Jabra Elite 10 Earbuds Review: Designed for Comfort
The company's new flagship earbuds feature a semi-open design with excellent sound and Dolby Spatial Audio with head tracking. They're different -- in a good way.
David CarnoyExecutive 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.
ExpertiseMobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakersCredentials
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Voice-calling performance could be slightly better
Over the last couple of years Jabra has released a slew of earbuds that were a little hard to tell apart from one another. Not only did we get Elites 3, 4, 5 and 7 Pro, but there were "Active" versions of some of those same buds. Some variety can be a good thing, but too much tends to create confusion and can stymie sales.
Now it appears Jabra has come to its senses. Or sort of, anyway. Once again, it's released multiple models at the same time -- the Elite 8 Active ($200) and the new flagship Elite 10 ($250, £230, AU$380), which I'm reviewing here. But at least Jabra has assured me that there won't be a standard Elite 8 or an Elite 10 Active. Ever. So it's finally showing some restraint.
Watch this: Jabra Elite 10 and Elite 8 Active Review: They're Different -- Mostly In a Good Way
Jabra Elite 10 design
Of the two new models, the Elite 8 Active are the more straightforward earbuds. They look, feel and perform like a modestly upgraded version of the Elite 7 Pro, with six microphones instead of four, slightly improved adaptive noise canceling and wind-reduction technology along with a higher durability rating. They have a noise-isolating design -- you jam the tips into your ears to get a tight seal -- and Jabra is billing them as the "world's toughest earbuds" (if you're more interested in the Elite 8 Active, feel free to jump over to that review).
The Elite 10s are a completely different set of earbuds. If they have an antecedent, it's the Elite 85t, which also had a semi-open design. Some people really liked those earbuds; I was less of a fan. Compared to the Elite 85t, the Elite 10s offer not only a more comfortable fit and better design but better sound and significantly better noise-canceling performance along with impressive Dolby Spatial Sound with head tracking.
The Elite 10 are designed for people who don't like having ear tips jammed in their ears. You're still dealing with silicone ear tips but they have a unique oval shape and are designed to nestle in your ears. They're certainly among the most comfortable earbuds that have silicone ear tips.
While the buds don't have Jabra's "ShakeGrip" finish that's found on the Elite 8 Active, the finish does feel pretty similar to that of the Elite 8 Active -- it's soft to the touch, yet has some grip to it. Interestingly, the buds sometimes felt like they were sitting in my ears a little too loosely, but I actually had a more secure fit than I thought. I also appreciated that they didn't stick out of my ears all that much -- they're pretty discreet.
Most earbuds have touch controls these days, but all of Jabra's earbuds have a physical control button on each bud for controlling music playback, answering and ending calls and toggling between noise canceling and HearThru transparency mode. I'm among the people who tend to prefer physical controls to touch controls and the Elite 10's button is well designed and makes a fairly subdued clicking noise when you press it.
While the Elite 8 Actives have a higher durability rating (IP68), the Elite 10s still have an IP57 rating, which means they offer both good dust resistance and can also be fully submerged in water. In other words, you can use these for running if you get a secure enough fit, but I felt more confident that the Elite 8 Actives would definitely stay in my ears while running with them.
The new charging case has rounded corners and offers wireless charging. It's bigger than both the AirPods Pro 2's and Sony WF-1000XM5's charging cases, but it's still relatively compact. The buds come in five color options: cream, cocoa, titanium black, gloss black and matte-black. I'm not quite sure why there are three black versions; they may be exclusive to certain retailers.
Jabra Elite 10 features
The Elite 10s have a robust feature set. They have Jabra's "Advanced" adaptive noise canceling and an adjustable HearThru transparency mode that lets you hear the outside world. There are ear-detection sensors that automatically pause your music when you remove a bud from your ears and you can use a single bud in mono mode while the other charges in the case.
For both these earbuds Jabra has moved away from using Qualcomm chips, so they don't support the AptX audio codec for Android devices, but they do support the AAC audio codec and are also compatible with the new LE Audio standard that includes the LC3 audio codec. LE Audio features will supposedly be available via a firmware upgrade sometime in the not-so-distant future, though it's unclear exactly when.
Multipoint Bluetooth pairing, which allows you to pair the buds with two devices at the same time, is available from the get-go (it took a while for Jabra to add the feature to the Elite 7 Pro). And Android users get hands-free Google Assistant -- you just have to say the wake word to access the assistant. You can also use your device's native voice assistant, including Siri on Apple devices, but you have to press a button to access it.
One of the noteworthy additions to both the Elite 8 Active and Elite 10 is Dolby's Spatial Sound. However, one key difference between the two buds is that the Elite 10s have Dolby Spatial Sound with Dolby head tracking. The standard Dolby Spatial Audio on the Elite 8 Active tricks your mind into thinking the sound is coming from more outside your head -- it opens up the soundstage a bit -- but the head-tracking takes the spatial audio to another level. I was impressed by it.
It's right there with Apple's spatial audio, and some might argue it's even slightly better. It works with music and can enhance the listening experience with some tracks (or at least give you a different listening experience), particularly those remixed in Dolby Atmos. But like with Apple's spatial audio, it can also enhance video-watching, creating a virtual surround experience with dialog fixed at the center of your smartphone or tablet's screen. It works with both Apple and Android devices.
Finally, there's a Find My Jabra feature that can tell you the last location of your buds before they disconnected from your device. It's not as sophisticated as the AirPods Pro 2's Precision Finding that allows you to track your buds much more exactly. But it's better than none at all.
Jabra Elite 10 sound quality
The Elite 10s have larger 10mm drivers that help deliver richer and more accurate sound than the Elite 8 Active buds, which feature 6mm drivers. In a quieter environment anyway, the Elite 10 deliver sound that ranks up there with some of the best-sounding wireless earbuds. It's clean, nicely detailed and open with well-defined bass. These sound a little more natural than the Elite 8 Actives, particularly in the midrange where vocals live. They just have a little more depth and refinement.
You can tweak the sound a bit in the app with some preset EQ options or create your own custom EQ. And you can turn Dolby Spatial Sound on and off in the Jabra Sound Plus app, which noticeably changes the sound. I found myself playing around with the Spatial Sound but generally used it with head-tracking on (if I used it).
I mainly compared these to Sony's WF-1000XM5 earbuds, which list for $50 more. The Sonys are a bit warmer sounding and a little more accurate (they sound slightly more natural). But the Jabras are slightly more open and dynamic. From an audiophile standpoint, the Sonys sound a little better, but it's easy to appreciate the bold, open sound of the Jabras. I did end up creating a custom EQ setting with the bass ticked up a notch and the treble lowered a bit to get a little smoother sound, and you'll probably have to tweak the EQ settings to come up with the right sound profile for your ears and music listening tastes.
Jabra Elite 10 noise canceling
The one issue with semi-open earbuds is that they do allow some sound to leak in and that creates challenges for noise canceling performance. As I said, these do a significantly better job than the older Elite 85t at reducing ambient sound. But I wouldn't buy these expecting to muffle the outside world nearly as well as the AirPods Pro 2, Sony WF-1000XM5 or Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2. In other words, they're able to reduce ambient sound better than I thought they would, but they can only do so much.
While those aforementioned buds give you the impression that the ambient sound is being truly suppressed and blocked, the Elite 10s have a more filtering effect. Outside sounds are cut down or stripped down but you can still hear them. It's almost as if the buds are acting as a strainer, catching harsher sounds but letting some sounds through. The buds basically took the edge off the cacophony as I walked the streets of New York but didn't come close to completely eliminating it.
That's all a lot of people want, particularly if you're not a fan of strong noise canceling because it creates a pressure sensation (some people can't tolerate active noise canceling). But these probably wouldn't be the buds I'd use on a plane for a long trip. The noise canceling just isn't that great.
On a side note, I did notice that the sound quality changed a bit when I switched from active noise canceling to HearThru mode or off completely. Each mode made the earbuds sound slightly different.
Jabra Elite 10 voice-calling performance
The voice-calling performance for both the Elite 10s and Elite 8 Actives left me slightly disappointed. Don't get me wrong, it was quite good when I was making calls in less noisy environments. Callers said they could hear me clearly. But with both buds now featuring six microphones and improved wind noise reduction technology, I expected a little more in harsher conditions. In our torture test in the noisy streets of New York, callers told me they didn't reduce background noise as well as competing models like the AirPods Pro 2 and Sony WF-1000XM5, and my voice warbled at times.
If you watch my companion video review, you can hear a test call I recorded with the Elite 10 that gives you a sense of the call quality in a harsh environment, though note that the call is recorded via the internet so a little bit of fidelity in my voice is lost.
Jabra Elite 10 battery life
The Elite 10 don't have as good a battery life rating as the Elite 8 Active but it's still not bad. They're rated for up to 6 hours at moderate volume levels with ANC on compared to 8 hours for the Elite 8 Active. That's about the same as what you get with the AirPods Pro 2.
Jabra Elite 10 final thoughts
With so many good true-wireless earbuds on the market, it's become much harder for companies to make their products stand out from the pack. With the Elite 10 Jabra manages to do just that with a set of buds that are aimed at folks looking for a more comfortable fit from their in-ear buds without sacrificing too much performance by moving to a fully open design that tends to offer less-than ideal sound quality and no active noise-canceling capabilities.
Yes, the Elite 10s do have some potential drawbacks (their noise canceling is lighter compared to competitors) and they're pretty pricey at $249 and will probably have to come down a bit to better compete with the AirPods Pro 2 -- at least for Apple users. Still, they're really good earbuds that are not only comfortable to wear for long periods but also sound excellent. In fact, if their voice-calling performance was leveled up a bit, the Elite 10 buds might just be in Editors' Choice territory. Hopefully, we'll see some improvements with firmware upgrades.
Jabra Elite 10 key specs, according to Jabra
Optimized for Dolby Atmos with Dolby Head Tracking
Jabra ComfortFit technology for a natural, airy fit and less occlusion with semi-open design to relieve ear pressure
Six-mic call technology with advanced algorithms for better call clarity in any environment
Jabra Advanced ANC which blocks out 2x more noise than Jabra's standard ANC
HearThrough technology with wind-noise reduction
6-hour battery (27 hours including case) with ANC on
Bluetooth Multipoint connection
Hands-free Voice Assistant, Fast Pair, Swift Pair, Spotify Tap playback
Ready to support Bluetooth Low Energy and LC3, LC3plus codec with future firmware update