85t headphones are an impressive product to use.
Unboxing the Jabra Elite 85t doesn't reveal too many surprises. There is a case housing the 2 wireless earbuds and a row of different sized oval-shaped eartips to help you get the most secure fit.
The case itself is larger than the AirPods Pro case, with a USB-C port on the back and a solid base that allows the unit to stand up. This may not seem like a hugely important design feature, but I found it made sitting the case on a wireless charger to get the charge flowing much easier compared to the Apple earbuds.
The earbuds themselves are somewhat chunkier than Apple's, but the extra bulk doesn't translate to weight – each earbud weighs just 7 grams, and the shape hugs the inside of your ear, so it doesn't feel loose while wearing it. It's actually a little surprising how well they fit in the ear; you'd expect that the extra depth of the earbud would protrude from the ear more.
That said, it's not a seamless fit. My right ear was a little problematic to get a secure fitting every time. For the most part, the feeling that the earbud was going to fall out was unwarranted, but I definitely had to push it in more than an AirPod Pro,
Each earbud has the Jabra logo on a side button, while tiny holes reveal the location of the microphones used for noise cancellation.
The Elite 85t earbuds come in 5 different colours: black, titanium black, copper black, grey and gold beige, and while gold beige wouldn't have been my first choice of colour for this review, I have to admit that the more-skin-like tones helped the earbuds appear more discreet in my ears.
Inside the box there are 2 additional eartips to ensure you have the best possible fit. Jabra runs the entire setup process through the free Jabra Sound+ app, and one step in that process is to ensure that you have a secure fit. So if you can't decide which size offers the best fit for your ear, Jabra has software to help with that.
Each earbud has a single button interface, with the right earbud controlling playback with a single press, and activating the digital voice assistant with a double press – while it defaults to activate Siri on an iPhone, you can also set it to run Alexa. The left earbud's button, meanwhile, cycles through noise cancellation and audio passthrough modes with a single press. It also controls track forward and backwards with 2 or 3 presses, respectively.
If that control system doesn't sound like fun, you can customise the options for each button within the Sound+ app. Customisation isn't just for musical playback, either, but also for receiving calls and muting callers while on a call.
While Jabra's previous true wireless headphones, the Elite Active 75t, boasted an impressive IP57 waterproof rating, making it perfect for sweaty activities, the 85t only boasts an IPX4 rating. In real-world terms, that means these will be okay with a bit of sweat or water, but you don't want them to get too wet, and you probably want to avoid getting them dusty too.
For most people I don't think this will matter. The Elite 85t are designed as a premium product to keep you company while working, commuting and during light physical activity, rather than extreme exercise.
The great news is that the Jabra Elite 85t earbuds sound amazing. A key part of the setup process is to do a hearing test through the earbuds to create an individualised audio profile. The result is an extremely full-sounding product, with way more bass than you would expect from earbuds this size. It may be a little biased away from the top end, but the audio quality is easily a highlight of using the Elite 85t earbuds.
The setup process is all done through the Jabra Sound+ app, and frankly it makes the entire setup process incredibly intuitive for connecting the earbuds to your phone. Testing with an iPhone 11 Pro, the app has a 5-step process to get you up and running. After naming your earbuds, the app will help guide you to find the right sized eartips for the best possible fit.
Once done, the app walks you through the sound test for custom audio. It then lets you customise the controls for the earbuds for controlling music, incoming calls and active calls.
Finally, you get to define the language of the voice guidance from 6 different languages.
The entire process takes less than 10 minutes and sets you up to listen to your favourite music effortlessly. Once completed, every time you remove the Elite 85t earbuds from the case, a friendly voice will tell you that you are connected, and a press on the earbud will start your music playing.
The earbuds can be paired with 2 devices simultaneously, though I have to admit the process for pairing a second device isn't as straightforward without the app. In the end I had to consult the manual to work out how to pair the earbuds to my MacBook for my regular Zoom calls. The good news is that once paired, the earbuds connect to both devices effortlessly.
The Jabra Elite 85t earphones sound wonderful. Compared to the AirPods Pro, they are a little heavier on the bass side of things, but still well balanced.
The custom audio profile makes a noticeable difference – if it's not to your fancy you can switch it off in the app. I found it made the sound a bit more balanced, making vocals a little clearer and music playback a fuller experience.
One of the best features of the Elite 85t is the active noise cancellation (ANC), which does a fantastic job of cancelling out external sounds, even at low volumes.
There are 5 levels of noise cancellation, which allows you to set it to the right level for your particular listening situation. For me, the highest level seemed a bit much, creating a sense of pressure in my ears. But drop it down to the third or fourth level and the balance of cancelling and pressure seemed spot on
Of course, like the AirPods Pro (and plenty of other true wireless models), the Elite 85t also offers an audio pass-through mode, which uses the noise cancelling microphones to pass external sound through so you can hear your surroundings without having to remove the earbuds.
Like the noise cancellation setting, there are 5 levels for Jabra's Hearthrough mode. Unfortunately, even at the highest setting I struggled to hear anything external while listening to music. In some ways it's a testament to the quality of the music playback, but ultimately for me it made the function next to useless.
Even with the music paused, I found it difficult to hear people talking to me with the Hearthrough mode activated. Eventually, I would always just end up removing the earbuds when people spoke to me. This somewhat negates the usefulness of the functionality.
Compared to the AirPods Pro's Transparency functionality, which allows a fairly comfortable balance between external sounds and music playback, the Elite 85t just doesn't deliver enough through the Hearthrough function to be useful.
Over 3 weeks of testing, with noise cancellation switched on I got between 5 and 5.5 hours worth of battery life before needing to throw the earbuds back in the charge case. The case itself gives another 24 hours worth of battery life as well.
Switch off ANC and you'll get an extra couple of hours of playback time. But whether you use noise cancelling or not, you should find that there's enough battery in the earbuds and the case to get you a few days worth of use between charges.
And considering how easy it is to throw the case on a Qi wireless charger while you work, it's simple to always ensure that the earbuds will have enough juice to keep you going.
But if you find yourself forgetting to charge the case, there is also a quick charge mode for those emergency situations when you discover the batteries are flat at the last minute. Simply throw them on the charger for 15 minutes and you'll get an hour worth of playback in return.
Should you buy the Jabra Elite 85t?
- Buy it if you are after a high-quality pair of true wireless earbuds with exceptional sound quality and impressive noise cancellation.
- Don't buy it if you have high expectations for audio passthrough, you aren't prepared to spend the money on a pair of premium earbuds, or you need something with a high level of water resistance.
The Jabra Elite 85t headphones are a powerful option for anyone looking for a pair of true wireless earbuds. With impressive noise cancellation, excellent sound quality and decent battery life, they are a worthwhile purchase for most people.
The audio passthrough function is a little underwhelming, and those looking for a perfect fitness partner may need to look elsewhere for better water resistance, but if those features aren't important to you, the Elite 85t earbuds from Jabra will definitely satisfy.
Pricing and availability
Where to buy
How we tested
Over 3 weeks, I used the Jabra Elite 85t for a minimum of 2 hours a day, every day. I listened to music, made and received phone calls and conducted meetings over Zoom.