Jabra Elite 65t review: Giving the AirPods a run for their money

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The Good The Jabra Elite 65t are smaller and fit more comfortably than their predecessors. They sound excellent for truly wireless headphones, perform reliably and are great for making calls, with two microphones in each earpiece. Battery life is decent at 5 hours and the included charging case delivers two extra charges.

The Bad The relatively tight, noise-isolating fit isn't for everyone. You have to step up to the more expensive Elite Active 65t to get a true sports model that offers enhanced sweat-resistance.

The Bottom Line The well-designed Jabra Elite 65t truly wireless earphones rival Apple's AirPods and are superior in some ways.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Sound 8
  • Value 8

Jabra's first- and second-generation Elite Sport earphones were among the better totally wireless headphones on the market, but they proved to be no match for Apple's AirPods, which have dominated the category since their arrival in late 2016.

I don't know how much of a dent the new-for-2018 Elite 65t ($170, £150 or AU$300) and slightly enhanced Elite Active 65t ($190, £170 or AU$350) will put in AirPod sales. But they definitely have performance advantages, including a more secure fit and better noise isolation than their Apple rivals.

Compared to their Elite predecessors, the 65ts have a more refined, comfortable design, improved sound, slightly better battery life, excellent call quality and voice support for all major virtual assistants, including Amazon's Alexa on-the-go. Better yet they cost less than the second-generation Elite Sport, which retailed for $250 when they first launched but are now being discounted to around $180, at least in the US.

The earphones and their charging case.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The first thing to note about both Elite 65t models is that unlike with the Elite Sport, there's no heart-rate monitor built into these earphones. But that's a good thing.

Removing the heart-rate monitor allowed Jabra to trim down the design and simplify operation, as well as improve battery life to 5 hours (the Elite Sport's is rated at 4.5 hours). That's in line with the AirPods' battery life.

Jabra's included charging case delivers an additional two charges. Although it's not as small as the AirPods charging case, it's still compact and fit easily into my pocket.

Jabra has mostly nailed the design this time around. The earphones come with three different sized eartips and while there are no wings or fins to hold the buds in place, they stayed secure in my ears. With the largest tips I was able to get a tight seal, which is crucial to maximizing bass response. 

I found they fit similarly to Jaybird's Run truly wireless headphones. Like that model, after you wear them for a while, your ear canals may start to itch a little. Not to get too graphic, but I simply removed the bud for a moment, stuck my pinky finger in my ear for a quick scratch, then reinserted the bud. Problem solved.  

Technically, the Elite 65t is not considered a sports model, though is IP55-rated design makes it splash-resistant and dust-resistant. The Elite Active 65t earphones, due out in April for $20 more, have grippier finish thanks to a special coating, an integrated motion sensor for tracking steps and IP56 water-resistance rating that means the buds are better designed to withstand saltwater from the ocean as that saltwater from your body known as sweat. That said, I did use the standard Elite 65t at the gym and while running and it survived just fine.

Advantages over AirPods

I'm a fan of the AirPods, but they don't sit quite securely enough in my ears, which means I can't use them for running or during other sporty activities. Lots of people are able to run with their AirPods, just not me. As I said, the Elite 65t gave a much more secure fit.

The Jabras are noise-isolating earphones, which means they passively seal out ambient noise while the AirPods' open design allows sound to leak in. As a safety feature for runners and bikers, the Jabras do have a HearThrough transparency feature that you can toggle on in the Jabra Sound+ companion app. You can adjust the degree to which you want to let in sound. 

The earphones fit securely and don't stick out too far.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The app also has an equalizer that allows you to tweak the sound profile for music -- I generally left it flat -- as well as treble and bass boost modes for call audio.

You can opt to have your music pause automatically when you pull a bud out of your ear and have it resume once you put it back in. Additionally, you can skip tracks forward and back by holding down the volume up and down buttons on the left earpiece. You wait for a beep, let go of the button and the track skips (volume down skips the track back, up skips it forward).