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When Jabra first announced its new Elite 85h ($300, £280 or about AU$435 converted) over-ear premium wireless headphones, it touted how it would be equipped with always-on (hands-free) voice assistant control using Amazon's Alexa or Google Assistant. Alas, that feature didn't make it into the final product -- apparently it affected battery life too much -- but the Elite 85h is nevertheless an excellent noise-canceling headphone that sounds very good, is comfortable to wear and also works great as a headset for making calls.
Designed to compete with models from Bose and Sony, the Elite 85h is slightly heavier (296g) than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II (235g) and Sony WH-1000XM3 (254g). It's comfortable to wear, with nicely padded earcups, but I found both the Bose and Sony ever so slightly more comfortable mainly due to their lower weight. Overall, however, the Elite 85h seems sturdily built and with dual hinges, it folds up and flat to fit in a decent carrying case.
When I first saw its specs, the Elite 85h Initially reminded me of Microsoft's Surface headphones, which just received a price cut. Like that model, the Elite 85h has multiple microphones (eight total) and adaptive noise-canceling technology (Jabra SmartSound) that changes according to your environment.
Jabra claims its noise-cancellation system is better than Bose's or Sony's. I'm not sure about that, but it is quite effective and certainly close. It's partnered with audio analysis company Audeering, a "leader in audio AI technology" to "ensure the audio of the Elite 85h offers the best call and music experience by automatically adjusting to your surroundings."
Jabra says the technology can detect more than 6,000 unique sound characteristics and uses this to adapt audio output to each specific context. The technology does take several seconds to read the sound environment you're in and make a determination as to what level of noise cancellation to apply. But it does work. For instance, when I went down into the subway in New York City, it switched to "Commute" mode. And when I got out of the subway it switched to "Public" mode (for quieter environments it goes into "Private" mode). You can also choose not to engage SmartSound and make manual adjustments via the Jabra Sound+ app and turn off noise-canceling altogether.
Right now, the Sony WH-1000XM3 sounds the best of the noise-canceling headphones in this price class. This Elite 85h doesn't sound quite as good but it's not far behind. The Sony sounds slightly smoother overall and has a little more bass definition and is slightly warmer with a tad richer sound. The Jabra has slightly more detail (it's a little brighter sounding) and has deeper bass that's a little boomier. The midrange is clear and natural -- it really makes vocals sound present and nicely textured.
I had CNET home audio editor Ty Pendlebury have a listen to both this Jabra and the Sony WH-1000XM3 and he was impressed with the sound of the Elite 85h and concurred with my views on its sound profile. (We both thought the Sony might be a little easier to listen to over long periods, depending on the music you're listening to). The only issue was that he has a big head and the Jabra's headband didn't extend far enough so the headphones didn't really fit him. He didn't have that problem with the Sony.
You can tweak the Jabra's EQ settings (bass, treble, mids) in the app, but I found that the default "flat" setting was best for my tastes and I always compare headphones at their default settings. You can also upgrade the firmware via the app and adjust the amount of sidetone you want when making calls. Sidetone is a feature that allows you to hear your voice inside the headphones as you talk so you don't raise your voice too much when making calls with the headset on. This is feature is glaringly omitted in the Sony, which improved as a headset with its last iteration (Mark III) but falls well short of this Jabra in that department.
Jabra, of course, made a name for itself as a headset company and makes plenty of business-class headsets (and plenty that are designed for the workplace). And you'll be hard-pressed to find a better noise-canceling headphone for making calls.
Battery life is also very good, with up to 36 hours of battery with active noise-canceling activated and up to 41 without ANC. I used the headset for almost a week on my daily commute (30 minutes each way) and at the office for part of the day without having to recharge. As with the Sony WH-1000XM3 and other newer premium noise-canceling models, this one charges via USB-C (cable included) and has a fast-charge feature: 15 minutes of charging will get you 5 hours of battery life.
I liked how the headphones automatically pause your music when you take them off your head and resume playing when you put them back on. You can also set them to automatically turn off after a set period of time in a settings menu in the app to conserve battery life. Additionally, I appreciated that they automatically turn on when you take them out of their carrying case and put them on your head.
As far as wireless connectivity goes, I did experience a few Bluetooth hiccups walking the streets of New York where you can sometimes encounter issues with interference from other wireless signals. It wasn't a serious issue, but I wouldn't describe wireless performance as flawless.
These don't have the fancy touch controls of the Sony WH-1000XM3. But some people will appreciate the Elite 85h has standard physical control buttons. They're easy to operate by feel and there's a dedicated button for accessing Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa (only one can be active), as well as a button that lets your toggle between noise-canceling on, "hear-through" mode (where you can hear the outside world) and noise-canceling off.
As far as features go, this headphone is right up there with the Sony, its noise-canceling is also impressive, and, as I said, it's superior for making calls. It may not quite at the same level for music listening, but it still has excellent audio chops for a noise-canceling headphone.
The question, of course, is should you buy it over the Sony WH-1000XM3. I'd say that if you plan on using your noise-canceling headphone for regularly making calls, it's the better choice for slightly less money. However, I'd still lean toward the Sony if call-making isn't as important to you.