CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Jabra Elite Active 65t review: These wireless headphones beat out AirPods on sound quality

The sporty version of Jabra's already wireless earphones have a few extras that put it over the top.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
7 min read

Apple's AirPods have dominated the truly wireless headphone category since their arrival in late 2016, but Jabra's Elite 65t ($170, £150 or AU$300) and Elite Active 65t ($190, £170 or AU$350) are among a handful of truly wireless models that are compelling alternatives. They definitely have performance advantages, including a more secure fit and better noise isolation than their Apple rivals. 


Jabra Elite Active 65t

The Good

The Jabra Active Elite 65t are fully sweat-resistant truly wireless earphones that fit comfortably and securely. They sound excellent, 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. A quick-charge feature allows you to get 1.5 hours of juice from a 15-minute charge.

The Bad

The relatively tight, noise-isolating fit isn't for everyone. Motion sensor doesn't have much use at this point.

The Bottom Line

The Jabra Active Elite 65t truly wireless earphones are the best alternative to Apple's AirPods, but the stepdown non-Elite model will save you a bit of cash.

Compared to their Elite predecessors, the Active 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. 

The step-up Active Elite 65t reviewed here looks almost identical to the standard Elite 65t but has some small cosmetic differences, including a slightly grippier finish, plus three feature upgrades: Added sweat-resistance with an IP56 rating (versus IP55 for the standard Elite 65t), a built-in accelerometer and a quick charge feature that allows you to get 1.5 hours of juice from a 15-minute charge in the included charging case. That charging case is also coated with the same, faintly rubberized finish you'll find on the buds. 

While I can't say those small upgrades make a major difference, their addition serves to make an already excellent set of truly wireless headphones slightly better -- and that's why we're awarding the Active Elite 65t an Editors' Choice over its less expensive sibling. It's the best overall truly wireless headphone you can buy, as of June 2018.

What's new and different

Enlarge Image

The Elite Active 65t (left) have a slightly grippier finish than the standard Elite 65t (right).  

Sarah Tew/CNET

Unlike the earlier 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. 

Jabra Elite Active 65t

See all photos

I found they fit similarly to the Jaybird 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 its IP55-rated design makes it splash-resistant and dust-resistant. I used the standard Elite 65t at the gym and while running and it survived just fine. But the Elite Active 65t apparently have an added degree of sweat-resistance that should make them a bit more durable in the long run.

Both the standard Elite 65t and Elite Active 65t stayed in my ears securely during my modestly paced 3-mile runs and I didn't sense that the Active's special coating made a real difference in terms of fit. Currently, you can use the accelerometer -- Jabra calls it a motion sensor -- to count steps in Jabra's companion Sound+ app for iOS and Android. However, there should be other applications for it, such as counting exercise reps, in the future.

Both the Elite 65t and Elite Active 65t are equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, which is just starting to appear in devices and is supposed to create a more stable wireless connection with fewer dropouts. It's backwards compatible with any earlier version of Bluetooth, too, of course.

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. 

Enlarge Image
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). 

The app also allows you to choose your voice assistant. On iOS devices you can toggle between Siri and Alexa. At the time of this writing, however, Jabra was still waiting for approval for Alexa support from Apple, so I didn't get a chance to test it on an iPhone . I did test Alexa on a Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus though -- and you can also opt for Google Assistant with Android devices.  

The Alexa support isn't a huge plus. All these voice-assistant features would be more interesting if the microphones -- yes, there are two in each earphone -- were always open (like an Amazon Echo or even your phone) and waiting for you to issue commands. As It stands, you have to press and hold the button on the right earpiece, wait for a beep then issue your command. That's no different from what you'd do to access your voice assistant with most of today's wireless headphones. 

Still, it works, and the headphones certainly did a good job picking up my voice. They also performed really well making calls. There's a nice sidetone feature -- you can toggle it on or off in the app -- that allows you to hear your own voice in the headphones during phone conversations. 

Enlarge Image

The earphones in their included charging case.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I also tested the earphones during video playback to make sure the audio was syncing. I played some movies from my iTunes account and streamed video from Netflix and YouTube. I didn't experiencing any glaring issues with audio syncing.

In all, I found the setup process and general performance quite solid. They paired with my iPhone X almost as reliably as the AirPods and I only encountered minimal interference issues when I walked the streets of New York, a notoriously harsh environment for truly wireless headphones. You may experience the occasional glitch, but the firmware is upgradeable, so expect some improvements over time.

Although I did manage to pair the Elite 65t and Elite Active 65t to a MacBook Air , Jabra does offer a disclaimer about computer use, saying, "Jabra headsets are optimized to be used with  phones and are not specifically optimized to be used directly with a computer. Pairing your Jabra device with a computer may work for audio streaming, but not for call control, which is not supported by many computers." Audio quality may also vary from PC to PC.

Enlarge Image

The integrated motion sensor allows you to count your steps in the app.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Strong sound for totally wireless

Jabra's earlier Elite Sport were among the better sounding truly wireless headphones, but I had a harder time getting a tight seal with them. I'm not sure how much better these earphones sound than the Elite Sport, but they do fit better, which makes it easier to maximize their sound quality. 

The Elite Active 65t sounds the same as the Elite 65t. I compared a handful of tracks while swapping between the Elite Active 65t, the AirPods and the Bose SoundSport Free, which has improved after a firmware upgrade to correct some issues.

I thought the Elite Active 65t sounded a little better than the AirPods and they're clearly superior in noisier environments (like the streets of New York). Even in their "flat" default mode, there's a little bit of presence boost, also known as treble boost, but I thought they sounded slightly richer and more immediate than the AirPods. They also had a little more bass, though not as much bass as Bose's SoundSport Free, which arguably have the best sound in the category.

I do think the smaller 65t has an advantage over the Bose as far as design goes and Bose's charging case is comparatively large. I also thought the Jabras where better for making calls (the SoundSport Free only uses one earbud for calls). And lastly, the buttons and controls are implemented better on the Jabras.

As I said about the Elite 65t, I didn't find much to complain about with these earphones -- they're as good as you'll get for a truly wireless headphone at this time. Are they worth $20 more than the standard Elite 65t? They are if you plan on sweating on them a lot, but otherwise not. The quick-charge feature has some appeal but the motion sensor doesn't seem like a must-have at the moment. Perhaps if Jabra ties additional features to it I'd see more value in it.

Once again, the only hesitation I'd have in recommending these over the AirPods concerns the type of noise-isolating fit they provide. That fit isn't for everybody, and some may prefer the lighter AirPods and their looser fitting, open design. 


Jabra Elite Active 65t

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Sound 8Value 8