Jabra Elite 85t review: AirPods Pro competitor impresses but doesn't wow
Though it lacks a wow factor, the Elite 85t delivers richer sound with effective noise cancellation, improved voice calling and a wireless charging case.
Updated Nov. 18, 2020 4:00 a.m. PT
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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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Excellent sound (more open-sounding and more bass than Elite 75t)
Effective noise cancellation on par with AirPods Pro
Good voice-calling with sidetone feature
Multipoint Bluetooth pairing
Wireless and USB-C charging
May not fit some ears as well as Elite 75t
New oval-shaped ear tips aren't necessarily as comfortable as advertised
Background noise reduction during calls could be better
Like many people, I'd been waiting for Jabra to put out a set of noise-canceling true-wireless earbuds. It finally has: the Elite 85t ($230, £220, AU$349). What I didn't anticipate, however, was that it would also add noise cancellation to the earlier Elite 75t and Elite Active 75t via a firmware upgrade. This gives you two Jabra noise-canceling options, one significantly less expensive than the other, which might leave you wondering which one to get. The answer isn't totally clear, though the 85t sounds better.
Jabra describes the Elite 85t as "semi-open" earbuds "with pressure relief vents, preventing pressure build-up inside the ear." The new, more oval-shaped tips nestle in your ear for a more comfortable fit -- according to Jabra, anyway. A touch of sound will leak in, however, thanks to the venting. Engineered on Qualcomm technology, Jabra calls the Elite 85t's noise-canceling Advanced ANC, which is designed for earbuds that don't have true noise-isolating designs.
Personally, I didn't find the 85t earbuds any more comfortable than the 75t. They didn't stay in my ears quite as securely, though they did stay in. While the 85t buds are bigger -- and so is their charging case -- they definitely seem like siblings design-wise.
The Elite 85t includes a wireless charging case (it's a $20 upgrade for the Elite 75t), larger 12mm drivers for improved sound and six-microphone technology -- three on each ear, two on the outside, one on the inside -- for improved voice calling with better noise reduction.
Their IPX4 water-resistance rating is a step down from the Elite 75t's IP55 rating, but the Elite 85t earbuds are splashproof and sweat-resistant. (Apple's AirPods Pro also have an IPX4 water-resistance rating.) Battery life with noise-canceling features turned on is rated at five and a half hours, which is better than the five hours of the AirPods Pro. But some non-noise-canceling earbuds offer upwards of eight hours of battery life.
The Elite 85t's noise canceling is good, right up there with that of the AirPods Pro. It's slightly better than the Elite 75t's, though not on the level of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, which is currently the noise-canceling gold standard in the true-wireless category. Using the Jabra Sound Plus app, you can adjust Advanced ANC with a slider, taking it from full noise-canceling to full HearThrough (a transparency mode that allows you to hear the outside world) and anywhere in between. You can also toggle between ANC and HearThrough by clicking the physical button on the left earbud -- holding it down lowers volume and double-clicking skips tracks forward. Many people prefer those physical control buttons to the touch controls on the majority of earbuds these days, and I like them, too.
As I said, the 85t sounds better than the 75t. Thanks to the new drivers, you get a little more bass and fuller sound. Also, the semi-open design allows for more open sound with a bigger soundstage. It's not a massive difference (if you get a tight seal with the Elite 75t, you get ample bass), but I ultimately grew to prefer the Elite 85t's sound, which is very good for true wireless -- certainly on par with the AirPods Pro and probably better.
That said, they didn't quite wow me when it came to sound quality. They fall short of the top-sounding true wireless buds in the category, such as the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, Grado GT220, Sony WF-1000XM3 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. They also lack that extra sparkle in the treble and definition in the bass. Still, they're pleasant to listen to, can handle a wide variety of music well and do well with movie soundtracks (I didn't notice any audio syncing issues when I was streaming video). They also paired quickly with my iOS and Android devices and held a rock-solid wireless connection.
There's an equalizer you can play around with in Jabra's Sound Plus app for iOS and Android that allows you to tweak the sound profile. I mainly stuck with the default neutral setting because I didn't think the sound was improved by changing to any of the preset EQ offerings or creating a custom setting on my own. But maybe you'll have a different opinion.
I liked using the Elite 85t as a headset for making calls. It has multipoint Bluetooth pairing that allows you to connect with two devices simultaneously -- your phone and computer, for example -- and swap audio between them. (If a call comes in on your phone while you're listening to something on your computer, you can answer the call and the audio will switch over.) You can use the right bud as a solo bud for listening to audio or taking calls, but not the left.
If you're coming from the Elite 75t's noise-isolating design, the earbuds may take some getting used to for calls. They have the all-important sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the buds so you don't end up talking too loudly when you're on a call. But when you're in headset mode, they let some sound in so you can hear what's going on around you. And while callers said they could hear my voice clearly, they mentioned that they could hear some background noise.
Jabra has already done one firmware update in the time I've been using the buds. The update "provided updated audio performance, updated LED behavior, updated voice prompt volume, and performance stability improvements." I expect we'll see more in the coming months that will continue to improve the Elite 85t, as was the case with the Elite 75t, which now performs better as a headset than it did when it first launched and eventually got that noise-canceling upgrade.
Ultimately, I came away slightly favoring the Elite 85t to the Elite 75t, and in some ways, they certainly feel like an upgrade. But with the Elite 75t regularly on sale for $150 or less, paying an extra $80 to $90 for the Elite 85t doesn't seem completely justifiable. It's also worth noting that with the AirPods Pro selling for $200 or even less, at least for Apple device owners, these are a harder sell at $230.
Over time, as their price comes down a bit, the Elite 85t's appeal will grow. They're a very good set of true-wireless earbuds. However, they don't have quite enough wow factor to make me tell you to go run out and buy them without hesitation over other competitors in this price class. But keep them on your radar. They're certainly worth considering if the price is right.
Jabra Elite 85t key specs
According to Jabra:
Compact design and oval silicon EarGels for a secure seal and comfortable fit.
Dedicated ANC chip that's more efficient in removing surrounding noises.
Six-microphone call technology and wind protection.
Four-microphone ANC using mics on the inside and the outside of the earbuds.
12mm speakers for big sound and powerful bass.
Semi-open design allows sound to naturally pass through.
Adjustable ANC with dual sliders from full ANC to full HearThrough.
IPX4 water-resistance rating (splashproof) and two-year warranty against dust and water.
Battery life: Up to 5.5 hours battery on a single charge and up to 25 with the charging case with ANC on; 7 hours battery on a single charge and 31 hours with ANC off.
Qi-certified for wireless charging, and compatible with all Qi-certified chargers.
Customizable equalizer in the Sound Plus app.
Voice assistant enabled -- works with Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant.
Jabra MyControls allows you to define button settings and Jabra MySound for individualized sound.
Available in titanium and black November 2020. Available in gold and beige, copper and black, black and grey January 2021.