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

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MSRP: $179.00
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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.

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

Review Sections

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. 

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

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. 

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. 

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